Monday, November 24, 2014

Time

We're always talking about this.  There isn't enough time.  We wish we had more time.  It takes a long time to write a novel.  We barely have time to write blog posts.  Time-turners are the coolest idea ever and I want one and I suspect Tyler-Rose wouldn't turn one down.  (Especially at times like these when the semester is careening to an end and she's recovering from missing some class.  She was sick last week, you see.  That is why there was no blog post last week.  She is better now, and that makes me glad, and I did not catch it, and that does too.)

But anyway:  time.  Not only is there not enough of it on a daily basis, but it's also something we confront as writers because, well, it does take a long time to write a novel.  Or (I hear you, NaNo-ers!), at least, a lot of time.  One of the few endeavors that takes even more time is another one we're invested in:  learning to write a novel well.


All that said, I kind of thought I had spent enough time thinking about time that I had thought about it in most of the relevant ways.  Then I stumbled across this quote of Ursula Le Guin from an interview in The Paris Review:

The whole process of getting old—it could have been better arranged. But you do learn some things just by doing them over and over and by getting old doing them. And one of them is, you really need less. And I’m not talking minimalism, which is a highly self-conscious mannerist style I can’t write and don’t want to. I’m perfectly ready to describe a lot and be flowery and emotive, but you can do that briefly and it works better. My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there. But if you listen, if you’re with it, he takes you with him. I think sometimes about old painters—they get so simple in their means. Just so plain and simple. Because they know they haven’t got time. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.  


It seems normal at this juncture for the college-aged writer to say she hasn't given much thought to the way the process of aging and mortality itself will affect her writing career.  But I'll be honest:  that is something I've thought about.  Le Guin can say things about it that I cannot, of course.

What she says is rather interesting and something I know I needed to hear.  I think Le Guin is saying here not just that having less expected time left in this life makes you realize you can't waste time as an artist; she seems to be saying, along with this, that mature artists know well what they do and don't need, what does and does not belong, and so they are not only driven to not waste time, but are also able to not waste time within their art.


The Nike of Samothrace.  This is here because I think there is a really cool analogy you could draw between what Ursula Le Guin is saying and the way we today see a lot of ancient art in a physically reduced state.  This analogy has invaded the blog post because it is past midnight and I am writing a paper on the Nike of Samothrace. 

As a seriously not-mature artist, what I take away from this is the awareness that I probably insist on including a good many things--be they words, sentences, scenes, or whole characters--in my work that are not actually needed.  I was already noticing this, to some extent, in part of my WiP, so it was good to hear.

On the other hand, affecting the mature streamlining of content that comes with age might do more harm than good to the work of someone as young as myself or Tyler-Rose.  The best we can do is probably just this:  to test every moment, every facet, and ask ourselves why it deserves to exist.  To be good about not wasting time, if not by the godlike vision of one who is in complete control of the craft, rather then by the disciplined testing and trying of each piece we include, so that whatever is there is not, properly speaking, a waste of time, but rather a splash of youthful decadence from that fountain of what we actually have in plenty, at our age, however much it may seem that we never have enough. 
Blogger Tricks

Monday, November 10, 2014

Excuses

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo.  I really wanted to do some sort of extra writing this month in honor of the event.  The (short-lived) plan was to write a thousand words a day and get my WiP to 60,000 words by Thanksgiving.  That would have been great.  But I'm not doing that either.

I have many excuses.  Many reasons to share with you that will explain why I am not, cannot, and even should not, write that much in the next few weeks.

Some excuses are good excuses and most excuses are bad excuses, as everyone over the age of three knows.  Feel free to join me in sifting out the legitimate excuses from the balderdash that follows:


Excuse #1:  My free subscription to the Online Oxford English Dictionary will expire in May when I graduate from college.  I will not be getting a subscription again in the forseeable future because it is outrageously expensive for private individuals.  This is the dictionary that allowed me, a few moments ago, to look up the word "balderdash" and learn not only that I was using the word correctly, but also that scholars appear to know almost nothing about its etymology--a fascinating fact.  Clearly, I should be spending my spare moments this November learning new words from the OED, because words are what writers write with in the first place, and come May I won't be able to learn any new ones.

Excuse #2:  November is the worst possible month in which to write an entire novel.  This month was clearly chosen by someone who was either living rent-free in an attic somewhere or imprisoned--and certainly not by a college student because if you are a college student, there is only one month worse for writing than November.  That month is April, and it is worse not because you have any more work to do than you do in November, but because Christmas is much farther away.

Excuse #3:  I have read so much Latin, ancient Greek, medieval English, and scholarly prose in the last two months that my own prose style is positively in flux and my normal sentence structure, which is at the very least shorter than all this, has been replaced by long, convoluted sentences in which I attempt to arrange words and ideas in ways that no sane twenty-first century native English speaker would arrange them.

Excuse #4:  I am a human being with all the normal limitations that accompany humanness.  Among these is a need for sleep.  I could easily write a novel as a college student in November if I stopped sleeping.  Also, just to address the well-meaning comments I can hear welling up from the hearts of coffee drinkers:  so far my experiments with caffeine have made things worse, not better, to my chagrin.

Excuse #5:  The word "chagrin" comes from the French word chagrin and can also mean "rough skin."  Similar words are found in Italian, Venetian, and Turkish.  The relationship of Turkish to Indo-European languages is a fascinating thing, by the bye. 

The fantasy shelf in a Turkish bookstore in Izmir.

Excuse #6:  I have friends and I like them and I want to see them sometimes.

Excuse #7:  The general business of things has caused me to neglect social media to the extent that my Twitter feed has basically become intermittent explosions of @LeVostreGC retweets.  (See my Twitter feed in our sidebar for a recent example.)  As everyone knows, a strong social media presence is how books get written and sold these days, so I would be better off spewing a few extra 140-character-long witticisms into the internet than adding words to my manuscript.  

Excuse #8:  I am busy learning.  Tyler-Rose had to write up a fake writer's bio for me a month or two ago, and in it she wrote that I "studied Latin and life" at college.  I really liked that line.  It's really true.  I am devoting my time here at school to learning how to use language, how to tell stories, and how to begin to understand the basic subject of all stories, human life.  It's a privilege (one I earned with a lot of hard work in earlier stages of my education, but still a privilege) and a blessing, and I would do well not to squander it.  These years of concentrated and purposeful education are going to be one of the main reasons why I have things to write about.  So I should probably do what I'm here to do, and write just as often as I can, and not worry so much about things like NaNoWriMo. 

Yes, we're still posting on Mondays.

[Blog post to come within next few hours.  Because I know there are multitudes of you out there waiting on the proverbial edges of your seats.] 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Time

Happy National Novel Writing Month: Day 3!!!!!!!!!!!! 

May the Muses bring much valor and strength to those engaged in that great and worthy contest.

I was going to write up some tips for the NaNoWriMo-ers today, but, as you may have noticed, I didn't blog last week and, truth be told, I didn't write much of anything else either.

So.

Instead of spending an hour writing this blog post, I'm going to go spend it writing some novel. Besides which, you probably shouldn't be on the internet reading blogs either. After all, it's NaNoWriMo. You have better things to do with your precious, precious time.

Get off the internet. 

Go write something lovely.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Blog Turns Three

Guest Post by Katie the Roommate


Dear Folk of Blogland,

Do you remember me? I remember you. I’ve been watching you closely for a long time now.

I am Katie the Roommate. I’m the girl who lives in a world without lemons. I’m the one for whom a dead author’s face was powder-sugared onto a chocolate cake. And I’m the one who celebrates the birthday of this blog.

Today this blog turns three.*

Before we ponder that, though, let us reflect for a moment on the nature of this blog’s authors.

I’ve noticed that they like to talk a lot about plots, and a lot about pants. Probably there’s some rationale behind “pants” being the antonym of “plots,” but it a rationale that neither my godlike reason nor the Oxford English Dictionary has revealed to me. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but from what I understand one of them wears pants and the other wears plots. Have you ever worn a plot, dear anonymous personage of Blogland? No, neither have I. Maybe plots are invisible. Maybe we have an Emperor’s New Clothes situation going on here. Maybe the reason Susan sometimes leaves the shower curtain open in strange configurations is because she’s hanging her plots out to dry. Who knows?

Here is what I do know: I wear neither pants nor plots. Not only do I have a predilection for skirts and dresses, but I also was born with a lobe missing from my brain**, by virtue of whose absence I am unable to comprehend plot. I mean, I can read a work of fiction, yeah. But I find plot boring. And incomprehensible. And sort of useless. Give me some dude standing in a field having a forty-page-long philosophical reflection on a mouse’s tooth. That’s what tickles my fancy. That’s why I read books.

Which I realise runs against the entire purpose of life of 97.2%*** of this blog’s audience. My apologies. Include forty-page-long diatribes and I will buy your works of fiction despite the plot that so disgustingly plagues them.

But my handicap does permit me a unique skill, which is of benefit to you here. I am going to do for you what Tyler-Rose and Susan, beplotted (or bepantsed) as they are cannot. I am not going to tell you a story. Rather, I am going to suspend before your eyes a moment.

You’ll have to excuse (or, preferably, glory in) the absence of Richard Armitage from this not-story, because I’m afraid it’s a rather serious not-story. A rather beshirted****, non-bepantsed thing.

So here’s the moment. Okay, actually it’s two moments. I’m fickle, and also not-writing three papers, so we’ll have two moments. But first the first:

It is sometime in the summer of 2011.***** There is a street somewhat to the edge of a tiny college town. It is extremely tiny to one girl who flies from a city with more people than my corn-fed, prairie-bound brain can count. Her name sounds like the reverse of the Tenth Doctor’s only true love. She lands at the airport and is satisfied enough with a bottle of organic yuppy juice from Starbucks, but soon she boards a musty van to reach that street on the edge of the tiny college town, and as she approaches, everything gets tinier and tinier. Tiny inorganic grocery stores, tiny roadkill, tiny lack of any signs of human life. “What atrocity have I brought upon myself?” she laments to the rather-concerned-at-this-point bus driver, as he drops her off on the side of the street in the tiniest town she has ever entered.

At the same time, another girl approaches. Her name sounds like a children’s book character whose inordinate passion for nylons, lipstick, and invitations will eventually lead J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman to claim that puberty is sinful. Which is confusing. And silly. But I digress. She is not wearing nylons, lipstick, nor invitations, but shorts. (Maybe that’s what plots are? Just shorts? Huh.) Her grandmother is very concerned that she is wearing shorts for her arrival at a fancy college campus. Shorts-wearer is very concerned that her grandmother is very concerned. It’s generally just a concerning situation. Her van is less musty, but just as much filled with concern as the van descending into the hellish pit of tininess that is a tiny college town.
 
So there’s a tiny town, a street, and two concern-filled vans depositing two girls who have never met nor heard of each other****** on the side of that street.

They’re not thinking about novel-writing. They’re thinking about shorts and grandmothers and organic soda and dead deer.

An overly cheery admissions counselor hands them their room assignments. They are in the same room. From what I understand of the event, they were more delighted, at least at first, that Tyler-Rose had showered since she last rode a horse so that Susan didn’t die of an allergic reaction at their meeting than that they were both storytellers.

They figured that out in due time, of course, but that’s a story and therefore incompatible with my brain. Ask them if you’re curious.

Back to the second moment: three and a half years later, October 2014. On the same street, but on the opposite side. Tyler-Rose and Susan are still roommates. And they’re spending their Friday evening not wearing nylons or lipstick or, I think, plots (but since those might be invisible I can’t know for sure), but writing greeting cards slogans they can sell for big bucks during their starving artist years.****** They laugh a lot. They think they’re quite clever. They probably are.

So there you have it: a not-story. One street in a tiny town, three and a half years, and two girls who haven’t left it, nor tired of each other. Except now they laugh instead of bemoaning their wretched existences and/or their shorts. Which is preferable, if you’re their roommate. And isn’t that a wonder, that a story I can’t tell you bridges two moments, and makes and keeps a friendship?

Okay, one more moment actually.

Tonight I attended a concert. A folksy, vaguely-famous-for-a-hellishly-tiny-town band had come to town, and that was enough to get all the professors out in fancy dress with their spouses. Across the theatre from me, I saw a line of professors and their spouses, all of whom I know to have heaps and heaps and heaps of children. Just an incomprehensible number of children. But none of the children were there. The parents must have procured some brave babysitter to wield the lot of them, or maybe they just gave up and left the zero- to seven-year-olds to themselves. Either way, here were these professors and their spouses, all friends, enjoying a night out together.
 
I think we tend to look at things like that and say that that’s the essence of friendship.

Except that it’s not. There’s twelve dozen children between those three professors’ homes; if these nights out are the essence of their friendship, then their friendship is pretty darn measly. The thing that has made them friends is not the vaguely-famous-band concert they attend together in vaguely-fancy dress once a year. It’s their mutual sorrows and joys, their shared endurance of twelve dozen children, their joint suffering of a teeny-tiny town and its inorganic grocery stores. That’s the meat of their friendship. The vaguely-famous concerts are, to be trite (because it’s 11:58 PM now), the icing on the cake. But it’s a really dry, tasteless cake of suffering and concern and horror.

This has taken a dark turn. There’s also some laughter in the cake! Some poverty-stricken greeting card slogans! Don’t worry! The cake sometimes tastes good!

But you, ye lucky little ducklings of Blogland (if you have managed to read this far), get the always-awesome icing of constant vaguely-famous concerts. You get Tyler-Rose and Susan in fancy dress all the time. You get the leisurely moments of the day, when they have procured a babysitter for their plots and their pants and are just chilling out in happy-land, clapping at a banjo solo
.
All of this to say: the constantly-awesome awesome cake of The Feather and the Rose is pretty awesome, but you wouldn’t have that cake without the tears-and-agony-and-occasional-laughter cake of their friendship, without their suffering each other’s plots and pants and potted plants. And that’s pretty awesome, too.

Everything is awesome.

Happy birthday, blog.



****

* Theoretically, it turned three on Saturday, October 18. But since the 2nd blog birthday was celebrated on Saturday, October 19, a day after the actual birthday, it seems fitting that the 3rd blog birthday be celebrated two days after the fact, on Monday, October 20. (By the time this is actually written and posted, this will no longer be true, but let’s just pretend. The infant Clive Staples Lewis wrote a poem cycle called Dymer that begins with this lovely address:

“You stranger, long before your glance can light
Upon these words, time will have washed away
The moment when I first took pen to write,
With all my road before me—yet to-day,
Here, if at all, we meet; the unfashioned clay
Ready to both our hands; both hushed to see
That which is nowhere yet come forth and be.”

That’s what we’re doing here. Welcome to my life: Monday, October 20, 2014, 10:04 PM. I’m glad to have you here. Isn’t 10:04 PM swell?


** Tyler-Rose and Susan will be starting a GoFundMe campaign shortly.

*** Hi, Arena!

**** Heaven forbid shirtlessness​.

***** I realise this is all written in the present tense and I know that Tyler-Rose and Susan hate that and that makes me giggle. Hee hee hee.

***** Unless Facebook somehow had connected the two of them before this, but that makes for a much more boring not-story. Ignore reality, please.

****** Sorry not sorry if one of you were going to write a post about this and I’ve now stolen your content. Or if I’ve let slip your top secret income source. Oops.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Epic Excerpts

Last time I was here I discussed, essentially, Tyler-Rose's love of the visual elements of writing and my love of dialogue. 

So, dialogue-loving, word-hearing kind of person that I am, I thought I would share two passages of literature which are effective largely because of their use of dialogue or other spoken elements. 


First, a quote from one of King Henry's soliloquies in Shakespeare's Henry V. 

Tom Hiddleston hiding under a cloak.
Ahh, yes, the good old "king roaming his camp in disguise" trope. 
No one ever seems to tell these guys how ineffective their disguises are.
Hi, Henry.  I see you. 

(Henry, while wandering his camp in disguise (see above), has just overheard soldiers blaming him for the damnation of their immortal souls because of the battle they're going to start fighting as soon as the sun rises.) 

We must bear all.  O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing!  What infinite heart's ease
Must kings neglect that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents?  What are they comings-in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul of adoration? 
Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherin thou art less happy, being feared,
Than they in fearing. 
What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poisoned flattery?  O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure! 
Thinks thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation? 
Will it give place to flexure and low bending? 
Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it?  No, thou proud dream.... 
(Henry V 4.1.226-250)


I just cannot stay calm when Shakespeare starts using apostrophe.  "O, be sick, great greatness, and bid thy ceremony give thee cure!"  Pretty great stuff, right? 

Right.  Well, this has been on my mind, it turns out, because in BBC's recent four-movie version of the Henry plays, "The Hollow Crown," Tom Hiddleston, who for the most part makes quite a good Henry V, DOES NOT DELIVER THIS SOLILOQUY.  They skipped it.  Just skipped it.  To my utter perplexity and dismay. 

Tom Hiddleston on a horse carrying the flag of England.
Yeah, skip the awesome soliloquy with this one.  He doesn't look like he could handle it.

But before this turns into a rant the size and vehemence of which have only been seen before when someone decided to put airships in a Three Musketeers movie, I will move on to our second Excerpt of Awesome. 


From Wolfram von Eschenbach's contribution to Arthurian romance, Parzival-- 
(Most of the book up until now has been straight narration, or very normal dialogue between characters, so this chapter opener comes as a bit of a jolt.) 

"Open!" 
"To whom?  Who is there?" 
"I wish to enter your heart." 
"Then you want too narrow a space." 
"How is that?  Can't I just squeeze in?  I promise no tto jostle you.  I want to tell you marvels." 
"Can it be you, Lady Adventure?  How do matters stand with that fine fellow? --I mean with noble Parzival, whom with harsh words Cundrie drove out to seek the Gral, a quest from which there was on deterring him, despite the weeping of many ladies.  he left Arthur the Briton then:  ut how is he faring now?  Take up the tale and tell us whether he has renounced all thought of happiness or has covered himself with glory, whether his fame has spread far and wide or has shriveled and shrunk.  Recount his achievements in detail.  has he seen Munsalvaesche again and gentle Anfortas, whose heart was so fraught with sighs?  Please tell us--how it would console us!  --whether he has been released from suffering?  Let us hear whether Parzival has been there, he who is your lord as much as mine.  Enlihten me as to the life he has been leading.  How has sweet Herzeloyde's child, Gahmuret's son, been faring?  Tell us whether he has won joy or bitter sorrow in his battles.  Does he hold to the pursuit of distant goals?  Or has he been lolling in sloth and idleness?  Tell me his whole style of living." 
Now the adventure tells us that Parzival has ranged through many lands on horseback and over the waves in ships.... 
(Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, translated by A. T. Hatto, pg. 222) 


This one was on my mind because Tyler-Rose and I recently had to read it for our Arthurian Literature class.  (Yes, yes, we know--we're winning at college.) 

And what is this, even?  Personification of Lady Adventure, of course.  But also a kind of epic-style invocation to the muse wrapped in witty repartee? 


......and, now, before we part, you should Google image search "Lady Adventure" and cry a little bit with me.  (Don't worry, it's not gross--just not anything that Wolfram's cool writing here calls to mind...)  Someone with art skills should do a rendering of Lady Adventure that doesn't involve unicorn-rainbow-women and send it to us. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

That Black Hole that is the Internet

There are a lot of things in this world that have set themselves the personal goal of ruining as many budding writing careers as possible. At least that's how it feels to me most of the time. Especially on rainy mornings when I've been up too late for too many nights in a row and the floor of my bedroom feels more like an ice rink than a floor has any right to.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, sometimes life gets in the way of writing.

But it's never that simple, is it? LIFE never comes as one tidy package.* It's a whole lovely, ugly, jumbled pile of a thousand tiny distractions and demands on our time.** However, for me at least, there is one great LOOMING DISTRACTION that TOWERS over all the others. Even paper research and eating.***

And that is . . .

*Shockingly*

THE INTERNET.^

Now, people write about this all the time. In fact, I think this is one of the things I see discussed most in list-style posts of writing advice. Usually, you are encouraged to leave the internet alone and just write your novel.

No doubt, you have seen some iteration of THIS meme:

 


All well and good. Don't be distracted by the internet. HA. 

NOW for my main dilemma. We are simultaneously encouraged to have an internet presence. Blog, tweet, pin, tumbl, post and otherwise promote yourself so that future agents will realize you are a marketing genius as well as a poet who happens to write prose.

This requires not only marketing genius (real or imagined), but world class time management skills and a will of adamantine iron. How much time does one devote to one's internet presence(s)? How much is too much? How much too little? I've seen people suggest various percentage figures, but I find it nearly impossible--not to mention odious--to calculate how much of my time is exactly 17% of my time.

But the fact that it's a time suck, isn't the only reason the internet is a threat to my writing life.

I think it messes with my connection to my story. It's distracting and it . . . muddies the waters somehow. I feel less clearly. The words are more difficult to dredge up and less attractive. It's harder to value what I'm doing. Basically, I like what I produce better on days that aren't littered with cat videos. But while I'm enjoying my proverbial cat videos, I hardly notice the difference. It's only later, when I'm assessing how little I've accomplished, that I see the different. That's why it's such a very sneaky distraction.

I think if I were designing my perfect impossible writing life, the day would begin with poetry or a few pages of one of my favorite authors. Just something to get the taste of beautiful words in my mouth.

I have little time for my writing this semester, but I do have some. I can get up early before my classes and write for maybe an hour before I have to start getting ready for the rest of my day. I used to use a little ramble around the internet as a way to warm up, but I think it's hurting more than it ever helped. But I don't want to give up all my internet time. It's fun and I'm supposed to be doing some unspecified amount of socializing online anyway. However, I think I can conquer this problem merely by avoiding the whole internet until I've done my writing for the day.

RESOLUTION: This week I will put Self-Restraint on for the duration of my writing time. Further more, I will actually get out of bed at the appointed time and sit down at my desk no matter how groggy I feel. In addition, I will put my hands on the keyboard and write things.

Wish me luck. I'll tell you how it goes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Unless you've ordered a year's subscription to the magazine. In which case, I'm sure it's very tidy.

** I'm put in mind of an illustrated copy of "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out" by Shel Silverstein that I once owned.

*** Unless it's pie. Nothing is more important than pie.

^ Says the girl writing a blog post.