My goal is to learn to write. Not just postcards, journal entries, and “honey-do” lists for Jim. I want to write a book. Toward that end, I’ve been studying. Here’s what’s happening: I’m spending all my time studying and very little time writing.
I figured out why. I dunno’ what the heck to write. How does an author yank a work of fiction out of the ether? I seem only able to write about my personal experiences.
I’ve had oceans of experiences I’d relish sharing, but other participants in those adventures might end up suing me for libel. Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird tells me to turn the law-suit worthy stuff into fiction. She suggests changing enough details of the romps the actual players would be unlikely to recognize themselves. I suppose I could try that. However, those incidents are merely moments. I’d need to figure out what story strings those random snapshots together. That’s the hard part.
Stephen King’s On Writing suggests I play a “what if” game.
What if a short round middle-class housewife found herself in prison for a murder she didn’t commit? Or maybe she can’t remember committing.
What if a floorboard slid aside to reveal a never before seen staircase? Where does it lead and who follows it?
What if I fell asleep here, in the twenty-first century, but woke up three hundred years in the past. Or the future?
Stephen King also told me (yes, we are close) not to speak in a passive voice. And not to use adverbs. Those two things will reveal me as a beginner. They will also expose me as timid.
He suggests writing in a genre I enjoy reading. I like historical fiction and non-fiction. And pretty much everything else as long as the writing is good. I did not like Bridges of Madison County. Sappy. I steadfastly refuse to read Jacqueline Suzanne, or bodice ripping romance novels. I do confess I succumbed to reading the Fifty Shades of Gray series. Embarrassing admission, but I wanted to know what the fuss was.
I’m obtuse when it comes to poetry. I think poetry is for people far smarter and deeper than I. Unless Dr. Seuss wrote the poem. I get him.
(FYI: At first I wrote, “Unless the poem was written by Dr. Seuss” then realized that’s passive. Fixed it. No rookie mistakes for this old girl.)
Yesterday I went to the library and picked up other books about learning to write. There is a shelf full of them. Dewey decimal system number 808. The librarian recommended a couple of DVDs along with the books. I brought those home too. The writer, Anne Perry, narrates them herself. She has a British accent. I’m deaf. Couldn’t understand a word she said. The DVDs go back to the library tomorrow. I’ll try to exercise self-discipline and not check out six more “how to write” books.
Natalie Goldberg says she often wool-gathers. She stares into the distance then goes for a snack. So far I’m best at following Natalie’s suggestions. I often I find myself staring into space or standing in front of the open refrigerator, unsure how I came to be there.
I just had a Natalie Goldberg moment. Wandered to the cabinet, pulled out our blue and white Graceland mug, sprayed it with Pam, beat an egg and microwaved it.
While eating, I read a bit more of Stephen King.
He told me to write what I see. Right now what I see is a sixty-five-year-old woman who is procrastinating. I’m supposed to write 1000 words a day, eventually working up to 2,000. Here I’m at maybe 600 words.
What else do I see? I see the egg crusted Graceland mug in the kitchen sink. To my left, I see an Oceania cruise brochure Jim says he will read, but I suspect not. The booklet has been gathering dust for a week. On top of the brochure is a scratch pad with a leopard print cardboard cover and on top of that is a solar-powered calculator.
To my right is a black Pentel .07 Energel pen. I buy those from Amazon even though we have drawers full of ballpoint pens. Jim’s travel hobby is stealing pens wherever we go. However, they don’t write “fast.” Natalie Goldberg told me to use fast pens. Pentel .07 Energel’s are my favorite. They are speedy, yet here I sit tapping on the keyboard instead of scribbling with a Pentel in my composition book.
Behind me, sacked out on our area rug I see a drugged brown dog. Due to storms, I gave Bronson Xanax about an hour ago. Loud thunder turns him into drooling, trembling, tail tucked between his legs mess.
I see a big metal spoon and fork hanging to the left of the kitchen door. On another wall I see three mammoth cows, gazing at me, asking, “What are you wasting your time for?”
On the floor below the cows, I see a green dog dish, a stainless steel water bowl, and one slightly deflated soccer ball.
Picking up dog toys is the story of my life. I gathered seven from the dining room this morning and dropped them into the sturdy brass bucket my parents got as a wedding gift in 1939. Since then Bronson has retrieved all seven as well as about four more and happily littered them around the house. That was before the Xanax. Now that he’s stoned it might be a good time to clean up again.
Okay, Stephen, I’m up to almost 1000 words, and I’m boring myself. Odds are my six regular readers nodded off 717 words ago.
So with that, I’ll sit my ample backside in my swivel chair, meditate and pray some brilliant book idea manifests itself into my weary gray matter.
What I should do is what Faulkner suggested: “*Murder your darlings.” But I won’t because with this very sentence I crossed the 1000 word finish line! Whoooo Hooooo.
* A Google search revealed Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first to use this phrase.