Tag Archives: Writing

Metaphor Monday: The Garden


Metaphor Monday is a new thing we’re trying out around here. Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments.

I was running through the neighborhood a few days ago, and I noticed something I don’t usually pay that much attention to: gardens.

We have a family down the street from us who moved in about a year ago, and one of the first things they did was till up a corner of their side yard to make room for a cozy little garden. My wife and I kind of sniggered at that: we (well, she) tried to cultivate a tiny garden many years back and it went wrong right away. The Georgia summer is pretty ruthless, and when you’re not organized enough to remember to water it or fertilize it or, you know, any of the things that make gardens work, it doesn’t take long for the weeds and the kudzu to reclaim your work.

But this garden is working. It isn’t the prettiest thing — the creeping grass and rampant weeds threaten it on every side, and it leans sort of precariously on the side of a hill leading down toward the street — but there are definitely things growing in it that look edible. A few scrawny tomatoes dangling on the vine. One or two leafy heads of something poking up through the dirt. And I realized that our garden didn’t fail because there was something wrong with the climate, or with our yard; the problem was with us.

A garden takes devotion. You can’t just work at it a couple of days a week, or when the weather is nice, or when you get a free afternoon. You have to make the time for it every day. Watering. Weeding. Fertilizing. Checking pH levels or something, I don’t know. You have to return to it every day like a monk to his prayers, even when it seems like nothing is happening (because so much of the growth happens out of sight, before you can see it).

A garden takes time. You don’t plant seeds on Monday and feast on Friday. It takes a season, or perhaps a couple, before you can hope to see the fruits of your labor. That means patience; knowing that the work you’re doing means something, even when it feels useless. It means sacrificing hours and hours of time you could spend doing other things (OMG OMG THE NEW GAME OF THRONES IS OUT DID YOU SEE ED SHEERAN HOLY CRAP just kidding I don’t watch Game of Thrones who has that kind of time) to plunge your hands into the earth.

A garden takes defending. Nature doesn’t give a handul of hot fargos that you’re trying to Do A Thing, to get in touch with your primordial roots and grow your own food off the land. Nature has insects and vermin to feed and green things to grow, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to let some kudzu and clover take over the space you’re using for a garden than to cultivate a couple of tomatoes. Your garden will be beset on all sides by weeds and vines and all sorts of things that will kill it if left to their own devices, and there’s no easy solution. Pesticides? Those come out in the food you were hoping to eat. Weed-killer? Surprise, it’s just as happy to eat your cauliflower. The only way to keep your garden safe is to pull them out by hand — and that takes that time we were talking about up there.

And that’s writing, innit? Or fill in That Thing You Want To Do, and it’s that thing, too. You can’t just do it when it feels good, you have to return to it every day, without fail, even when it’s hard, uncomfortable, or inconvenient. You have to sink hours and hours into it at the expense of more normal things. And you have to defend it like a mother bear, else the vermin and weeds of the world will destroy it, mercilessly and without hesitation.

wp-image--1211455574

Not the garden in question, but a nice local one nonetheless!

I run past that garden, and it isn’t much, but it’s surviving. And I can’t help but think of the garden in my head: the one I don’t have the time or the energy for right now, the one that is choked to death with weeds of uncertainty over this move (still in limbo!).

And I really want to get my hands dirty.


WriterSpawn


It’s 7:45 AM. The sun is out, the weather, gorgeous. The beach is deserted. A dreamland for a kid who’s already been awake for two hours, mainlined a bowl of sugary cereal and awakened every adult in the house.

And instead, he’s doing this:wp-image--2074352929

I even asked him if he wanted to go down to the beach. He said, “no, I want to finish making my book. I’m so excited to read it to you.”

As parents you sometimes find yourself in these moments. Moments when the heavens open up and celestial light shines down, and you realize that you’ve done the right things, and your kid is going to be OK, that he’ll be a force for good in the world.

Then there are other moments. Moments when you wonder whether the next time you see your kid, he (or maybe you!) will be on the wrong side of iron bars and bulletproof glass, and you question every parenting decision you’ve ever made.

I’m not sure which of those moments this is. If he’s a writer in the making (and he’s definitely not an athlete, so, you know, maybe!) then he’s doomed to a life both torturous and wonderful. Afflicted with a sickness that causes him to think about everything, absorb everything, and never let his mind be quiet. Gift and curse. Not sure if good or bad.

But this morning, he’s a creator and not a consumer, and that’s more than a little inspiring.

 


Chaotic Evil


I don’t do it all the time, but occasionally when working with characters, I think about their alignment.

You know. Dungeons & Dragons. Two sliding scales. Chaotic/Lawful, Good/Evil. It’s a more nuanced way of thinking about characters: rather than just saying “this is a bad guy,” you get “this is a character who is going to do everything he can to further his own ends without breaking the rules of society.” Or “this is a girl who will do everything she can to help somebody in need, even if it means hurting herself in the process.”

This approach was particularly instructive when drafting Villainous (working title!), a central theme of which was the blurred line between good and evil. I didn’t want cookie-cutter good- and bad-guys, so I tried to make sure that each character had strong motivations and believable reasons for the things they were doing and their worldview in general.

Why am I thinking about the alignments of my heroes and villains when I really should be focusing on the edit that’s in front of me?

Because of our goldfingered president.

I thought I was crafting a pretty cohesive psychopathic chaotic evil villain in my novel, but it turns out I had no idea what I was doing. Trump is chaotic evil to his orangey, fatty core:

A chaotic evil character tends to have no respect for rules, other people’s lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have much regard for the lives or freedom of other people. Chaotic evil characters do not work well in groups because they resent being given orders and do not usually behave themselves unless there is no alternative. (Wikipedia)

And of course, just yesterday, Trump literally put his own short-sighted interests (namely: money and continuing to appeal to those in this country who have already voted for him instead of, you know, anybody else) above the interests of the ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ PLANET with his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreements.

Let’s say nothing of the fact that he can just do this when 70% of the country he represents is against the decision. That’s a political power seminar I’m not qualified to even wonder about. Let’s not even say anything of the fact that the rest of that blurb fits big Orange to a “T”. (Resents being given orders? Check! Do not behave themselves? Grab them by the check!) I’m just concerned with the morality of it, which is entirely bankrupt.

He’s literally willing to watch the world burn if it benefits him for an election cycle. (Oh, and it’s yet another not-so-subtly-symbolic middle finger to his predecessor.)

I mean, in a way, it’s inspiring, because I can take a page from that for the characters in my own work.

But it seems a bit hopeless to be thinking about works of fiction at a time like this, when the villains we face are all too real.


Who Ever Wanted More Deadlines?


Nothing motivates like a deadline. You put the thing off, put the thing off, park it in the backyard, let it grow a few weeds. A family of squirrels takes up residence. Winter comes, the squirrels leave. Then the deadline looms and, hey, holy crap, it’s time to clean that thing up. Pull the weeds out. Excise the dead squirrels. Somehow this work gets managed in the relative blink of an eye, not because you want it to be done, but because it has to get done.

Or else, what? Or else, there are consequences.

Getting the house ready to sell was a perfect example of this. We had a leaky toilet. A dripping faucet. Tons of little dings in the drywall. Junk in the garage. Sagging gutters. All of these, things which I wanted to get done someday, but which I was not interested in actually doing. For years. Then, we have to get the house ready to sell, and I manage to do them all in about a week.

I was motivated from without by a deadline of sorts: you can’t sell the house until you fix the broken things.

This is the problem with my writing, of late: I’m a hobbyist at this point, and as a hobbyist, there are no deadlines. If I finish a thing? Great; I get my dopamine hit, but that’s about it. If I don’t finish a thing? I haven’t lost anything besides my time. I may feel bad about myself, but there are no tangible, concrete consequences.

Which is why it feels like my projects are stretching out and piling up like rusted-out cars in the backyard. Like a house full of honey-do’s.

Of course, I do have deadlines in my actual job, so it’s easier and easier to let those narrative toilets keep leaking. With writing, it’s all-or-nothing — I’m either thinking about it all the time, consumed with it virtually every waking minute, or I can’t keep my mind on it at all. With the deadlines flying around like a swarm of angry bees, it’s more of a nothing writing phase.

What I need, then, is obvious: I need some good, external, consequence-riddled deadlines for my projects.

I hear there are apps and services that will provide this motivation for you. Like, if you haven’t done what you said you’d do — lose fifteen pounds by the summer, finish that first draft — they donate to a political cause you hate with money you staked on yourself back when you were full of piss and vinegar about doing the thing in the first place. But that feels gimmicky and cheeky and disingenuous. I need the carrot, man. I need the stick.

Actually, what I need is to be finished with this school year — the transition has wreaked havoc on my writing habit — and get on with getting moved into the new house. (Upshot: we have accepted an offer on our current house, so we can start looking for a new place in earnest, now.) Maybe when I can silence those deadlines, I can start imposing some weird and crazy deadlines on myself.

Like, I dunno. If I don’t finish the first edit by x date, I’ll have to eat a live spider, or something.

Oh god.

I’d better get to work.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Turns of Phrase


The great thing about having taken about nine months in between drafting this novel and now running through it for the first edit is that I really get to read it with fresh eyes. I’ve totally forgotten some of the gems and turns of phrase that I used the first time around.

My favorite from today’s session?

In the late afternoon sun, the towering house loomed dark and silent, its shadow spilling down the hill and toward their feet like the runoff from a broken sewer line.

I mean, come on. I’d read that.

Other notables, maybe not so awesome or thematically coherent:

Trees “…thick and gnarled and knotty as the hands of a retired coal miner.”

something “…as stealthy as a camel in clown shoes.”

“perfume that reminded you of your next door neighbor, who somehow smelled like the fifties must have smelled, all cigarettes and sock hops.”

I mean, I don’t know if any of those are going to survive the edit. But they’re sure fun to rediscover.

 


%d bloggers like this: