Friday, October 28, 2011


If I had been able to get it together enough to laugh about my situation, yesterday would have been the day that I looked up at the sky and said "REALLY? REALLY NOW?" But instead, Morphine intervened and turned things around for me.

And then, later, a company that publishes science stuff intervened again and turned things around further. And there was yoga involved. My head is still stuffy as hell, but I'm not dying on my feet anymore, and things could be so much worse than they are.

I've taken the week off from writing so far. I feel like a jerk about it, but there's an awful lot going on, both actually and emotionally, and hey, I've got a cold. I'm spending a lot of time collapsed on the couch. I've got to get back to it - I've especially been skimping on the workshop I'm in - but I think it'll have to be over the weekend that I do so.

Last night I watched Imitation of Life, and although it was a bit more obvious in places than Mildred Pierce, I really liked it. Melodrama is appealing to me; I think it's because the story is all interior, all a battle between people in living rooms, but the stakes are so inflated that you can't stop watching. I simultaneously take it seriously and can't take it seriously, which means it's fun to watch - I'm invested, but I'm not weeping when something goes wrong.

TGIF, man. Srsly. This has been one of the hardest weeks of the last two years.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Test Swatches

I am, um, not having a good week. If I had a dog, it would get run over tomorrow.

A phrase in Stephen King's On Writing that I've been thinking about lot lately is "shoveling shit from a sitting position". In full context, he tells us to keep writing, because your perceptions of your work can be wrong, and you can be doing good work even if it feels like you're shoveling shit from a sitting position. When I sit at my laptop and work on my Greenland novel, that is exactly, precisely what it feels like I'm doing. As if I'm just moving manure around with weakening arms, unable to get up out of the muck. But I felt the same way about the last work I did on my horror novel, until finally work on it just sort of...petered out, because I was tired of the perceived smell. But when I went back and read it months later, like magic, it had turned into something not-so-bad. So the thing to do, just as Steve tells us, is to keep going.

I've also been thinking about knitting and writing. One of the things you must do when you sit down to knit a new project is knit a test swatch. It's a little square piece of knitting meant to test how many stitches per inch you knit with these needles and this yarn. Everybody knits a little differently, with a tension that is greater or lesser - tighter stitches or looser ones - and you may have to change needle sizes or even yarn to make sure that your project comes out all right per the pattern. If you don't knit a test swatch, you can't be sure that the number of stitches in the pattern will come out to the same yardage on your finished product, and you might wind up with a garment that's too big, too small, or simply won't come together at all.

The thing is, when you cast on to knit a test swatch, you walk into it feeling as if the time you spend knitting these stitches is going to be wasted. You know that these stitches are going to be unraveled. The swatch is only for testing your gauge, it doesn't go into the finished product, so when you're finished with enough stitches to give you a decent area for measurement, rrrrrrrrip go the stitches and you have to wind the yarn up and cast on all over again, this time for the actual project. Or you start over with yet another swatch, if you've changed needles, or you have to abandon the project altogether because the yarn or the available needles just won't work.

To me, test swatches are tragic, and I hate doing them. I don't, if I can avoid it - if the project isn't tricky or I can find the same yarn with which the pattern was designed. I know at least one knitter who loves them. She thinks of them like mini-projects, and she even keeps some test swatches and labels them so she knows what her gauge was with those needles on that yarn. But I just can't help seeing them as anything but wasted effort.

There's a lot about writing that can be viewed from this perspective. Ira Glass reminds us that in order to get through the gap we just have to do a lot of work, knit a lot of test swatches that never end up making it into the finished product. It's frustrating as all hell, to have done all of this work and gotten theoretically no usable work out of it, but the thing is -

If you don't knit your test swatches, your "real work" can't happen at all. (That insight deserved a new paragraph.) Without knowing what your tension actually is, what knitting on those needles on this day looks like, you will never know whether the finished product is going to work. All of the words that you write and cut, slicing valiantly through them with your Fictator sword, were there for a reason; they were there to reveal the jewel of writing that existed underneath, all along. The mountain still has to produce a giant block of marble in order for Michelangelo to carve a beautiful sculpture out of it. Was the mountain's effort wasted?

So I'm trying, really hard, to write backstory that might never see the light of day, exposition that I will keep in my laptop for my own reference and no one else's eyes, chapters that I know, even while writing them, really are manure and will inevitably be cut. It's all of a piece; it's all work that helps me to write a finished product. Even if, at the time, it feels like a total waste, it all adds up to something.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chaos and New York

Back when I was at yoga teacher training, I was told twice about the Saturn return. I turned 28 while I was at teacher training, and some of the people I met there thought I was headed for the Saturn return the following year, based on what I told them about how I wanted to change my life.

Well, it didn't happen then, to my knowledge, but I think it's happening now. Although I learn quickly, I've always been slow to get a clue, in the cosmic sense. So the tumult and noise and misery and dreaming and transition are a leetle overdue.


The good news is, over the weekend Matt and I went to New York and saw Sleep No More, a show (sort of) that is part dance, part theater, part David Lynch, part steampunk, part BioShock, part was some crazy shit. I had thought I would be writing an essay about it, and although I was wrong about what I'd be writing about, I did write an essay on the train back home. I worked hard and I'm happy with the result. (Matt helped.) I've already queried it.

I'm having a difficult time concentrating today, or I'd tell you all about the experience of Sleep No More. Perhaps another time. If the essay gets picked up, heck, you can read about it then.

I will tell you that Matt and I tried to go to the 9/11 memorial, and it turns out that you have to reserve tickets ahead of time if you want to go there. The only exception is for first responders. We walked down there, and there were no lines to get in or anything, just the information guides milling around, but we still couldn't go in because we hadn't reserved tickets.

I don't want to be a jerk, but I feel like this kind of contradicts the whole point of a public memorial. (I'm not sure if this contradiction has anything to do with the substance of the memorial, just...public memorials in general are supposed to be public, right?) I think part of the reason is that there's so much construction going on in those two or three city blocks, and it could be a little dangerous for a lot of visitors to pile up in there. But still. What could go wrong with limited-number on-site ticketing, with a waiver form?

We passed by some Occupy Wall Street protesters on our way there. They were mostly still asleep. (The early protester doesn't necessarily get the worm, I guess.) I've been enjoying the OWS movement - or pictures of it, anyway - because it's the first time I've seen protesters that kind of look like me: ordinary, no particular age group, not homogeneously rabid or vegan or filthy or dreadlocked or anything else that indicates to me that this is a group of people with different values than mine. But I have to say that the group we saw down there kind of did look like dirty hippies. Sorry, guys. I still think you're fighting the good fight.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm On Mah Wey

...from misery tuh happiness tuh-dey. That was in Shrek, remember?

In this case, I'm on mah wey from my home in beautiful Maryland to an exciting (if short) adventure in New York City (which, every time I say that, my brain can't help but repeat "New York City?" in shocked cowpoke tones, a la the Pace Picante salsa commercials from the yore days of my childhood). I love love love riding on trains, and I'm very happy to have done so today, but I'm definitely ready to be off the train and in New York, meeting a terrific online friend IRL and fitting in some breathless experiences before heading home tomorrow afternoon.

Pat Sajak, and three very snooty-looking young people who are likely his children, happen to be on the same train. Of course, he's in the first class compartment. But when I saw him walk past our bench while we were sitting on the platform, I murmured "oh my gosh," because I recognized him instantly. (I knew long ago that he lived in the area. He owned a house in the same neighborhood as a boy I dated in high school.) He is my first in-person celebrity sighting (aside from those I knew I would see, like at concerts, etc). Not the most exciting celeb sighting for my first time, perhaps, but hey, you know, still. Not every day you see Pat Sajak not on TV.

The train has paused in the Meadowlands and I can see the construction of the Freedom Tower over this dirt hill to the right. I still haven't decided entirely how I feel about the Freedom Tower; it's not really my issue to take a stand on, I have no significant connection to New York, so I don't feel right arguing about it. If I have the time this weekend I'm going to go and see the memorial.

I worked hard during this train ride on the story I wrote at the beginning of the week. I tweaked it, no significant rewriting. I think I'm going to give it another day or two and then format it and send it off to a contest. I'd give it another month normally, but the contest deadline is the 31st. I'll only be out $10 if it turns out the story needs more work.

Train is 8 minutes from its destination, so I'm going to pack up. Thanks for letting me stop by on mah wey. Uh huh.

Friday, October 21, 2011

If you cut my story, does it not bleed words?

I don't know anything about writing contests. I have been a finalist in two of them, but I really don't know what distinguishes contests from the usual query for publication/get rejected dance, except that there's payment involved. I'm talking about quality. What is it about these stories that makes them good enough to deserve a prize, rather than just the prize of publication?

I also don't know what kinds of writers win these contests, and what they do with the money and prestige that they win (if any). I don't know how many writers I'm going up against, whether a few dozen or a few thousand. I don't know if there's some kind of a scheme to winning them, or whether they matter more or less than regular-style publication. I just don't know that much about them.

But I've dived back into writing during the fullest swing of the fall contest season, and I'm damn well going to take advantage of it. Two nights ago I decided to enter a short story into a genre writer's contest at Writer's Digest. The short story in question was 4,800 words, and the word limit for the contest was 4,000. I am pretty happy with this story the way it is; it squeaks going around corners maybe once or twice, but I don't think it needs shortening, unless it's the Crisco kind of shortening. But I was sure it was a good idea to enter this story in this competition, so I put on my Fictator hat and I sat down to chop until I could chop no more.

It was a nightmare. It was two hours of work to lose those 800 words. I must've read through it seven or eight times, lopping a word here and a sentence there. When my progress was too slow, I held my breath and cut 400 words of really fine character development. I do not think this made for a better story, really I don't, but I had 800 words to lose and, in the end, I lost 804.

And I paid my $20 and entered the contest. Lord knows if the story even belongs in the horror category, or if it's up against stories by much more seasoned and worthwhile writers, or if the contest will decide to go belly-up and they'll keep my money (it's happened before), or - what is most likely - I won't win and won't know why.

Once I entered a contest where your entry fee paid for a copy of a book with all the winners published in it, and when I was sent the book (so many months after the contest ended that I'd mostly forgotten about it), that was my first notice that I hadn't won anything. When I read the stories, I didn't really understand what they had that my story didn't; sometimes I understand why I got rejected from a publication when I read a copy of the publication, and sometimes I don't, and this was one where I didn't.

So, that's that. Fictator success; contest entered. Everything is super.

I am exhausted this morning. For the third time I am the victim of temporary insanity leading me to agree to substitute for a sunrise yoga class, and I had to get up at 4:30 to make it there in time. And all night I woke up every hour because my brain was worried I would oversleep. And no one even came to the class. Fool me thrice, shame on me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In the Writing Cycle

Last night, for two hours, I wrote at white heat. It was a short story about being trapped, in a very literal sense. What I came up with was some of the best work I think I've done, but that might have been first-blush delirium. It's the first fiction I remember writing in years where I had the capacity to get across exactly what I wanted to get across from beginning to end, not just in fits and spurts. I was making myself heard. I am itching to read it again and see if I was wrong about this. But I know, I know, wait a few days. Make it foreign.

This is the second quality thing I've written in a few weeks that has not been my novel. (I am giving myself a pass for nightly work on the novel when I do other writing work during the designated time. It's all going into the same ocean, I figure.) I admit I'm wondering a little if my brain is clawing out for other things to accomplish rather than working word by word on this albatross of mine. I'll work and slave and write a Pushcart-winning short story rather than one more sentence on THIS MONSTROSITY. It's not really a monstrosity, but it's taking on the form of a minotaur in my mind, something mutated and wretched but strong and cunning.

It's not that working on the novel is no fun (although it's not much fun), it's just that it takes me such a goddamn long time to oil the machine. By the time it's done clanking and wheezing and making expensive noises, and I'm clicking along with I-think-I-can, and actually having fun, it's time for bed. And as the draft gets longer, I feel like it gets more and more out of my control. I'm up over 57,000 words, which is cause for celebration, but I keep thinking of elements that I failed to put in two chapters ago that I will need to refer to now, and putting another pin on the mental bulletin board: that, too, will have to happen in the first revision. The first revision is looking to be as much work as the first draft, at this point.

The last several weekends I have tried to use to their best advantage in front of the laptop. It was only a couple of months ago that Matt and I sat down and hashed out a plan for keeping the house cleaner than we had been keeping it, and now all of that has gone to hell as I obsess over the book. I feel like a jerk. Matt doesn't care at all, bless him, but it leads me back to the old despair about balancing my life: I'll never have a clean house, a reasonably enjoyable job, a rich and rewarding inner life, and enough education, all at the same time.

...Does anybody have all those things at the same time, actually? Maybe my standards are just unrealistic.

Anyway. The lack of balance has its place here, too; I am excited that I'm finally keeping a non-anonymous blog, and although the name of this blog indicates what its main subject is supposed to be, I am still planning to write a lot about my life as well as my writing. But I'm in a phase of writing right now - it's all I want to think about, all I want to talk about. This goes back to that thing I dislike, and attempt on a regular basis to accept, about myself - the cyclic nature of my interests, heaving up and down like the tides. When I'm in a movies phase, I can't shut up about movies, and it's the only way I spend my time. When it's cooking, that's all I think about, getting home to cook. It's embarrassing to be so effusive about something that is then in the rear seat of my life until the next  cycle, it leads to questions from well-meaning friends that I don't know how to answer, and I can see it happening every night now as Matt listens to me with infinite patience about today's work on the book. Or the thing I just read in The Fire in Fiction (a book which is changing for the better the whole way I approach my work). Or the magazine I found that I want to submit to.

He tells me that he loves my enthusiasm and likes learning about the new things that I learn with every phase. My self-doubt stamps this claim out like a rhino with a fire. Surely no one is so interested in a dilettante like me.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

In the Pudding

This morning I went to the library to look for a book about writing. I have been struggling a little lately with the idea of conflict, and how big or small it can be, and whether it is the engine driving the story or just another structural element. I thought surely someone had written a book about conflict in fiction writing and that I could find it at the Bowie library.

There were quite a few shelves of books about writing, but no books devoted to conflict. I did find and take home a few books that looked worthy, including a book called The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, a prominent literary agent. I read the introduction this afternoon while procrastinating, and I found this:
The more I see, the more I feel that novelists fall into two broad categories: those whose desire is to be published, and those whose passion is to spin stories. I think of these as status seekers and storytellers
Three pages follow that elaborate on this concept, and I started to feel smaller and smaller as I read on. I wish I could quote it all.
Storytellers look not to publishers to make them successful, but to themselves. ...Which type of fiction writer are you? Really? I believe you, but the proof is in your passion and whether or not it gets on the page. 
This leads me to some uncomfortable thoughts. I had always thought that the reason I was obsessed with getting published was so I could write in comfort; once I proved myself, once I made enough of a profit on my words to be able to devote myself to words full-time, I figured, I would be able to do writing that I loved without worry that it wouldn't be published. Yet so many writers advise that being published isn't the satisfactory conclusion that you think it'll be. They say that you then worry about sales, about promotion, about reviews. That you feel just as precarious as before, if not more so, because whether or not you can even write, much less sell, your next book is now the overriding concern.

So now I wonder if perhaps you never write in comfort (unless you're Stephen King). If instead you continue to work and suffer and get rejected and stumble into the unknown room, sentence by sentence, and you have to just keep working and worrying and stumbling. If you do, if that's your fate as a writer, then why obsess so hard over publishing, as if it's the answer? Why am I doing that?

My mother tried to tell me a few weeks ago that I should write because I love it, instead of writing with an end in mind. I thought that it was easy for her to say, because a) she is quite brilliant and successful at her brand of writing and b) if I don't publish, I can't do this thing for a living. Doing this thing for a living is my goal, and I thought perhaps she doesn't realize that and was telling me to write for the love of it because that was all I could expect to get out of it.

But Donald Maass, who is writing to the audience wanting to do this thing for a living, is advising essentially the same thing: be a storyteller. If you tell stories you love, you will find success; if you build it, they will come. It is so hard for me to buy this, because there's so much about publishing that seems left to wild chance, so much that seems to require you to game the system even while you're putting expert and deeply felt words onto the page. It's a world that seems both authentic - just send us good writing, we really don't care about anything else - and highly suspect - but if you know somebody who's somebody's uncle, eh, we'll put your crummy book in print, whatever. Where's the truth of it?

I want to tell good stories, stories from my deepest self, that I know will be successful. Does that make me a status-seeker, a storyteller, or some hybrid of both? I believe in the book I'm writing now, I'm tickled by the premise and I like working with the characters. But when it's finished I intend to shop it to genre markets because I think that's the area with greatest potential for profit for this book. Am I a mercenary? I also want to publish, slightly, for the "I'll show 'em all" reason, all the people who rejected me or bullied me or did damage to my psyche over the years. I know this is a petty and stupid reason, but I won't deny it; nor do I believe it really influences the way I'm telling the stories I'm telling. Does this nevertheless put me in the status seeker column?

I guess worrying too much about my motivations keeps me from putting words on the page, which is really the most important thing. I just can't figure out where the limit of this problem might be, if that's the reason that I haven't gotten a foothold yet, or if it's just the gap:

The difference between the quality of my work the last time I was writing regularly, and the quality of my work now, is so staggering that I'm pretty sure it's the gap. I'm pretty sure that I need to keep writing and keep submitting and that the years lived in between will not have been wasted effort. All the silly blogging and all the dreaming and all the finding out I've done, all these things will show in the work on the page. But I can't help feeling it's all for nothing if I can't find success that enables me to do more writing, and Maass's perspective has given me serious pause.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"I took the blows..."

In my adult life, I've tended to believe that your birthday is the one day when everything is supposed to go your way. This has been a week (a month) where very little has gone the way I'd hoped, and it's a milestone birthday that I've been dreading for quite a lot of years now, so I didn't think much would be good about today. My real birthday can be some other time, when things are going my way, when good news abounds. 

This morning, Matt gave me a lovely gift: 

Open at the Close Earrings

I told him ages ago that I wanted them, and then joked a lot with him about getting me an ironing board cover (Simpsons joke). But he bought them for me. And the matching necklace, too.

Then I got in the car to go to work, and although I was in no particularly good mood, the Traffic Light Gods saw fit to let me pass through two lights where I'm usually held up. I turned on the radio and heard a semi-interesting story about an assault and a car chase in Gambrills, and as no one was badly hurt and a crazy guy got locked up, it was the kind of story I like to hear. After that, the radio played "In Your Eyes", which is a song that even after all this time and all these repetitions I can't help feeling sloppy and romantic about. And then came the Doobies telling me to whoa-ooh-WHAAAH, listen to the music, and I sang along. And then there was a commercial, so I turned to WRNR and caught the last half of "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked". All in all, you see, the radio was playing just for me.

In my inbox and on my Facebook page were a dozen well-wishes (including the usual goofy birthday e-mail from Matt's brother, which always cheers me), and my in-laws sent me gorgeous flowers. An attorney I barely interact with, who always has a friendly smile for me, wished me a quiet happy birthday by the copier, totally making my morning.

So the little things are apparently going my way today. The big things are not, but the little things...well, life's in the little things, right?

At least I'll get through the rest of today without having to do this.


Nothing about writing today. Sorry. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Tension is Aging Me

This morning, someone took a picture of the back of my car. It was at least the second time this has happened. Both times, I haven't been terribly sure whether the picture was intended to be of my license plate, which is "L33T", or of all the bumper decorations: Kill Your Television, Flying Spaghetti Monster, a yoga sticker, and an MST3K sticker. I can't help being curious about what the focus was, the thing she wanted to capture. In any case, the blurry ass end of my car is surely on Facebook somewhere.

I was whining to my mom recently about how hard it is to make up words and names in a different language while I'm writing, and she asked me why I didn't just put placeholders in and come back to make up the words later. I told her that when I do that I start to get lazy, and just put placeholders in when I can't think up a good metaphor, or a good bit of dialogue that says what I want it to say. Before long I'm writing Swiss cheese. I could already see that starting to happen; I had forgotten to invent a female housekeeper character earlier on, so when I needed her at this point in the draft I just put in "female servant" in red so I could give her a name and a personality later. Shortly after, I put "[dessert]" instead of creating a name for a dessert, because <whine> it was almost 10, I've got work in the morning</whine>. When I came back to the draft last night, the [dessert] omission really bothered me, and I couldn't write well until I had invented a word for the damned dessert. I still don't know what the dessert actually IS, or what it tastes like (how can you get sugar underground?), but, you know, baby steps.

So, last night's work was reasonably good. I've cracked 50,000 words. I have that same confidence problem I had when I was writing the horror novel most recently; my characters are doing things, talking to each other, and I kind of can't believe that it's actually interesting. I feel like I could just cut all of this stuff, that there must be an exciting or meaningful scene up ahead that I should be getting to, and no one wants to read this character-building, world-building stuff. So writing about it seems contradictory, unnecessary.

This feeling is amplified because I'm reading a book right now that's all about conversations and emotions between characters (at the moment), and is really not very interesting. The author writes pretty well, but the situations between characters just kind of go on and on and I'm wondering when they're going to get to the point, and what the point may be. There just isn't any tension; it plods. I'm not really sure if you can tell whether lack of tension is happening to your own work, so I'm worried that all this writing and effort might be wasted, because I won't be able to tell on my own if my characters are boring their audience. (Because, of course, my own words are endlessly fascinating to me. And yes, I do sometimes go by Miss Piggy.)

My birthday's in two days. I feel conflicted. I know 30 isn't very old; I know my 30s will be much better than my 20s; I know that no one's going to shove me into Carrousel and blow me up. At the same time, I feel like something big and amorphous is coming to an end, and I will only be able to look back to know what it is. I also feel the same old insecurity about how I haven't set the world on fire yet. As far as that goes, I keep running across examples of people I admire who didn't really get going until they were a good deal older than I am.

Still. 30. Maybe the world just isn't flammable.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Fictator is me.

You can’t read all the books in the world. It took me years and years and years to learn this, to actually absorb it to the point where it was useful knowledge. (For the longest time it was just a personal tragedy.) With this knowledge, I no longer feel the need to keep reading books I don’t like, or to read all the books in a series if I liked the first one okay, or whatever. I still haven’t read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest because although I very much want to know what happens to Lisbeth, I was not crazy about the experience of reading the first book and liked the second even less. Plus it’s not in paperback yet.

And I’ve never read The Red Tent, or The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, and I gave up halfway through my second Joyce Carol Oates book because you know what? I don’t cotton to her. I no longer feel the need to try and keep up with the frantic pace of books released in this country. It’s faddish, like everything else, and I was very surprised when I learned this, because books have always seemed permanent to me, more lasting, but it just isn’t so. The book everyone’s talking about will be forgotten in five years. I have never enjoyed an Oprah book. If a book crosses my path that looks good, I’ll read it, but I don’t have a To Be Read pile anymore because there are just too many books. Every book in the world would be in that pile if I was honest, so I’m not going to keep a pile, I’m just going to let books come into my life as they will.

I refuse to feel bad about this. Most of the time. But I'm in a writers' workshop right now, and a lot of folks are talking about books they've read and books they recommend, and I haven’t read a good many of them because I don’t keep up with contemporary lit this way. I feel ashamed. I’ve spent a lot of time re-reading Skeleton Crew, I am reminded. I could have used that time to be up on my market.

But you can’t read them all. You just can’t. And maybe if I was in a graduate program or didn’t have a day job I would have the time and inclination to feel bad about this, but aside from flashes of “haven’t I read anything?” when I read these comments from my co-workshoppers, I don’t.

(If you want to know how I learned this lesson, it was from Ha Jin’s Waiting, which, halfway through, was boring me so desperately that I gave up and read the end to find out what happened. It was a thoroughly disappointing ending. The critics loved that book, it won a National Book Award, and I haven’t the faintest idea why. When I returned it to the library I looked around and saw the skazillions of other books on the shelves, not all of which were likely to be as disappointing as this one had been. So after that experience, I was determined no longer to let the books boss me around. I can decide how I want my time to be spent, and no author/critic/talk show host will decide it for me.)

Over the weekend, this idea has mated with another idea in my head and they’ve produced an interesting notion about my own writing. I told my husband the other night that recently when I sit at my laptop, I have begun feeling not, as always, helpless before the grind of events, as my characters tell me what’s going to happen (or sit there and refuse to do anything), but more muhua-ha-ha-ha, more like the dictator of my own little empire, drunk with power over my little fictional people. Dance, puppets! You’ll do what I tell you to do! I am your creator! I am the WRITER!

It doesn’t mean I have an easier time cranking the words onto the page, but it does mean I am far more capable of thinking outside the box than I was. Just because I’ve never read a book where a character had X quality doesn’t mean I can’t create a character that does. Just because Y usually takes place in tandem with Z in many books I’ve read doesn’t mean I have to write the two together as well. I can do whatever I want. It’s all coming out of my own head.

This may seem obvious, but to me it wasn’t. I guess I believed that stories come from somewhere, some other dimension where they are fully formed by the fiction gods and transmitted here, and that they can’t really be written any way but the way they appear in my head (or Kevin Brockmeier’s head, or wherever). Having to invent plot for my Greenland novel when absolutely nothing was springing from my mind like Athena from Zeus has been an interesting lesson learned. I’m just…makin’ shit up. It can go this way, or maybe it can go another way; if I look back and see that it didn’t work, I can just write it over again a different way. It’s my book. I wrote it. I can change it to be whatever I want it to.

So. Fictator + Can’t read all of the innumerable books in the world = …I don’t have to be attached to anything I write. There are limitless metaphors out there, endless permutations of the two plots. No matter how fragile and spectacular a unit of writing seems to be, there is always a way to make it better (or to make it worse, for that matter). No sentence will be exactly like this sentence, true, but there are other sentences, other words, even made-up words and obsolete words. Maybe it won’t be perfect, but nothing ever is, and being attached to paragraphs I write will only hold me back from better paragraphs. Just like being intent on reading all six Dune books meant that I missed out on reading other books I might have liked better.

I feel about 80,000 times better, and far more energetic about writing in the future, after this epiphany.

And hey, if you thought this was interesting, you should read what I’ll have to say soon about how knitting test swatches is like rewriting. If you didn’t think this was interesting, go be your own fictator. It’s my blog.