on writing, Personal Journey

My Muse Experience

Anne Lamott calls it her broccoli. Stephen King calls it his beast.

My beast was asleep. I tried prodding him, kicking him, calling him bad names. No roars. No lightning bolts of creativity. Just me, slapping words on a page with the precision of a toddler, becoming more and more certain I was wasting my time.

Writers have a chronic god-complex: the need to create something amazing. Luckily the god-complex comes with a handy counterbalance: rejection. One moment you’re in rags talking to mice and the next you’re wearing the grandest gown of all, dancing with the prince. Then the clock strikes twelve, and you’re in rags again. This is the rejection-acceptance wheel, and—from what I can tell—it never ends.

So I’m writing, and there’s this nagging feeling that it’s garbage, what I’m putting on the page. The urge to do something practical like dishes starts to rise to the top of my consciousness like sweet cream. I’m cobbling together this little flash, hating it with a Frankensteinian passion, and hating myself for the time I could never get back (the dishes weren’t cleaning themselves). Several times I threw up my hands in frustration. I said mean things to the screen. When I think how close I came to shutting off my laptop and forging ahead with my day, story unfinished, I cringe.

Because now, I love that little flash. It’s one of my favorites.

At some point in the process, the story began to have a pulse. I don’t know when, exactly. But it was as if skin was grafted to some dead thing. Beautiful skin. And I thought: I like that arm. Then, I like that leg, that face, and so on. Until I thought, where did you come from, oh great and glorious creation? 

Well I’ll be. You came from me.

I love a happy ending.

 

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fiction

Blind at 40,000 Feet & Beyond

Bentley was blind from birth, and he played it right. Flight attendants took pity and if an extra first-class was available, would usher him into the plush leather seats. Bentley would compliment her on how good they felt and drop the line: a touch in the dark’s better than a smile in the light, as he traced the soft skin on her arm. Sometimes the arm was snatched away, sometimes not.

Blindness also paved the way for Bentley to realize his dream of becoming a writer. Right about the time seeing-people were having their midlife crises, Bentley decided his mind was a gift, that his revolutionary thoughts were the world’s prescription. He revealed his opus to anyone who would listen.

Bentley was high on writers’ conference. Plunked into first-class, Bentley discharged his mind on the gentleman next to him. An oldish guy, Bentley figured, based on the voice, on “fine, thank you. How are you?” Those were the only words the man spoke. By 40,000 feet, Bentley had already relinquished his bio, his book idea, and how Oprah Winfrey had plagiarized portions of his memoir.

At some point the gentleman asked Bentley what sort of writing he did.

“Oh, you mean, like, genre?” Bentley felt so smart using that word, genre. “Romantic comedy.”

“Have you ever tried horror?” The man asked.

“Oh no. Disgusting stuff. Gore is for amateurs. I work hearts, my friend. Just watch.”

To prove it, Bentley stroked the flight attendant’s arm as she set down his soda water with lemon. She made a slight gasp, the kind that’s smiling.

Finally, when Bentley finished unloading every awesome facet of himself with the exception of his name, he extended his hand for a shake. “Bentley,” he said. “Ferguson”

“Stephen,” said the man. “King.”

 

Many thanks to Microcosms for their weekly prompt/contest.

 

 

on writing, Personal Journey

Don’t Forget Summer

Warning: This post is really boring. I wrote it in July and then left it in my drafts because I hated it. Then I re-read and decided it’s worth remembering my 2016 summer. Still, unless you’re slogging through your first novel or you want to remember my boring summer, you may want to scroll down to the bottom where I share the coolest song ever.

This summer’s goal was to write the first draft of my novel. I attempted it last summer, thinking I could start and then drizzle some here and there all year until it was done.

No dice. That’s not how a novel gets written. I’ve learned a ton about how novels get– or don’t get– written. Some of it overwhelms me, like the idea of re-writing my novel at least three times. I tell myself, If Bob can run the Boston Marathon, can train in the worst conditions ever– a Cleveland winter– if Bob can hold on to his dream in spite of all the obstacles thrown at him, I too can do a hard thing– a writing marathon. I read in one of my favorite writer blogs that a would-be writer will put down a million words before her words are publish-worthy. That’s ten Stephen King-length novels or five Russian novels. Like any dreamer, I believe I’m ahead of the curve, that my success will come promptly at 500,000 words.

This was the summer schedule:

Wake at 6AMish (snooze), have my devotions, take Gabe to swimming at 7:50, and then sit down to write until I pick him up at 10 or 11. I’ve carved out a steel time cage for myself that I don’t allow anyone to break into, though some have tried. Need a ride somewhere? Can’t. Tutoring? Nope. Groceries? Starve until noon, my darlings. With two cups of dark roast coffee and a smoothie coursing through my veins, I write until I get to a thousand words. That’s the minimum Stephen King suggests for beginners who want to actually finish a novel. 3000 is recommended, but I think he meant that goal for independently wealthy empty-nesters or Emily Dickenson types who have zero friends and no responsibility whatsoever. Love you, Stephen.

When I imagined summer, I saw a blissfully open schedule. The reality this year is Gabe swims every morning from 8 to 11, Luke has weightlifting or soccer downtown every afternoon at 2:45, and Gabe swims every evening. That leaves me with a sliver of open time from 11:30 to 2 PM on the handful of days Gabe doesn’t have a swim meet. In that sliver of time I schedule friends to come over and swim. Or I schedule doctor appointments. Or I buy groceries. Usually we just have an empty fridge. It’s cool because even when I go to the store the kids always say there’s no food in the house. I’m keeping them honest.

Update: It’s fall and my school schedule is similar. I take Luke to school on the days I carpool, then I get in my steel writing cage and don’t come out until it’s time to start schooling Gabe. My steel cage isn’t sound proof. I need the cone of silence. I asked Bob to get me this. I’m hopeful.

On a completely unrelated note, I love this song.