Kurt Vonnegut – Writing Quote Wednesday

Kurt_Vonnegut_1972

I took this Writing Quote Wednesday from Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922–April 11, 2007). I was part of his lost NYU lecture on what it takes to be a writer that was recently posted on Brain Pickings.

I once ran into Mr. Vonnegut at Penn State. He was eating at a table across from me. The way I remember it, he was by himself looking off into the distance almost as if he was thinking up the plot to some new story he was working on or thinking about what kind of drawing he might want to do next.

I wasn’t brave enough to approach him and say hello, but he certainly made an impression on me, sitting there by himself, thinking.

It is even more moving, thinking about that moment, when I read the full quote:

I’ve heard that a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work. What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life — this is, if you want to write fast. You will be writing about your own life anyway — but you won’t know it.

And, the thing is, in order to sit alone and work alone all day long, you must be a terrible overreacter. You’re sitting there doing what paranoids do — putting together clues, making them add up… Putting the fact that they put me in room 471… What does that mean and everything?

Well, nothing means anything — except the artist makes his living by pretending, by putting it in a meaningful hole, though no such holes exist.”

I’m doing some work right now to push through to the next level in my work and my life and one of the techniques I’m using involves drawing what I’m experiencing and then interpreting those drawings to gain insight into the situation. In my last session, which was a few weeks before I saw this quote, one of the drawings I did was of a man with several holes surrounding him. I had no idea what the holes were when I drew them and the man in the drawing had no idea what to do with them either.

Now I know that those holes I drew were meaningful holes to put my pretending in. Those holes do exist. Even though nothing means anything, putting our pretending in those holes is the way we, as artists, make our living.

Penn State English professor Kevin Boon had this to say back in 2007 about Mr. Vonnegut, “If I had to sum Vonnegut the man in one word, I would say he was, in all matters, gracious. If I had to sum his work, I would say that, in the end, the message threading his oeuvre is that people, as a whole, are cruel, but people, on an individual basis, are precious. Team players who are blindly loyal to ideologies are the primary reason the world has experienced so many atrocities (Dresden, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, slavery, racism, sexual intolerance, sexism, greed and the contemporary horrors of Iraq, Katrina, Darfur and so on), while the best results of our presence on Earth — a sonata by Mozart, a painting by Van Gogh, a poem by T.S. Eliot, a statue by Rodin, Gene Kelly dancing, Maria Callas singing — are the result of brilliant individuals producing single, epiphanous moments of beauty in a world that is largely inhumane.”

Advertisements

Just a Quick Update

3863693dc376c569eab69789df73dd6c

Hello, Dedicated Readers of Stories are the Wildest Things.

I’m back. I’ve missed you. I’m here and working hard to bring you the content you expect from this blog.

I’ve been busy putting together two children’s books, getting the five-year-old off to kindergarten, putting on plays, working on films and pounding away at the MG and YA novels I’ve been trying to finish. I’ve also started a Paper.li web paper called Children’s Book News Daily. (<== Check it out by clicking the link.)

Please drop a line to say hello or leave a comment and let me know what you’ve been up to.

You’ll be hearing from me more often from now on.

I appreciate all of the emails, Periscopes, Twitter responses and Facebook posts.

Here’s a quick quote for the day:

step

Stories are truly the wildest things and sometimes we must retreat in order to tell them. Look for more content soon!

Yours in story-telling,

Paul

Anne Lamott – Writing Quote Wednesday

Anyone else having trouble just writing and not editing as you go?

I tend to go back and start fixing things right away, because I can’t seem to let the words just sit there on the page. I feel like I have to shape them as I go and it’s slowing me down. I have to remember that I’m trying to get a first draft done quickly so that I can go back and shape it later.

I have to keep telling myself, “It’s supposed to look like this.”

What do you do to keep writing when all you want to do is stop and put the pieces in the right place? Leave me a comment or send me a suggestion on Twitter. Have a great writing day and keep me posted on your NaNoWriMo progress.

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny

The Nap that Never Was

8561684317_ced6052a37_b

Flickr photo by Susana Fernandez

So, the nap never happened. (<==Click the link to read a post about Fiction Unboxed, a write-a-novel-in-30-days adventure with Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant over at Sterling & Stone.)

My strategy to get my four-year-old down for a nap yesterday and then do some writing while he slumbered peacefully didn’t work.

Even now, as I try to finish this post, he is saying, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, I have to go potty.”

I’m writing this in the Vassar library, so I abandon my computer and the blog and search for a restroom. He moans and says, “We’re lost down here. I’m going to pee myself.”

“No, you’re not. We aren’t lost. Breathe.” But I can’t find the men’s room.

There is a women’s restroom right near the stairs. I knock. No answer. I stand in the doorway, afraid to enter the women’s restroom. “Hurry and go quickly,” I say.

He jumps and skips and scurries his way to the toilet. I hear him relieving himself and then he sighs. “Whew,” he says.

“Wash your hands.” He turns the water on full-blast and runs his hands through the water. He wipes his hands on his shirt.

We run back upstairs. The library is empty so my blog is safe. I try to finish this post.

“Go back to your computer and play.”

30 seconds pass, maybe less.

He says, “Daddy, my computer, the computer, the computer over there is not working, um, it’s not changing to the kite thing again where Curious George is flying his kite, I need you to help me.” He clicks on it and it changes into a game where George is collecting hats.

He can’t work the mouse yet, so I have to help him. We collect orange and green hats. We play again. We collect green and red hats. I say, “Now you practice.” I sit back down to finish this post. Two seconds later he says, “Daddy, daddy I want to go see Momma now.” He’s sucking his fingers. He’s been playing with a mouse used by hundreds of college students.

His immune system is getting stronger I say to myself. A slight shudder passes through me.

“Sit down for a minute until I finish this post.”

“Awww, Daddy.”

He sits.

I’m done.

Brontide – Wildest Word of the Day

Flickr photo by N. Tackaberry

(Credit: Flickr photo by N. Tackaberry)

A brontide is a low rumbling sound like thunder thought to be caused by feeble earth tremors (Merriam-Webster). I also like the way the word sounds when you say it. Try it now.

“BRON-tide.” Feels good, doesn’t it?

If you’ve ever experienced the brontide, let me know in the comments.

“While standing on the precipice of the cliff looking down, Harry heard the brontide. It seemed like a long, low warning not to jump.”

Write a Novel in 30 Days – FICTION UNBOXED (Days 2 & 3)

Fiction Unboxed Day Three

So the guys, Sean Platt and Jounny B. Truant, are “steaming” along with their ideas for their 30 day novel and the process is FASCINATING. Getting to sit on their story meetings has given me some valuable insights into a working method for collaborators that could really help writers pump out the kind of volume the guys have been pumping out.

For the first three days they threw around a lot of different ideas based on the Steampunk genre. They’ve already written and discarded tons of words.

They worked hard to come up with a world for the characters to live in and a story line that they would both be excited to keep exploring. This process is difficult enough when you are working in private, but adding the stressful element of everyone watching has to be affecting the guys in some way. They do discuss how strange it is and how aware they are that people are watching, even incorporating it into the story idea. It will be interesting to hear them talk more about this as they move forward.

They’ve also been posting their pages. As of today we’ve seen emails, beats, and a first draft of Chapter One. You can check out where they are in the process by visiting FICTION UNBOXED. There are some FREE levels you can still take part in.

Here are a few take-aways from the past few days:

Discipline is key to getting this accomplished, what the guys call “ass in chair” time. Agreed.

When talking about their protagonist Johnny B. Truant said, “You can’t desire something you don’t want and you can’t want something if it’s too easy to get.” I think that’s really good advice for creating a character your readers want to follow. Give them something they want more than anything else and make it REALLY hard for them to get.

While trying to figure out the beats, the guys discussed how they wanted to find the story that is true to them. They used a great term while describing themselves – genre agnostic – and said that no matter the genre, “our voice is what matters.”

As they work, there is not a lot of changing the other person’s ideas by saying “how about this instead.” What they do is ask a lot of questions about WHY the world works or doesn’t work as they are creating it. They also say, “I like that ” a lot and then riff off of the given circumstances they are creating for the characters to live into. You can see why they are a great team by how they communicate their ideas to each other.

At one point Sean Platt says he talks to his wife, Cindy, about the ideas and immediately feels like he can expand on it, this happens for me as well. It seems that if you start telling the story to someone else and get caught up in it yourself, that can be a really good sign that you are headed in the right direction.

They continue to spin the story out as they go along and keep comparing it to other stories and tropes, mixing and mashing them up into new combinations. “Good writers borrow, great writers steal!” (this quote and versions of it is attributed to various people: Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Elliot, Austin Kleon even Steve Jobs)

They keep talking about what they like, “I like this, I love this, I want to get that” and they laugh and curse and make fun of their own ideas and get excited about them as well. It’s strange to watch because it is very similar to the process that goes on in my head.

The last quote for the day that I’d like to leave you with is “Our hero has this itch that she can’t scratch for her entire life.”

This is brilliant because if we build characters that have something they have a deep longing to accomplish or solve or acquire, we as an audience will want to go on the journey with them.

This experience is just like that, too.

The guys have a deep longing, or itch, to get this book done in 30 days and we are following along on their journey fascinated by how difficult it is and wanting to know what their process is and if they are going to accomplish it, even though we know they will (but do we?). We started with nothing and by the end of this journey we will have watched them build a whole new world with all of its bumps and bruises and false starts and unknowns. In some way, watching them do it, can give us permission to do it too.

You can get insights and inspiration like this to help you on your writer’s journey straight to your inbox by signing up to be a Stories are the Wildest Things Insider. Just click on the Become an Insider menu link or sign-up HERE.

Write a Novel in 30 Days – FICTION UNBOXED

FU

Fiction Unboxed, from the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast, has started and it’s very exciting to participate in this “never-been-done-before” online event. I put that in quotes because I think that most everything has been done before, but that brilliance comes when people combine things that have been done before in new ways. This is a great new combination that is generating a lot of creative energy and excitement in the self-publishing world.

Over the next 30 days the guys are opening up their writing process to those who invested in the project on Kickstarter. I kicked in at a higher level than I normally have for other projects because the guys are funny, dedicated storytellers that believe we can change the world with a story.

As usual, the guys are giddy and unfocused at first, but after a short segment of rambling they get down to the nitty-gritty of world building for this 30 day book. If you know their podcasts, Self Publishing Podcast and Better Off Undead, this style of working will be familiar to you. If you are just coming is as a supporter of the project, it might be a little distracting at first. Hang in there, though, because what happens is a fun and truthful way of approaching story building.

The world they are describing sounds really fascinating and watching the guys “spit ball” and toss ideas around is enlightening. They bring up their favorite movies, books and television tropes to create their new world. As they describe their ideas, they go off on side tangents, double back on themselves, joke around and as Dave says, “It’s an awesome thing.”

It’s like a question and answer session with their own imaginations and each of the guys contribute in different ways. Sean has logorrhea and is the cheerleader. He drives the conversations forward and wrangles the random tangents and ideas into some kind of cohesive whole. Johnny B. Truant is the calculating mind, adding and subtracting the value of each idea and how he can use it to get the first draft on the page. Dave is the dark and stormy naysayer who quietly drives the story into the shadows so that Sean and Johnny can steer it back into the light.

I think it’s extremely helpful to see them work in this way. My takeaway (to use a business term) is that you have to pump out a LOT of ideas and then ask yourself questions about how these ideas will work when you begin telling the story within the world.

If you haven’t been listening to the Self-Publishing Podcast, check them out. As Sean says, “You can tackle any creative idea if your how and your why are good enough…it’s stupid and/or impossible but we believe anyway.”

This blog, my current MG paranormal adventure novel, and several other projects I’m working on now are because of these guys and their inspiration (and the ongoing encouragement of my four-year-old and lovely wife).

Thanks guys!

I’m looking forward to seeing where their process takes them and, as a result, takes me as well.

I’ll be posting about Fiction Unboxed and my experiences for the next 30 days as well. Please follow and like the blog to keep updated.

FU2

10 Things to Learn about Writing from Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss

FV_1

from Cléo Charuet´s studio wall and / or Peter Fischli & David Weiss

I found this photo on a great blog on redbubble.com and think it is really has a lot to teach us about writing. Peter and David are fine artists, but I’ve thought a lot about these concepts and how they apply to me and my writing work.

1. By working on only one project at a time, I find I am less distracted and better able to get quality work done. Putting down one word right after the other will get me to the end. Sitting at my desk thinking of all the projects I haven’t done gets me nowhere. We are not as great at multi-tasking as we think.

2. What is the problem your MC is trying to solve? Is your character just telling us their thoughts and feelings or are they doing something to solve a problem? A great fix for writing that doesn’t move your audience in any way. Check out this funny post by Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project about The Secret to Creating the Elusive Emotional Connection in Writing.

3. Instead of listening, try to be a listening for possibility in your life. I try to be a listening for what it is I want to accomplish with my writing as well. By being a listening for something very specific, it will often show up unexpectedly. I also like to make my computer read my works in progress. Even though it sounds like Stephen Hawking is reading my words back to me, I still get a sense of rhythm and timing and whether I’m repeating certain phrases or using confusing language. It also makes me laugh when the computer pronounces things in a completely inappropriate way. The Listening Project is an interesting documentary that asks the question, “What does the world think about America?”

4. A lot of my writing time is spent asking questions. What does my MC want? Why do they want that? What are they going to do to get it? What obstacles are in the way? What tactics are they using to try to get what they want? Also, “Is my coffee mug full?” If it isn’t, time to take a break and refill it.

5. I always wait until polishing for this one. I try to turn off that inner voice that keeps saying, “This is nonsense” over and over, endlessly repeating itself in my head like my four-year-old when he wants a piece of candy that I’ve said he can’t have. Just let everything out in the first draft and then go back and find the sense in the nonsense.

6. Change is inevitable. I’m a plotter. I like a to have my beats worked out before I start. I often find the story changing as I work on it. The characters will say or do something that takes the story in an awesome direction but veers from the original idea. I try to let this play itself out and not worry about it too much. I try to trust that my brain has worked on the problems of the story while I’ve been doing laundry, taking a shower, trying to get the four-year-old down for a nap. I hope I never get too rigid not to embrace change, because every time I have, I’ve had an amazing adventure because of it.

7. Sometimes, I write for several hours and realize that what I’ve spent all that time on won’t make it into the final draft. But I know that these “mistakes” are important to get to the next level of writing that I have to do. I often teach my students that mistakes are an important part of the process. We are all human. We do not know exactly how to do things perfectly every time. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as fun to do. Make mistakes, admit them, and move on. “Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray from Goodreads.com

8. Say it simple. Going back through first drafts I search for where I’m trying too hard. Having an editor or a beta reader can be really useful for this.

9. Breathe. Everyone, at some point, feels exactly as you do now as you are trying to write. Know this and be calm. Keep putting one word after the other. Get to the end. Read this great article on How Succesful People Stay Calm on Forbes.com.

10. If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, neither will your readers. Smile, even in the midst of the difficulties, knowing that you are doing something that other people only dream about doing.There is even some research to suggest that the physical act of smiling, even if you don’t feel happy, can lead to feelings of happiness. Try it!