A Picture Worth 50,000 Words


“Slowly I Turned”: Multi-tasking

Firstly, I have to say that I’m still enjoying NaNoWriMo, though I am currently about 500 words behind schedule. I keep hitting that point where I have to choose between writing and eating with clean spoons. When one writes at a normal pace, mundane necessities of this sort fall into place around each other; at a speed of 2000 words per day, those same quotidians end up flying left and right—or, which is equally likely, end up knocking the word-count bullet-train off its tracks in a mass of flaming, twisted wreckage.

Nowhere does this end up more evident than in the smallest and most mundane chores. For example, this past week my primary failing has been exercise. During the late summer / early autumn period, I determined to establish a habit of exercising for half an hour first thing in the morning. I had gotten quite pleased with myself, because it looked as if the habit were catching hold. Now? Since the beginning of November, things have slipped a bit… and a bit more… and then last week things plummeted. By yesterday, I felt like I qualified to teach a master class on how to turn oneself effortlessly into a blancmange from the comfort of one’s favorite recliner.

I have never believed in multi-tasking. It has always been my assumption that, whenever I hear someone describe themselves as a good multi-tasker, it simply means that they are proficient at doing many things poorly at the same time. The human mind is not designed for multitasking in the modern sense. Human relationships are not designed for multitasking. I say this because the essence of relationship is to be present, and multitasking is the exact opposite of presence. Even the effort to be present in your own life, to experience and to observe as well as to participate, requires a level of single-mindedness that multi-taskers can’t begin to fathom.

Single-mindedness I can do. I quite enjoy it, in fact, especially where it concerns writing. On a good day, I can sit down to write at, say, four-thirty in the afternoon; when I next look at the clock, it’s past eight in the evening. Chances are good that I only looked up because I hadn’t visited the W.C. in more than three hours. However, there are several other things I didn’t do during those three-plus hours: wash dishes, cook a meal, clean the hard water deposits off shower walls, take out the trash. At a leisurely writing pace, it wouldn’t matter, because the next night I might only write for half an hour after I’d taken care of all these other things first. At this pace? I have to set a timer. Seriously, I do. Put in a load of laundry to wash, set the timer for half an hour, write until the timer goes off, switch the laundry from washer to dryer, set the timer for an hour, and so forth. It’s like being a little clockwork figure. Otherwise, I’d end up writing until the flies started to swarm and the neighbors started to gossip about whether I had died in here or what.

Mainly, I just remind myself that this is a temporary experiment in writing, and that I can declare December as National Household Deep-Cleaning Month if I need to do so. That is, always assuming that I’m still able to hoist my white-blancmange carcass out of this chair. The cleaning can be sketchy without really affecting my creativity—but the exercising is another matter. Without exercise, my brain shrivels into a raisin inside my brain. (Be proud of me: I exercised for half an hour in the morning and half an hour after work today!) So, now that I’ve plumped up my mental capacities, it’s back to the manuscript. Until next week!

“Slowly I Turned”: NaNoWriMo, banzai!

I’m reluctant to use the word ‘irony,’ mainly because it has been so abused in common usage as to have lost most of its impact. At the same time, I hesitate over the word ‘paradox,’ due to a similar objection: it is wielded often enough, but seldom by people who have more than a vague idea what it means.

To speak simply, this blog about hindrances to the writing life has itself become a hindrance. You see, this is November. November is National Novel Writing Month. National Novel Writing Month, when abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, is a 30-day challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in its first-draft form. This year, I am participating in that challenge. You can, I am sure, grasp my problem. Right now, I could be working on my NaNoWriMo novel… but I’m here instead, blogging about this whatever-you-want-to-call-it. One of my inner voices is stomping around the room, yelling, “Gaaaaah!” at this very moment, all the more so because I and my body refuse to descend to its level.

There’s a good reason why I’m here, however—otherwise I wouldn’t be, obviously. This phenomenon has drawn my attention to a larger version of itself that overshadows my entire life. When I decided to start an experiment in self-publishing back in 2004, back when The Keeper House Unending was still A King in Exile (as some of you may remember), I learned that the writing life takes me seriously when I take it seriously. In fact, the more seriously I take it, the greater a hold it takes on me. That makes sense to me. Full immersion into anything is a much more powerful experience than a temporary dabble. Of course.

But then comes the backlash. Try what I may, I have not found a way to make the writing life wholly mine. That part of me remains a shadowy alter ego, coming out mainly after dark and on weekends. The daytime ‘me’ hardly seems a real creature by comparison, but this is the ‘me’ with which I am saddled most of the time. This is the ‘me’ who pays my bills by working a decidedly uncongenial job in a difficult environment; I can’t very well put that ‘me’ to death and go on living myself. So the writing life remains, by and large, an unrequited infatuation for me.

Here’s where it gets difficult: when you take someone else seriously, but they refuse to return the compliment, all you wind up with in the end is pain. I suspected this for a long time, but it never really came home to me until this summer. I spent most of the spring and summer working on a nonfiction piece that, frankly, I didn’t enjoy writing. I wrote it because I felt I needed to do so. After I finished the manuscript and put it to rest, I was at a loss. There was a project on which I had been working beforehand, a seed that had lain dormant for several years before coming alive last year. I tried going back to it, but I couldn’t. It had lost its momentum and had to be put away again. Other than that… there was nothing.

I didn’t write anything for several weeks. For me, that’s highly unusual. Normally I have anywhere from two to four projects in varying stages of development. The dry spell shook me a little. It was as if the pain of the writing life—yes, any honest writer will tell you that this life can and does hurt—so far outweighed the pleasure of it that I couldn’t work up the fortitude to start back up again.

I think that’s why I took up the NaNoWriMo challenge. With the discipline of a 30-day timetable behind me, I took a completely new project idea and decided to plow onward with it, regardless of emotion or motivation. Now that I’m in it, I can’t get away from it—and nor do I wish to. Writing is one of those foundational aspects to my identity. When I try to walk away from it, I’m not myself anymore. Okay, yes, it makes me a wee bit crankier when I go to work, knowing that (in some parallel universe somewhere, perhaps) I could be sitting at home and using the productive midmorning hours to do what I love instead of to persevere through something I endure at best. I’m trying not to let that get in the way of a respectable work ethic. I’m also presently trying not to let it get in the way of daily housekeeping, so if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash dishes and check laundry before I let myself get caught up again.

“Read Me!”

Speaking of contributing to the noise, today I’m wrapping up the process of putting another novella on Kindle. It has occurred to me that creative writing courses might be considered negligent for not dealing with the business side of writing. At least, none that I took in college said a blessed peep about the subject.

So here am I, wrestling over the wording of marketing copy. This too is a form of writing. It happens to be the only sort I genuinely and wholeheartedly loathe. The dreaded blurb must say “Read me!” without sounding pathetic by actually saying “Read me!” It must summarize a 33,000 word novella in fewer than 150, and do so in such a way that it tells just enough about the plot but not too much. The prospective reader must be left with the conviction that the risk of disappointment is at least worth the purchase price.

I ought to enjoy the challenge. In any other realm, I probably would. It’s a form of communication that requires a good deal more skill than usual. Strategy—that’s the word I’m after. It contains elements of a primeval “thrill of the hunt” mentality that normally would be very congenial to one of my outlook. (Yes, I know, that isn’t considered very feminine, but take a look at any bargain-hunting housewife or trolling mantrap and try to tell me that that isn’t the exact same instinct concealed behind a veneer of lipstick and powder.)

I digress. Contemplating the matter from this angle, I ask myself why this is such a hindrance. It shouldn’t be. Just, when I start to ask myself why people should read my work, I so often come up totally blank. With little or no effort, I can think of a dozen reasons why they shouldn’t. True, I enjoy rereading what I’ve written, but that’s because I write for my own entertainment. My work isn’t terrible, but neither is it earthshaking in either quality or content. It could be so much better.

Next: I’ve been told quite often that my vocabulary can be a little dizzying to someone looking for a quick, light read. No matter how much I try to scale it back, most of the time I’m not aware that I’m doing it—I mean, since I’ve been using most of these words since early grade school, I start to assume that most adults ought to know them. Some of it I catch in later revisions, but at a certain point my stubbornness kicks in and says, Pick up a dictionary and learn something new, people.

And again: The speculative fiction stigma has seeped into me deeply enough that I find myself apologetic because my work is “just fantasy.” Mind you, I would be far more embarrassed to admit that I wrote in the inspirational or romance genres, so I know that I’m far from immune to literary snobbery myself.

Ah, now I’ve depressed myself. If my work sold well, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so insecure about it. Friends and family aside, however, no one ever seems very interested. Even some of my blood relations, once they realized their chances of reflected glory were pretty slim since I’m not on a fast track to the New York Times bestseller lists, lost all interest in my work. I find that people are more than willing to admire what I do, provided they don’t have to lay out any money to acquire it. My grandmother, I’m given to understand, does a brisk trade in book-lending whenever I come out with a new book.

So why do I keep at it? To put it simply, I do it because I can’t stop doing it. Writing is an integral part of me. True, I do have days when I feel like it wouldn’t matter a whit if I stopped sharing what I write. At times like that, I have a select few supporters who correct me with a metaphorical swift kick in the pants. They want me to keep trying, and eventually I go back to my previous willingness to keep trying, and onward the cycle goes. I don’t know what I would do without that select group.

Meanwhile, I should go back to work on my Kindle release. Of course, it probably wouldn’t put me too far behind schedule if I went on YouTube and looked up a clip of the fish-slapping dance from Monty Python. I don’t know why, but that always cheers me up a bit. This too shall pass…