Motherhood of the Travelling Diaper

I have always written slowly, first in a notebook, poring over my scenes until I am sure that they are well polished and later on the computer.  The whole process of piecing together a story always drove me a little nuts (can you drive yourself nuts?) My inner perfectionist was constantly holding back the more productive parts of my brain.  So when I happened upon this article in the New York Times, I began to wonder which process is better: fast or slow?

In this age of instant entertainment, is the slow writing process still relevant?

If Robert Heinlein Says So…

1.) You must write.
2.) You must finish what you write.
3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4.) You must put the work on the market.
5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

This is the advice that Sci-fi guru Robert Heinlein once wrote.  It’s not new advice.  In fact, it’s been kicking around the e-verse for a good long while.  In some ways, I can see how this advice is still relevant for the digital age.  Sites like Wattpad and other online reading sites certainly promote a faster writing process, but do they warrant the quality that goes along with the quantity?

dayoftriffids

 

Binge Readers Anonymous

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with a new Jonathan Strauss series, Lockwood & Co.  Luckily, Strauss has been cranking out the latest instalments of the series out pretty quickly, about several months apart.  I should also point out that Lockwood & Co. is a fantastic series.  Strauss isn’t the only author doing this either–Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation series is another prime example.

While I might have been tempted to pooh pooh the whole fast-writing phenomenon, I kind of love it.  Who doesn’t want to find out what happens in their favourite book series ASAP? I know I do. And there’s nothing more infuriating than a writer who puts out an awesome first book in a series and then just never finishes the series… (*ahem* Jasper Fforde, I’m looking at you, friend.)

jasperfforde

Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Since it is so easy to access entertainment online, it makes me wonder if this new trend has to do with the fact that our consumption of TV and movies is on average more of a binge-watching experience.  I could probably reminisce about the days of yore when people actually had to wait for a certain night to watch their favourite show, but I’m not that old and some people probably still do that.

 

 

 

So, here’s the thing: I can totally see how this fast-moving, binge-reading trend could continue.  I could get on that bandwagon.

Except…

I write really really slowly, so that bandwagon might just run me over.

Motherhood of the Travelling Diaper, Or No Time to Write (Among Other Things)

It was while jiggling my son on my knee whilst also attempting to use the bathroom (all the while a creepy clown melody from some evil toy echoing across the hallway) that I realized I was a mother.  I mean, it’s not like I was like “oh look, I have a baby,” but let’s just say that it was one of those defining moments.

Several weeks passed before I showered, slept or wrote.

Wide_eyes

“Wide eyes” Mikamatto

 

Since becoming a mother, I’ve discovered a new appreciation for slow progress. The day that my son first lifted his head (after several weeks of physio) I began to think that maybe there was something to this baby steps thing.  For a newbie parent, it’s kind of comforting to think about things as taking some time to develop.  Watching my son wake up to the world around him has made me understand something about my own writing:

Slowing down and living in the moment means that we appreciate it more.  Maybe we don’t know how the story will go just yet, but in that moment, the clarity that comes with slowing down is worth everything.

Oh, and Jasper Fforde, if you’re out there, I’ll forgive you for taking an eternity to finish writing Shades of Grey Two.

What do you think? Are you a fan of book series that are quickly produced? Or is good reading still worth the wait?

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Art as Confession

Rap isn’t my favourite music, but the other day when I heard a podcast on CBC about rappers being arrested for the content of their lyrics, I was intrigued.  Sure, there’s a lot of violent ideas floating around the rap-o-sphere, but the crux of the segment on Q was this: is it fair to use art as evidence of a crime?  I would take that argument a little further: If we consider the old adage “write what you know,” is it okay to hold an artist accountable for what they write?

Truth isn’t Always Stranger than Fiction 

It could be that using art as evidence is totally bunk.  I mean, yes, Sylvia Plath was kind of loony.  Her writings were creepy and she met a rather grisly end.  In this way, it’s kind of easy to see how art imitates life in a real way.  Way back in the day of pantaloons, Voltaire got sent to prison countless times for making fun of the government and the Catholic Church in his writings, which were used as evidence too.

Voltaire and his…pantaloons?

But here’s the thing: not all art is representative of real events.  Dare I mention James Frey and his not-so-true memoir “A Million Little Pieces?”  The Oprah of 2003 was mighty peeved when she learned that Frey was stretching the truth.  It was verisimilitude, he claimed (I think)–or maybe other people argued that for him.

What it makes me think is this:

Truth and fiction are kind of intertwined.  So just how much do you want to read between the lines?

Marketing Gone Awry

Later in the CBC program, it came out that in many cases, those rappers whose lyrics are being used against them openly say that they have committed these acts of violence and drugs as a marketing strategy.  Some of them never actually dealt drugs, but the act of spreading that “truth” gives their brand credibility.  It seems a lot like a less PG version of verisimilitude–a popular literary strategy where authors imply that at least some parts of a work of fiction are true based on elements inside the text, song, what have you that are real.

Treasure IslandRobert Louis Stevenson’s hand drawn treasure map is one prime example.  When the book came out, there were even people who searched for the fictitious treasure island because of the map.  Okay, so a treasure hunt is not the same as the rather violent lyrics of many rap songs today.

BUT.

I still can’t help thinking that it is just a tad creepy that any artist–regardless of what they write–would have their words used against them in court.

Write What You Know

Let’s forget about the rappers for a while.  What about the other side of this whole art as confession argument?  Let’s say for the moment that truth and fiction are hopelessly blurred, and sometimes it backfires.

In other literary news, John Green is in the doghouse for his latest work, “The Fault in Our Stars,” because he is neither a teenage girl, nor is he (hopefully) dying of cancer.  Some readers were outraged upset about this real-life detail, since it was not his experience to write about.

One reviewer writes:

Was this John Green’s story to tell?  None of the readers of this novel who have not experienced the kind of loss depicted here have a right to laugh at any  of it.  (Read more of this review here).

…It’s a pretty complicated issue.  John Green arguably hasn’t lived that experience.  However, I would argue that many writers haven’t really experienced what they write about first hand.  I mean, let me know if I’m wrong here, but J.R.R. Tolkien never went on a long journey to Mordor, nor did he know any trolls or wizards.  The jury is still out as to whether or not he was a hobbit.  And if Terry Pratchett only wrote about what he knew, Discworld probably wouldn’t exist, considering that most of the things that he writes about are fantastical (but awesome).  

By: T. Jacques

By: T. Jacques

If writing not entirely truthfully means being disrespectful and singing or rapping about violent acts can land you in the slammer, what’s an artist to do?

What’s your take?  Should art be used as evidence in a court of law?  Just what should writers be writing about anyway?

Why Good Writers Copy

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci

Before I knew that I wanted to be a writer, I used to hand write out the books and passages that I loved.  I didn’t keep them anywhere special–this was grade five.  I kept pages of copied words in my desk.  Every now and then, I would take them out and read them over.  Except one day my teacher saw what I was doing and pulled me aside.

“That’s cheating,” he said.  “You can’t do that.”

“I’m just trying to keep the words,” I said.

My teacher frowned.  “People who copy end up in jail,” he said.  “That’s just the way it is.”

Horrified, I threw out all of my copied pages and I gave up the copying game for building The Most Amazing Snow Fort Of All Time.

It wasn’t until a little while ago that I started to see what it was that I had been doing.  I’d always known that there was never a nefarious scheme to steal the words that I had written down, but I’d never realized that my goal in all of that tireless scribbling had been a form of writing practice.

A little while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Winter at a local writing seminar.  In person, he is affable and easy to talk to.  While telling stories about his own writing practice, giving examples of writers that he likes and even singing a song, there was one piece of advice that really stood out to me:

michael winters quote

What I realized was that all of the great writers start out by playing with the writing that is already out there.  It’s not illegal to write in somebody else’s voice! (As long as you are telling your own story).  If you’re feeling adventurous (or maybe just in need of something new to try) why not choose a story that challenges you?  Write in the voice of that author to find out how it feels. At the very least, you’ll discover something new about yourself.

 

*Photo by Michael Caven.

Miracles and Mountains, Or Finding the Fantastic in the Ordinary

Image

I was in the mountains when I first realized that miracles could exist.  Not in the biblical sense, the way I saw it, but in that visceral feeling you get when something is real and at the same time magical.

Our rental car on the ride up to Mt. Cook was a nice one.  One of those shiny, tank-like creations with the headlamps that look like cartoon shark eyes.  We’d been in the car for several hours, already and everywhere around us the fields had sunken into valleys so deep you had to crane your neck out the window to see the bottom.  Did I mention that we had forgotten our map in the previous night’s hotel room? Oh yeah, and (once again) we were feeling like we might have taken a wrong turn.

It started quietly at first, a flash of cotton speeding past my window.

I blinked. “Was that a bush?” I asked?

Except a moment later, two more muddy “bushes” sped past the other side of the car, their milk-coloured ears flicking, heads bobbing up and down as they ran.

Matt broke out into a laugh.  “They’re sheep!” he said, driving slower.

Sheep poured over the horizon, hundreds of them crowding up the nearby hills and in every direction of the road.

“It’s already two,” I said, trying to keep the nerves from jangling into my voice.

Matt turned off the engine.  Frowned.  “Hm,” he said.

“They’ll cancel our reservation!” I said.

Then he turned to me with one of his mischievous grins that got me hooked on him in the first place, opened the door and took off running down the road after the sheep.

“Move along little sheepies!” he hollered.  “Git! Git!”  He turned around to wave me out into the crowd, his wild, curly hair the only thing setting him apart from all of the wooly heads.

I laughed.  The spell was broken.

We did reach the mountains, eventually.  They were only around the next hillside, we soon learned.  Together, we looked up at Mt. Cook, stepping out of the car into the biting winter air.

It’s not like I hadn’t seen mountains before.  In Christchurch and the country that surrounds it the mountains rise out of the fields like silent spectators.  Can a mountain—or a herd of sheep—be a miracle?  Miracles, I think, are those ordinary moments that make you realize the wonders of the mundane.

This time, seeing the mountain was different.  It had the feeling of an end to a journey, the way Frodo must have imagined himself when he finally reached Mordor.   In a few short weeks, we would fly home and the future seemed uncertain.

“It seems far,” I said, as we headed down the boardwalk, the mountain looming icily before us.  I had to shield my eyes with my hand to see it clearly.

Matt jogged ahead, then stopped to peer at Mt. Cook himself.  “We can make it,” he said.

I smiled.  I didn’t know for sure if we could–make it, that is–but I took off down the empty path anyway.  “Maybe so,” I said.  “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Snapshots of Wisdom: Pythons, Spiders & the Uphill Climb

Photo by: Chen Siyuan

A couple of years ago, I was camping in the Australian Outback.  (You might have heard about my encounter with a python.  Spoiler alert: I totally won).  When I was there, my husband and I ended up doing a lot of hikes.

Fact: I strongly dislike hiking.

Fact: A sign at the beginning of the trail that claims to be a “moderate” hike is totally bluffing.

I can recall one hike where, amidst the poisonous neon blue spiders and the miles of searing hot sand, I was getting particularly tired of the uphill climb.  We had been hiking for a few hours now and as the unforgiving sun seared into the backs of our necks, I huffed and puffed my way through the rocky wasteland.  Might I add that we were totally and irrevocably lost?

“There’s no end!” I whined.  “We’re just going to be stuck out here forever!”

The husband was equally unimpressed, but ever the optimistic soul that he is, he insisted that we push on.  “The trail has to end sometime,” he said.  To which I replied “Yeah, when a crocodile has eaten us.”

Without a hint of irony, my husband said “In this part we’re more likely to die of heat exhaustion, I think.”

After some deliberation and a lot of backtracking, we did eventually find our way out of the sandy wasteland.  What we found was a pretty awesome sight:

Ubir, Australia

Ubir, Australia

Every once in a while, when I am knee deep in stories that don’t want to come together, I have to remind myself that all of the best adventures happen when we go a little further, step outside of our comfort zone and work hard to dig deeper.  It’s only when we force ourselves to keep going that we are rewarded.

Feed Your Muse # 6

feed your muse

 

Sometimes, getting started writing is all about getting past thinking about what a good story might be and just picking up the pen.  Here are a few prompts that have helped me get started.

1. Choose a random book from your shelf and open it to page 10.  Select the the first sentence at the top of the page and start writing.

2.  Go out for a walk around the block and take note of everything you see.  Write for ten minutes about one thing that interests you.

3.  Begin your scene with the words “Everyone knows that…”

Happy writing!

Small Towns

Growing up in a town that has only one stoplight has changed my perspective on community and what it means to be a part of one, I think.  In a town where everyone knew everyone else’s business the minute they opened their mouths, it was impossible to be a total loner.  Around dinnertime, when the streetlights began to wink on, casting rosy circles of light on the old side street, we’d meet out in the yard in groups, calling to one another.  I don’t live in that small town anymore, but sometimes I think about it, the memories re-imagined in that idyllic half-truth in which all memories resurface.

It occurred to me today that community isn’t what it used to be.  (Yes, I realize that I sound like an old fuddy-duddy complaining about the good old days).   Here’s the thing: there’s a lot our generation doesn’t even miss.  How can you miss something you don’t even know about?  Some would say that community now falls under the category of a dying tradition.  You know, like walking to school uphill, barefoot in a snowstorm or Air Jordans and acid wash jeans.  Where I might have asked a friend for help, I now go to Google or YouTube to learn how to do pretty much anything.  I’ve noticed that the people I know commute long distances, work online and send status updates, but I don’t even know most of the people in my neighborhood well enough to ask for a cup of sugar.

This got me thinking.  What does this mean for the state of stories and the people who write them? If we are always present online, does it mean we are missing moments in our own realities? 

That being said, I do happen to be writing on a blog.  I love my blog and I love the people who read it.  Since starting considerablespeck.com, I’ve felt more connected to writers (and writing) than I have in a long time, being that I am quiet, weird and never socialized much before The Internet happened.

There is a quote from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities that has stuck with me:

Paris from the Eiffel Tower.

So where does this leave us?  Is anonymity the new community?  What about that small town, with the kindly neighbors who sat on front porches and knew exactly what grades you got in school or whether you had a date to the fall dance?  It didn’t hit me until this morning, when I logged onto my writing group and was excited to hear what they had to say about my latest literary pursuits that I realized something.  Small towns are everywhere.  I think we make them up as we go, those idyllic meeting posts out under the street lamps.  Community is what we make it and it doesn’t have to be anonymous, even if they exist online.  Small towns are re-imagined through the people that we choose to connect with—wherever they might be.