Monthly Archives: September 2012

Busy Bee: Buzzing or Making Honey?

Writing about my writing is interfering with my writing. For that matter, I’m using writing to procrastinate from my writing. All this writing is really getting in the way of my writing.

Is this a case of having too many irons in the fire?

Or am I just buzzing loudly to cover up the fact I’m not actually producing anything (honey…yumm)?

Hard at work
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I’ve got reasons aplenty to call myself a busy bee lately. In the world of writing, I have two big ongoing projects of my own. I’ve had them for a while… that is, I conceived of them a while ago, and I’ve been using my deadlines like a slide, fun to visit and scoot down every so often. One of them is a fiction project. We’ve had quite the frenemy relationship. It started with love. We hung out together all the time. There was no other story I would rather have gotten to know. We shared secrets, hopes, dreams. Then things changed. The fiction did. Or maybe it was me. We didn’t know if we wanted to hang out together anymore. We didn’t recognize what the other had become. The atmosphere between us was tense, prickly. We didn’t know what to expect from the other. Now we periodically meet for coffee, but I never know in advance if the conversation is going to be civil. It’s hard to say what lies in the future.

The other is a memoir project that may also be a series of personal essays or creative nonfiction (it’s taking notes from the fiction project, which started as a novel idea, was reincarnated in the short story universe, and has been flirting with novella status since). I have great plans for that one. I’ve got the beginnings of some great material — provided (ironically, as we shall see) by my writing practice and some journal entries. Those plans include an outline (this is if it wants to be a memoir). That’s a good, concrete goal for a writer to have. Easy to measure success there. I’m sure I put it on the calendar no later than June.

I don’t have an outline yet.

In addition to the big projects, I’ve been keeping loose and limber by working on my journal and my writing practice. But last week I noticed something funny about those latter two items.

I was doing writing exercises to keep myself from having to buckle down and actually work on project A (the fiction project). This was actually inconvenient because there was a REAL deadline looming for that one: a competition submission deadline that I used as a motivator and benchmark. Apparently, it wasn’t motivating enough. Or, and this is more likely, I permitted myself to fail.

As for project B, the wannabe memoir, I found a new writing book about memoir and creative nonfiction at the bookstore, which I’ve allowed to lead me astray. How convenient that project B is a memoir project, possibly creative nonfiction! And how convenient that I can now read about memoir, rather than actually write one. It’s so informative!

This malarky has been going on for longer than the past week, but I only recently appreciated the humor in the situation.

The good stuff
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It’s tantamount to refusing to do my English homework because I’m too busy doing my math homework. Pffft! the fifth-grader in me says. I’m doing homework — you can’t accuse me of procrastinating! I’m getting stuff done over here! I can cross things off my list!

Problem is, it’s not the really important stuff.

I’m not making any honey, and that’s sad. I’m doing a lot of buzzing, and sometimes it’s hard to hear myself think above the drone.

I’ve got to be careful. There’s a difference between buzzing and honey.

Which is all to say, it should be clear by now that I’m using my writing to procrastinate from doing my writing, and the writing is really getting in the way of getting any writing done.

Speaking the language

Writing is like learning a foreign language: you have to practice to become fluent.

People think that learning a language is about vocabulary. Or that it’s about grammar, or having the correct/native accent. These are all desirable, but not the most crucial thing.

We’ve got to actually speak it.

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It sounds overly simplistic, I know. How do you learn a language? You speak it! But it’s true. Ask anyone who has ever tried to learn another language–I’m not talking about folks who have grown up multi-lingual, which is a different experience–and they can assure you that reading grammar rules are of limited usefulness in actual human interaction.

It’s hard, too. We’re stuck speaking it before we’re any good at it. Especially in the beginning, we work arduously to put sentences together that bear almost no relationship to a grammatical construct, and may make absolutely no sense when taken literally. The other difficulty is that we have to learn what other people are saying to us! It doesn’t help to be able to ask for directions and then not understand the answer (I should know; this is my experience with French).

Writing is like that, I think. We start writing before we know whether we’re any good. We don’t have the vocabulary. We haven’t mastered the grammar. Our accent and style fluctuate and often resemble nothing like what we are trying to emulate.

Sometimes this is really nasty. We may know how bad we are, or we may believe that we’re terrible; either way, we’re prone to a serious attack of writer’s block, and I have suffered from both causes.

Then, we’ve got to engage in dialogue. We have to find other people to look at what we’ve written and tell us about it. It’s the only way to get better. Writing without readers is like talking to ourselves. It gets boring, and it makes us look crazy. But people often (usually?) read our stuff while it’s imperfect, frequently a draft. Egad! Does it make any sense?!

This is why I’ve begun to love writing exercises. Or writing practice, if you prefer the yoga approach.

I try to write every day. Sometimes this takes the form of a journal entry. Sometimes it’s just me whining to myself about my life. Sometimes it’s a thought that caught my fancy, and I’m not sure where it goes; or a beautiful-sounding phrase; or new knowledge I’ve come across; or a book that I’m currently reading that really, REALLY wants feedback. (It does!) Sometimes I go for structure, and pick an exercise I’ve found in a writing book, and write for twenty minutes. Most of what comes out is free association.

A lot of the time, I don’t feel inspired while this is going on. I feel like my prose is clumsy. I’ve re-read passages later that I was actually proud of at the time of composition, and wondered whether I was lucid while writing. Egad! It doesn’t make sense.

But here’s the thing. No matter how reluctant I might be to actually pick up my pen (I do these the old-fashioned way), by the time I’m finished, I’m in great form, and usually have stirred up at least another half a dozen ideas that I want to continue writing about. In fact, I WANT to continue writing! Something, anything–sometimes even the very thing I’ve been free associating about.

Writing exercises loosen my tongue–so to speak.

Writing begets writing. It’s easier to do once we’ve already been doing it–just like speaking a foreign language is easier to do once we’ve been talking for a while.

I speak to practice being a better speaker.

I write to practice being a better writer.

It’s the only way to become fluent.