Posted tagged ‘fiction writing’

Pity Parties and Perfect Paragraphs

December 16, 2012

I have a new favourite paragraph. I’ve read it over and over and over again today, check it out (from Zadie Smith’s latest novel, NW, this is the opening of Chapter 14):

A great hill straddles NW, rising in Hampstead, West Hampstead, Kilburn, Willesden, Brondesbury, Cricklewood. It is no stranger to the world of letters. The Woman in White walks up one side to meet the highwayman Jack Sheppard on the other. Sometimes Dickens himself comes this far west and north for a pint or to bury someone. Look, there, on the library carpet between Science Fiction and Local History: a knotted condom filled with sperm. Once this was all farm and field, with country villas nodding at each other along the ridge of this hill. Train stations have replaced them, at half-mile intervals.

This paragraph has everything, at least, everything I seem to be looking for at the moment. The camera casts a wide glance over an area of London, England. It zooms in for a look at a particular place in a library. It has a dreamlike quality with the mention of infamous characters from literature and history (Wilkie Collins! I’d forgotten about Wilkie Collins, I’ve only read The Moonstone back in lit class, but I remember it well… here’s Collins’ Woman in White meeting up with a criminal, I love it), and its scope is both historical and current with those last two sentences, which I absolutely adore.

Sigh. I’m not jealous of this perfect paragraph, I think that’s the silliest thing in the world, to be jealous of another writer’s words. I know I have a sense of language. Of the rhythm and music created by words when they are put together in a certain way. I know that there are as many different ways to do this as there are writers, both past and present. No two writers will ever put the same words or ideas together in the same ways. Like snowflakes, we writers are. Like each individual human, past and present, and oh, alright, future as well. I’m only anxious to get around to creating my own ideal sentences. Perfect, ideal, these are not the right words. Striking, maybe? Memorable. Lasting.

I just need more time to work on this glorious, heartbreaking, obsessive craft of writing. And it’ll come. The few scattered hours a day of writing I get in now isn’t enough, but it’s worth it to push on through, keep going. On through snowstorms (it’s about time the snow arrived, and I hope it lasts through Christmas), through illness, through all of the life that can’t be separated from work and writing…..

Oh illness. Our youngest had croup recently. Croup is one of those things I’d heard of, but which taught me, again, how you never really, truly know a thing until you experience it yourself. In this case: how it will keep you up all night (your child coughing, gasping for air). How the cough will linger throughout the day, make the whole family miserable. How you will end up in and out of the doctor’s office and the hospital for a week straight.

The first night he was sick, when we didn’t realize it was croup (which is really just a cold virus, but in small children, their trachea swells making it difficult for them to breath, and they will make a sound like a seal when they cough, and it is agony to listen to), I’d get up when I heard him cry, put his head back on the pillow, cover him with the blanket. Then I’d lay down in my own bed, sure that he was drowning.

He wasn’t. He didn’t.

But then I got so sad over the fact that we are all alone out here on the Rock, without our families, the grandparents who would, if they lived close by, come over for even an hour or two during the day to be with the other two kids while I took the youngest to the doctor. I felt sorry for myself over the fact that I’d been in and out of the house all week, arms loaded with sick child, diaper bag of snacks and water and toys to keep the kids occupied in waiting rooms. All the while looking longingly over my shoulder at my neglected writing.

My own cough made me weak. Sent me into a two-day pity-party. Catching the baby’s cold was inevitable, being covered in his coughs and sneezes around the clock. By the end of the worst day I was exhausted, and had to make the clear, conscious decision that the next day would be different.

My husband filled in the role the grandparents would have taken on had they been here, leaving work to pick up the kids from school. We pulled together as a team, and made it through the croup and our own bad colds. I put aside my writing for those few terrible days, and turned to reading which, for a writer, is sometimes equally as productive. With cold, without the bad attitude. Pity party over. Simple as that, really. I mean, none of this was tragic. But during those few days I felt th pull that sometimes happens when you think only dark, sad thoughts. The sideways lean that sometimes has me reaching for the liquor cabinet….hand slap. Deep breath. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

And then the skies open up (and snow like crazy) and this amazing paragraph appears and brightens everything. So I’ll read it one more time, then get outside to play in the snow with my family.


Wake us from the sleepwalk of our lives……

October 9, 2012

This article by Zadie Smith, which I will be discussing with my writing group, says so much about… Well, my fellow writers, you’ll have to read it to find out. Enjoy.

What’s on the page

May 23, 2012

So I’m taking this fiction writing course.

It happened sooner than I’d hoped. I was planning on trying to get into the one offered at MUN in the fall, but when this spring session came up, I submitted a story right away. And got in!

I’ve been to two classes so far, and it’s completely blown me away. But not in the ways I expected it would.

When I described it to my husband — how we move the desks into a circle so we can talk easier, and how we each have to critique each others’ work — he said I made it sound like an AA meeting. Believe me, it feels like what I imagine an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting would feel. Writer’s Anonymous, for people with this obsessive, ambiguous, addictive, hopeful or hopeless (either could apply) habit of writing all the time.

I sit there each week, palms sweating, my face on fire (I hope it doesn’t show), writhing in my own skin whenever it’s my turn to speak. I don’t know any of these people. And they don’t know me. Not yet. None of them look even half as uncomfortable as I feel.

But it’s good. Really. I mean, it’s a personal challenge, one of those, get yourself out of your own comfort zone things. As if I haven’t had enough of that in the last couple years with all the moving. But still. I think it’ll be really good for me to go through this.

I’m learning to have an even greater respect for all the published authors out there. This is not an easy stage. It’s one thing to sit at home, or in a coffee shop, or the library (or at the Y, which has become an extension of my living room, where I sometimes go and use the childcare in the mornings to sit in the lobby and write) and use all your spare time to write stories. Then re-write them, again and again and again. But it’s quite another to get over yourself enough to share your creative work with others. Others whose opinions really matter. But wow, if I can’t get over this, then how will I ever expect to try to sell any of my fiction to the world? It would seem I have a long way to go.

Another writer I know put it so perfectly when she said, in a Writer’s Confessions interview (check it out on YouTube, look up Claudia Dey), you have to believe that what you are doing is essential. Some days I hit myself on the forehead with that very worthy thought. That, and these two very essential words: KEEP GOING. I’ve heard some writers describe their process as being similar to pushing a rock across the floor with their nose. I imagine the rock is easier to move along sometimes. (When I say things like this, my husband shakes his head, asks me, couldn’t you have chosen a simpler career goal? I have to remind both of us that it’s not so much that I chose this, but that writing is just….what I do.)

Another thing I’ve figured out over the last couple of weeks, is that the great writers have mastered the skill of not just puking out their emotions all over the page. It takes exactly that, a fine tuned skill, to have full control over what you are saying, and how you are saying it. It’s a skill I think I could use more of in my life, as well as my writing.

So I’m taking this course. I need to be taking this course. Why? Because although I have a very supportive family, I’ve had very few people in my life who understand what it takes to become a published writer of fiction. My parents, for example (bless them for the unconditional support they’ve always offered me) would gush over a….grocery list I wrote, if I got them to read one. But that won’t help with my creative writing.

What will help, is the honest, unabashed critical feedback from classmates in a structured, supportive setting, led by a writer (Lisa Moore!) who I admire. Who cares about the cold sweats and hot cheeks. Because as a writer I know that what’s on the page, is what matters.