Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday's Words for September 17, 2008

It’s amazing the things I can come up with to fill my time when I’m supposed to be writing. And I really don’t understand that, because I love to write. I love everything about the process except for the days here and there where I’m restless, and maybe a bit lazy.

I’m participating in a writing challenge at the moment, and because I have to report my progress each day, I’ve been motivated a bit more than usual to crank out the words. I’ve actually done quite well, managing to write every day except one since the 8th of August.

Still and all, I end up frittering away more time each day than I should. I try to remind myself that every day is a precious gift, never to be received again; that each hour wasted is an hour lost forever. Most of the time, these are truths that I hold dear. But sometimes, I just shrug my shoulders in a mental, “oh well”, as I fool around doing everything but what I should.

While starting out with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard I have, in the last couple of weeks: paused to give myself a manicure; gained two levels in an online free bingo game; listened to music and in a some instances (now that I have the house completely to myself during the daylight hours) belted out a few songs, including a stunning rendition of Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” ; performed various and sundry acts of housework (since once more the Housework Elves have by-passed my address); and walked around my living room, examining the leaves on the plant that is my daughter’s, and contemplating the plant-that-became-a-tree that is currently trying to take over the room.

I suppose the reason that this kind of malaise strikes me from time to time is that writing, for all of my love of it, really is hard work. Not just any words will do, you see. They have to be the right words.

I want to give you a definition of “the right words” but I’m not certain I can. With my words, I try to convey not just a thought, but a sense. Not just mood, but music. Words, when used well, can be brought together in such a way as to have a rhythm and a cadence that may be used to underscore the theme of the work itself. Filled with poetry, they will enchant.

The right words can show an attitude, or a prejudice, without ever uttering either of those two words. They can enrich a scene in such a way that the reader, no matter who that reader is, will find a candle of recognition lit within them. The best words obliterate the writer, giving life to the story as if it existed on its own.

I expect a great deal from myself, and a great deal from my words. I’d be the first to admit that yes, I am hard on myself. Of course I am. I never aim for perfection, but I do constantly strive for excellence.

Every once in a while, I achieve it.

And every once in a while, I fall flat on my face.

I suspect the days that turn out to be the most wasteful are the days I’m bereft of just the right words. Rather than peck away at the keys, transcribing sentence after sentence of nothing, I cast my attention elsewhere—for amusement or inspiration, depending on your point of view.

It’s not as if I’m consciously thinking about the scene I should be writing, either. Usually, I’m not. If I’m playing a game on line—and here I confess I am a member of Club Pogo—then I am focused on that game. I don’t feel like I’m letting my story “cook”; but often that is exactly what’s happening.

Then, once the game is won, or I become bored with it, I turn back to my story and usually can write at least some of what had escaped me before. Often, at this point, what is needed more than anything is a heavy dose of self discipline. Sometimes, that precious commodity is in short supply.

I’ve only once in recent memory awakened in the middle of the night with a “eureka” kind of moment. I was struggling to come up with a good first sentence for a new chapter, and had gone to bed frustrated. Then, about two in the morning, my eyes popped open, I was wide awake, and I had it!

Stealthily climbing out of bed, I went to my office, turned on the computer, and waited for the thing to boot. About ten seconds after I started to write, my beloved also got out of bed, came into the office and asked, “Did inspiration strike?”

“It did,” I replied, not taking my fingers from the keys. “Great!” he said. Then, since he was up anyway, he went into the next room and turned on the television, volume fairly high. This was before the arrival of the others, and before I bought him a set of wireless headphones. Inspiration immediately stalled, but I did have that first sentence.

If I fully understood this process of mine, I might make better use of my time. But there’s a part of me that worries that if I understand it too well, it just wouldn’t work anymore.


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