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the wip :: work in progress
Friday, January 24, 2003
Words: 2272

The plan to wake at 9am and write for the first two hours is almost working out. Instead of 9am, it tends to be 10 or 11am. Today, 11:15 am. Must be fighting a bug. The weather has been bone-chilling cold, in the minus twenty centigrades, and no amount of layering and bundling up takes the bitter edge off.

Last night, after writing for a bit, I thumbed through Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger. It reminded me that I have a lot of work to do in order to make my characters believable, and as unstereotypical as possible.

Posted 11:03:56 AM:: home

___________ Thursday, January 23, 2003
Words: 903

My main character now has a younger sister. She needed one.

I get the strange impression that I'm using people when I write--not real people, or people I personally know; I'm avoiding that because I couldn't possibly write well enought to camouflage that, not yet. What I mean is there's an element of use for one's purposes, in my case, the purposes of writing a story, of characters, or as I like to think of them, people. Now all this has me wondering if this idea of use is a fundamental precept in life, that somehow or other, everyone is using everyone for something, like, for example, when your employer uses you for work, or when you use your employer for the same reason, or when you make friends with someone, an act that alleviates your loneliness, whether you intend or for this friendship to actually alleviate your loneliness. If it's mutual, is it really a question of using?

Maybe I need to look the word "use" in the dictionary. It has such an ugly connotation, as in exploitation. Could writing novels be an exploitation of human nature for the purpose of writing a story? Are writers just another name for users?

Brain is burning. Had an entire day of pay-the-rent work.

Posted 6:03:20 PM:: home

___________ Wednesday, January 22, 2003
For those of you interested in a structured at home creative writing course, university and college programmes online are a great resource. For example, Canterbury Christ Church University College recommends these texts:

The Art of Shorter Fiction: a module based around a weekly three-hour seminar which will offer an advanced analysis of the modern short story, exploring formal techniques and sources of inspiration. Texts studied will include short stories by Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, J.D. Salinger, Doris Lessing, Angela Carter and Rose Tremain, and also discussions of the genre by writers and critics.

The Art of the Novel: a module based around a weekly three-hour seminar which will offer an advanced analysis of the modern novel, exploring formal techniques and sources of inspiration. Texts studied will include David Lodge's The Art of Fiction, Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel, Philip Roth's Reading Myself and Others, Virginia Woolf's essay "Modern Fiction" as well as a range of novels by these and other writers.

Posted 5:10:14 PM:: home

Janet Flanner, possible resource for cultural history of Paris to 1971. Need to find these books:

Darlinghissima, 1985, a collection of her letters to Natalia Danesi Murray, (1995), published by Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, 528 pages, ISBN 0863582486 (paperback)
Paris Journal, 1944-1965, 1965, a collection of essays. Received the 1966 US National Book Award.
Paris Journal, 1965-1971, 1971, a collection of essays.

Paris History Books link

Posted 2:28:46 PM:: home

Excerpts from an interview with Norman Mailer in today's New York Times:

Yet he plows ahead, writing several hours a day, even as he expresses fear for the survival of the serious novel. "If you grew up as I did going to college in 1939 and 1940, you had the feeling that writers are the marrow of a nation, the nutrient," he said, "if you start with Tolstoy and Dostoevski and add to that the great English novelists of the 19th century (Dickens and Thackeray) and certainly add the French (Zola, Balzac, Proust) and look at the effect Joyce had on Ireland. In the course of my life I've seen everything else take over. The novel now rides in a sidecar."

"I think it's almost paradigmatic of what's going on with the talented writers right now. They're probably more talented now than they ever were in America, but they're doing less and less."

He invokes a favorite metaphor, of the athlete. "An older one who's been around for years almost always measures his chances against his physical stamina. A quarterback, if he has any choice on calling plays, may think, No, I'm not going to go for that long pass because I've gotten whacked the last two times. As a professional, he's always measuring possibilities. The same is true in writing, you measure what you can and you can't do."

"The notion that what you put into a book is going to have powerful effect is a notion that's harder and harder to maintain," he said. "Part of the ability to keep writing over the years comes down to living with the expectation of disappointment. It's the exactly opposite of capitalism. In capitalism you want your business to succeed, and to the degree it does your energy increases, and you go out and buy an even bigger business. In writing it's almost the exact opposite. You just want to keep the store going. You're not going to do as well this year as last year probably, but nonetheless let's keep the store going."

Then, a fine Mailer moment, that neatly packaged his strength and weakness as a writer. "I don't like this image much," he said, waving his hand as if to vanquish the earnest shopkeeper he had conjured. "It doesn't offer as much as I thought when I embarked on it. The only fun in working images is that, as you elaborate on them, they always turn out either better or worse than you'd hoped. The alternative is to say the same thing you've been saying over and over."

Posted 1:23:13 PM:: home

Words: 1902

An hour and a half later, the scene with Zoe broaching the subject of the missing letter with Caroline is sketched out. That books ever get written is something I am currently marvelling at; the amount of work involved, and to think, there may never be any financial recompense! It's all about the love of stories, playing inside your head and managing to record what you see and hear in your mind onto paper. One shortcoming of mine is vocabulary. Having spent so much time learning French, my facility with English vocabulary is a thing of the past. Time to apply just as much enegry to the English language as I once applied to the French.

Posted 10:31:42 AM:: home

___________ Tuesday, January 21, 2003
From Both Magazine:

Two good short stories: Paul Fattaruso and Vanessa Weibler Paris

Posted 10:08:15 AM:: home

Words: 1188

I dived into the scene with Caroline, trying to imagine what a cuckolded grieving widow might feel like (why is the word cuckold only applied to men?? I just looked in the dictionary to make sure I had the correct word, but found it to apply to men, whereas a thesaurus doesn't give me the female equivalent, and yet I know their are a lot of female equivalents walking around! I'll have to research that now.). A rush of jumbled words later and I'm ready to think about the next scene, the parameters of which have already been established. It's the next next scene that is a big question mark. I'm not sure what will happen next. I'll have to trust the writing process, and if that doesn't work, I'll have to try something else.

Posted 9:28:37 AM:: home

Words: 1515

The length of the prologue to Michael Cunningham's "The Hours".

When I read, I am lost. I don't think about technique or the how-to's; instead, I get caught up in the story, sometimes even skipping long-winded descriptions to find out what happens next, unless, or course, the language is too beautiful and begs to be digested, word by word. It's only been recently, since I decided to try my own writer's hand at all this, that I've been paying attention to voice, style and the tiny details that go into the writing more than the reading of a book. My reading pace has slowed down so to savour or mull over the technique.

Currently, my model of choice is Richard Russo's Empire Falls, a novel I'd read late last year, and cracked open again so to study the way he seamlessly handles point of vue. Reminds me of being in English Lit, although this time, no teacher assigning another five books that must be read right away; I seem to be absorbing more now.

Last night, in a burst of energy, I wrote a short story of four pages and temporarily titled it "The one that got away".

Posted 8:15:04 AM:: home

___________ Monday, January 20, 2003
Words later: 3946

Only another 76,000 or so words to go! Not really; just a bit of anxiety-driven sarcasm. I woke with a sense of anxiety. I read a couple of G.K. Wuori's magnificent short stories and suddenly the shadow of doubt began to drag me into that dark space of self-doubt. I managed to vigourously pummel it into submission and it is now sitting in the corner, malevolently plotting its next move. I know it's there. I'm simply ignoring it.

As for word counts, there shouldn't be an artificial or imposed word count on anything you write, unless, of course, you are writing to spec for the commercial market. This novel is a personal exploration for me, a walk through my expectations, doubts, fears and hopes, sort of like people who are arachnophobic and they decide to confront their fear by locking themselves in a room with a massive screen and a DVD copy of Arachnophobia. Some throw their body weight at the door in desperation for escape, others sit petrified but fascinated by the fact that they have not yet died from the experience. No body weight being thrown around here, just a nervous excitement.

I've decided to come up with a daily writing goal. Since I'm an incredibly quick typist (many temp jobs and then many more hours of guitar) and seem to have conquered the icy finger syndrome that hits whenever I think about writing straight from the heart, and since I have a penchant for research, can lose hours and hours just researching, the daily writing goal is two hours of straight writing.

On a good day, that might mean 6 pages of relevant material for this novel. On a bad day, that might mean 6 pages of gibberish. On the bad days, I may liberate myself from the novel and simply write whatever the hell catches my fancy, although I am hoping to have at least 3 good writing days a week. Until I build up this momentum and learn to adhere to this structure, I don't plan any days off. Two hours a day doesn't warrant the need for a day off. If I were doing full days, then maybe.

Research time I don't plan to regulate because I find that to be very easy, and tend to do on a daily basis as this voracious mind of mine demands. At this point in the story, the first draft doesn't require too much more related research, but I can see how that will become a necessity when I have completed a first draft and need to confirm facts or details, need to flesh out locations to lend a sense of place and time, and need to effectively verbalize setting.

The first draft goal is approximately 50,000 words or less of straight story and dialogue. This is simply a guide to keep me from losing perspective, becoming a rambling idiot or being way too taciturn. At 700 words an hour, that means about 66 hours of writing or 33 days. If all goes well.

What I said about word counts earlier? As long as they are just a guide; just a guide, people. As relevant as a budget or road map. Not written in stone. Sometimes you just need to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and without a sense of direction, you risk bumbling around in the dark like an idiot, and we know who is patiently waiting in the dark, don't we?

Posted 4:55:54 PM:: home

A wonderfully vivid, vibrant short story writer, G.K. Wuori.



You're Stanley Now

Posted 7:57:11 AM:: home

___________ Sunday, January 19, 2003

Time for a break, a walk, perhaps, in this subzero January weather.

Posted 11:54:35 AM:: home


Most human beings, even those who have the requisite money and leisure, are not intellectuals. If they read books it is not because they seek redemption but either because they wish to be entertained or distracted, or because they want to become better able to carry out some antecedent purpose. They do not read books to find out what purposes to have. The intellectuals do.
For the religious idea that a certain book or tradition might connect you up with a supremely powerful or supremely lovable non-human person, the literary intellectual substitutes the Bloomian thought that the more books you read, the more ways of being human you have considered, the more human you become—the less tempted by dreams of an escape from time and chance, the more convinced that we humans have nothing to rely on save one another.

Need to re-read this essay.

Posted 10:49:36 AM:: home

There is an element of the search for "truth" in my story. Certain events in the past have been buried as personal secrets, and a key moral dilemma circles around whether or not secrets must be revealed. I'm skeptical. I'm not sure that running after the truth really releases anyone from the burden of keeping it. The damage is done, so to speak. And then, there's the question of ownership: should someone else be allowed to reveal another's secret? To reveal the truth? Under what conditions?

First, I need to be clear on what this idea of truth is, and then maybe I'll get closer to an answer.

Posted 9:29:16 AM:: home

About two weeks ago, I started writing a novel. Not my first, but the first one I intend to share with others. The first and second are buried in a box, and one day I might pull them out, brush them off and give them a second chance. For now, this story, the characters and the plot have ignited my imagination more than anything else has in a very long time. For nearly two solid weeks, I've been researching, thinking, writing notes and dreaming my way through plot and character problems. Two weeks ago, this baby was just an idea fraught with self-doubt and thoughts of the millions of books being written every day. Nearly every single blog I visit has an aspiring writer pounding away at the keyboard.

So, why add to the noise? Thinking about character motivation for my story, I realized that my motivation is simple: I love/hate stories and I love/hate language. I am passionate--not tepid, not lukewarm, not simply very interested, but truly passionate. Whatever the form, film or novel, a good story or good characters live with you after the initial experience, and sometimes even shape your own life or personality. Having been shaped and influenced, I'm ready to just be me, and me is a writer.

I write all the time. Commercial crap that lets loose all the repressed writers who want to write it, but haven't learned how to string a coherent sentence together, but still insist they want you to write something the way they would have written it, if they only knew how. Sure! We'll tweak one more thing ... how 'bout yer nose?! Commercially motivated writing is rarely satisfying.

Recognizing and finally accepting the megalomaniac writer in me, and after years of thinking I should, then I want, then I need to write a novel, after two previous attempts, I finally thought, what the hell. And it is that very "what the hell" that released me from all the preconceived notions that have been strangling my voice 'til now, notions such as you should start with short stories.

Lesson #1: There are so many shoulds, conditions, and believed or real obligations. Writing is a desire. Whatever the final outcome of the words, the real story is about personal desire and willpower to realize that desire.

Welcome to the wip, minus the Heavyhand, plus the fun and frolic of a work, of my work, in progress.

Lesson #2: Worry about the grammar ... later. After the one-right-before the final draft is done.

These lessons are also works in progress. Need to keep reminding myself lest I fall into the old mental traps.

Posted 8:39:24 AM:: home