Wednesday, June 18, 2014

word processor

Writer's Block (Richard Ahnert, 2011)

My friend Paul Mullin has tagged me in a blog tour meme hashtag deal called #MyWritingProcess, which he's tackled like a champ over at his place. Paul's one of those capital W writers I talked about a couple of weeks ago, a prolific and talented playwright who's bowing out of his old form for a while to jump into memoir. Go read about his process, but after you read mine, because he's got a lot more to offer you than I do and I want to look good for a minute.

You might notice that I wrote about writing only two weeks ago, and maybe it seems soon to circle back and hit it again, but this prompt appeared now and I don't have another topic wrestling for supremacy this week. So I'm going in. I promise next week's post won't be about writing, unless it is. 

So these are the four questions on deck with this meme:

What am I working on?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

Let's see how faithful I am to this little group. I can tell you right now that every single question makes me squirm. But it's good to squirm sometimes. It's tonic. I'll fight through it.

What am I working on?

Are we talking about on the page? Or in my mind? Because I've got a whole Walter-Mitty-esque panoply of things getting worked on in my imagination. If we're talking about cold, hard facts, then you see everything I'm working on every Wednesday. 

But if we tweak the phrasing of the question, I can give you a little more. If the question is "What are you working on or toward?", then the answer is threefold: I'm working toward a memoir, I'm working on an application for a writing residency, and I'm working toward getting essays published in places that are not this blog. I'm making the distinction because I'm dealing with some resistance, like I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Words—you know, words, the currency of this whole endeavor—are not piling up right now, except for here. But I've made moves toward these goals. I've pitched a few things, published a couple of teeny ones, and am waiting to see if a particular pitch I've made will fly for a piece I'm dying to do, which would happen a few months from now. 

The memoir, though. Oof. It's a slippery fucker. I have the subject but not the story, even though I've been hanging out with/working on this thing for three years. Right now I have a handful of scenes, an incomplete list of scenes I haven't written yet, and an ancient mass of vamping waste product. The lack of clear handle on the story makes me want to pull my hair out. What exactly am I tracing? Where does it land? I know the terrain, I have a sense of the transformation I'm undergoing as narrator, but I want to know where the rainbow ends, for fuck's sake, which I can't find out until I stack up the scenes and find out the actual truth.  I want to see it before I make it, but I can't, and it's turning me into a stubborn little donkey. It's dark up there on that path! I'm not going. You can't make me. What if I accidentally walk off a cliff? Fuck you. 

But this is the project, this is the thing that if I don't do it, the last word on my deathbed will be one long obscenity. I want it and resist it more than anything. I've blown it up too big in my mind, too, like writing and, god willing, publishing it it will change my life and validate my whole existence. I have to shrink it, so I can get to it. 

I'm afraid. Fear, stupid fucking fear, my archenemy. I'm afraid of that cliff, or all the cliffs. I'm afraid to tell the truth and alienate people, even dead people. I'm afraid of writing a dumb book, or a shallow one, or one that just misses the mark. 

I got kicked out of college once. I got kicked out, and then they let me back in, and then I freaked out, got paralyzed and flunked out in the end, anyway. I had trouble writing my papers, because I didn't want anyone to see my opinions, because they were probably stupid. My professors were like what the fuck is wrong with you, girl and I couldn't tell them. When I was lobbying to be let back in after they kicked me out, I had to go in and face this gigantic room of faculty and plead my case. Someone asked me the "What the fuck is wrong with you, girl?" question, and I tried my best to articulate it. "I think it's perfectionism," I ventured. My Abnormal Psych professor was particularly scornful about this theory, saying, "I would hardly call your lack of work the result of perfectionism!" and I wanted to throw my purse at his head. Fuck him. It was and is. 

Anyway. That's what I'm working on. Things, and perfectionism. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I so badly want to tell this question to go scratch, because I hear a touch of what makes my work unique/better than others of its genre, the answer to which is I don't know/nothin'. But the part of me that understands that marketing is a thing thinks I ought to take a stab at it. 

My genre is memoir/personal essay Is that a genre? Shit, man. Am I doing something different? I guess this blog is really all we can go on, since it, you know, exists. I think a strength and a weakness in this blog is that I don't stick to one tone. I write humorous things when the spirit moves me, but as often as not I go the other way. It's nice that I can swing both ways but it makes it tough to pinpoint what I'm doing all up in here. Maybe that's the difference. A wide straddle? This fucking question. You tell me, folks! 

I swear a lot. That's something. I swear because that's how I talk and think. I can clean up when I need to, but I like to be free and tell the truth, and swearing is shorthand for the truth/occasionally necessary to convey the truth. 

This is the worst question. I don't know, man! I will inevitably have to do better with this, but not tonight.

Why do I write what I do?

Why do I write about myself? Oh, this one's easy. Because of my childhood! 

That's flip but it's true. The drive to grab hold of the mic rose from a way-back feeling of invisibility (inaudibility?), and I think I'm perpetually trying to establish that I exist. 

How does my writing process work?

For starters, Tuesdays. Tuesday's my day. I have one inviolable writing day a week, thanks to the good loving/blockade running of my husband. He covers my ass as long as I want on Tuesdays, since I publish this blog just after midnight at the top of Wednesday. Time is the sine qua non for a writer, and so far I own one day. I need another one, or some more pieces. I occasionally pounce on a not-Tuesday, but a real standing date with my brain would help. We've got two little kids, so we're both struggling for time. 

But, okay, so it's Tuesday. We have the when. Where is either sitting on my bed or at my favorite café. I'm there right now. Check it out:

This is my office away from home. When I did intuitive readings for a living, I either did them on the phone at home or here. I love this joint. The coffee is great, the walls are red, I like the music, the crowd is sort of nicely varied and schlumpy-ish. What more could I ask?

And this is what I write on:

An iPad mini, seen here on my other office. I love the portability, and I've grown to love autocorrect. And it seems casual. What, I'm just throwing down a few words! Nothing to stress over. I used to occasionally write longhand, but my handwriting is horrible when I'm thinking and writing fast. If I want to know what I said, I better type—that is, unless I go calligraphy-slow, which nope. 

I will pull out pen and paper, though, if I'm brainstorming, which has become a go-to part of my process. I took a brainstorming class at the Hugo House taught by the smart and delightful David Schmader, and I'm so glad I did. It's the one part of my process that has specific, formal steps—even if they're very simple ones—which are a comfort when I'm flailing. 

That's the concrete stuff. I can't speak to anything else, I think. It feels premature to discuss anything more esoteric. I'll do that when I'm a Writer. I'm conscious that I'm developing as a writer, and part of that development has to do with ownership. I don't fully own it yet. For the w in my writer to go capital, I need to fight for it harder: fight for the time, fight to push my voice out there in the work itself, fight to be read by a wider audience, and remunerated for my work whenever possible, and most of all to value my own work enough to do all of that. I'm working on it. 

And now it's time to pass the tag baton. I'm going to toss this in the direction of a couple of women whose work I love, in different genres. My pals Suzanne Morrison and Keri Healey are capital Ws. Suzanne has written a memoir called Yoga Bitch (get it, read it—so smart, so charming) and is at work on a new one and also, I believe, on some short stories, one of which I've heard her read aloud, and it was the bomb. I wanted fifty more. Her voice is urbane and sharp and open and tender all at once, which is my favorite thing. And Keri Healey is a playwright. Her most recent production was a dark and brilliant piece called Torso, which rocked this town. Keri wades balls-out into tough subject matter, but her writing is also incredibly funny and personable. Seattle is lucky to have her, and I had the pleasure/challenge of performing in one of her plays while I was pregnant with my oldest son. I hope they take me up on it and spill. Keri doesn't have a blog, but hey, technicalities. She can borrow mine. 

There. I gave you all I could give you. Thanks to Paul Mullin for being curious and giving me something to write about this week, and for constantly encouraging me, which means a ton. Now you can go read his post, and the rest of his blog, and his plays while you're at it, and hold tight for his memoir. He's one of my favorite thinkers and he's got a pugilistic streak that I love. Or maybe the pugilistic part is the main part, and he's got a streak of tranquility. Whatever it is, I dig it. Go look. 


Keri Healey said...

Tina, you are the bomb, you bombitty-bomb-bomb. Thank you for thinking of me for this exploration and I would love to respond. Will do in a few days. At the moment, I am alternating between crying and vomiting as I try to finish a draft of a new play for my reading this weekend.

Katie In NJ said...

Tina, imagine my total and utter surprise just now when I found out I am on the verge of writing my memoir! I hadn't planned to do that. I have a lot of other stuff on my plate right now. But once upon a time, a bazillion years ago, I did want to be a Writer. I have boxes and boxes of words written on yellow pads that never went anywhere. But I've said everything to myself, every single thing, that you have! All of the excuses. The fear. The insecurity. I was even a full-blown perfectionist for a while.

I am not going to write anything. But you are! You have overthought this book to death! Now take about an hour -- no more -- and start weeding out the excuses, separating them from the reasons, and throw them away. Then face what is left. Try really hard to come up with a viable response to each reason you have for not starting your memoirs yet. You've played around with these thoughts and ideas for long enough now. There is just no point in continuing that. You have a very unique writing voice, you are good enough, you are interesting enough, you are funny enough and you have a magic way with words. If you don't write the coolest book ever, according to the cool kids, tell them to go fuck themselves. You have a great story to tell and I am dying to read it from top to bottom! GO WRITE.


Unknown said...

Hi Tina. A friend of mine has now forwarded two of your blogs to me: I am wondering if you have already found your long-lost twin, because, if not, I am her.
The honesty of your "writing your way to visibility" is like a gong in my heart, reverberating as it passes through each level of hell that is within me.
I am grateful, also, of the crimes perpetrated upon me in childhood, because, holy fucking great material Batman! :) Oh ya. I swear a lot too - gets me in trouble with my parents, and that is certainly why I do it. I love your writing! I am working on a memoir also, as well as re-working the first two books in a YA series, and writing poetry to try to lay some ghosts. You're awesome, and thanks!

Cheryl in Wisconsin said...

I can definitely understand the correlation between perfectionism and lack of work done. I believe there are examples of it all around us.

We are all made up of collections of fascinating stories; yours are exceptional and your ability to portray them with insight and intellect make them rewarding to read whether they're sad or funny.

Thanks for making me aware of the other writers you have noted.

Finally, I think you have just coined my new life quote: "Please don't let the last word on my deathbed be one long obscenity!"

Unknown said...

I just read a great article about perfectionism here, you may like:

I, like you, am frozen by fear.