Do people still wink these days? Apart from maybe Sarah Palin during the VP debates in 2008?
This question crossed my mind while I lay in bed today, doped up on NyQuil and surrounded by tissues, suffering through a headcold and a couple of novels on the Kindle I'd downloaded for free. The books were fine for what they were - brain candy to help pass a sick day. Two different books by two different writers, they both had one major thing in common. All the characters winked. A lot.
One of my writer's rules of thumb is, if it's something that happens enough in a story that I notice it, it should probably be toned down. There's a paranormal romance writer I call Wincey because all of her characters wince. All the damn time. Another one is master of the gimlet stare - her characters toss them out like they're throwing beads on a Mardi Gras float.
Those two winky books were pulling me right out of the story today, because I got distracted by wondering if I had ever actually winked at someone, or if I had ever been the recipient of a wink. Then I winked a couple of times to see if it felt like a natural thing to do. (It didn't.) Finally, I re-read a couple of the paragraphs that included the winking, wondering if the dialogue and other action in the paragraph would convey the message well enough without adding the wink. Most times, it did.
So while I was really just wanting to spend a few hours in bed reading, I came away with a little bit of a writing lesson. And a resolve to comb through my draft, making sure to excise unnecessary bits of business. Like winking.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
So I’ve been reading Writer with a Day Job, which is about what you’d expect: how to carve out writing time when you already work full time. Get up early to write? I get up too early as it is, and I started using that time for a short workout in the morning, so it’s taken. Evening writing? My brain usually feels like tapioca by the time I get home from work, so it’s usually dinner and then read for a bit before bed. (Though they say exercise helps you feel more alert, so I’m hoping the aforementioned workouts will help with that. Though I just started and I’m still in the OH MY GOD I’M SO TIRED stage, so it’s too soon to tell.) So I’m still working on that.
But there’s also the concept of just grabbing spare moments. The book references things like while you’re at your kid’s soccer game. I don’t have kids, but I did spend a recent long, hot Saturday at my goddaughter’s softball tournament – watching a field full of 11-year olds play softball is an experience unto itself. So I can get behind the idea of stealing time here and there.
Today ended up being perfect. About ten minutes after I got to work our servers crashed. So no email, no files, no internet. Five minutes after that, the phones went out too. We all sat there for a couple minutes trying to figure out what, as legal professionals, we could do with no phones and no computers, and then everyone got up to get another cup of coffee.
I got my moleskine notebook out of my purse. I’m a sucker for these blank books – just nice enough to carry around, but not too fancy where I feel like every word I write down has to be part of an epic saga. (I love fancy journals with handmade paper and hand-tooled leather covers, but I get a case of “what if I write something STUPID??” and then I end up never using it.) Hey, if moleskine is good enough for Neil Gaiman, it’s good enough for me. So for close to an hour, while the servers and phones were down and no work could be done, I rewrote a scene that had been bugging me. Then the servers came back up, and I put the notebook away and reluctantly got on with my day
I was so glad I had that notebook with me, and I was able to take advantage of that unexpected server crash. Bonus writing time!
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Writing during the week is really hard for me. By the time I drive the hour home from work and have dinner, there’s usually laundry to fold or dishes to do, or I’m just so mentally drained from the workday that I’m able to do little more than stare at my manuscript for a few minutes before giving up, playing a stupid Facebook game for twenty minutes and then going to bed. So I tend to save my writing for the weekends, where I envision being able to sleep in, get up feeling refreshed and fully rested, and spend a good couple of hours tackling my writing.
All day Friday I was ready to write. But of course, I was at work and had to do work-like things. The boss doesn't like it if you're supposed to be drafting a Motion for Summary Judgment and you're actually writing about your characters having dinner at the Big Sombrero Restaurant at South of the Border. So I drafted motions and daydreamed about getting home to takeout and writing. That was the plan.
Then I got home. Takeout was delicious, as it always is. Then I sat down, nestled into my writing space, fired up my laptop and... started yawning. I futzed with my scene for about three paragraphs, but nothing was coming. I went to bed in disgust. At that point, I was pretty convinced that my productive weekend of writing was shot to hell. Yes, I had decided this on Friday night.
So I gave myself permission to not write this weekend. I had to run some errands anyway, and the Jeep wasn’t cleaning out its own backseat. Saturday was shoe shopping, a chore I put right up there with standing in line at the DMV. After finding a pair of black pumps with heels low enough that I wouldn't fall off of them during the workday, I rewarded myself with a trip to the bookstore, where I picked up Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney. I'm planning to settle in with it this afternoon, hopefully with a thunderstorm if the Florida summer weather does what Florida summer weather usually does in the afternoons.
A friend of mine mentioned on Facebook the other day that she was reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. When I saw her post, I immediately glanced over to my right, where my copy of it lived on the shelf with my other writing books. It had always been one of my favorites, but I hadn’t read it in a long time so I couldn’t recall specifically why. Then, this morning, the cat woke me up at 7, which he is wont to do, because he hasn’t figured out yet how to open cat food cans on his own. Some weekend mornings I can plop some food in his dish and go back to sleep, but it didn’t happen today. So I plucked my copy of Bird by Bird off the shelf, brewed some coffee, and spent Sunday morning on the couch re-reading it while the cat cavorted in a box top on the living room floor. I was reminded of the value of shitty first drafts, small assignments (just writing the one scene that's in front of you, and not always worrying about the big, giant, overwhelming picture) and that you're not the only one who stares at the computer screen and worries about being a giant failure.
Giving myself permission to not write and to just have my weekend seems to have sparked something. I’ve pulled out my notebook more than once to scribble down some ideas and vague plot points, even a chunk of dialogue. I researched ghost-hunting equipment. I knew I was inspired when I hauled the notebook out of my purse when we had a couple of beers at the brewpub on Saturday night.
I haven’t written that much this weekend, but that doesn’t bother me too much. I connected with my story in other ways, and have some reading material to inspire me. Some weekends are more productive than others, and I can accept that.