Category Archives: Ramble

(Lack of) Style Points


Writer’s style is like …. it’s one of those weird things that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s this sort of indefinable quality we all have to our writing, and it’s hard to point to single passages and say “see, this exemplifies this author’s style because of this thing and that thing and also that other thing over there, and therefore their style is x”.

It’s one of those things you *feel* more than you quantify.

And styles change over time, too, just like people change. But I wonder about style in my own writing a lot, to the point I’m probably hyper aware of it. I write a passage, and I’m like, “does this sound like me?” Or more often the question is, “what does this even sound like?” Or even more often than that, “this is just totally boring and I hate the way I wrote it.”

It’s this weird hangup that has only really gotten worse with me the more I’ve written, which is weird, because everything you see everywhere about everything seems to suggest that the more you do a thing, the better you should get at it, but that doesn’t seem to be true for me and my style. I second-guess the hell out of myself and my style these days, and I never did back in the day. I could blow through over 1000 words in a session on my novel, then hop over here and fire off an 800-word blog post and never think a second thought about what I’d written or how I’d written it; all the words were good words.

Now, though? I’m afraid to even look back at what I wrote when I was starting out. Not because of the subject material — I’m sure that’s as cringey as anything I ever write under any circumstance. No, I’m terrified to look at my style back then, because I’m mindful of it now, and I fear that since I wasn’t mindful of it then, it’ll be a mess. (It’s there. I could look in the archives of this very website. But I dare not.)

Have I tied myself in enough knots? As if it’s not hard enough just to write the words down.

And it’s no use pretending not to care now that I do. You say “I don’t care what my writing sound like,” it’s as bad as the guy who purposely gives himself a bedhead, rumples up his shirt, and wears ridiculous shoes saying “I don’t care what I look like”. Like, yeah you do, man… you purposely cultivated that look to *look* like you don’t care.

It’s like one of those Magic Eye things. The image is entirely invisible to you until you finally see it, and once you see it, you can never not know it’s there.


I Should Probably Just Quit


Every now and then I get to thinking (as many writers do, maybe?) …

Man, I dunno if I’m cut out for this.

It’s just so hard… to find the time in the day, to make the words come, to face the editing monster, to spend time thinking on all these ideas…

Life would be a lot easier if I just gave it up. Just quit worrying about writing, stop stressing about my stories, give up grinding over grammar (okay, that one was a stretch. I’m a former English teacher, grammar is in my blood.)

And that’s not Writer’s Block talking, or laziness, or any other cop out. That’s 100% true. I have a full-time job, I like getting up early in the morning to run, I like having weekends to hang with the fam, and oh yeah, there’s my whole extracurricular program at the school, too…. life would be easier if I weren’t trying to write stories too.

I entertain these thoughts.

But then I think of the stories I’m in the middle of, of leaving them unfinished. (Not even unread by an audience’s eyes, but just “unfinished by me”.) And I’m appalled. To not polish them up and get them ready to leave the nest (whether they ever do or not)? Seems like a crime against humanity … a crime against all the time and work and strife I’ve put into them.

And I think of the ideas I’ve had for stories I haven’t told yet…. stories that may come to nothing, that may never have their first word written, that may start with tons of gusto and then never go anywhere. And I can’t handle that thought either, the thought of never bringing these stories into the world, half-formed and imperfect as they no doubt would be.

In short, I can’t picture a life when I’m not writing or creating something, no matter how hard it is and no matter how much I might rather live that way.

Writing has become as natural and necessary as sustenance, as exercise.

So even though I don’t do it as much as I should, and even though my projects take forever to finish … I’m gonna keep writing.

I just don’t see any other way.


Not Done Yet


I was going to share, here, a speech I cobbled together and shared with my cast and crew on the opening night of our show. (Said opening of said show is, of course, the perennial reason I dropped off the face of the earth for the last couple of weeks. But it’s over now, and I’m back, better than ever — okay maybe not, but at least *as good* as ever.)

There was a lot of great stuff in there, about magic and creativity and perseverance and all that good stuff. But that speech, like the theatre itself, was ephemeral, I think. Suited to that moment with that group and the dynamic we shared. So I’m not going to share it here, except for one particular passage: that we are capable of more than we think.

This year has taught a lot of us that lesson, as we have struggled (and struggle still) to find normality in this world turned upside down. And I keep learning that lesson myself, probably because I keep forgetting it and having to be reminded over and over.

We fool ourselves into thinking that we’re done, that we’ve given all we can, that we’ve got nothing left. And the lie sounds reasonable; just look at all we’ve been through. There’s always something left in the tank. We just get overwhelmed, intimidated, frustrated, flustered. But those feelings are as fleeting as the moment I shared with my cast last week. We can still go on. Dig a little deeper, lace up our boots a little tighter, and go on.

So. Go on.


I Know Things


I had a student ask me to fill out a psychiatrist’s evaluation for her. (Psychologist? I know they’re not the same but it’s not the point of the story, so we’re moving on.) Feedback on her performance in class, that kind of thing.

So I sent it in, and the next time she came in to class, she had this shocked look on her face. I had apparently marked that she has feelings of guilt and blames herself for things that are out of her control. This was shocking to her. “I never told you about that,” she said. “How did you know?”

Well, for one thing, isn’t that part of the human condition?

And for another, kiddo, you’ve been my student for three years now … of course I know some things about you. (For better and for worse!)

We have this disconnect with the people in our lives, and students — and all young people, really, but students especially — have this pressure to be this better version of themselves. It’s weird, I guess, when they learn that the mask can’t stay on all the time, no matter how hard they try.

It reminds me of when I was in school, the first time I saw one of my teachers out “in the wild” at the grocery store. It’s so jarring to see a person out of the context you build around them. I mean, of course they’re a real person who has to shop at stores … but you never think of them in that way. You don’t see the real person, you don’t consider them in that way.

But they’re real.

And I couldn’t possibly know this thing about her, but I did.

Makes you wonder what people know about *you* that you don’t go around telling them.


The Importance of Something


Writing advice!

It’s mostly garbage. It’s almost always situational. What works for one may not work for another. These things are known.

But I want to remind myself, and all of us involved in these creative endeavors, of one of my favorite aphorisms: “Inspiration exists, but it has to catch you working.”

Inspiration!

It’s this wonderful, terrible, magic, not-magic thing. In that it feels like magic, but somehow it only seems to show its face when you’re already working. The work creates the inspiration, and then the fleeting sparks of inspiration set the work on fire.

If you’re not putting words on the page (or paint on the canvas or whatever choose-your-metaphor), then the words have nowhere to go even if your brain has one of those legendary waves. And the best way to push through a problem in your story is often to just keep writing, keep giving the characters something to do, keep flinging their bodies against the wall until you pile up enough pieces to step over.

And that’s true! Grinding away at your story is the only way to get through it.

But the funny thing is, inspiration doesn’t care what you’re working on. Inspiration strikes when it strikes and it says what it says and it says no more, and it won’t be forced and it won’t be guided.

And the funny thing is, sometimes it strikes in ways that are not immediately useful. Case-in-point: today I’m grinding out edits for my superhero story and bang, crash, the lightning flashes and provides me with the answer to a problem that had my other story thoroughly and entirely mud-stuck. And because I was sitting at the computer anyway, working on the first story, it was easy for me to tab over, write out some notes on the other idea so it didn’t flitter away into the screaming chasm of my inadequate brain to be forgot forever, and get back to what I needed to be working on.

Which is to say that when you’re not feeling the inspiration, you have to work on something Do something, anything to keep the juices flowing and the soil fertile, because you have no way to know when the lightning is going to strike.
But you darn sure want to be ready when it does.


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