Thursday, June 23, 2011
On Writing: Ur Doin it Wrong
Lately I've been using the hash tag #lifelessons on twitter*, which is a term that I use to highlight things I learn after doing something dumb. Like, how to use the soap sprayer at the do-it-yourself car wash without getting hit in the face; or, if you take apart the vacuum cleaner to clean the filters, you should remember how it all fits together. I've been doing a lot of these "dumb" or mundane things recently because I am currently without a job. School's out for the summer--cue song--and I chose to come to Austin with the fiance and work on my novel while he goes to his real job and gets paid real money. It sometimes gets a little awkward when people ask what I'm doing here (not to mention where I'm from--see earlier post), and I've even had one person refer to my role as the "trophy fiancee." Har har. I decided to take that one as a misguided compliment.
Of course I do tell people that I'm here working on my book (or "my novel," or "my writing," depending on my mood) which inevitably makes me feel like a fraud. I'm not lying; I am working on something that I hope will become a novel...someday. But the state of "being a writer" seems like such a lofty concept that I'm never sure if I'm embodying it now, or if I ever will.
It's a topic that often comes up among my peers and in my writing workshops. One of my professors (a "real" writer, she has two books that one can actually purchase from booksellers) is fond of saying that the writing process is like masturbation--everyone does it, but no one wants to talk about it. In other words, it's highly personal. You'll sometimes see depictions of writers in movies or on television: set to a manic score, a solitary person (usually male), pounds out words on a typewriter (more dramatic, more tactile than a computer), balls up papers and throws them into the trash, and then....montage over, writer magically delivers bound manuscript to agent/publisher.
The problem with these romanticized visions, and the highly personal and individualized nature of the writing process, is that when I'm working toward that finished product, I'm constantly thinking: am I doing it wrong?
Hence the reason for feeling fraudulent, and for being annoyed, and then evasive, when people ask, "How's it going?" "What's your book about?" "How much is written?"
"How's it going?" is easy to answer; I'll just say "fine" and change the subject. "What's it about?" is trickier; I'm pretty sure the idea I'm starting out with will change ten times, and I don't want to oversell it ("it's a bildungsroman," "it's a commentary on relationships") because that just makes me sound pompous, nor do I want to undersell it ("um, it's about this girl," "it's mostly bullshit") and make it sound like I'm dumb or wasting my time. Not that I should care how it sounds to other people--but I somehow feel like talking about what I'm doing, much like sharing your birthday wish after you blow out the candles, will doom it somehow.
And the "how many pages" question--well, there's no number I could say that would seem or feel high enough. And what counts as pages? Actual text that (might) appear in the finished project? I'd be terrified to count those at the risk of becoming discouraged. But it also wouldn't seem fair to count those other pages, the ones that contain character sketches, notes on the plot, structural concerns, etc. But those are important. Right?
The time I devote to writing is also something that concerns me. It always feels like I should be spending more time writing when, theoretically, I have all the time in the world right now. But I lose just under two hours driving the Big F** to and from work, another two hours working out (including commuting and showering), then there's cooking, taking apart the vacuum, washing the car--you know, that dumb stuff I mentioned earlier. Sometimes I worry that it's the dumb stuff that occupies too much of my brain, when I should be focusing on putting words to page (or screen). And what counts as actual writing time? Hours spent reading, thinking, and doing research? Submitting work to publications? Does writing this blog count as practice, as a warm up for the heavy lifting that is Actual Writing?
The there's the issue of having the time, but not the inclination. I'm only the one millionth person to have this problem, I know, because there's a common term for it: writer's block. But--and here is the dog-chasing-its-tail part of it--to have writer's block, I have to be an actual writer. Otherwise, I'm just someone who has nothing interesting to say, and/or doesn't have the talent to put it to paper. So am I a writer? An aspiring one, say, a writer with an asterisk (*)? Or am I just a fraud, a trophy fiancee?
It seems the only rational course to take is to just keep doing what I'm doing (be it writing or something else) and enjoy this time while I have it. Speaking of which, I encourage all writers who have jobs, responsibilities, and/or children to tell me to STFU in the comments section. Really, anyone who is currently contributing to society can tell me to shove it. But...can you also tell me how to put a Bissell Powerforce Bagless back together while you're at it? Kthxbai.
*If you don't follow me, please do: twitter.com/snippetsblog
**I'm testing out nicknames for my fiance. I'm pretty sure he'll hate this one.