What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

Reading:

Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, Charles Baxter

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Blanco, Allen Wier

I’ve written a short (1200 words) essay about one of the pieces in the Baxter collection and sent it to a few places. I may run it here soon. One of the interesting things about Burning Down the House is that it was written 20 years ago the first essay, “Mistakes Were Made,” anticipates the narrative dysfunction gripping what’s left of the national discourse.

Hemingway is a re-read. I’m enjoying most of it. There are some things I cringe at, which forces me to ask question I probably wasn’t asking as a younger reader (and as a hunger human being).

I recently watched a talk by Allen Wier on YouTube and really liked it. I just started reading his first novel, Blanco. It was published in 1978. I’m only two chapters in, but the writing is tight and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Writing:

I have a second, very brief essay (650 words) out to a few markets. It’s about relationships, which, really, all fiction is.

I have a new short story (5000 words) out for editing, and a second new story sitting at about that length with probably 2000 words to go. It hasn’t stalled, but I have had to put it aside because the final piece of it is, for me, too emotional at the moment.

I’m revising a novel manuscript that I worked on during my MFA. Doing that brings lots of highs and a few lows. There are bursts of new creativity, and characters are doing things that surprise me. My subconscious is planting symbols and loose ends that are being addressed later, the narrative is coming together. I suppose the only thing I’m really afraid of in life (apart, of course, from things involving relationships) is that I won’t finish this project. Not because it’s hard (it is, and should be), but because of the chance that something stupid will stop me in the middle. So, I need to keep that crucible, imposed only by my own anxiety, in check.

I visited with a friend in the hospital this past week and we talked about the things we need to do be in good head space. When I find anxiety medicine working, I eventually forget to take it. He had a good solution: “set an alarm on your phone.” What I’m trying to say is that anxiety is not a great muse. The things I’m reading are helping with the way I’m thinking about narrative structure, and that, in itself, brings some anxiety. But on we go.

On we go.


Does Blogging Mess Up a Writing Life?

I’ve gone back and forth on this. 

One thing I can say is that when I achieve flow in a short story or longer-form fiction, the last thing I want to do is open another tab and start blogging about it. I don’t want to do anything other than stay in the flow.

But no one is in always in the flow.  It’s not productive to try.  Stay in the flow as long as it’s flowing, but understand that your subconscious needs a break.  You’re not at peak creative performance all the time.  You need downtime and sleep and the daily demands of life.  That’s not glamorous, but it’s true. 

Don’t write drunk and edit sober.  Don’t forget about sleep.  REM-cycles are essential for the next day’s writing, and for bridging the brilliance of yesterday’s flow with today’s and tomorrow’s.

There are times when you can’t work on The Thing In Itself.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.  When the flow stops, shift gears.  Dig out an old post and revise.  Make it better.  Re-share.

Read.  Read short stories.  Read books.

I’d suggest reading more than you blog, but if you have a family or a partner or a dog or a cat or a goldfish or parents or siblings or nieces or nephews or bosses or bills, you have commitments outside of yourself.  Sometimes you can blog while doing other things (I do not mean driving).  It’s much harder to read while your spouse watches Chopped.  (You should also watch Chopped.  It’s great.)

Blogging (or tweeting) does not mess up a writing life, but it needs to kept in perspective.  Sometimes, it can help unlock the next round of creative flow.

That’s been my experience.  What’s been yours?



Being Creative Is Not A Waste of Time

March 23, 2010

I know I’m late on this, but I’ve been wanting to reiterate that what Michael Giacchino said at the Oscars (and how he said it) was really important:

Thank you, guys. When I was… I was nine and I asked my dad, “Can I have your movie camera? That old, wind-up 8 millimeter camera that was in your drawer?” And he goes, “Sure, take it.” And I took it and I started making movies with it and I started being as creative as I could, and never once in my life did my parents ever say, “What you’re doing is a waste of time.” Never. And I grew up, I had teachers, I had colleagues, I had people that I worked with all through my life who always told me what you’re doing is not a waste of time. So that was normal to me that it was OK to do that. I know there are kids out there that don’t have that support system so if you’re out there and you’re listening, listen to me: If you want to be creative, get out there and do it. It’s not a waste of time. Do it. OK? Thank you. Thank you.

Same for Mo’Nique: “sometimes you have to forgo doing what is popular in order to do what’s right.”

I was reminded of both of these quotes by this post.