I have music playing when I’m writing in my office. It adds a little pleasure to the sometimes hard grind that writing can be. It also dampens some of the sounds coming from the rest of the house. But not totally. I can still hear the vacuum cleaner or Buster sniffing under the door, sighing, or making other doggie noises. Which lets me know he’s oh, so lonely and misses me oh, so much.
I usually work on my book or on revisions of other work in my office. However, if I’m beginning a blog or a short story, I often do it in the living room where I can be with the rest of the family.
You see, one of the tricks for keeping my writing fresh and spontaneous is to make the writing feel like play. This is hard for me to do if I get caught up in worrying about such things as being published, the rules of the craft, why I can’t write as well or as much as some other writer, whether I will be able to finish or start a story - those sorts of things. The office seems to be a place for doing serious writing.
However, writing in the living room, where other activities are going on, makes the writing seem less serious to me. For example, I’m forced, from time to time, to pull an old hockey glove or the bottom of one of Sue’s rubber crocs out of Buster’s well-armed yapper, which I then toss a few times until he gets tired of fetching it. Or Sue asks a question or needs help with something - those sorts of things. The hubbub makes my writing activity feel like an organic part of the whole domestic scene and not as if I’m doing micro surgery on words.
But even while I'm in there I try to keep it somewhat light. I say I try, not that I always succeed. In my case, the harder I try, the less I get done.
There’s a story about James Joyce. He was struggling with getting his daily quota of words down on the page. Later on he met with his friend, who asked him how his writing was going. I’m not sure of the exact number of words he mentioned, so forgive me if I’m not accurate, but he said something like, “I was only able to write ten words this morning.”
“Well there you go,” says his friend. “That’s ten more than you had before you started.”
James Joyce replied, “Yes, but I don’t know what order to put them in.”
Now that’s getting right down totally serious.
One fella I met in a gas station and who is from a fairly conservative church, told me my book would be more popular if I took the profanities out of it. Like maybe they could use the book as a Sunday School text.
However, I mentioned to another reader, who enjoyed my book, that some folks I knew were saying I had too many profanities in it.
"Oh $%^&*", she said, "that’s the way people talk.”
Anyway, I have tried to milksop my profanity down. Now, when I sit in my cloister writing my stories and one of my characters starts to swear too much, I stop writing and slam down the computer screen so as to give the offending character a time out. While he or she is cooling off, I go into the washroom, dig out some soap, go back to my tiny office, sign in again and then wash the heck out of the character’s tongue.
But seriously, there are just so many ways of approaching writing that it can be scarily daunting if you think about all the techniques and time and plot problems and what-nots that you’re going to have to deal with before you are finally finished.
However, if you stick to it, keep the playful feeling and have some talent then you are likely to find some degree of success.
A little over a week ago I was taking part in the launch of a new anthology of short stories, of which one was mine. The launch was being broadcast by CBC, so I was a little extra nervous when I read my story.
There was a microphone and a lectern and the host of the show told us to avoid dead space in our readings because it was being broadcast live.
I was the fifth reader. I thought I did a good job. I often don’t. I thought the folks there, about fifty of them, were enjoying the story and I thought that the general Cape Breton populace were out in their workshops, on their fishing boats, in their living rooms, their cars and trucks, all over the place listening to my story.
I don’t think they were. I think I was talking into a dead Mike. Mike did not exist. Mike was tits up, dead as a door knob, full of rigour mortis, gone, mort; Mike was shit out of luck.
However, if you'd like to know more about the book, check it out here:
Will life ever cease to be amazingly confusing and unpredictable?
“You have seen the house built, you have seen it adorned
By one who came in the night, it is now dedicated to God.
It is now a visible church, one more light set on a hill
In a world confused and dark and disturbed by portents of fear.
T.S.Eliot, The Rock
An example, maestro. A few weeks ago, just before we went back to Ontario to deal with the hard business that followed the passing of my mother, I was asked to participate in a story-telling event at the Sydney Library.
I entered the library with a fresh, right-out-of-the-oven story. Written in two days and was I proud of that!
Before we left for Sydney I had pulled out an old canvas book bag that a friend had rescued from the dump and given to me. I put my still hot story into the bag and off we drove to Sydney.
At the event, I found out I had to sit on a chair at the front, with two other story-tellers. That meant that the forty or so members of the audience would have a good look at us all. Could check out if my beard was evenly trimmed, my laces were tied asymmetrically, my hair was top notch... and on and on did my wee mind race.
However, I eventually got to read my story and it went over well. I can even say that I was pleased.
In the next days we rushed down to Ontario and then we rushed back. Once back home, I received an email from a friend. He wanted to read the story that I had written. Which got me thinking about the hard copy version.
So, still in my rushed state of mind, I went to my office and pulled out the book bag. It was then I remembered that this bag had a trick compartment. I’d found this out earlier. You see, the side pocket had no derriere. It was bottomless altogether.
I searched through the bag from bow to stern and finally had to assume that the story had escaped through the bottom and was now blowing around Sydney for all to see. So, I wrote the fella and told him my sad lost story story.
Well, after having a few days to settle my mind down, I was walking the dog. I got thinking about the story and the pieces of my stressed facts all began to re-organize themselves into the correct places.
I had taken my story in my canvas book bag. I had looked for my story in my computer bag. I went back to the house, looked in my canvas dump bag and there the story sat. Almost as fresh as the day it was born.
Stress can kill and it can also turn you into an idiot, in less time than it took for me to write this blog.