Writing Life, Writing On Writing

On Whose Authority Am I Writing?

I’m working on a book. I’m making an outline from my notes. I found this and it tickled me. “I don’t know if any publisher is going to want to publish anything authoritative that I say pretty much just came out of my own butt.”

All too true. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

-M.

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Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Context! Context! I Hear It in My Sleep

My poetry often tends toward context-less sketches.

Today’s, for example, is just about wings—red, crepe paper wings. There is no big meaning. There is no money line. It’s just…. here’s this picture. Is there beauty there?

Does poetry need a money line, or is the image enough? Is it enough to sketch and offer the sketch without offering an interpretation of the sketch?

I feel like it is but just about everyone I’ve ever encountered either teaching a workshop or participating in a workshop with me thinks differently.

I painted red, crepe-paper wings today standing up to a hurricane. That’s it. No context. No background to give you an idea of where the “wearer of the wings” is, where she came from, or who she is. I think the picture is pretty enough on its own. If a visual artist had to go into a long expository about what the pearl meant and why it was significant and what that girl was doing there and why her head was turned that way and the deeper meaning you should get out of it, it would be an unsuccessful painting. I feel the same can be true of some poems.

Here. Here’s the picture. Sometimes that’s enough.

Sometimes money lines get tiresome.

This could be me simply justifying bad poetic behavior—a naughty habit like the creative equivalent of hanging up the phone without saying “good-bye” or “I love you.” I’m not above rationalization. I may be above context, but not rationalization. Never rationalization.

How important is context really? How much can I get away with, or, more to the point, how little?

Am I a minimalist, or am I lazy?

Anthony Hopkins looks into the camera and asks, “Am I a good man, or a bad man?”

-M.

Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Sometimes I lay into it and declare stridently that my prose is so much better than poetry. It occurred to me this morning that that’s probably just a way of giving myself an excuse to punk out on writing poetry to the best of my ability. This composition stuff can be hard and scary as hell sometimes.

-M.

Writing Advice, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Writers’ Stage Fright

The blogs that are the best blogs are personal, not academic. Those are the blogs that are fun to read, or at least fun to read for me. The reason they are fun to read is because the author is writing for the joy of it. If you can’t write for the joy of it on your own blog, then where else? Blogs are possibly the most low-pressure forum anywhere.

My focus on my own blogs has been twisted. Right now, I need to focus on making myself a writer rather than making myself a viral success. I need to be an artist first. Always first. And I need to begin at the beginning. I need to humble myself.

I know a lot of craft shit. A lot. I have a style. I have a voice. I know oodles of words. I know how to type. I know how to get myself so balled up about a project that laying down the first word gives me a panic attack—literally. 

If I’m writing for the audience first, I get stage fright.

I used to perform often. I was very involved in drama and choir in school. I had two stunningly awesome speech classes. I was a singer. I was and am a performer. Also, every time I am about to perform, I feel like I’m going to die. My anxiety gets full and physical. I have to take long, deep breaths to hopefully slow down my heart enough so my chest doesn’t explode. I have to close my eyes because everything all of a sudden gets bright. My hands shake, hard. I get a little twitch at the corner of my mouth. My knees shake too. 

But here’s the great and weird thing:

When I perform, I am amazing. I don’t want to sound conceited there, but performing and public speaking are things at which I know I am excellent. 

During the speech class, I stood up there delivering the speech with my hands shaking, suppressing my tick, making sure to slow my words, and even though I am going through all that, the performance comes out shiningly.  

After, I sit down and let my hands shake their last shakes, and when they’re done, I feel a euphoria that is so all-encompassing it is impossible to describe. Better than crack, we’ll say. Better than crack.

The difference between performance anxiety before an actual performance and performance anxiety before beginning a writing project is that when you’re set to perform, you must perform. Your cast members, partner, grades depend on it. There is a lot at stake should you fail to act. With writing, it’s different. You can convince yourself all day long that your anxiety is bigger and more important than your need to write. The whole big show won’t be ruined if you take a nap instead. Nobody will fail and be held back if you’d rather play on Facebook. Performance anxiety gets the best of you and stops you in your tracks.

The question becomes, how do you overcome performance anxiety as a writer? I don’t have a clear answer. I remember all the things we’d say to each other before shows: “Don’t be nervous. The audience wants you to succeed,” “Plant your feet and own the stage,” or, my personal favorite, “Anxiety and excitement have the same physical symptoms, so just tell yourself you’re excited.” I like that one because it sounds super wise, but is near impossible to do. 

Perhaps the key is not considering your audience at all in the beginning. There is no stage when you sit down to write. No one is watching you or judging you. If you hate what you write, it need not ever see the light of day. You are totally in control. You are totally free.

Dance like no one is watching, blah blah blah and so on, big saccharine barf.

Conquering writers’ stage fright is easier said than done, but better done than undone.

For now, that’s the best I can do. 

-M. 

Writing On Writing

Gender Bias Among Women Writers

Usually when we speak of gender bias, the first thing that comes to mind is the literary feats of old dead white dudes still controlling the standards by which works of literature are measured today, regardless of the author’s race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Or we speak of the white guys who are still alive and kicking having an upper hand in getting grants, getting agents, getting published, getting attention, getting press, getting prizes, getting better grants, and round and round we go. But the gender bias I want to talk about is far more insidious. Those things I mentioned earlier certainly create a problem that needs to be addressed, but there is a pernicious undercurrent of another form of gender bias among writers that can potentially harm their efforts so early on that they will never get past the very early stages of publishing, let alone into the realm of real recognition, regardless of the depth of their talent. This gender bias has directly to do with the quagmire of questions that are: What does and what does not make a woman? What does and what does not make a man?

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Writing Advice, Writing On Writing

Hot and Sweet

My ancient fiction professor at Vanderbilt once told us about a man he knew who drank Dr. Pepper hot. When work was over, this man would get into his after-fives and stir it in a saucepan over low heat, delicately, like he was handling milk. “Sometimes,” Professor Sullivan said, “it’s all right to let your characters take life a little too far.”

-M.

Fears, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Writers’ Insecurity: Give Me 20

I am not a long-write poet and suspect, by nature, I never will be. Most of the time, I see much more value in longer works than in what I produce, (read as: “most of the time I see more value in what everyone else in the world is doing except me”). In this insecurity, I am like a child who stubbornly believes ten one dollar bills will always be worth more than one twenty dollar bill.

A friend of mine once told me he doubts I have the attention span for long-write. Possibly. More likely though, I’ve got an addict’s taste for hit-and-run.

-M.