Tag Archives: Avoiding Writing

You’re Just My Type

images-5A few days ago my car broke down. It was outside a Starbucks near Brown University. I waited for a tow for an hour and a half. Between calls to the dealership, the tow guy, and the vet (Dog Number 3 had her lady parts removed), there was a lot of good old fashioned people watching.

Does anyone out there do this anymore? I think 95% of the folks who passed by were looking at or talking on their phones. Including the adorable young man wearing faded blue overall shorts, his legs sprouting sun-bleached poodle curls, his hair a white David Bowie cut. Same with the portly Lucius Malfoy look-alike in his black pants/shirt/suit jacket. And the minions of pony-tailed students wearing jogging bras and athletic shorts.

Then there was a woman, probably in her late forties or early fifties, dressed to go out for the evening, little black dress, high heels, thick shoulder length tree-bark colored hair. She was pacing back and forth in front of Starbucks, maybe waiting for a Match.com date, a limo, Lucius Malfoy? And under her arm, where I thought she would be holding a stylish clutch, was a package of Oreo cookies.

The next day I was telling my 15-year-old daughter about this woman and she said, “That’s amazing. I want to be her when I grow up.”

And there it was. With that brief description a full-blown character had leapt forth, real enough to be my daughter’s hero.

Right now the writing is killing me. It’s partly because I have to make stuff happen, like, uh, plot. But more than that, I think it is because my main character is boring the crap out of me. And that’s because I don’t know her well enough. So the other day I started one of those exercise things everyone always says will help but I hate them because I think I should already know this stuff (which I don’t) and it makes me feel like I’m wasting time when I should be writing the actual novel (which I’m not). But I was desperate and so I started a list of things about this character:

X is someone who:

Uses humor to deal with complex feelings

Is a little beaten down by the way she thought life would be vs the way life really is

Too vague, I thought. So this:

X tried a lot of outdoor activities because she wants to be an outdoorsy person – loves to go into REI and look at all the cool clothes, gadgets, tents and hiking boots. But nothing sustains her interest long enough to get good at it and in truth she would rather stay at a nice hotel and take a bath

And then, of course, I realized why this character bores the crap out of me. She IS me.

When you are writing a novel (and it truly is a novel – there is a ghost in it for Pete’s sake and a lot of stuff that never happened to me and people who are completely fictional), but you base a character on a lot of what has happened to you, it is hard to make this person his/her own true self.

How do you get this person to break out of your shell?

Maybe more of these exercises? Maybe you get her to do things you would never do and see what happens? Maybe you make an on-line profile and see who she attracts? Maybe you put a package of Oreos under her arm?

This is really stalling out my writing. I probably need to do more people watching – hang out at Starbucks or Roller Derby or go to a lot of yard sales or interview people who think they are vampires. Any of that, of course, would be better than writing.

Character. I love it. I hate it. Time to get some.



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Let the Wild Rumpus Start

IMG_7044Post-Halloween post. Photo courtesy of my friend Kathy who, yes, made the costumes herself, and brought a gorgeous veggie lasagne with béchamel sauce for dinner. She is a wonder. Feel free to hate her. The holiday was the usual. There was back story, gluttony, foot pain, a pink foam wig and clip-on earrings, Obama eating at Gregg’s Restaurant (our Gregg’s Restaurant, OMG, he should have got an eclair they’re to die for), ridiculously tiny princesses from Frozen, craft beer in red solo cups, teenagers with no costumes, a ghostbuster stealing cheesecake, cat hair everywhere (and we don’t have a cat) and even some knitting.

How was your night?

But the real story, the wild rumpus this title promised, is taking place today. Right now, right here in Panera Bread as I think about whether or not I can bear to open up my novel and start writing. Or whether I can face the short story I’ve revised a billion times and begin all over. Can I really break myself in half – leave the person that worked all day and Halloweened all night and is facing a weekend of errands and obligations before another work week begins – and get my head in the game? Find the right voice, fix the transition, figure out where I screwed up the point of view, raise the stakes, create tension, use beautiful language and original metaphor, get you to love my characters and follow them to the ends of the earth or at the very least get you to turn the damn page? And can I do all that in the hour and a half I have in this Panera Bread before I have to pick my daughter up from her Tai Chi class?

Believe me, while these people are eating their Asiago bagels the Wild Things are howling all around me. I have always wanted an office. A beautiful room I could write in with floor to ceiling bookshelves, great art, stained glass, colorful pottery, warm braided rugs, a rocking chair, a lovely desk. In fanciful moments I see the ocean outside my windows. But lately when I conjure up this room I put a seatbelt on the chair. I know I’ll have to buckle myself in for the turbulence.

Years ago I took a writing workshop with Randall Kenan, an amazing man and writer. I probably have mentioned him here before. He told me then that if I wanted to be a writer, nothing could stop me. But there’s a caveat; you have to do the work. You have to strap on that belt and put in the time. You have to learn the craft. And most times I feel like a total fake. I’m just swinging that bat around getting a lucky hit now and then. I haven’t given craft the time and attention that it needs. I have only half-assed studied this thing I am trying to do. I know just enough to be dangerously ignorant.

If you sit in a Panera Bread and lament such things you know you are doomed to try anyway. You know the struggle will rage on as it has over the years. The good news is there are others out there, raging on along with you, strapped in their chairs, howling and gnashing their teeth. They know what it’s like to be caught between two worlds, trying so hard to write stories that, like the boy King, will be loved best of all.

It’s an act of faith really, the closest thing to religion I have these days. To open the laptop and hit the keys, put words down and tell stories. I feel blind, tired, sick, weary. But I can’t stop. I am a Wild Thing, after all.

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Fan Fiction

220px-TARDIS2I have a confession to make.

Last week I walked into the room we call at various times the Family Room, TV Room, Computer Room, Back Room, Living Room, Room Near the Small Bathroom (we just cannot figure out what to call this damn room), and my kids were watching Dr. Who.

I could have done a dozen things. Run to the Small Bathroom and read Woman’s Day Magazine, The Smithsonian, or Granta, all tucked into a basket on the counter. Gone through the room and out the door into The Backyard of Nonna’s Mismatched Tables to watch the squirrels run along the fence like Tom Cruise in a Mission Impossible scene. Grabbed cans of garbanzo beans and diced tomatoes and artichoke hearts that live on the shelves we added to the walls along the stairway to the basement (an area we officially call The Side Going Down), run back into the kitchen (which we thankfully call The Kitchen) and cook some kind of one pot vegetarian thing that everyone will try but only I will eat the next day (and the next) (and the next) until it’s gone.

But no. I sat down.

And that was it. I am hooked.

Further confessions:

1) I thought the protagonist’s name was Dr. Who, not The Doctor (so common, but it still makes you feel lame).

2) The Weeping Angels episode scared me so much I couldn’t go down to the freezer in the basement and get a Klondike Bar to calm me during the next episode. So I made my kids do it, but they went together because they were scared too.

3) I found out hipsters watch Dr. Who, having learned only last year what a hipster is (from my 13 year-old no less), but it depends on the degree of fan that you are. I think true Dr. Who fans are not hipsters, but I’m not completely clear on this.

4) After watching all of Season 3 I will now go back and watch Season 1 & 2. Luckily, a friend of my 17 year-old owns the DVD’s and is more than happy to share his passion for the show with all of us (he has a Dr. Who belt, and looks a lot like David Tennant).

5) I can’t help but think, Damn, these BBC dudes can write!

So now you know. Don’t think less of me. I find it’s a fabulous summer distraction from the day job, cleaning the house, washing the dogs, cooking dinner, showering, paying the bills, and most importantly, writing. Except that I find myself watching it now for the writing. How do they build the suspense, set up the scene, develop the character, use dialogue, tell the back story? Where are they brilliant? Where do they fall flat? What makes a scene work? (It’s certainly not the special effects.) Why does one episode work more that another?

See that. Even in the great and embarrassing escape of Dr. Who I am thinking about the writing. Always thinking about the writing.

I have the week off. Just staying home, hanging with the kids, probably a lot of Dr. Who and Klondike Bars involved. But I’m going out on a limb here. I’m editing a short story that I pulled together from a couple of chapters in a wannabe novel that sits in a drawer, and I’m going to finish it by week’s end. Then I’m going to figure out where the hell I can send it to see if someone will take a chance on a nobody and publish it. If I’m feel really brave, I’ll post the first paragraph. Nothing like setting myself up for a fall. But at least it’s something. It’s like walking into the TARDIS, not knowing where you’ll travel to or what you’ll face when you get there.

Anybody got a sonic screwdriver I can borrow?


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