Writing Quote

"Don't write merely to be understood.
Write so that you can't possibly be misunderstood."
-Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let's get personal

Okay, my long-time friend, and one of my favorite people ever requested that I post 7 things about myself. And since I'd do just about anything for Kristi Marie (I know her as Kristi, but she goes by Marie now. Go figure), here they are:
1. I had a crush on Harrison Ford when I was growing up. He was taken, so I married Robert Ford instead (Robert Ford killed Jesse James. Don't tell the authorities where we are, please).

2. I can't remember most of my life before I was twelve years old. That makes all those writing exercises, where you're supposed to close your eyes and think back on a childhood memory, pretty much impossible for me. But I can remember this:

3. I won't believe you when you tell me that the reward for being a parent is being a grandparent. Parenting sucks most of the time (they tell me it's worth it in the end- we'll see about that) and I just can't see how it could get SO much better one generation removed. Maybe I need my eyes checked again.

4. I'm now sitting here, worrying that everyone who reads the above confession will think that I'm a horrible person because I can't gush on and on about what a joy motherhood is. And I do worry about things like that. A lot. But I've also learned to tell that worry-voice to get over herself and put a lid on it. I'm not nearly important enough for people to spend that kind of energy on my silly comments. My worried face looks something like this:

5. I always secretly wished I was the kind of studious person who speaks a ridiculous number of languages and knows a lot about everything- you know, the kind of person you find on Jeopardy. In reality, I may be that smart (maybe) but I'm far too lazy. I like studying and learning, but I'd rather be a Jack than a King in most areas.

6. I'm a dog person because I like that dogs can be trained to do pretty much whatever you tell them. And I'm a cat person because I'm more like a cat. Seriously, don't tell me what to do. Don't touch me. Okay, now you can touch me, but only if you give me food afterword. Meow.
(This dog looks like my dog and this cat looks like my cat. My dog does this to my cat all the time and my cat really doesn't care.)

7. (Suggested by the infamous Robert Ford) When I turned 17, I got a life-sized cardboard cutout of Chewbacca because (wait for it....) I have an uncanny talent for wookie growls. grrrnnnnaaaaaawwwwllll!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Absolute creative freedom

is perhaps not all its cracked up to be. If you gave a child an entire roomful of toys, the child will probably not play with each toy, and will only use those he plays with in one or two ways, and only for a limited amount of time. Give that same child only one, seemingly uninteresting toy, and he will spend hours coming up with dozens of different ways to play with it. If you've ever seen a child with a box, you know what I mean. Being limited to only one toy forces the child to be creative. In the same way, if a writer begins a project with no direction, no parameters, no limitations, endless possibilities, she'll be overloaded. To cope with the overload, she is very likely to stick with something she knows, maybe reproducing a basic story outline she's already familiar with. She may come up with a few great ideas, a fabulous character or two, etc. But she's going to create limitations for herself that comfort her, and make her feel safe enough to explore in one or two areas.
On the other hand, if she begins by setting some guidelines for herself right from the start, she'll be forced to get all-kinds-of creative in order to stick within those parameters. For instance, if you were not allowed to use the letter 'p' in telling a story, you would have to find some pretty interesting ways to tell it. At the very least, you would have to be creative in your word usage.
I don't subscribe to the idea that if you follow steps A,B,C and D, you'll end up with a best selling novel and a million dollar movie deal. But neither do I believe that absolute, unrestricted freedom is as conducive to creativity as a few well-placed parameters. Of course, this is just a theory of mine.

Does anybody have any experiences with writing restrictions they'd be willing to share?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Any writing opportunity will do.

But sometimes a writing opportunity comes along that becomes especially meaningful. And sometimes that opportunity starts out as being one you did not start out too excited about. I've mentioned before that I had two school paper due recently. They were both kind of monstrous, involving research and citations and headaches and whatnot.
The poetry one was not that fun for me, but it was great practice for finding pertinent research and for writing on a topic that I was not enthused about. I also chose an angle to write on that wasn't necessarily an obvious one, and I worried that my teacher would disagree with my presentation. But I guess I argued my points well because she thought it was fabulous and read it to the class. I'm glad it's over.
My other paper was a different experience though. I was dreading it when the teacher announced it to the class. But I started getting excited about it when I decided I'd interview my mother about her father's polio, and write my paper on that. Grandpa passed away several years ago, but my mom remembers some really fascinating things from watching him deal with his illness. I won't go into all that, but I will say that writing this paper ended up being a really special experience. I got to talk with my mom for hours on a topic that made a big impact on her life: her dad. Yes his having polio was kind of a big deal, but so much the profound love and admiration she has for him stems from how he dealt with the disease. The extremity of his suffering is the kind of thing that shows a person's true character. It strips away all pretense and exposes the honest soul within. And my grandpa was truly an elite character. The hardest part about narrating this story was deciding what to cut out.
Then I also had to find some historical references to compare his experience to. I had a really hard time deciding what direction to go with that. In the end, I looked at some statistics on polio, both in the Seattle area, where he lived, during the time of his illness and at the national level over the course of about 85 years. It ended up being fascinating, looking at those numbers and thinking that he was one of them. He wasn't alone, but his story was quite unique in spite of that. I also explored some of the wonderful benefits that came out of the epidemic. The overall theme of my paper was in looking at the benefits that come from difficulty. Again, I wasn't sure how my teacher would receive it, but I ended up with 100%. More importantly, I ended up with some information and some memories that I will always cherish.

So I guess today, I'd just like to say that any opportunity to write is a good one. If it doesn't sound interesting or if it doesn't immediately inspire, it's still worth doing. I have a couple more successful experiences to add to my collection. But sometimes you end up falling flat on your face. That's okay, too. And still worth the experience. Take any opportunity you can, look for opportunities when they don't come to you, and create them when they seem not to exist. Just write!