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Heroine or Heroin? Addicted to Writing a Novel

2 Feb

a. I’m manic in this photo. b. My laptop is in my bag because I have to keep it near me at all times even if I risk falling into the ocean with it. Don’t touch me! Step away from my bag! I’ll hit you in the head with a conch!

Writing a novel is like trying heroin: There’s no good reason to do it, but you’re still intrigued by the idea of it. Curiosity and bad judgment win over rational thinking, and you decide “What the heck? It can’t hurt to try it.” Once you start, you’re totally hooked. Everything else in your life falls by the wayside: the dishes, the dog, trimming your toenails, your other creative endeavors. Your compulsion affects your relationship. Your characters begin to control your thoughts, and your reality crumbles. The process wrecks you. Still, you can’t stop. You write. And no matter how many words you write (20,000 in two weeks!), it never, ever feels like enough.

The novel is why I have not been blogging, cartooning, or writing about anything other than the life of a fictitious adolescent girl. Writing about a teenager is like having a teenager move into my brain: Sometimes she never shuts the fuck up; other times she’s brooding in her room and I can’t get her to come out. Like last year, I spent January 2013 camping in Florida with my wife, and I wrote an average of 1000 words a day while I was away. Which was amazing. And not enough to satiate my main character’s addiction to herself, and my addiction to making her real. She is my Velveteen Rabbit. My heroine. My heroin.

I vacillated between obsessive and depressive while I was in Florida, finding respite only in my hourly daily piña coladas. Now that I’m home and back at work and cleaning the bathroom and shoveling snow, all I can think is, “When will I get my next fix?”

alligator imitation

This is my alligator imitation. I’ve obviously lost my mind.

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perspective and the red pen

5 Mar

Despite our pleadings, Jack’s red pen showed up everywhere.

Warning! The following G-rated post contains nostalgia, self-reflection, and a gross lack of sarcasm, drinking, and swearing. Read at your own risk. 

When I was in college, one of my favorite classes – besides those in my major – was a drawing class. Actually, every class besides those in my major was one of my favorites. My major was social work, with depressing coursework including Economics, Social Welfare, Statistics, Grief and Loss, Discrimination, and Policy Analysis. What was I thinking?

Like many college students, I was a change-the-world-through-organized-protests kind of gal. But I secretly found the most joy in the art class that I took when I was a sophomore. And truthfully, I learned the most about life in that class:

I learned that it’s all about perspective.

I learned that while some mistakes can be erased, others can’t.

I learned that sometimes it’s okay to stare at naked people.

I learned to keep spillable liquids (like coffee!) away from my work station.

I learned that there is no ‘right way’ to do something.

I learned that an intentional (or unintentional) smudge can cover up obvious flaws.

I learned that I love the feeling of a pen in my hand.

I learned to be open to feedback.

I learned that nothing is ever perfect, and that’s okay.

My drawing professor, Jack, was in his 60’s. He smoked a pipe in class, and carried a red pen in his shirt pocket. We’d sit at our desks, bent over our notebooks, furiously scribbling, drawing, erasing, shading, painting, on a quest to capture the vase, body, tree, sky, idea on paper. Just when one of us thought we completed something absolutely perfect, Jack would walk up behind that person, reach over his or her shoulder, and draw large red lines across the landscape masterpiece to demonstrate the accurate vanishing point, or paint a red, alternate eyebrow on the face of the beautiful portrait.

We would be devastated. Some students would gasp, others would protest, many cried. One young man yelled obscenities at Jack, left with his notebook and never returned.

Jack was a man of few words. He’d raise his eyebrows and, pipe bobbing between his teeth, he would say, “Whatever you do, don’t get attached.”

And, “If you drew it once, you can draw it again. And if you can’t, well, then the first one was just a lucky accident.”

And, “Your next drawing should be even better.”

My favorite memory of Jack is the day he sat on a stool in the middle of the room, struck ‘The Thinker’ pose with his chin on his hand, and said, “Draw me.”  A few minutes later when he looked at our sketches, he leaned over my desk and muttered, “I sure as hell hope that’s not what I look like.”

He was right. My portrait of him was utterly terrible; it looked like his face was melting. We both laughed, and I loved him fiercely for his honesty.

When I pass my writing into the hands of an editor now, I expect a red pen. I expect I have something to learn from them, something to change, something to write again, something better to strive toward. I try not to be attached to my words (though I always am).

And at some point, I accept that I need to stop writing, re-writing, and re-writing again, and to hand my work over to someone I trust with a fresh perspective. I need to let go. I will never be perfect, and that’s okay. Bring on the red pen.

once upon a time

18 Feb

My lovey made this for me for V-Day.

I have a legitimate excuse for not posting anything on my website since December:  I’ve lost my mind.

It’s true. Where once I was a mild-mannered, well-researched non-fiction food, cocktail, and humor writer, everything changed when I started writing a novel.

What non-fiction writer of sound mind would start writing fiction? Exactly.

It all started while we were on vacation in Florida for the month of January. Despite the best of intentions, I hardly tapped at my keyboard, except to type captions for the pictures of tiki cocktails I uploaded to Facebook. And then the novel hit me like the flu. No matter how hard I tried to hold it down, I couldn’t keep myself from vomiting words onto the page.

Now that I’m at 7000+ words, I have to admit it’s a progressive illness. A grave illness. Because I’m not just writing any novel: it’s young adult book. Like Twilight, but gay and without the vampires, or like Harry Potter, but gay and with more romance, or like the Hunger Games, but gay and no one has to kill each other.

The novel-writing bug definitely makes me uncomfortable, especially when it comes to character development. When writing non-fiction, your characters are already developed; your job is just to get to know them. With fiction, the process is much more mysterious. The characters are not pre-formed, nor can you force them to develop. I have had to wait patiently for my characters to show themselves to me on their terms, especially the teenage boy. He and I have been at a standoff all week.  Most of my free time is spent trying to get to know him, and I’m sure my friends are growing tired of me talking about someone who only exists in head.

Though my mind is deeply lost, I swear I have accomplished a few other things in the past month. For example, I baked a chocolate cake on Valentine’s Day and ate the whole thing myself. (It was quite an amazing feat.) While in Florida, Leah and I (mostly Leah) blogged at www.alligatorteardrop.com.  And today I spent some productive time on Pinterest.

Ha! Believe me, the words “productive” and “Pinterest” don’t belong in the same sentence. Any writer who says they use Pinterest to help them research their characters is either avoiding researching their characters, or is obsessively pinning pictures of shoes and weddings.

On that note, please feel free to follow my Shoe and Wedding boards on Pinterest.  (www.pinterest.com/drinkmywords)

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