Critique, Doubt, Editing, Feedback, Fiction, Novel, Writing

Ooo … ooo … I know this one!

Let’s play a little game, shall we?

Linda: I’ll take felicitous discoveries for a thousand.

Alex: I do have writing talent. Linda?

Linda: What is … What did I discover while editing?

Alex: Correct!

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know I suffer from a lack of confidence in my writing ability. It’s largely self-inflicted. My inner critic prides herself in perfectionism. To make matters worse, she’s an expert at rationalizing away any praise that comes my way.

I think most of us lack confidence to some degree. We play that comparison game and believe we’ll never measure up. We get one tiny bit of negative feedback and blow it out of proportion until we see every word we’ve written as garbage. (Or is that just me?)

Today, as I edited my novel, I found myself smiling—grinning, to be honest. Not at any particular “darling” as in, My god, has there ever been a more brilliant metaphor?! No, I was happy because I could honestly say, “This is good writing.”

That may sound like I’m full of myself, but I’m not. What I discovered today is I suffer doubt most when I don’t read my work. When I set aside a work, whatever faults I know it has magnify in my mind until I convince myself I’m hopeless as a writer. I’m discouraged from even starting something new because, well—I can’t write!

When I finally open that file and start to read I see it’s not perfect. I find weak verbs, flabby sentences, bad syntax, but I also find decent writing as a whole. It’s never as bad as I imagined it to be. Yet I’ve allowed my doubt to waste time, fuel jealousy, and even downright depress me.

Why do we writers do this to ourselves?

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Imagination, Inspiration, Music, Words, Writing

Seeing the music

I sometimes forget to view song lyrics as writing—stupid, I know. This morning I had a nearly ninety-minute “commute.” By that, I mean I drove my husband to work, my granddaughter back to her house, and then drove myself back home. On my return trip, I plugged in my iPod and listened to Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing. (Yes, it’s old—1987!)

For several months back then, I listened to this and her debut album (on repeat) while I worked in my art studio. For the first two songs, I was lost in memories of that place and time, but then I clued in on some of the lyrics for the third—”Ironbound/Fancy Poultry.”

Instantly, the same mental picture of the scene I conjured long ago popped into mind. That visual effect always happens when I reread a novel or story, but usually when I listen to familiar music, I only have the memories associated with the time or place I heard it before—like in my art studio circa 1987. Why was this song different?

I restarted the song and listened closely. Here are the opening s:

In the ironbound section near Avenue L
where the Portuguese women come to see what you sell
the clouds so low the morning so slow
as the wires cut through the sky

The beams and bridges cut the light on the ground
into little triangles and the rails run round
through the rust and the heat
the light and sweet coffee color of her skin

Such beautiful description. Is it any wonder I “saw” this song? Today I have housework and more driving to do. I think I’ll listen for more description.

Note: There is an interesting subtext on the subjugation and objectification of women to this song. Here’s a video with lyrics. (Warning: a few words are wrong.)

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Fiction, Imagination, Memory, Writing

Remember imagining aloud?

Was there any time we made better use of imagination than during childhood? Hours, the whole day, spent pretending with friends, or siblings, or alone. I remember what I requested for my sixth Christmas: a cowboy hat, guns and holster, and doll dishes. Boys or girls, I was ready to play with anyone.

I think I must have been the chief “imaginer” in my circle, the director of play. I might have been bossy. 😉 I remember using the phrase “Now you say …” quite a lot. Sometimes I preferred to play alone with my dolls, probably because they always did what I said.

One of my favorite things to do was to clothespin one side of an old quilt to the backyard fence to make a tent—excuse me, covered wagon. This was during the era I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. What adventures my children and I had as pioneers.

Baby dolls turned to Barbie’s, played with alone or with friends. And favorite movies had to be reenacted, with or without dolls. Oh, and then there was school! Not real school, which I loved, but play school, which I also loved. One particular friend and I played this until junior high—yes, this was back in the dark ages, when children were children.

We had an elaborate set up in her basement, with books, and notebooks, and real school papers we’d saved. In our schoolroom, we had a world map and a globe, fancy. Even better, we had a chalkboard, a real slate one, and fairly large! Her father hung it on one wall for us. We took turns being the teacher and the student. This was serious stuff.

As children, we were actors. We were writers. Some of us still are. Using my imagination, I play. Only now, I do it on paper, and I’m still saying, “Now you say …”

♦ ♦ ♦

After I wrote this, it sounded familiar to me, so I checked my blog archives, Sure enough, I’m repeating myself. 😳  Here’s a link to my earlier post about childhood play, if you care to read it:

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Movies, Musings, Writing

The stuff I blog when I tire of relevancy

Yesterday, I watched Ponyo, an animated Japanese children’s movie. It reminded me of another movie, Spirited Away, and a quick check at Netflix told me they were both directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. The animation in these movies is gorgeous, though some of the imagery disturbs me, as do the stories.

Fujimoto @2008, 2009 Nibariki-GNDHDDT

In the one I saw yesterday, I’m not sure I ever understood what the father of Ponyo was. Though he lives and breathes underwater, he looks human, with bizarre hair,  but he’s horrified that his daughter—born a fish—wants to become human. In the English-language version, Liam Neeson is the voice of this character, and though I’m a Neeson fan, his voice coming out of this character’s mouth only added to the weirdness.

Although both these movies mesmerized me, they seem so different from American animated children’s movies, I’m surprised our children like them. Then again, I don’t see a lot of children’s movies anymore, so maybe they’ve changed. Or maybe I should be comparing them to our folk tales of old. These two Japanese movies did remind me of the fairy tales I read as a child. The ones that frightened me.

Did I worry there might be real witches with candy houses and ovens built for children? You bet. Did it cross my mind that my father might do something like indenture me to spin straw into gold for the rest of my life? In a word, yes. Think of all the tales that feature a wicked step-mother. I did … every time my parents argued. As an adult I understand those tales reflected the harshness of the times in which they originated, but as a child that aspect flew over my head. A part of me believed these things might be possible.

Gran Mamare @2008, 2009 Nibariki-GNDHDDT

This image from Ponyo particularly spooked me. Every time I stand at ocean’s edge, I fear I am seconds away from seeing something huge—and alive—rising out of it. So, even though she was beautiful, the image of Ponyo’s mother gave me pause.

Sometimes imagination is a curse.

Tell me, did any children’s stories worry or scare you? Or were you precocious enough to go deeper, analyzing the symbolism and allegory?

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Fiction, Imagination, Inspiration, Words, Writing

A Tuesday Morning Magical Experience

A couple mornings ago, some words popped into my head while I pruned spent roses. I rolled the words around on my mental tongue and realized I had a pretty good opening line, but no other lines came to me as I worked. When I came back inside, I sat down to research my next poetry form for the Creativity Workshop, but I just couldn’t concentrate. I closed the book and started to get up from the table. Instead, that line came back to me and I reached for my pen and legal pad.

I wrote down that first line and the floodgates opened. Out gushed two whole pages, as fast as I could write. It was spontaneous writing, and not half bad, but I wasn’t ready to look at it too closely yet. I didn’t even know what I had written. Flash story? Some form of poem?

This writing experience felt magical because it was not how I usually work. I didn’t sit down, close my eyes, and wait to see a scene or hear a conversation. I just wrote it down, then set it aside, to get a little distance.  Later that night, as I washed dishes I thought about the piece. I had written from the viewpoint of a woman caught up in a relationship and trying to sort out her feelings. The voice seemed familiar. After I put away the last dish, I re-read what I’d written. Each stanza(?), paragraph(?) started with a you said/I thought statement, and as I read those my eyes widened. Then I laughed.

These words could very well have been a conversation Meredith, a character from my recently completed novel, might have had with herself. I believe, in my subconscious, she did. That’s why it poured out so effortlessly. I just feel a little stupid that I didn’t see this while I was writing it.

I love these little surprise gifts, don’t you?