Monday, March 29, 2010

A Bunny's Tail

From the minute I woke up today, life has been...

All I wanted to do was go back to...

Next, I tried camouflage...

I even tried getting some help from my friends...

But now it looks like I'm going to have to face this day head-on.  Think you can take me, you stupid Day?  Yeah, you and what army?

You don't want to mess with this bunny.
Trust me.

So, dear reader, you were wondering how my day is going?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

God of Carnage

Tonight, I saw God of Carnage, the Tony Award-winning Broadway production.  The cast featured Janet McTeer, Jeff Daniels, Dylan Baker and Lucy Liu and was fantastic.

The play opens and already, the audience wants to know: how long until these characters lose it?  Everyone seems so civil at first, except not.  And then at a pivotal moment (courtesy of Ms. Liu's character Annette) and after that all bets are off.

This play is a great example of plot structure at work.  The first section is restrained, though we know it's only a matter of time before these characters snap.  Then there's the second section, when the civility quickly unravels.  Finally, we get the last segment, where everyone--the characters and even the audience--is gasping for air, like kid retreating after a playground brawl.

One of the other elements I much enjoyed was how the writer (Yasmina Reza) doesn't feel the need to explain every detail.  Annette's perpetual nausea, Michael's refusal to let Veronica have a drink.  The story could have been heavy-handed and explained all these moments, but Reza holds back, and I think the play is stronger for it.

Overall, a great night out and a fabulous performance.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

Caesar: [To the Soothsayer] The ides of March are come.

Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone.
        --Shakespeare (Julius Caesar III.i)

Some may find the Ides of March depressing.  A death-day of sorts.  I, however, find this day empowering, as a day when I can bite my thumb at all the naysayers to my writing life.

I try not to complain about writing or publishing, because generally, there isn't much to complain about.  In Portuguese, there's a saying that roughly translates to: "If you run because you enjoy it, don't complain about being sore."  Writing is sort of the same thing.  If you feel the need to complain about it, then really you should ask yourself: why are you writing in the first place?  If it's such a pain in your backside, why not take up something you like better?  Like basket-weaving or ceramics.

Even the most upbeat and optimistic of writers, though, find themselves up against a wet blanket or worrywart once in a while.  These are the people who pester you with irrelevant questions like: "When do you think you'll actually 'make it' as a writer" or "So, do you think your book could be the next Harry Potter" or, my favorite, "Why don't you stop this silliness and get yourself a real job."

Well, once a year, we writers get a special day when we can turn to these people and say:
 E tu Brute?
Today is that day.  Enjoy it while you can because it only comes around once a year.

And to those writers out there who get soaked by wet blankets and just shake the water off, like a dog does after a bath: keep doing exactly what you're doing.  Write on!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day

Pi Day is today!

This is the day when we celebrate that most beautiful of ratios, called Pi (AKA 3.141592...etc).

So tell your friends.  Celebrate all things circular.  And while you're at it, eat some pie.

p.s.  Mark your calendars for five years from now because that will be Super Pi Day!  Woot!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

One Dot a Day

...keeps the insanity away.  But what if you can't get through that dot?

What if it's not really a dot, but a huge swamp of despair that seeps off the page and into your writing space and swallows up your floor, your furniture and everything around you?  What if that swamp turns into an enormous black hole, a vortex of nothingness that eats up life as you know it until all that's left is you and a blank screen.

That's when it's time to smack some sense into myself.

Seriously, it's just one stupid dot, one tiny splotch of ink on the page that is my outline.  It's just a dot.  I can write a dot.  That's, like, the size of punctuation.  It's no biggie.  Maybe I can't write a whole book today, but I can write a dot.  I'll even throw in some words for good measure.  And it doesn't even have to be a good dot at that.  Just a dot.

Julia Cameron wrote in her book Supplies that when you run into a wall in your creativity, don't try going up over it.  Instead, do what those characters in prison-break movies do: they make a hole under the wall and wriggle their way under.

So that's what I'm going to do.  Just one tiny dot, and it can be a lousy dot while I'm at it.  And maybe, just maybe, when I've written a handful of lousy dots, I'll have the beginnings of a real project.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not a Jolly Holiday

This past weekend I read the original Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers and it seriously pains me to put the following words to page (or screen, as it may be).  This book may have been charming in 1934 when it was published, but it has not aged well.

First, it probably didn't help that I've seen the movie version a gazillion times and I was constantly comparing book Mary Poppins to Julie Andrews' Mary Poppins.  While Mary Poppins in the movie is stern but kind, whimsical but sensible, Mary Poppins in the book is vain, mean and self-centered.

Second, the use of magic in the book seems somewhat backwards to me.  In the movie, while she's sometimes reluctant to use magic, Mary Poppins makes wonderful things happen.  The magic is a way for Mary Poppins to relate with the children: Jane and Michael.  In the book on the other hand, she happens to have this magical thing about her but she constantly denies that anything magical has happened.  Rather than the magic bringing Mary Poppins closer to the children, she uses it as a way to push the children away.  Magic is supposed to be what makes Mary Poppins such a wonderful nanny, but book Mary Poppins seems reluctant to share her magical world with Jane and Michael.

Die-hard fans of the book may argue in favor of the book's superiority to the movie because it includes so many scenes and elements that the movie omits.  A few examples:
  • Only the two oldest Banks children appear in the movie.  The book also includes two toddler twins: John and Barbara.
  • Mary and the children go shopping and meet Maia, one of the Pleiades.
  • Mary has a birthday party in the Zoo with the animals.  The children attend.
  • Mary takes the children around the world using a magic compass.
  • The children and Mary go to Miss Corry's shop to buy gingerbread square.
There's a reason the musical omits these elements: they're not exactly as charming in execution as they sound from the descriptions.  My biggest disappointment with the book: the character of Bert (who's not a chimney sweep but a match man) only appears in one adventure at the very beginning of the story, and all he seems to be able to say is "Golly!"

In the end, I'm sorry to say that it would take a lot more than a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This is Why I Love my Quill-Wielding Friends

I won't get into the details, but today I needed some tough love with my writing.  Really.  I was being a complete moron but was too stubborn to hear what I needed to hear.

Thankfully, I know a few writers who aren't afraid to talk some sense into me, no matter how much I hate to listen.  It takes courage to talk someone down when they're approaching a writing precipice.  But these are courageous folks and to them I'm so grateful.

Daily Quota

I'm not one of those writers who gets up every morning at 5am and writes exactly 2,000 words before starting her day.  For me, writing is either feast or famine.  I'll spend a week mulling over a project, then sit and crank out 30 pages in two days.

What I'm realizing, though, is that if I don't figure out a way to keep myself accountable, as soon as school is done and I have no more deadlines, I'm at risk for losing all writing discipline.  This is why I've decided that I need to implement a daily quota regimen.

Here's how it's going to work:  I write one dot per day.  By this I mean, I write one scene (or group of small scenes) each day.  No word quota but I'm shooting for at least 1K.  The rules are as follows:
  1. Writing anything that's not my book is a bonus and won't count towards the quota.
  2. Outlines, character sketches, doodling, brainstorming, etc. don't count either.
  3. I get one day off per week.  If I make it through a week without needing a day off I get double kudos.
 Ready... Set...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monkeys on my Shoulder

I have a bit of a dilemma.

Here I am, writing away at my thesis and I've got these two monkeys on my shoulders.  (Why monkeys?  Check out the Infinite Monkey Theorem.  It will make sense, really.)  One monkey goes by the name Prudence, the other Maverick.  They don't agree on anything, especially as regards my thesis.

Prue:  Write something safe.  Write something easy.  Write something where you know you'll succeed.

Mav:  Safe-schmafe.  Write whatever makes you happy.

Prue:  This isn't like workshop.  You have to hand it in For Real and your graduation depends on it.

Mav:  Who cares if what you hand in isn't great.  The important thing is that you learn something, right?

This argument continues ad infinitum.  The main point of contention always comes back to the issue of my POV characters.  Prue thinks I should choose one protagonist and write just that side of my story--at least then I'll finish something.  Mav says that the dual POV is more interesting, not to mention more fun.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that a lot of my readers (including my adviser) seem to be more in agreement with Prue and I'm siding with Mav. Which brings me to my dilemma:
If a writer decides not to follow a critique or piece of advice, is that hubris on the writer's part, or is that the writer being true to her vision?
On one hand, I don't want to be that writer.  You know the one--that's the writer who makes everyone read her stuff and give critiques, then completely ignores everything they say.  Or worse, it's the writer who makes a point of defending his work against every critique point the group makes.  All I know is, I've been on the "group" side of this equation and it stinks.  Not to mention that the folks advising me to take the safe road may be totally right.  They might see something I just can't see and I'd be committing thesis suicide if I don't listen.  (This last part is Prue whispering in my ear.)

On the other hand.  In my heart, I know I have a plan for this little book.  It's taken until this weekend for this plan to fully crystallize , but it has, and it now means writing the story according to my "artistic vision."  (Besides, as Mav puts it, this way's much more exciting.)  But it might also mean that I careen off the road altogether and end up in a ravine.

So, my question is:  Can anyone explain what the difference is between ego and artistic vision when rejecting a critique?  This is really important because I need to know which one I have.

Also, does anyone have any monkey repellent?