Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lentil in calabash, or: my brain as a still life

Oh my head, she hurts. Have any of you other writers ever suddenly come to a realization that you're not actually smart enough to do what you're trying to do? Do important thoughts and bits of story keep falling right out of your head like it is a just a big. . . um, a big thing filled with holes? (See? I just started a sentence that I wasn't smart enough to finish!) Well. I feel like that. A lot. I saw something recently at Sara Lewis Holmes's blog: "Our writing should be smarter than we are." I'd never thought of it quite like that before, but I think it is the striving for that that makes my brain feel like a little lentil rattling around inside a calabash. Maybe a calabash like one of these:

I feel like, creatively, I am always trying to do something beyond my skill. With illustration, for example, I labor over drawings for days, reworking them and reworking them, until they were as good as I could possibly make them, and hopefully better than I thought I could make them. Then I would proceed to painting. It's rewarding after the fact, but it isn't joyous, like the spontaneous bursts of creation that sometimes catch one unaware and are just FUN. Well, writing Silksinger has largely felt like that. Filled with striving and pushing, making it better and better, hopefully better than the outer limit of my capacity even. But. Not always fun.

Here's a quote I love:

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
--Thomas Mann

Yes! Me, me, me. You? Anyone? Oh, I mean, there are times of joy, but often it is been a case of "I don't love writing. I love having written." The joy comes after, when the lentil is allowed finally to come to an exhausted halt in the bottom of the calabash and just. . . lie there. You know, like the wee, pathetic lentil that it is.

I'm having great eager yearnings toward a little fun writing, after this draft is done. There's been a "fun" idea drifting idly in my brain for a while, and yesterday, while I was in the shower, something happened that fellow writers will know about: it collided with another idea. And in about five minutes, those two ideas fell in love, got married, and had a whole brood of idea babies, which they presented to me proudly and said, with big beaming grins on their little idea faces: "Here we are, all ready. Now, write us!"

And I want to. So much. This sweet little notion promises fun that my lentil can handle. But. Honestly. I know myself. I could take Jack and Jill and turn it into an epic with interweaving storylines, and then decide I need to learn ancient Greek in order to do it justice, and that it needs to be told alternately from the perspective of the hill and the pail. In five volumes. You know. I just can't help it. Blame it on the lentil. It strives.

Here's a link, by the way, to a good post at one of my daily reads, Justine Larbalestier. This one is on how good and bad writing days affect our mood and mental state. Oh no, not at all, she says in a small voice.

For instance, for the last couple of days, I reworked a section of the book. Intensely, with great concentration and some pulling of pink hair. And then, I was forced to admit that it had been better before. And to undo it. But I had wrought such changes I couldn't just go back to the old version. I had to unweave the new stuff from the text, like, um, getting gum out of hair. I do that a lot. I meddle with my books. Sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. Pointless, pointless evil. And it plunged me into such a black, black mood last night. I'm better now though. I woke up this morning and cleared away the last of the evil. For now.

I am aching for sunshine and summer, not just the little splash of it on the floor of my writing room, but real sunshine and summer. Hikes. I greatly need hikes, and to freeze my feet in snowmelt waterfall pools, and see a snake slip across a path, and smell trees. Soon, self. Soon.


Q said...

*sends virtual chocolate*

I'm sure you can work it out. Even though I totally know what you mean. You're not sure whether or not it's actually good as it is or whether you should change it and maybe adding that paragraph here makes sense but shouldn't that scene over there go right HERE and wait I just FORGOT THAT SUBPLOT oh no how am I going to fix this???

Sara said...

Hey, Laini. I tear my hair out too, and it's not nearly as cute as yours.

The quote came to me via Kelly Fineman's weekly Quoteskimming. From Barb Daniels, in a workshop Kelly attended, I believe.

Strive on. Let there be soup. Yummy, yummy lentil soup.

Stephanie Perkins said...

I have no idea what you are talking about.

I am Very Smart and write Perfect First Drafts with Ease and Enjoyment.


Love this bit: "and then decide I need to learn ancient Greek in order to do it justice..." YES!! Sob! Oh my god, yes!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite songwriters is Robert Pollard from the group Guided by Voices. He's notorious for just blasting out songs by the hundreds and recording them as quickly as possible. Some sound rough and unfinished, some are "half an idea", and some are truly amazing masterpieces. When he's tried to create more polished sounding records, they just haven't worked as well (at least for me).

There's something to be said for raw spontaneity. Just for fun, next time you get that great idea in the shower, dry off, put on some Guided by Voices and just bang it out on the computer. You might strike gold.

Sustenance Scout said...

Toni Morrison has admitted when she sees her books in a bookstore she wants to open each one and mark it up. Not sure if that's encouraging or discouraging! Maybe it just says even the perfect writers among us consider themselves imperfect. Allow your writing to be imperfect, too. Just allowing it to exist is a huge leap of faith. Hugs from Denver, K.

Sharon Tomlinson said...

I'm not a writer but I knew exactly what you meant by having an idea drifting for a while and then it collides with another idea and that's when I begin to have an art anxiety attack. It happened to me this morning and now I can not concentrate on real work (insurance of all things). I enjoy your post.

Alex S said...

Fatty, you sooooooooo, so, SO don't need to worry about this! You should have called me if this was of concern to you. Your writing is SO much smarter than you. Oh my gosh, sooooo much smarter.You tie your shoes together in the morning and then are flabbergasted as to why you can't walk right. You regularly bite into watermelons like apples and then punch them in anger for not being "biteable," as you say. No, Fatty, your writing runs LAPS around your "daily brain." fattyfattyfatty

Amber said...

Alexandra-- LMAO! So something I would say to my bff. haha

Laini-- Thanks for always sharing the good and the evil. It makes the rest of us not feel so hopeless. If even you struggle, then we might not suck so much after all. :)

Ps: Georgie just went ape**** over the pink haired girls on your banner. "pink HAAAAIR, mommmy? Pink HAIR? Can I have PINK HAIR???" lol

Heather said...

It's the reason I have never finished anything - I feel too dumb to continue with it, no matter how much I love the story idea. It's my biggest stumbling block and I hate it.

I need a literary therapist!

Catalina said...

I guess you need to "let it go" for a moment (like do a real hike or go swimming -a pool will do) and then come back refreshed and calmer.

All the stories will continue be written "inside" like sleeping there and then will go out more "happily"

I haven't written books but scientific papers and I tell you it is the same frustration at some point....without the fun of reading it later and enjoying it...

Your "technique" may be developed (skills you say you don't have) but without your creativity you would not be writing those wonderful books.

Elise Murphy said...

It is the weather. REALLY. TRULY. 50 degree mornings, with a chance of rain and clouds all day does not make for an inspirational June. I,too, in the depths of this NW despair prepared to abandon all my writing yesterday. It was clearly too challenging for me, the plot MUCH beyond my intellect, and I was only going to write an unworthy piece of fluff. Oh, but the light (albeit grey light) of morning! My get-the-pollen-OFF-my-body morning shower showed me the way back into the MS. And it is supposed to be sunny and 80 degrees all weekend!

Live with the anger . . . great fodder for those angsty, moody characters.

So nice to know we are ALL insecure messes. I like the idea of a literary therapist . . .

Anonymous said...

I finished the third draft of a novel manuscript a year ago --- the third manuscript I've written, and the first I genuinely feel might be worth sending out to agents or publishers, and then I reread it and compare to other books already published, and my self confindence --- already a small thing --- just wanes. I just don't feel smart enough or skilled enough to have written a novel. I get like this even with blog posts. Am I really even smart enough to have blog?