I Like the (Non)sound of That! Meditation and Me

clock
I have been (sporadically) trying to learn how to meditate. There are several reasons I’m doing this, but probably the biggest reason is that my mind is a continual whirl of (mostly) fun thoughts and ideas and sometimes it’s hard to be inside my own head and my long suffering husband can only bear so much of my excited chatter (because he’s a talker too!).

I’d like to be able to slow down and focus on one writing idea at a time, actually make use of the notebooks crammed with ideas which I currently have. Enter meditation. Theoretically.

A week ago I was attempting to meditate. I find I do best when I force myself to lie on my exercise mat and stay still. This, also, is difficult for me. My father once said I had more energy than anyone he knew. I think he was saying in a very kind way that I’m hyperactive. It’s a miracle that I am a writer (which requires long bouts of relative stillness), but although I am a fidgeter, I also know how to fully engage with what I’m doing at the moment IF it fully interests me. Which, clearly, meditation does not.

Last week rather than lying on my mat in the dining room I was sitting in a chair in the living room, dressed to substitute teach at LMC and not willing to crumple my clothing. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, but I became aware over top of the meditation music just how LOUD the living room clock was.

Side journey: Barry has acutely sensitive hearing — he can actually hear a dog whistle. Don’t try to whisper a surprise for him from across the room, because he will hear it. And don’t try making snide remarks to his back when he has his headphones on, because even though they are noise canceling, yup, he’s going to hear every word. Trust me. :-)

Barry has been complaining about how loud our clocks are for, well, years. But my mind has never slowed enough to let me hear them (or his complaint) much. Until Tuesday.

A woman of action, I quickly decided that before the day was through I would buy a new living room clock. After teaching I went shopping. Though none of the clocks at the store promised silence on their boxes, I decided that since our kitchen clock has glass on its front and is silent, perhaps getting one with a glass cover was the key to quiet.

Except it wasn’t. When I arrived home I quickly stood in front of the kitchen clock and closed my eyes and focused. Damn! It DID audibly tick. That glass-cover theory was obviously wrong.

No matter. Perhaps there had been major clock advances made in the decade since we bought those clocks. And I liked the elegant scrollwork of the new timepiece. I put a battery in it, only to discovered immediately that It. Ticked. Well I was “ticked” by then as well.

When Barry arrived home from work he immediately praised the pretty new clock.

“It’s going back,” I said.

“Why?”

I told him my theory about the kitchen clock and he laughed. Of course he had noticed the kitchen clock’s ticking, but he doesn’t spend as much time in that room and so he hadn’t mentioned it. Or he maybe had mentioned it and I hadn’t been listening. Oops.

That’s what comes of marrying a musician who can play everything under the sun: every noise, every rhythm catches his attention.

He offered, half heartedly, for us to keep the clock.

“No way,” I said. “If you want a silent clock you shall have one.”

A few internet clicks later I discovered that these non-ticking clocks DO exist, and as my fingers are swift to shop online, we should have one, no, two, posthaste.

And the meditation? Sometimes I have mercy on myself and allow myself to stretch while listening to the shortest guided meditation I can find and I try not to mumble about what a waste of time it is. Because it’s not: if meditation allowed me to hear (and react) to something that has been bothering my husband for years, what other, less concrete, things might meditation bring to me? It was certainly worth seeing the delighted look on my husband’s face that said “You heard me. Finally.”

If you’ll excuse me, I do believe I have a yoga mat to unfurl. Sigh.

Literary Term Larcency: the Co-opting of Narrative

In “The Cognitive and Anthropological Origins of Narrative,” Richard van Oort argues for the “coeval origin” of narrative and language. If that’s true, maybe I have no business complaining about this, but I’m going to anyway.

narrative_planning_map

As a writer, we have certain literary devices and terms which we call our own. They are the tools in our proverbial toolbox, and they are ours. Here’s my issue: I don’t like hearing the word “narrative” used outside of literary circles.

My husband is a political enthusiast. I am not. Our compromise is a Netflix marathon of “Scandal,” a White House-based drama. While the show isn’t the first place where I have heard the word “narrative” used to describe something quite unliterary, its repeated use in a political context unnerves me. It angers me. Our pure tool, so beautifully designed to shape truth by fiction, there means nothing more than “make the story palatable and helpful to our political aims.”

It’s unforgiveable. It’s outright theft, and I’m angry.

I suspect I am not the only one who is angry about this perpetual (in my view) word/device abuse. Did you catch Sam Lipsyte’s story in the May 5, 2014 issue of The New Yorker called “The Naturals”? He speaks of a company who wants to create a lakefront development but the area needs a “narrative.” “The main thing is we’re trying to tell a story here. A lakefront narrative,” says a consultant. Huh? His main character seems just as puzzled as I am by that usage.

Throughout the story the main character, Caperton, encounters people who openly admit to being storytellers: a wrestler, his stepmother who works in “narrative medicine” helping patients tell their stories, and his dying father who tells him that “Death is just a part of the story.”

While I think Lipsyte’s claim is a bit different than mine — I believe he’s complaining about everything needing a story and I’m specifically complaining about the misuse of the word “narrative,” our beefs may not be so far apart. Why must politicians have a narrative, which implies a purposely crafted and presented tale rather than a strict presentation of the facts which would allow a person to decide for him or herself what happened?

Okay, there may be some writerly ego involved here: I want to be the one who tells the stories, who explains through fiction, which means admitting that my story, although true, is based on a narrative created by me.

“Stories were devices for deluding ourselves and others…” says Lipsyte’s truth-disguised-as-tale. Sometimes. Sometimes our stories make the world a much more beautiful place. Sometimes they make a hero of someone who is not. But when we admit to shaping the, yes, narrative, that’s fair, not manipulative. At least not a veiled manipulation. To hear riverfronts and politics using it, well, that’s just dishonest. Give me back my narrative, you hear me? Or at least find another word to call it.

Something Borrowed…

books

There’s something special about reading a borrowed book. I don’t mean a library book, although that can be special too. I mean reading a book pressed into your hands by someone who can’t wait for you to read it, because they know you’ll love it. Someone you trust to know your tastes enough that you know you’ll enjoy the read and who wants to discuss it with you when you’re finished reading it.

Borrowed books feel better. Someone else has broken in the pages, unstiffened the spine. They have made the book friendlier than a brand new book.

When the friend has made notes in the book, ah, that’s bliss! Then you can have a conversation with them about the book even when they’re not there. “But how can you SAY that?” you ask when you don’t agree with their scribbles, or “Oh, I didn’t see that,” when you are suddenly enlightened by their notes. I’m a visual learner, so seeing things written down is so much better for me than hearing them, and being able to read someone’s notes is a gift.

It’s been awhile since someone’s told me I “must” read a book and handed it to me fresh from reading it.

When I was a child, a dear pastor friend accidently left his Bible behind while visiting our family. As I knew it was his favorite, I stayed up all evening copying down his notes out of it before giving it back to him the next day. Somehow I thought this would teach me everything he knew.

I’ve found interesting things in borrowed books. Candy wrappers. Photos. Postcards. Receipts. A hair once. I think that was the most startling, the hair, because it was so unexpectedly intimate.

Have you ever loved a book someone lent you so much that you just didn’t want to return it? Have you ever treasured the obvious love and affection someone has lavished upon a copy of a book so much that you don’t want to part with it, valuing it maybe even more than they do?

Maybe this explains why I often buy second-hand copies of books. For one thing, they’re not as intimidating. And they don’t come with those annoying slipcovers that I just take off anyway.

Borrowed books seem to be the ones whose stories stick with me the longest, and are the ones of which I have the fondest memories. Thick Dickens and other Victorian tomes. Worlds handed to me when my own was a bit bleak, a place to hide out until the storms passed, as they did.

What about you? What are your favorite books that were lent to you? Do you, too (shhh…), have a few you have just never returned and don’t think you could bear to? Leave your “confession” here.

A Writer’s Retreat…in Changzhou, China!

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Until recently my body was in China, my mind in France, and my heart in the United States. Let me explain.

I apologize for having been silent for some time. My last post was actually written while in Changzhou, China. Drat these days of having to be so careful when one travels that one can’t shout from the rooftops “I’m in China!”

This post is not meant to be a travelogue. I’m sure stories of my time in China will come out in my posts, but I wanted to deal more with my writing while I was there. If you’re truly interested in more about our time there, may I refer you to an article I wrote about it for glo Magazine? http://www.the-papers.com/OnlineIssue.aspx?pub=glo  (It’s on page 42.)

“How do you think your writing was affected by your trip?” I have been asked multiple times since returning. One of my friends has given me the perfect reply: “We’ll see.” She’s so right. How anything changes us often takes some time to reveal its effects. But I can say how lovely and fantastic the experience was!

The beauty of this retreat:

1. I did not have to do laundry.

2. No cleaning house.

3. No cooking. (That was a mixed bag as I actually like to cook.)

4. Naps!

5. Staying in a five-star hotel.  Very posh!

6. Being treated as if we were royalty by the hotel staff. They gave me a private writing space complete with an attendant who brought me drinks and snacks! Weekly fruit selections delivered! Nightly cookies! Surprise cake and desserts!

7. Amazing food generously supplied wherever we went. I now adore seafood and eating with chopsticks!

8. The gift of not being able to speak the language. This allowed me to focus on my writing, even when I was in a teahouse full of chattering people. The sound was mere music because I couldn’t understand a word! It also forced me to find other ways to communicate: hand gestures, drawings, etc.

9. Being fully appreciated by very sweet people for…well…everything! That I am a writer. That I am an American. That I am a blonde.

10. Sightseeing! Beijing. Shanghai. The architecture was spectacular. Always something new to see. Everywhere.

11. Buying pearls. In the above photo I am standing in front of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower…my favorite building in Shanghai, and I’m wearing the pearls Barry had newly purchased for me. (I’m having a hard time not wearing them every day! I’ve always been a fan of pearls.)

Clearly, I could go on at length. Let me shift gears.

My goal for writing in China (other than accompanying my husband, who was there for work) was to write a new section of my WIP. I had hoped to add 50 to 75 pages. I ended up writing over 100 new pages. There was something about writing in another country that allowed me to tap into something I did not at home. The section that I had no clue about in the States came to me bit by bit, then page after page. I wrote with pen and paper, something else I don’t usually do. It was wonderful to look up form a long morning’s writing only to realize that I was in China, not France.

Barry and I spent many fun evenings out with new friends, but we also had not only private evening dinners or room service, but we also had cherished hour-long breakfasts. We would sit and drink cup after cup of tea and talk, which thankfully emptied my mind for my day’s writing and energized him for the work day. It was perfect.

You wouldn’t think it would be any different, writing at a desk, sitting in a chair, or on a couch or a park bench, no matter the country, but it was. I honestly haven’t had much time to look over the new material I wrote while I was there, but I’m eager to see how it was different. In part I think there’s a real difference in writing not in stolen moments or almost as a hobby, but instead writing because the day was created for you to write, and everything in the universe confirms that, down to the weather. Everyone and everything seems as if it’s your handmaiden, your doula.

If you ever get the chance to take a writer’s retreat — even if you have to steal a weekend and go to a hotel, do it. There’s something special about purposely created moments. The muse, I am firmly convinced, is ever with us. (S)he’s just waiting for us to say hello, no matter the country in which we find ourselves. There’s something very comforting about knowing there’s a whole other world ever present, ever ready for us to tap. Here’s to catching buckets full of rich writing.

Not Writing Is Still Writing

This is going to be a quickly written post and a lightly edited one, because if we all waited to perfect our post, we’d never write any, right? And because I promised myself I’d take a nap, and I’m due somewhere in less than an hour, so there’s not time to do both. Or is there?

Here’s the deal with “not writing”: I’ve been gratefully spending loads of time with my WIP (work in progress). Don’t get me wrong — I adore my MC and if she were here today, I’d hang out with her all the time, I’m sure. (I already talk to and for her, so why not?) The past day or two, however, she and I have been having a different sort of quality time. Instead of steady clips of time, I can only bear to write and/or edit for an hour or so at a time. At that it’s been deep, soul-searching stuff and I really couldn’t tell you what I wrote if you asked. All I know is that this MC is causing me to dig deeper than I thought possible. To tell her story is to tell mine, even though our lives and experiences are absolutely nothing alike. (Some day I’ll do a point-by-point of how different we are, just for fun.)

As I swam yesterday, however, I was writing but not writing. No, this isn’t the usual something comes to you and it takes all of your effort not to drop the vase you are holding so you can write it down. (I DID shush Barry today so I could write down a story idea. I do not normally approve of shushing, and I don’t think he appreciated it either, but in my defense it was a really good idea. But then they ALL are, aren’t they, in that first flush? So I hereby publicly apologize to Barry for the shushing. I would say I won’t do it again, but I know I will, especially at the movies.)

The kind of writing/swimming I was doing yesterday was allowing thoughts and images to flow without trying to hook them onto anything else. I allowed them to just come and go, my mind filling and releasing. I knew they’d still be there when I wanted them, and then I sat at my computer and I wrote. Truly, I’m not sure what I wrote, but I know it was important to my MC. Was it any good? I couldn’t say — I haven’t been brave enough to go back and read it.

So even if you don’t think you’re writing because you take a break from your scheduled writing time, if you believe in your current work and are determined that you will give it as long as it takes and will not compromise an inch until your MC’s (Sorry, non-writers. “MC” stands, of course, for Main Character. My apologies.) story is told. Every. Last. Word. Of. It. Just as she wants it to be.

So I would argue that if your MC needs you to stop writing your way (because she wants to say something in a different manner or if she feels pushed around), stop writing and see how else she wants you to write, because not writing is still writing, even if you don’t see it. And just as you know when a tomato is ripe, (If you don’t know, just ask. I’m that woman who will stop you from buying unripe ones at the market — it’s all in the amount of give and the smell, you know.) when you sit at your computer (or your lovingly rediscovered, Paris 016in my case, notebook and pen) it will be there, because knowing when not to write is an important part of writing. Right? Write. Sorry, Couldn’t resist. Let’s see…forty minutes before I must leave. No nap yet and I still have to fix my hair and makeup and put on my shoes. Rats. Well, I’ve always been a reluctant napper anyway. But never a reluctant writer. :-)

P.S. The photo is one I took of a fountain in Paris. Just because. Enjoy!

All “Write” Already! Be Professional.

Writers, a word, please. You know I love you, right? But I think we are being a bit too precious. I’m including myself here. Especially me!

Either we have “no time to write” while we watch TV, surf the net, and play yet another ridiculous game on Facebook, or we can’t get into our writing during writing time. What a load of hooey! (I’d rather say something besides hooey, but I’m trying to be somewhat PG.)

The truth is, whether we write for a living or for fun, we make time for what is important to us. Sure, your life may be overwhelming at the moment, but if writing is in your blood, even if you can only squeeze in fifteen minutes a day to write, you’ll do it. Only you can really say what you can sacrifice to gain that time. What I really want to focus on is WHAT WE DO WITH OUR WRITING TIME!

Many people have already written about how often writers procrastinate. We do so for many reasons — fear, anticipation, laziness, distraction.

So instead, let’s imagine, for a moment, that instead of writers we are chefs. You say to the server that you’d like an omelet. The server conveys your wishes to the chef, who says
A. I’m too busy to cook.
B. I’m too tired to cook.
C. I just can’t get into it.
D. I don’t think I can do it. Making an omelet is too hard. I think I’ll go back to being a _____.
E. No one appreciates good cooking anyway. It’s all just product to the owner. He doesn’t care about my creativity.
F. But I got a text and there’s this party.
G. Wait! I’m just going to watch ten minutes of this show first.

You get the idea? What would you do if you didn’t get your omelet? What would you think of that chef? Yeah, me too.

If we’re going to write, let’s be professional about it, please. You set aside writing time, and even if it’s total crap, you write. So what if you write in the wrong direction or if you hate it when you’re finished? Throw the omelet out and start over, or see if you can turn it into a frittata.

While writing CAN be a magical, mystical process (just yesterday I put in something as a placeholder until I could research it, and inexplicably my placeholder was exactly right, even though I KNOW I’ve never read that fact before), but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it’s just grunt work and you just break those eggs, whip them, and put them in the pan. Because you can. Now, if you’re REALLY feeling it, you can get fancy and add spices, fry up some veggies, and even grate some fancy cheese.

We forget sometimes that we GET to write. It’s a privilege. Yes, it can torment us. It can haunt us and cause us to take long midnight walks to try to outrun the writing hound, but we also kinda hype all that, don’t you think? We writers tend to be a dramatic lot.

So what I am saying is, even if writing isn’t your 9 to 5, treat it as if it is. The Muse will respect you for it, and more importantly, you may discover you don’t need a stinking muse. Everything you need is in you, literally. Now just commit to getting it out, you pro, you!

You have my permission to print this and keep it by your desk, highlighting it freely. I know that’s what I’m going to do with it, because I sure could have used this earlier today before I gritted my teeth and just went for it. I’m happy to say I edited almost 20 pages in this manner.

All write, already!

Telling the Truth About Art By Lying About Paintings

I’m writing about paintings that don’t exist. Let me back up. I’m writing about an artist whose work has largely been lost. When a trusted mentor read my work, she suggested I write about the artist’s paintings. “Make them up,” she said. I was fascinated and daunted.

I’ve since gotten over my fear and have discovered that it’s freeing and fun to imagine what an artist’s work looks like. We only have one of her paintings to go by (as of yet, though I am hopeful that more will come to light), and some titles of her paintings that I fervently believe will one day be returned to the art world, so I do have something to guide me. And there’s my imagination, of course.

It starts with an image. I imagine her painting en plein air, and I look around and ask myself what would interest her. Or I think of where she is and what is happening. Is she in the city? Then she would be fascinated by the building going on. In the country she would adore the sheep, or so I tell myself. Then I allow the image to focus. I ask myself what the weather’s like. I try to “become” her: what is she seeing? Feeling? Smelling? What direction is the wind coming from?

I take it a step further by framing it. It’s not enough that there’s a girl with a lamb. I need to zoom in on one aspect, one angle.

The advantage to this, of course, is that I don’t need to ask the child to stay still. I can force this through my imagination. If the wind needs to blow in another direction, I can do that, too.

It’s powerful and great for imagination-building skills. I dare say it is probably helping my painting skills, though I haven’t painted for some time.

I have seen people become totally paralyzed when asked to use the imagination. It’s only by exercising it that it gets stronger, so if you need to apply this technique, just give it a try with confidence.

Let’s try an exercise, shall we?
Close your eyes. See a simple shape — a high-rise building, a four-leaf clover, or even the moon. Now build a painting. What color is the building? What do you see through the windows? Any signs on it?

That clover, where is it? What is of interest around it? Is a chicken about to eat it?

The moon…is it a full moon or a half? How bright is it?

To properly “build” a painting in your mind, you need to tell a story about it, so let’s keep going.

Go back to the building. What do you want to say about the building, or what story do you want to tell? Are you making a statement about how it looks just like the ten around it, or that it is different? Is it a monument to civilization, or is it competing with the tiny tree below?

The clover…are you highlighting its shape and the luck it supposedly gives, or that the chicken (if your picture has one) is about to eat luck, making itself lucky, or that the chicken doesn’t know that she is eating something “lucky”?

That moon…is it a persistent light despite a smoggy atmosphere, or is it clear and beautiful with the magic that only night can bring, the kind that makes you fall in love with yourself and everything that breathes just by seeing it?

Once you know what your CHARACTER would say about it, that makes things easier. For it’s not your painting. It’s your character’s.

My character equally loves progress and the country, so very likely her paintings would reflect the conflict between these worlds. How could I show this? I could have her painting a pastoral scene with the train running in the background. Or the smoke of a factory could waft above a lake on which a couple is rowing a boat.

Even if you’re not writing about art, this will serve you well when writing description and deciding what’s important to write about. Pretend you have a camera, and use it. That’s all.

Happy Lying!

Transcribing Bites! But It MAY Be Worth It!

It’s not an elegant title, but it tells the truth.

This is going to be a quick post because Barry and I have dinner plans with new friends and half an hour out from it, I am still in my bathrobe, so. But I really do want to kvetch about this.

Lately I have returned to writing in notebooks, long hand. There are several reasons I’m doing it, such as portability and to see if I write differently. (Yes, I do. I write more thoughtfully and philosophically, I think.) The only problem is that then said writing must magically find its way onto the laptop and into a Word file. Right.

The writing part went really well recently — I found myself quickly with 100 fresh pages of my novel. How fun it was to go from a coffeehouse with my light notebook to a park bench. How liberating! Until.

I have spent two days this week transcribing and whining. Whining and transcribing. I’m happy to say that I transcribed all 100 pages, yippee, and now I’m editing them. Editing, I don’t mind. In fact, I enjoy it, once I get started.

I whined about the transcription so much my husband asked why I didn’t just hire someone to type it in for me. Trust me, I was tempted. But it occurred to me there might be benefits to doing it myself. Just what are those said benefits, you ask?

1. It reminds you of what you wrote. Maybe I’m the only one who forgets what she wrote some days, but it happens to me. So transcribing places the story more firmly in my mind.

2. It’s an early form of editing. As you type, if you’re like me, you’ll whittle at that bad boy even as you’re transcribing it.

3. It enthuses you to write more. I found that after I had the new pages on the laptop before me, I was inspired to keep going.

4. It’s interesting to see if you do write differently when you write long hand. I think I do. You should try it!

5. I was easily able to add side notes and questions. Yeah, you can do this in Word, but it’s a little harder to make out, if you ask me.

6. I underlined things I questioned as I wrote that I might want to confirm or reconsider. Again, early editing without it seeming as if I were being overbearing on myself, so it was nonthreatening when I went back.

7. Cursive just seems friendlier and prettier. Maybe not my writing — I can write prettily but am usually too busy/impatient to — but cursive (or print, if you prefer) is romantic looking.

Maybe I could think of more reasons, but our dinner date looms and while I don’t think the restaurant has a dress code, I’m not sure a robe and slippers are acceptable attire.

So write by hand, and then transcribe. If you dare. It may be worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling vs. Showing: A Privilege of the First Person POV

Even though one is not supposed to wear the editor’s hat while writing a first draft, I found myself doing so yesterday, forcing myself to stop and go back and show versus tell. I did this in a couple of places before questioning myself.  Was the result of my pruning what I had really envisioned?

I also found myself freehanding long passages of exposition, telling’s nearly verboten cousin. Some of it will, of course, need to be weeded. I’m fine with that. But one of the reasons I enjoy writing from the first person point of view is interiority and all aspects of anything even approaching that.

What’s that? You don’t think telling and exposition are quite the same thing as interiority? Again, not exactly, but they certainly share traits. They involve explanation, sometimes at length. They hold up a mirror rather than a camera.

A few years ago my husband and I visited Rome. I had been so looking forward to seeing the famed Sistine Chapel. In my head it was going to be this small, remote chapel with a starry-skied, hazy ceiling filled with pews and walled with stucco. We would quietly file in, spend some time in the silent near darkness, contemplating the art.

Had I but looked once at it online I would have known this was not at all what we would encounter. The chapel is, of course, part of the Vatican. It is a loud, crowded room where you are shushed every two minutes and given the stink eye if you raise your camera. You are not at all encouraged to linger or meditate upon the painted ceiling.

My point is that somehow I got the impression of what I thought the chapel would be like from something I read, and that impression stayed with me until I was disappointed by reality. Telling has a charm that showing sometimes does not.

Telling is also where the “eye of the beholder” comes in. The picture the beholder can give us often trumps the actual place or experience, and sometimes it is more valuable to us. When I was a child, I used to pester my father to tell me what my grandfather, who was deceased, had been like. I was only three when he passed. My father’s description of him has left a longing and a vision of the man that I doubt would have been there had I known him, not because he wasn’t a lovely man, because by all accounts he was, but because no mere mortal can live up to the “true” stories that are doubtless embellished and inflated. I write because he wrote; I have always tried to play guitar because he did. This was all based on the stories my father told me about him, and on the photos of him playing guitar and the picture of me sitting on his lap. He looked utterly blissful to be holding me. (I should insert that photo here, but it may be at my parents’ home. TK, let us say, in editor speak.)

I’m a thought junkie. One of my favorite books is Of Human Bondage. I remember saying when I read it that I wished the man would stop with the story, already, and just talk to me! Because when he used (albeit not in first person, true) telling, he lit circuits in my brain. Give me beautiful things to think about and I’m yours! While showing lends us beautiful images, telling gives us ideas to consider.

So if you want my storytelling skills, you’re just going to have to be patient at times when I tell you, rather than show you. If I do it right, maybe you’ll even want to hear more and see less.  Or not.  But if I’m writing in the first person POV, rest assured that I’m going to take that privilege. Let’s hope it pays off.

Writing As If…Acting, Writing, and Living

frightnight

You won’t make fun of me, will you, if I tell you I sometimes act out what I’m writing? Usually I only do this in my mind, but if I’m having trouble choreographing a scene, I may well get up and see how it would work, pace it with the dialogue.

Sometimes when I am working with troublesome characters I will wear holes in the carpet while letting them talk, will argue with them. They use my hands to show me what they mean. Maybe that’s acting, or maybe that’s the extreme of active listening. (Insert smiley face here.)

At any rate, the best writers use their imaginations as much as they use words. They write as if they are the character, even characters they want to hate. (Caveat: we never hate any of our characters, not even the worst ones, because they possess a seed of ourselves and that’s how we are able to bear being who we are. Or that’s my theory.) If that’s not a kind of acting, I don’t know what is.

How can you despise someone after you allow yourself to feel with his or her hands? How can you not round a character (even if she is modeled after someone whose bed you’d like to short sheet) when you allow yourself to imagine what this playground scene would look like to you if you were this woman who had just had a miscarriage?

Come now, Dear Writer. Let us confess that the reason we write is to right our lives. Often we want to BE someone else, if only for a time. Perhaps we want to travel to a place or a time to which we have never been, and so we act as if we are there, witnessing every moment. It’s all acting. We never have to settle for what is when we can act as if, can write as if. We can live any life, love anyone, and try on any lifestyle we choose with no consequences.

So the next time you get stuck while writing, act as if. Write as if. Live as if. I can’t finish those for you. To turn those fragments into sentences is yours alone. Action!

P.S. In case you were wondering about the photo, there I am in my cat mask with my writer friend Shirley Jump and running buddies at the Fright Night race. Both Shirley and I came in third place for our age groups. Score!