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Please Don’t Mind the Mess

Posted by Flood on May 9, 2006

Another blogger suggested an idea for the changes I wanted to make in shrinking the blog down to two pages. Below are the posts from my former ‘Flooded Thoughts’ page. So now, this page will be for news as well as my thoughts, should I ever have any. Apparently the format is screwy in some browsers, so I am begging for patience from the three of you that check in daily.

ps. Would someone please make a sacrifice to the Blogger Gods? k thx

I really wanted to use the blog for things related to writing, but I suspected I would want to rant occassionally about something personal. I think I am just 3 weeks into this and it’s happened.

In March, we met our youngest child’s birth mother and during that meeting, we promised to send pictures and letters on Mother’s day and our daughter’s birthday. The dates are about six months apart, so it allows for good deal of information twice a year.

Our daughter is three and never lived with her birth mother, but they did have a relationship for her entire life. I’m not entirely sure why birth mom is not allowed to have her daughter, but she was never abusive and fought hard to keep her. She’s lived with us for about 6 weeks.

Last night I had to write the first letter to send it in time for Mother’s Day. It was very difficult to write and I’m not sure I did a good job. I suppose I covered off on the most important things: she’s healthy, she’s eating eating and sleeping well, she likes her siblings, but I was trying hard to find a tone of reverence. I like birth mom and I feel so sad for her. On the other hand, I wanted to keep it light and airy, a tone that would make sure she did not have to worry about anything. I thought I would just a do a laundry list of points I would want to know if I was in her position. Then I thought I would come across as being stiff. I am not sure what kind of tone I ended up with, because reading it too much made me cry. Not because my words were moving, but because I was thinking about how birth mom would feel as she read. I cannot imagine her pain.

Closing the letter was the toughest because I couldn’t write ‘Love, Me’ or ‘Thank you for this gift,’ because she wanted her child and never gave up in trying to keep her. I just ended up writing, ‘I think about you everyday. Please take good care of yourself.’ It was clumsy, but sometimes is just no such thing as the right word.

We played no part in their seperation. They (always the ominous ‘they’) decided our daughter should be placed for adoption before we were in the picture. But, I am carrying a lot of guilt for this woman’s loss. I’m not sure any of us will ever feel really comfortable about how it all came to pass, and I doubt I will ever have the right words to express the grief that comes with watching a woman sob, Please tell her I love her and did everything I could to keep her. Please.

I tend to lean toward to present tense when writing. I think it works for really short pieces, say 250 words and under, but gets awkward and can divert attention from the story if not done well in a longer story. When I did it here, it almost worked, but as I was writing it, I felt it was coming out more like a movie script than a story.

In my daring-to-suck mentality, I am sharing the first draft of a story that will probably end up being a longer short story. I write it the conventional past tense and it’s been difficult. I keep falling back into present tense, and I have no idea why I am struggling with that. You can see I am fighting against instinct and definately sucking. It’s taking away from my story-telling ability.

Present tense is good for conveying an sense of urgency, or as an interesting form for a prologue or epilogue. I don’t think I have ever read a novel in the present tense throughout. Can you think of one?

In being thoughtful here, I am glad to be able to see my bad habits and wayward ways in writing. Sometimes just posting about it makes it easier to pen something that day. So I am tossing this post up as mojo, and maybe the conventional tense will come easier

A while back, Scott wrote this:

Part of my writer’s block is an over exacting self editor–every idea had to be a gold mine. Basically I need to dare to suck. Besides, how many times have we all surprised ourselves with something wonderful out of nothing?

“Dare to suck” is going to be my new motto. My best work comes when I shut off Inner Editor and just type. Too often, though Inner Editor is louder than Inner Writer, and I can’t take it. For instance, I have a terrible habit of using a semi-colon where an apostrophe is needed. It’s been with me ever since I could type. It drives me to distraction and I spend ten minutes correcting the error until I am so sick of it, that Inner Writer decides to take a flying leap through a rolling donut. When I write something so fun to get on the page, Inner Critic will STFU until I am finished.

I also tend to stop writing when I come to a scene that is difficult to write. Maybe there is a lot of movement or description, and my mind blows the effort into something that seems too big to tackle. If I skip it and write another section, it seems to make the harder writing easier when I go back to it. I forget that so often, because Inner Editor has a bigger mouth.

I know all this is elementary to most people, (if you are taking the time to read this, none of it is news to you) but it bears repeating to myself. I have to Dare to Suck. The Absolute Writers Forum has a pledge for writers to take regarding rejection letters. It stems from the idea that you cannot be published if you do not submit. You set a goal for how many rejection letters you want for the year. Each rejection you send out means a) you stepped up and tried. You did what so many people are afraid to do and b) you are playing the numbers game and are getting closer to your goal. It’s a great idea.

So, thanks to Scott, I am going to dare to suck.

I lost all comments yesterday(I suspect)because the template wasn’t prepared for a FireFox update. Maybe they can still be seen on IE, I dunno. I am making a pouty face because of it. Haloscan says I can delete or edit their message, but when I do, I lose their comment form.

I think I am going to condense the blog into one page. Can I import posts from the other blogs?

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

I was blessed with a horror story yesterday, based on people in my family. A bad situation became a “What if I write about how it could be worse?”

The problem lies in the fact that the story is very identifying, even if names, places and circumstances have changed. Here is some background:

We’ve almost adopted an older child, who has lived with us for less than two months. Honeymoon period is over and real life is rearing its ugly head. We’re not new parents, nor are we given to panic or rage with children. Overall we are pretty patient, when it comes to teaching kids about the world. We are however, in territory for which we have no point of reference. Are our feelings normal? Is the child’s behaviour normal? Will the situation get worse before it gets better?

I sat, alone, yesterday in frustration and helplessness and thought of all the worse possible (and impossible) scenarios this life change could bring us. Today I feel better about everything, and a good night’s sleep has given me the assurance that things are not as bad as I thought in the moment. My imagination lead to a terrifying tale, in my afternoon of woe, though and now I wonder if there is any point in continuing to write the story. If the child found it, it could lead to a scarring misunderstanding. If the social workers knew of it, that could send up red flags during the finalization of the adoption process.

Do I sit on it? Do I use it as a cathartic exercise? Do I delete it and let the story go altogether?

I know most writers have drawn from personal experience with the “What if?” question and change identifying features to protect the innocent. If my story is of adoption gone wrong, and I have adopted, will I be faced with cries of “bad parent!” by people who don’t get the fact that I just let my imagination wander wherever it wanted to go? (Assuming I am one day a famous, Oprah-fronted author.)

Imaginary interview:

Q- You wrote a fabulously wonderful horror story about adoption.
F- You are too kind, thank you. Yes, I did. *checks nails*
Q- What inspired such a story?
F- Well I was in the final stages of adopting and it was becoming a difficult time for everyone and I thought about how really bad things could be.
Q- So, did you feel the way your character does towards your child?
F- Of course not. I simply explored the darkest side of myself and wrote about it. I think most parents, adoptive or not, can see a line in their mind that, if crossed, could result in terrible consequences. Most rational people never cross that line, but they do see it and have the parenting tools or self discipline to back away from it. In my fabulously wonderful horror story, I let the characters cross that line. I never would, because I am a rational human being. I am also a exceptionally gifted writer.
Q- Oh yes, Flood, very gifted indeed.
F- I know.

Outside of playing around with my blog template, I’ve editing and rewriting a short story. It’s driving me crazy, because each time I get a paragraph just the way I want it, the plot changes. I think I am getting sick of it, so it might be time to work on something else I was sick of earlier.

The whole template change was an exercise in me biting off more than I could chew. With four blogs that I use as pages for the main FlashFlood, I nearly wept trying to understand code and make my own header. Once I started, it was too far gone to stop. It’s not something I’ll try again. I would rather have a cookie cutter template than feel like I should throw the laptop into the pool.

There has been some back room discussion lately about ‘voice’ and it’s indefinable quality. Jaye* makes a good comparison when she says that the voice of the writer is similar to the familiar sound of a music band, like U2. You may hear a new U2 song, but you always know who is playing or singing because of similar sound throughout their work. Ann Marie is hosting a contest and lists the following as what constitutes ‘voice’ (kinda)

The inner coherence of the personal rhythm, prosody and use of language as a form of art – this concerns both poetry and prose or any mixture of these. These are seen as a function of innovation {Some call the sum of these a “voice” but it is the vaguest literary notion in the world.}

I think in a way they are kinda saying the same thing here, as it relates to rhythm. There is a flow, a turn of phrase, a formula in constructing sentences that echos throughout your work. I think you know when you get there, by how you feel completely in the groove when you are writing.

This is different from genres though. You can (try to, at least) have the same voice when crossing genres.

What I am doing to myself is mistaking voice for style. I lean heavily on brackets and words-that-run-between-dashes. It’s a poor style, ultimately, because it slows down a flow I might have been creating.

It’s really hard to critique your own work. Not because you get down on yourself, but because it’s difficult to offer solutions to problems in your writing. If you knew the alternative, you would have written that first, right?

Time to add a new prompt and look at work with a more distanced eye.

What have you been doing?

*I can’t find Jaye’s discussion of this in her blog again, so unless she helps me out, you are on your own in finding it.

From Turkey City Lexicon*

Gingerbread: Useless ornament in prose, such as fancy sesquipedalian Latinate words where short clear English ones will do. Novice authors sometimes use “gingerbread” in the hope of disguising faults and conveying an air of refinement. (Attr. Damon Knight)

Before Ms Snark posted the link to the Turkey City site, I had been looking for a word to convey authors’ use of flowery, intellectual, look-at-me-I-a-writer-who-is-writing-type wordmithing.

I’ve noticed some good, solid writing around the blogs and I have seen some well written prose, but still a pain to read. I waver from from wanting to colour my writing with le mot juste (ha!) and looking for simple words to create an image in the mind of the reader.

I read a word in the Clarity of Night Contest that I had never heard before. This is a reflection of me, not the author, but I had to wonder why the word was used. I checked two dictionaries, one that did not include the word and one whose definition made no sense in the context used by the writer. I read the sentence containing the word several times to see if I could infer the meaning, but came up empty. The story become lost on me completely and sadly because, while it didn’t win, it received many accolades from readers and here I was stuck on that damn word. I am still not sure what the story was about.

Am I stupid? I am not an intellectual by any stretch. I am relatively well-read and I love classic novels and short stories. If Watson turns an unfamiliar (to me) phrase in reporting his adventures with Holmes, he does me the kindness of doing so in a way that I can surmise his meaning. That’s why those stories are classic. In one hundred years the language will stand firm and allow people who’ve never been to England or heard the colloquialisms, to enjoy the mystery. Thank you, Sir Conan Doyle. So, I don’t think my intelligence had anything to do with my not being able to understand a word that I’d never seen before.

I wanted to read more of the author’s writing and finding some, discovered that $20 words were the mainstay of the work. It’s all very pretty in a cluttered kind of way, but completely lost on me. I think it’s disappointing, because I know the author writes well, but each obscure word used makes my eyes stop and reread the sentence again.

My point is to remind myself that when I get caught up in finding the word that is going to make the reader know that I am writing, I wasting my time. I am guilty of using gingerbread. Now I know what readers go through when trying to slug through it.

Better Day

postCount(‘114614681607080043’); Feeling more positive today. I read from Outwitting Writer’s Block and other Problems of the Pen, by Jenna Glatzer. I don’t think I have writer’s block, but the book does discuss the inner critic, fear and insecurity. It’s a fun read. There is a balance between taking yourself seriously enough in one sense, and not at all in another. One should take the writing seriously and one should not panic when it doesn’t zip out of your fingers whenever you call on it. Unless of course you have a deadline, which is an issue I don’t have to concern myself with just yet.

I wasn’t able to get my prompt done yesterday, so today I might just freewrite without a theme and see if that helps.

J.A. Konrath‘s blog is all about author self-promotion. He suggests that some writers think he’s nuts for his expectations. I think that when I get far enough ahead to require self-promotion, I will love it. I am really looking forward to that aspect. I think anyone who wants to be published one day should read his bloc regularly, even if you are not ready for query. It’s better to be armed before the war, right?

Today is difficult. I should be working on work on my prompt and I am getting bits and pieces, but it’s almost painful to complete. Or get to the middle. I have been encouraged and discouraged about 5 times each. I have a lot of excuses for why writing is for shit today, but there is a bottom line here I am struggling with.

I write very, very well when I am inspired. I can’t remember what inspires me to write but I suspect it’s melancholy. Once a month, I spend 2-3 days writing non-stop and the minute I get a computer and a blog, it all disappears. Is it a sign?

I do not feel melancholic today, I just feel foolish and as though I deluded myself into a career that will never happen. Basically, I feel sorry for myself.

To shed some positive light to myself, I have never viewed work as its own reward. I have never felt good about doing things and being proud for just having done them. I have never forced myself to do something I dislike, if it is possible to avoid it. I have been forced to difficult things in my life but I do not look fondly on them as character builders, I am simply relieved at the difficulty is over. So to force myself to write daily, well, that’s just insanity. Or so says one part of my brain. Why force yourself to do something that needlessly causes stress? The other part of my brain knows that everyone has to start somewhere, no matter how easily the words do or don’t flow. The writer in me says I have to work my creative muscles every day to make this a success. There is no point in sitting and dreaming about my first interview without having written something.

I guess I am going to continue the struggle until one side takes over.

I wrote to Andrew Vachss last week and he responded the next day. I admit to being somewhat star-struck and I must have read the letter about twenty times.

My reason for writing him was to ask if his serial character, Burke, would ever be in motion pictures. He explained maybe and he explained why and how he felt about that. I was honoured that he took the time.

The part that has been resonating in my mind since I received it was this:

All writers — morons and narcissists excepted — treasure those who actively participate in the “word of mouth” underground about their work. Without a sustained whisper-stream, no writer survives, much less develops a significant following.

I understand the ‘whisper-stream’, even though it’s used above in a different way than in the Burke series. It’s partly what inspired me to write a blog to begin with. In the short time I have been doing this, my reason for it has changed though. The whisper-stream in blogging is jumping from blog to blog and showing appreciation for good work in a helpful way. Or giving ideas on ways to improve (again, in a helpful way) works in progress. It’s also a way to not feel alone in your craft.

I am sure most of us would like a significant following of paying readers one day. For now I am going to settle on a small whisper-stream of bloggers I hope to accumulate. I know I am supposed to plug my blog wherever I can to get readers right now, but I haven’t the courage to post anything I love yet. I would hate to encourage a bunch of people to come by when I don’t feel there is anything worth reading yet.

I’ll bet this is probably a normal feeling for any new blogger and even any amateur writer.

Lorelle (I love her!) refers to a Greg Balanko-Dickson piece today, about remembering why you blog in the first place and why evangelizing your blog is your duty. I’ll get right on that when I fill mine with content.

Anyone know anything about this ? There is a free service provided in which you can review other people’s work, but to post your own, there is a fee.

I am wondering why this would be better than the community of bloggers, for posting work and feedback. They suggest they can provide better chances of getting your writing published, but I wax suspicious.

I’ve been using Writely to compose things for the blog. I don’t have Word, so it’s a good tool to have for converting files to that or .pdf or what-have-you. Makes it easier to e-mail to someone who can’t open my Lotus Wordpro. One thing I should use more, especially when composing comments to other blogs, is this. I’ve noticed that my typing is horrendous and while I would like to blame the keyboard, I think it’s an end user issue.

A look at how fiction publishing really works from an insider.

They say to write about what you know, but what if you don’t know anything? In my entry for “Two Lights” (Which is not the only thing I have written by the way, though it may seem so since I have referred to it often. Before last week, all my work was done in longhand, and it will be ages before I can get it on the blog.) I wrote about an old man hiding in a funeral home, trying to sneak his way into keeping his dead wife company because she had never been alone overnight before. My first concern when the idea came to me was that I know little about funeral homes or how they work, outside of having gone to funerals.

I became concerned that I had to know more than I would write to make the story seem credible. This happens to me a lot. I get a great idea and then drown myself in minutiae about the writing process, rather than the content. Also, when it’s time to edit my work, I suddenly see how dirty my house is and cannot possible edit one word until it sparkles.

Yes, it’s partly avoiding work, and partly insecurity. If you are stuck writing what you know (which makes good sense) it’s easy to doubt what you know when you are trying to convey it to others. What I ended up doing was deciding that the old man knew as much about how funeral homes work as I did, and so the mechanics of the business made no difference either way.

I know there are times when research is needed so readers are confident you know what you are talking about, but I could see myself getting far too wrapped up in that, instead of working on my plot. Something I’ll have to watch out for.

Unrelated note: I can tell already that I am going to miss putting pen to paper on a regular basis, but a blog is good because I hope to get feedback on my work and ‘meet’ other people doing the same thing. I suppose that’s the point.


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