On Writing With a Stutter

I just finished reading Wizard and Glass, which brings me to a very pathetic 7 books behind schedule for my “Read 100 Books in 2015” goal. Overambitious, perhaps, especially considering that I am not limiting page numbers on the books. I am trying to read a play and or a graphic novel once a week to increase my chances of making that goal, but it’s more of an idea than a practice right now.   (Plus I’m averaging 370 pages a week!  That’s good!)

I am also trying to put a review up on Goodreads (read them!) for every book that I read this year, which is what brings me here right now.

The other day I was reading an article about…writing articles.  Specifically, it was about an app that watches and records the way you write and then plays back what you wrote and how you wrote it.  It’s called Draftback. The playbacks are interesting to watch for about a minute of someone else’s work and, I would imagine, are excruciating when the writing is your own. The constant deleting and copy/pasting and subtle rewording and occasional typo (fun aside: if I was recording this you guys would have all just learned exactly how much trouble I have spelling “occasional” #perfectcomedictiming).  I have not installed Draftback and don’t plan on doing so, because I think it’s mostly a waste of time and I waste my time on enough things already.

HOWEVER.

One great value to be derived from it is the realization that sometimes you should just to fucking commit to what you’re writing.

Which brings us back to four paragraphs ago.

I was trying to write a review of Wizard and Glass and was having a tough time of it.  I would write a paragraph and then delete it.  I would add a sentence somewhere in the middle of a paragraph that I’d started and abandoned for another idea.  I would write a paragraph that was exactly the same as the last paragraph only written with slightly different words. And, throughout it all, I could not stop thinking about Draftback.  I could not stop imagining how embarrassing (another word I cannot spell) the tracking of my writing would look like.

When I watched a snippet of someone else using Draftback, all that I could think was how ridiculous most of the changes the author was making were.  The experience was very similar to watching someone adjust figurines on a desk or books on a shelf.  If your cat knocked the Superman figurine from his place of prominence in your Superhero shrine, yes, you should pick it up and put it back.  You can even spend a little time readjusting the scene if you think that’s in order.  But if you sit there for an hour constantly readjusting you are wasting your time and, at the end of the day, no one is going to notice the minuscule readjustments, least of all you.

If nothing else, Draftback makes a compelling case for this adage I am (probably not uniquely) making up right now:  “Write first. Edit second.”

Yes, there will be changes that you’ll want to make to your writing, but don’t prevent yourself from ever finishing (#hyperbole) your writing because you’re so busy editing it. Don’t write with a stutter because you can’t make it more than a paragraph without changing something in that paragraph.  Computers make editing and tweaking so easy, but there is something to be said for not tweaking everything the moment it occurs to you that you might want to make a change.

Anywho.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to write a review of Wizard and Glass in one continuous shot.  No stutter.  Old school.

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On Writer’s Block

I came here today to delete my last post.  The one from January 29th that’s right below this one.  The one that slowly trudges toward zero and that surprised all of us by actually grinding to a halt at -5.

The reason I was going to delete this post is because a couple nights ago my Mum and I were chatting and she told me that it was the worst post of mine she’d ever read.

Before you get all righteously indignant on my behalf (thanks, me too), both my Mum and I tend to say things a little more forcefully than we mean to.  Because of this I took what she said with a grain of salt, but, much like salt, her words still stung a little.  I thought about it for a little bit and then I tried really hard not to think about it and then I thought about it some more because HOW COULD I NOT. Even when you know that the thing you made wasn’t a masterpiece, you still don’t want to think that it’s bad, much less something that someone called “the worst”.

Long story short, it got to me.

I decided to delete it.

But I must be a bit of a masochist, because I decided to read it first, fully expecting to be embarrassed and to feel awkward and to feel absolutely nothing but a sweet sense of relief upon hitting that delete button.

I didn’t, though.

And the post is still up.

The post is staying up.

Turns out, I like it.

I didn’t write it to be read, and I only posted it after it was complete and I realized that if I didn’t post it I would have failed to accomplish one of my goals for the day.  There is a certain beauty in things that aren’t created for an audience.

Was it flowery in parts?  Yeah?  Was it collar-tuggingly confessional in others?  Maybe a little.

But it worked and I liked reading it.  It was a pretty honest expression of what it feels like to have one thing that you really want to be doing and another thing that keeps getting in the way of the thing you love.  It was, simply, an expression of writer’s block, and it was not illiterate.

One of the goals that I have set for myself is to write 500 words a day, which is a struggle sometimes.  I didn’t do it yesterday.  I took a nap and watched a movie instead.  (Speaking of which, watch Virunga).  I didn’t do it the day before because I was taking a bath.  I didn’t do it the day before that, either, because I was busy for other reasons.  It was probably just as stupid of a reason, honestly.

Clearly the habit hasn’t stuck yet.

But every once in a while I get frustrated and I actually follow through with the goal and my words appear on paper or on a screen and even if I’m the only one who likes them, I think I’ll let them live.

I forgot that I’m supposed to blog today, but I did write 500 words, which I will now post as my blog. Wutever.

500 Words.

Ugh.

It’s awful.

But it’s necessary, too.

And it’s terrible how much I have slacked in doing something so simple as committing five. hundred. measly. words. to paper.

To screen.

To whatever.

At the end of every day I am just so tired. I don’t have anything creative left over to offer to the universe. I have the energy to ease my antsy body into a tub filled with bubbles and warm water and lose myself in my cellphone (pathetic) or a book (okay) as long as I don’t spend too long in that book, because then I’ll get antsy and stop focusing and losing the train of thought and submerge myself further into the water and I dirty it with my sweatless body.

126 words.

See? Where am I supposed to find the things to say? I try to put poetry between the ideas, to hold them together with the sticky, glittery glue that is wordplay. But even that only gets me so far.

Today I wrote a review on Goodreads (DOES THAT COUNT AS MY 500!? IT COULD, COULDN’T IT?!) and I struggled to shorten it. Not because I was paying any amount of attention to the number of words logged, but because it was so awful and clunky.

I littered my writing with unnecessary adjectives and clogged up my meaning and turned a brief piece of writing into a meandering neandrethal of prose. It sounded like I was trying to be smart, like I wanted to be taken seriously and, more than anything, it sounded like I was failing to do both of those things.

I’m going to count this as my two long hand pages. It isn’t longhand (obviously) but its content is exactly what those usually are. Incredibly fragmented, journaly, and soul-lifting.

Ugh. 300 words.

Still short.

Still painfully, painfully short.

What makes it so hard to find so few things to say?

180 to go.

177.

176.

I could count down, but that would be lame.

166 lines leading downward on a page, drawing the eye ever closer to my goal of 500.

Pathetic.

Absolutely, completely, unabashedly pathetic.

Is a journal actually any better, though?

Is my bitching and moaning about how hard it is to reach the low-hanging fruit of a goal of words actually any better?

Or is it even worse?

Maybe the honesty of a count-down is better. To admit that I couldn’t even try because my brain was fried from a day full of doing absolutely nothing and simply give up (77) and count the numbers down, like a doomsday clock whose final ring will bring my salvation from what is supposedly my passion.

Which is EXACTLY what makes this so pathetic. I’m supposed to LIKE this. I’m supposed to want to do this, to look forward to this. What is wrong with me? Where did my love for the things I love go?

I feel like a broken instrument. There was so much beauty inside me once and now it’s gone.

-5

500 Word Formality

This is nothing but a 500 word formality.

Two of my “daily” goals for today are as follows:

1)  Write 500 words.
2)  Blog

The 500 words is an every day goal and, technically speaking, if one were to include emails and words I doodle on papers and Facebook comments, I probably hit 500 words around noon.  But those unilaterally do not count because there is no intention behind them and part of what makes 500 words a day a worth goal is that I have to actually reserve a chunk of time to sit in front of my computer and clunk out 500 words.  It isn’t hard.

But it is what I just did there times five, so it’s not exactly easy either.

The blogging part is actually a triweekly goal.  Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, I believe.

It isn’t as hard to write a blog three times a week as I thought it would be.  Last week went down without a hitch.

For the last several years I have been convinced that I no longer have enough stuff to talk about to write one blog a week, much less three, so it has been surprising to sit down to blog and immediately have something to say every time.

That said, I have been questioning the usefulness of blogging three times a week.

For one, I don’t want my blog to get spammy.  I don’t want people to get tired of seeing that I posted.  Three isn’t a big number, but it’s big enough.

Secondly, I think my time might be better spent writing the fictional pieces that I’ve started and abandoned.  I could be writing articles to submit to paying sources.  I could be writing the pitches to those books that I supposedly really want to write, but have left simmering on a back burner for the last year.  I could write some more poetry, too, although something tells me that my focus on word count might make poetry a difficult thing to write while aiming at 500+ words.

It’s just a hunch.

I think I will cut down my weekly blogging to two posts a week for now.  Cutting it immediately down to one seems too drastic.  It would feel like I was giving up on something, even though I really don’t think I am.  I’m just realizing that there are more valuable ways that I can exercise my writing than by talking to an audience of friends and family who will not, much as they love me, give me any money for reading what I write.  🙂  Love yas.

It crossed my mind to start that change today and not post a blog.  But it seemed like such a cop out to delete a to-do list from my Habit RPG a couple hours before it was due.  Even though I knew full well that I have spent the last few days thinking about changing my blogging schedule, it felt way too harried to change that schedule a couple hours before the to-do list was set to expire.

And that explains this entry.  In 514 words or less.  Not less.  Exactly, actually.

I want my Daddy

I don’t have these days often anymore.

Even immediately after my father died, I didn’t feel as big of a gap in my day to day life as I expected.  Part of that was simply that I’d just started college, so I wasn’t around home to notice that he wasn’t.  I was in the middle of trying to spread my wings and find my place in the world, so I didn’t expect my Dad to be much more than a weekly(ish) phone call, an email here and there, and a part of my visits to Minnesota.

Of course, every once in a while I would have a question that I felt like only he could answer.  He, obviously, was not around, so I’d lose it.  I’d bury myself in painting or journals or blogs and I would stop fucking sleeping because there was only one voice that I needed and that voice was permanently unavailable.  I’d break down sobbing in a circle of friends, so lost in my own tears that I couldn’t even see the stutter of confusion flicker across their faces as they processed the suddenness of my outbreak. I would pick up and leave the place where I was, move to new cities or take trips to different countries with barely any notice.  I would walk the long sidewalks of Chicago in the comparative quiet of the night with my hood up and my earbuds in.  I would close doors both literal and figurative and shut my ears to every voice that breathed.  I could handle reading.  I could handle movies and television shows and podcasts.  I couldn’t handle the kind of people who stood, flesh and bone, in front of me, because they were never the right person.

And today, for the first time in at least a year, it hit me again.

Sitting behind the wheel of my big, clunky Buick, staring at a red light and trying to shape the thoughts in my mind into something cohesive, I realized who I needed to talk to.

Whose advice I needed.

Whose voice I needed to hear.

My throat constricted.  I bit the insides of my lower lip.  The insides of my torso pulled further inward.

Because that voice is permanently unavailable.

My Dad was one of those people who was uniquely capable of bridging viewpoints that are notoriously difficult to bridge.  He was balanced, level and incredibly gifted with perspective both nuanced and practical.  In addition to this he also had a very moral core from which he rarely, if ever, wavered.  He listened and spoke well.  He expressed his beliefs with gentleness and authority.

And that is exactly what I need right now.

Part of the struggle of growing up, the reason why you need to be surrounded by people who are intelligent and thoughtful, is because sometimes it is really hard to tell if the decisions you’re making are okay.

It’s really hard to tell if the compromises you choose to make err in unhealthy directions.  It’s really hard to tell if the moments in which you do choose to stand firm are moments of childish stubbornness, moral victory or some murky in-between.  It’s really hard to tell if you’re turning into an adult or if you’re just getting older and more authoritative.

Sometimes you need someone to tell you.

I have plenty of people around me who are incredibly intelligent and thoughtful who I could talk to about my struggle to grok adulthood.

But none of them are my Dad.

None of them have his nuanced world view, his way of very kindly telling me exactly why I’m wrong or why he’s proud of me, his moral compass or his warm hug at the end of a hard conversation.

That’s all I want.

And it is the one thing I cannot have.

Often life gets distracting and full and beautiful and I think it’s healthy that I don’t always realize how big of a hole you left when you died.

But then there are days like today and the hurt is just as powerful as it was when I first heard you were gone.

I miss you.

I wish we’d had more time.

I'd take another puzzle date with you and Matt any day.

I’d take another puzzle date with you and Matt any day.

2014/2015

So we’re a couple days into 2015 now.

Welcome to the New Year, errbody.

I haven’t made any resolutions yet, partially because of that Habit RPG thing I’ve been harping on about.  I’ve already put the things that would normally count as resolutions (start drinking more water!  floss your teeth!  don’t be a slobby slobster all the slobbing time!)  into Habit RPG, so I’m pretty set with the whole self-improvement thing, New Year notwithstanding.  The goals and the methodology for achieving the goals are in their very neat 8-bit place and at this point it’s just a matter of seeing which ones stick and which ones don’t and then deciding if the goals that weren’t so sticky deserve more attention or if they were kind of a waste of energy to begin with.

Like reading poetry, for instance.  Why exactly do I want to read poetry every day?  Is that really necessary?  Or is it just one of those things that sounds good for a minute and is actually kind of stupid?

Anways.

Something that I’ve been meaning to do is the Guillebeau Year End Review.  It’s a great way of looking back at the last year, evaluating what went well and what didn’t, and identifying the areas of your life that you want to put more (or less) energy into. It’s also great at distinguishing between goal setting as opposed to resolutions.

The thing is, though, that right now I’m just super content.

I mean 2014 was exhausting.

For a lot of reasons.

Part of that exhaustion was because of the good stuff.  I traveled to New York and Panama and experienced Chickentown (Sshhh) for the first time and saw some great concerts.  I went to a lot of plays and an opera, discovered some incredible albums and musicians, saw my nieces and nephews play sports and dance and sing.  I ate some really amazing food.  I met some really, really cool people.  I read some great books.  I did some really fun jobs, from managing a hostel to doing social media for a tiny publishing company and working some really fun promos.

Alternatively, I worked erratically and frequently was booked when my friends were getting together.  I lost a couple friends.  I had an ex who had a lot of trouble taking “leave me alone” at face value.  I sometimes had trouble balancing commitments, which made me alternatively feel like a bad aunt, sister, daughter, employee, friend, and girlfriend.

So it hasn’t been perfect.  And I obviously have goals and things that I’d like to be (or am) working towards right now, but life lately is very good.  I’ve been in Minnesota for a little over a year now.  I am surrounded by my family and am slowly by slowly rekindling relationships with old friends.  I’m able to spend time with my nieces and nephews and sisters and brother and mother with relative regularity.  I grab casual dinners with friends instead of catching up with months worth of material every time I swing through town.  I have a job that is very okay that pays better than okay.  I am half of an amazing couple and my partner is a person who I respect and love supermuch.  And the feeling is refreshingly mutual.  Lately I’ve been finding time to hole up in coffee shops and write.  I have started reading the stacks of books that I’ve accumulated over the years and I have the energy to read stuff that has actual content to it instead of the fluff that I’d started to read disproportionately.

2014 was, for lack of a less cliched cliche, a roller coaster.  And my head is kind of spinning and I’m a little out of breath, but I keep catching myself being straight. up. grateful. for where I am at this moment.

For now, instead of looking into 2015 for everything that it has to offer, I’d rather take a moment to appreciate the place that 2014 has deposited me.

Because it’s a good place to be.

A Call to Honk.

Friends.  Family.  People who I talk to on Facebook but not in real life.  Blog browsers.

We face today a seemingly insurmountable problem.  Every day tempers are lost and days are ruined over this serious issue.  People yell and hit things and kind of act like a-holes.  Incredulous shrugs are shared with friends and coworkers and swear-words are launched, missile-like, from spluttering, slathering mouths.

I speak, of course, of rush hour.  A problem, of course, exacerbated by what is actually, of course, the insurmountable problem I originally referred to.  Bad drivers.

I’ve been ruminating on this very serious issue for a very long two-months of being a life-hating commuter, and I flip flop between what the appropriate response to bad drivers is.

The first option is to treat every driver on every road like a 16-year old tourist.

Is someone trying to move from the left lane to the right hand exit in a sixteenth of a mile?  They have never been here before!  Slow your roll and let them through!

Is there a giant SUV that just sped up to at least two times the speed of traffic in order to ensure that they could merge in front of you in a stand still instead of the person behind you?  It’s just a kid!  They probably forgot which pedal was which!  It’s safer to have them in front of you!  How lucky that they made that mistake right before they changed lanes!

Did someone just skip two miles worth of stand still traffic to budge into your lane at the last minute?  Let’em in.  They have probably had their blinker on for miles and they didn’t have the confidence to merge until it was almost too late.

This is clearly the kind option.  But it’s also the same old defensive driving bullshit that we were fed by our driving teachers back in high school, and, friendsicles, I gotta break it to you, that shit has its limit.

Now, before all you a-hole drivers think that I’m about to condone swerving from lane to lane, speeding like a maniac and cutting people off, slow your roll.  Because what I’m actually advocating a balance.  You know what would be awesome?  If people drove like a team instead of like a bunch of individuals, because we kind of sort of make a loosely organized team when we’re all in the same place at the same time.  Your goal, as a car, should not be to always stay ahead of everyone around you.  Your goal should be to make sure that traffic stays at approximately the same speed for as long as all of us are stuck on the roads with each other.

This, friends, is why what I advocate for is honking.  Every single time someone does something stupid, lay on your horn and if you are lucky enough to make eye contact with the person you are honking at, make a genuinely puzzled and judgmental “What are you doing face?”

Because we all know that you’re not supposed to cross white lines.  We all know that you cannot drive on the shoulder.  We are all pissed that we just waited in a line of cars that was not moving for 45 minutes because people like you decide to “improve traffic flow” by not getting into the lane they need to be in until the most inconvenient moment for the people who are already in that lane.  Merge when it’s not going to make anyone brake, not right before you need to exit, losers.  We all know that the left lane is a passing lane, not a “I exit this way in five miles and am uncomfortable going faster than 10 less than the speed limit” lane.

Why honking, you ask.  Honking is annoying and counterproductive and leads to noise pollution, you say.

Well.  Because I think we should honk at people who deserve it.  That dude who totally cut you off for no reason?  He knows he did something wrong.  That lady who is tailing you like a maniac and is probably going to rear end you the moment you take your foot off the accelerator?  She’s being a jerk.

And you have the means to TELL THESE PEOPLE that they suck with one push of a (sometimes very difficult to push) button.  So you should do that.  Because it embarrasses people.  Sometimes it also makes people mad, but mostly, in my not super informed opinion, it makes people stop (or swerve) at least for a moment.

And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us honk at each other to call out our shoddy driving, we’ll be able to graduate to Japan-level highwaycommunication in which we do adorable things like flash our hazards at people as a way of saying “Thanks for letting me into your lane.  We make a good commuter team, you and me and everyone else on this highway.”

I don’t mean to harp on the whole commuting thing, but it has only recently become a part of my life and, dudes, it sucks.

Especially because all y’all suck.  And I am going to honk at every single one of you and make you feel bad because you deserve it.  And I also deserve it if I do something stupid.  Which I don’t because I’m an awesome driver and, like, follow the law and shit.

Flashing hazards at each other will be effing adorable!  We might get there!

(THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I HAVE GOALS TO BLOG ON CERTAIN DAYS AND ACTUALLY FOLLOW THROUGH.  RIDICULOUS BLOGS ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO HONK AT EACH OTHER.  #HOORAH)