The Process: New Plots


I’m stalling.

See, I have three good pages. Three engaging pages of prologue that set up a really fun soon to be book. I can feel it, in my periphery as I type.  I’m tweaking my voice, and I like where it’s going.

Except I don’t know where it’s going, really. I have three good pages all done, and snippets of future chapters written and stored for later. But I don’t know what the story is yet. Is it going to be dystopian? Heroic? Is my protagonist secretly immoral? She’s definitely got that edge about her, in the five thousand words I have so far.

I spoke to my new writing buddy Christian, and he showed me a printout he had just done containing dozens of questions to ask a protagonist. He said that asking all the questions ahead of time, or asking a different question each time you sit down to write, might help give a better idea of what the character wants to do when presented with the scene you set. That may be true, but right now my difficulty is not with my new leading lady, nor her script. My issue is with the scenery – the flats haven’t been spiked. The curtains are flying incorrectly. I’m not even sure if there’s supposed to be a table when the show opens or not.

(I’m mixing my metaphors now.)

Times like these, I usually turn to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book I feel every writer should own and read on a regular basis. Except I didn’t bring a copy with me to Japan, and while I remember most of the book, I don’t remember her exact advice for not rushing a character or a story. The only passage that is currently lodged in my memory is her analogy that finishing a story is like putting an octopus to bed. Except I haven’t even thought of my conclusion, because I’m stuck two-thirds of the way into the prologue. No, not stuck. This isn’t writer’s block. This is…forgery and spell craft. I’m trying to decide what something will be before I’ve actually formed it in my mind.

I find that freethinking exercises work best at the beginning. I give myself permission to write down every idea that pops into my head, without judgment or editing. Then I look over what I’ve done in, say, ten minutes and see if I’ve managed to come up with any interesting ideas.  It’s a good way to declutter your creative space, as well as find any new leads you might have overlooked. The trickiest part is the permission – your inner editor (if it’s anything like mine) will have an opinion on everything you come up with.

Me: hmm…space pirates?
Inner Editor: That’s stupid. Don’t write that.
Me: I feel pretty strongly about this space pirate idea.
Inner Editor: Like you did about your failed pirate book back in college?
Me: Here’s a glass of mental bourbon. Relax for ten minutes, and drink the mental bourbon while I do this. Then you can tear it apart and remind me of my pile of rejection letters. Deal?
Inner Editor: Deal!
Escapism: Did someone say bourbon?
Me/Inner Editor: NO.

I know that I have to write out something for this prologue to continue. I have three ideas for where I could go, but no idea where each path ultimately leads.


Like I said, this post is pure stalling. I guess I’ll stop now, and get back to writing.

Process: The Halloween Poem


Every year I write a Halloween poem – most of the time I try to write a funny poem. When I was in college, I even wrote some performance Halloween poetry (which wasn’t that bad – I should try to find where I stored those).

Anyway, when I was working on this year’s poem, I got into a good rhyming flow, right up until this point:

I waited there so patiently
Out on the grassy hill
But not a soul came near to me
The air was light and still

So far, so good, even if I wasn’t a fan of the fourth line. I had a plan for where I thought this poem was going. It was going to tie into my being abroad. The original title for this poem was “Indifferent Spirits,” because I felt a real disconnect on Halloween. Normally I’m good at finding a spiritual connection on All Hallow’s Eve, but not tonight.  This poem was originally going to involve a bunch of ghosts wandering by, speaking Japanese and wondering what I kept talking to them in English.

The rhyme suggested a different path, and because I didn’t plot out this particular poem I followed. When it turned out the narrator was dead already (what a twist!) I realized that I had wanted to tell a very different story than a funny miscommunication piece.

The last line was a tough one, because my brain really wanted me to end on a scary note, not a funny one. The last four lines were to culminate in something like “There is no pleasure greater than/ a death on Halloween.” I thought this entirely too dark for my desire. While I wasn’t going to change the angle of the poem, I also didn’t want to end it on such a strong, morbid note. Better to go with the angle of time and Halloween, since I think that is what resonates more with a soul than the idea of accumulating more souls.

My brain was upset at this, because it was a really good rhyming couplet. But first thoughts are not always the best thoughts. I try to limit editing when doing a flow poem, but I think the writer has the ultimate authority to step in when tone takes a sharp left turn. Especially when its within his or her own voice.



The Process: A Twitch of the Lips


A Twitch of the Lips

I find writing poetry about my physicality to be daunting when I’m not making light of something dumb that I did. For example, “Omnipresent Inseam” is about a time when I split my pants because I was dancing too euphorically. I was watching Daredevil recently, and there’s a scene where Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdoch (aka Daredevil), and Rosario Dawson’s Claire the nurse share a kiss. It was not a big deal in the context of the episode, but for whatever reason my lips started pulsing. It caught me by surprise, since I was not watching Daredevil for the romance.

I wish I had a more confident voice when talking about desire. My tendency is to brush off the emotion, or make light of it(the same I would do for a goofy pratfall, since desire can make fools of us all). Plus, I don’t like admitting when I feel sad or lonely. Writing about unrequited emotions walks the finest line of melodrama of any type of poetry, I think. I try to find a way to admit that I have a more melodramatic emotion without actually admitting I feel that way, and my poetry comes out, as you might expect, conflicted and vague.

Take, for example, the first draft of “A Twitch of the Lips,” the poem I wrote shortly after the incident above:

It’s surprising – the little things that wake us up.
I’m not struck by the injustice,
The moral quandary of how to perform good acts in a bad system.
Nor am I staying up reflecting on brutality
Shot through excellent choreography.
All I can think of is that I haven’t been kissed in a year,
And Rosario Dawson isn’t making my life easier.
The little things that wake us up
To realities we had the good sense to leave unacknowledged.
A twitch in the lips, a sudden pulse of blood,
And all the realities solidify into empty spaces around me.

See, I’m trying to find the humor. I’m also trying to be pragmatic – look at the chronological, literal listing of what I’m doing. At the time, as I realized what I was feeling, I shook my fist to the sky and growled, “Damn you, Rosario Dawsooooooon!” As though Ms. Dawson was to be blamed for being beautiful while my couch mates were a dog and a cat. Then there is a real sharp downer of an ending. This is also accurate. I can see the humor of my physical response, but that does not really correct for the feeling itself. Feelings don’t go away because we identify them or analyze them. We must confront them. Writing is a means of that.

So, how to combine the sadness of feeling lonely, the humor at being drawn into a tv show, and a physical reaction of unrequited desire?

The answer, as always, is rewrites and edits.

Three days I sort of picked apart what I’d written, kept words that worked. I tried to be more symbolic (bodies creating problems minds had not thought to address). I toyed around with being more direct – but it came off as stilted. Self-realization worked a little better. I thought about a start with questions as though I had surprised myself:

Has it been so long?
In that short scene I feel a definite twitch in my lips
Am I that parched?

I really wanted to use the adjective “parched” for a space – it seemed to hit on the right idea. But I though too much doubt would make the disconnect between body and mind sound weird.

Then finally, I hit upon a style that I tolerated in a voice that was more honest and compassionate. I kept my lines shorter, and my thoughts clearer. I’m not going to lie – most of my poetry I do in a single session, or perhaps a session and an edit to clear up punctuation or a word I stopped liking. I don’t dedicate time to refining my poetry, and maybe I should. This need to be correct on a subject I usually avoid brought out some good tools I had not used since college.

Editing, rewriting, being honest – these are not always easy. Sure, when I’m making up poems about ducks and rhyming about time, it flows like rain down windows. Anger also comes easily to me – which is why I try not to write really angry poems (anger is another emotion that can veer quickly into self-pity/melodrama), because they get old-school vengeful fast. Maybe I was an Inquisition member in a past life? The more difficult emotions require patience – the more nuanced or conflicted, the more teasing is required to find the truth. Unless you don’t care – in which case, why did you write it down at all?

See what will most likely be the final form in the next post!

Also if you’re a fan of superhero television / drama / guys with nice mouths, go watch Daredevil 😉