Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Purgatory of Perfection

I have been stuck in the purgatory of perfection for a long time now.  Have you been there?  Do you know that place?  It is that horrible space in both time and mind where I sit and stare at my work accomplishing nothing.  "This isn't the right word."  "That idea isn't working out the way I planned."  "I don't think this character is believable."  So what do I do?  NOTHING!  I become so distraught with the simple setbacks that I determine this is an impossible task, an unattainable goal.  

This is not writer's block.  Characters are still alive and whispering to me.  Stories continues to unfold in the back of my mind. It is the requirement of perfection that causes the stalemate.  The need for every word to be exact, each sentence to be succinct, every action to lead to the inevitable outcome without room for error.  

And so I sit....and stare....and sulk.... and then quit.  I refuse to think about these characters, their lives, the story I thought needed to be shared.  I ignore my laptop, read a half-dozen ridiculous novels, make vegetable soup, take naps.  This time around I even taught myself how to bake bread.  Four loaves of wheat bread, two loaves of apple bread, and one incredible loaf of potato bread.  This is what it takes for me to be reminded that perfection is the product of practice and patience.  

The words will pour out, but will need to be "kneaded" until they coalesce into a workable form.  What once appeared to be purgatory is really just the "proofing" stage; the period where those words and ideas need to be left alone to grow and expand.  Then once again, it is important to deflate the product (including my ego) and begin molding it into a final form.  Working with the bread taught me that you can start with a proven recipe and follow all the directions, but in the end the perfection of the final product depends on steps far more obscure: the subtleties of measurement, lightness of touch, and most importantly ~ patience with the process.  

Purgatory if not about the attainability of perfection.  It is about the patience required to reach perfection. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Picture Costs a Thousand Words

alternative title:  The Internet is Evil Incarnate

My daily writing schedule requires me to write 1,000 words - be they free writing, plot details, character traits and flaws, or actual text.  Like many other writers, I get stuck occasionally and need to take a break.  Sometimes I play a game of hearts on my NOOK.  Maybe I'll do some menial household chores that must be accomplished - wash the sheets, scrub the dog prints off the kitchen floor, dust the individual slats of the horizontal blinds.  Okay that last one is completely fictitious; I have never gone that far in the quest to overcome writer's block.  

More often than not, I'll use the internet as a way to take a break from writing.  I always start out with the best of intentions.  

     I'll just check my email.
     Let me see if I have any messages on Facebook.
     Maybe I can just read a few entries on the Charley Project.  
     I really need to do a little research on ___________ before I can write about it.  

It is this last one that ended up sending me down the road of distraction  yesterday.  I wanted a picture of a dog.  There is a wonderful dog in the family I am writing about and she happens to be a bulldog.  I wanted to sift through the images google produced to see if I could find a picture that resembled the one in my mind.  I like having these little visual prompts to draw on when I write.  

I spent three hours looking at pictures of bulldogs, reading about their habits, searching for great names, surfing bulletin boards set up by bulldog breeders, owners, enthusiasts, and of course another hour on Facebook (just because).  Before I knew it my writing time was over and the more responsible part of my day was upon me.  But I found her. 

Introducing Ella.

She's wrinkly.

She's droopy.

She's splotchy.


and she only cost me.......

A Thousand Words. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Literary Goddess" Status Denied

I was a high school Junior when I took his Creative Writing course.  I had self-confidence, a great imagination, and a desire to please.  My writing skills were stronger than those of his other students.  I had already been assured of this by my previous instructor.  I didn't groan when he assigned 1,000 words on the importance of adjectives.  I jumped at the challenge of finding 50 words to describe ice.  Five page papers were like junk food to me - sought after and savored.  

I was a high school Junior when he threw my paper towards me in front of the rest of the class and announced "you aren't the literary goddess you think you are" for everyone to hear.  My self-confidence faded, my imagination revolved around revenge, and I quit trying to please him - or myself.  Those skills that had once tempted my pen became utilized only for academic work.  I toiled with determination to explain the effect that research participant self-selection has on data interpretation.  I worked for months trying to capture the different impacts that race and gender had when expressing sexual orientation.  Term papers, outlines, article reviews, and theory exercises were like basic nutrition - required to grow a healthy mind.

Today I am no longer a Junior in high school.  College is behind me.  Years spent explaining math to young minds is a recent memory.  I have improved self-confidence, a mind that can image a better future, and a desire to please myself.  Those writing skills have been dusted off.  Friends assure me that I am ready.  I eagerly anticipate the challenge of translating character qualities into actions.  I am enthused about the prospect of pushing these characters to their emotional limits.  This novel is like the perfect dessert - prepared, anticipated, and devoured.  

I was not a "Literary Goddess."  

The thing is - I never thought I was. 

I wanted to be.  Writing was my aspiration, my passion. 

THEN:  His horrible words, that hateful comment, served to dissuade me from writing.

NOW:  His ill-conceived criticism, his thoughtless comment, serve as a reminder.  

The first step in earning  the status of "Literary Goddess?"

 JUST WRITE........