Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pushing On

I think life is like climbing a mountain that never relents. You keep thinking after you cross this ridge, that will be it, things will be easier. But it never happens. If anything, you cross a ridge and see clearly enough to realize it only gets steeper.

I suppose it’s not always a vertical climb. I seem to recall times where I’ve climbed steadily, barely even winded, enjoying the brisk mountain air and feeling an infusion of joy to the soul. Sometimes it tapers off into little mountain pastures, where you sit and rest a spell and check out the magnificent view below. Other times, however, it’s extraordinarily steep, and it’s all you can do to crawl, praying your muscles won’t give way lest you plummet to your death.

The “mountains” we deal with in writing come in several forms, I guess. Since I started with this whole novel-writing-thing several years ago, I’ve felt plenty of discouragement, for example, all kinds of voices (both external and internal) telling me it can’t be done, at least not by me, and am I wasting all my time on something that will never succeed? Etc, etc. But in all of that discouragement, I got through because I had plenty of something on the other side of the line, pushing me: motivation. I didn’t care if the mountain was impossible to climb, I was going to do it or die in the effort.

Suddenly, however, it’s the motivation I’m lacking, and that scares me more than anything. Now my thoughts are I don’t even want to write; why am I getting up at 4:30 a.m. to do something I have no desire to do? I think probably the root of the problem is that I have so many other things to worry about that I can’t believe I even care about making up stories. I almost wonder, even, if I lost perspective somewhere in all my determination.

It’s also hard, I’ve noticed, to come up with something creative when you feel empty inside. What’s the point? I wonder. Have I lost my purpose? Am I supposed to care this much about writing? What am I supposed to be doing? Who am I? I want to get in touch with that last bit—find that. Find meaning. I don’t want to be afraid, and I don’t want to fail.

This could be the thing that does me in—but still I resist, as far as I am able (okay, maybe I have occasionally slept in an extra hour). I just don’t have it in me to stop climbing the mountain. In anguish the other day I thought, What do I do if I can’t go on, if I collapse? And that’s when the image of crawling came into my mind. Sometimes it is all we can do.

My husband is reading a little book about the 23rd Psalm and he read part of it to me the other day. “The Lord is my Shepherd... He maketh me to lie down in greener pastures.” Maybe we have to trust in that when we don’t want to leave the pasture, so to speak, that we are already in. Maybe every ridge leads to a greener pasture before you must, of necessity, start climbing again.

I also just read a quote in Writer’s Digest that gave me the encouragement I needed to keep climbing. It said, “Whatever you choose to do, give it everything you have, no matter what. No effort is trivial if the effort is your all.”

Well, I don’t think I’ve given it my all yet, so I’m pushing on.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I’m An Impostor

Is it just me, or do we all go around pretending as if we know what we are doing?

I think it’s just me.

This question stems from the fact that I am presently having to face one of my greatest fears—to go back to work as a Registered Nurse.

I think the world is conspiring against me. I feel like a character in a book for whom things just keep going wrong and getting worse. I mean, doesn’t the world know who I am? Don’t they know that someone should have delicately suggested to me early on in nursing school that I might want to consider another profession, one that if you kill people off one by one it’s far more socially acceptable? Like being a writer, for example. (Note to self: Do not give future employer blog address)

I’ve been having nightmares of the sort where you go to work and realize you have forgotten your clothes. Nightmares where you wake up quite relieved that it didn’t really happen—it couldn't’ really happen. Not in real life, right?

Or could it? One time—in real life—I went to a fancy dinner and realized when I got there that I forgot to change out of my puffy slippers, causing me to wonder if I could accidentally show up in only a robe someday. Or worse.

In my latest nightmares, if I happen to find my way to the hospital, not only am I missing certain essential articles of clothing, but I can’t seem to find the floor I’m supposed to be working on. And if I do find the floor, I forget to check on certain patients for the entire day, and when I go to give report, someone comes and tells me they are dead. Nevermind that it was a postpartum floor. Or, in some dreams, I forget to show up to work for weeks when I suddenly remember I have a job—which is probably in the best interest of the people I’d have killed.

I think I might actually be from an alien world and I’ve been put here as an experiment—told I should try to blend in, act like all those human people.

But the truth is, I’m an impostor.

Postscript: Lest you think I’m completely incompetent (partly, yes, but not completely), I have actually worked over three years of my past life (pre-writing life) as a nurse and have not yet forgotten, or killed, anyone. Cross your fingers that my track record stays clean.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Love You Not

Confession: My fourth grade daughter is more talented than I am. I must say that while many of my confessions have a bit of a negative air—this one is decidedly positive. I couldn’t be more proud.

Her past work has included a Thanksgiving tale from the point of view of the turkey—an apparently undead turkey, who manages to get away—with very humorous results. She has written lyrics and music to songs, both serious and funny. Today for my blog, I thought I would share her latest work, a poem she wrote for Valentine’s Day. I find her sense of humor delightful. Frankly, I’m surprised her teacher didn’t insist on sending this to all the publishing houses—but maybe that’s just the mother speaking. Still, I say give her a few years and let’s see what she does. It’s called:

I Love You Not

I love you, I love you,

I love you, Old Man,

If I had a swatter

I would give you a wham!

If I were some peanut butter

I would make you feel sticky.

If I were a slug

I’d make you feel icky.

I love you, I love you

I love you so whiney.

If I had a turtle

I would make you feel slimy.

If I were a doctor

I would give you a shot.

If I were a mailman

I’d give you a lot.

(Shel Silverstein, watch out.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Does Structure Thwart Inspiration? Part 2

I recently read an article in Writer’s Digest that has been most helpful to me, called “Story Trumps Structure”. It expressed a liberating idea: We don’t need three acts like everyone says we do. Why not four? Or ten? Or as many as the story needs? If your story is boring because you’ve tried to force it into some mold it doesn’t want to go into, WD (specifically Steven James) says, ‘Why not shorten it? Or chop it up and include more acts [instead of the conventionally accepted three]? Why let the story suffer just so you can follow a formula?” This was the first time I considered that maybe the structure should serve the needs of the story rather than the other way around.

He gave an example of a friend who argued the necessity of the three acts, saying they form the skeleton of the story. He didn’t know how to respond until later that week when he went to an aquarium and saw an octopus. It gets along just fine without a skeleton, he realized. I loved his next words: “A storyteller’s goal is to give life to a story, not to stick in bones that aren’t necessary for that species.”

I like it when big ideas can be boiled down into a single, simple concept. For example, the whole of the gospel can be boiled down to love God and everybody else. In my pondering over this matter, I have decided that storytelling boils down to pretty much one thing: don’t be boring.

Follow inspiration. What is inspiration, after all? My definition, on the fly, is a creative sort of energy, mixed up with excitement and a sublime sense of possibility. I did look it up, however, and I like what it says best: “To be filled with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence”. When we are inspired, we engender the birth of an idea and feel a certain confirmation of its potential. Too much structure is you trying to change that, or at least filter it. Story is best discovered in letting it flow.

That said, you do need both. The trick, I think, is in the approach, in how to separate them and then put them together. I believe there’s no one right way to do it and no way to get around the fact that, regardless of your approach, it’s hard work.

“To the rationally minded the mental processes of the intuitive appear to work backwards.” —Frances Wickes