Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott is funny. And wise. And generous. And an excellent writer/teacher. You read her words and daydream that you're old friends, that you could call her up in a low moment and ask for advice.

I had heard of her book for a long time from other writers, but it took me until now to read Bird By Bird. I'm so glad I did. Because I've always wanted to be understood, to feel that I'm not so isolated after all. This book provides that connection.

My problems aren't as unique as I once thought. Turns out, I'm a fairly typical writer. I love knowing that.

Stringing words together isn't the easiest of hobbies. It can make you crazy sometimes. Literally. That's why some people quit after a few disappointments, become depressed, or drink copious amounts of alcohol. Bird By Bird makes sense of all this. It compares the evolution of a story to watching a Polaroid photograph develop, the depth and color emerging slowly--and often surprisingly. It says that the happiest, and least insane, writers are those who enjoy the craft itself—they do it without hope of publication or acclaim. It's a labor of love.

Ms. Lamott points out to her writing students that the odds of the writing life bringing "peace of mind and even joy are not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway."

Why go through the hard times, blogging friends? Is it a labor of love for you?

P.S. If you enjoyed Stephen King's On Writing, you'll be a fan of Bird By Bird.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sisyphus Syndrome

Sisyphus was/is a writer. I swear it. That story in Greek mythology? About the man doomed for eternity to roll a massive stone up a hill only to see it roll back down again? Just a smokescreen. The actual Sisyphus is just a person with literary aspirations sitting at the computer, hypnotized by the glowing screen and wearing an old pair of slippers. He lives in a house full of broken pencils without a sharpener. His kids steal the only Sharpie just as the last page of his manuscript falls out of the printer, skidding across the desk and landing on the floor among the junk mail.

But Sisyphus won't quit—his twin companions, Obsession and Persistence, won't allow that. So Sis continues polishing an old idea to death, because he loves it and can't let it go. Because it's scary to face a new idea, a white page. Who knows where that will lead?

It takes courage to put the stone down and move forward. Poor Sisyphus. Think of what he'll miss.

Any fresh thoughts out there? How do you begin a new writing project? Where do you find the inspiration?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

North and South, I Love You!

I decided to divert myself from the usual monotony of cleaning my office by watching a movie on my computer. Yay, Netflix! Since I love England and the whole Victorian era, I chose the BBC miniseries of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was excellent. I was transported to another time and place. Unfortunately, I was also distracted from working and my office is still messy.

The thing I really liked about this movie? The palpable, sometimes-uncomfortable tension between the two main characters, Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Margaret is a genteel, principled Southerner, while John is a plain-spoken, pragmatic man of the North. These two don't just clash. They are polar opposites who are drawn to each other in spite of themselves. And their courtship is tempestuous because neither backs down from a fight. Each time they begin to make headway in their relationship—bamm!—another impediment to their happiness. All of the conflict feels very real, not author-manipulated, because the characters are passionate about their ideals. Having such different views of life, Margaret and John would naturally offend each other.

I love that the first time we see John Thornton he's beating the tar out of a careless cotton mill worker. Margaret is appalled, her sympathies in line with those of the human punching bag. Yet, we find out later that John was justifiably making an example of the errant employee.

If you've watched this movie, you know the final scenes make up for any of the nerve-wracking tumult. Seeing John's face soften with affection as he kisses Margaret for the first time . . . Well, it's something to behold.

Let's put it this way, a happy Richard Armitage makes a happy viewer.