On Writing

This is the latest Facebook status bar meme

Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence AS YOUR STATUS. AND POST these instructions in a comment to this status.
* Don’t dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST book.

One of the many blogger/writers I follow there wrote something to the effect that someday she hoped that her book would be flipped open to page 56 and quoted to great effect in someone’s status bar.

It got me thinking. How would the fifth sentence on page 56 of my novel read? Or my memoir? 

As it stands, page 56 of the memoir talks about my first brushes with dating after Will died and I haven’t written page 56 of Sundogged yet so there is nothing profound to share. I think we all want profound but unless we are members of the profoundly dead authors club, we fall disappointingly short.

So, I finished the Stephen King novel, On Writing, last night. A triumph for a number of reasons, the least of which is that this is the first book I have read in such a short span of time in nearly two years. My ability to read like a 14 year old bookworm was a sad casualty of widowhood that I would love to vanquish. I polished this novel off in just under four days. I actually read 60 to 70 pages in a sitting. I am quite proud.

And I learned a few things, one of which is that were I to take Mr. King’s advice as gospel, I should get back to my day job as quickly as the state of Texas will allow me next year. Fortunately for me however, I have read enough Stephen King to not be overly impressed by what he has to say about the craft and the requirements. I have loved a great many of his books (The Stand, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Firestarter), but I have found an equal number of them to be beyond boring (The Heart of Atlantis, Bag of Bones, Misery) or uneven (It, Deloris Claiborne). For all his success, he is just a guy who writes at the end of the day. His opinions are worth considering but shouldn’t be the last word on the subject of writing.

I liked his advice on reading as much as possible. I read newspapers and Oprah and the occasional non-fiction tome and many, many bedtime stories. But, rarely read fiction and I miss it. Not just the getting lost in the prose part, but wondering how the author did it. Created people and gave them things to do and say and places to go physically, mentally and emotionally. I miss being envious of a really great idea or turn of a phrase. So, I will be reading even if it takes me a month a book.

I also liked the idea of having a writing space, quirks and a set number of pages to complete everyday.

The advice he gave on putting a novel away for six weeks or so after finishing the first draft was good too. Distancing is a good idea after weeks or more of being caught up to the point of a fly in a web. He was also right about just writing and not worrying about whether it is perfect or even good. Just get the first draft down on paper. His ideas on taking up another project in the interim was quite a good idea too.

I like the idea of an Ideal Reader and his thoughts that often it is the person with whom we share our bed. Who after all is more likely to know our best work from our just getting by and will know us well enough to be truthful? He was correct when he suggested not asking for opinions until you are ready to really hear them.

I was surprised that I agreed with his ideas on writing groups and workshops. He felt they run contrary to the idea that writers should write. Reflect. Read and take notes and edit. Share with a select few or one (the IR). And then revise again, or not. Writing groups with the constant sharing and vague (or mean) critiquing is not helpful or really necessary.

In the end I am glad I read it though I will probably still do things my own way most of the time.

I got my first pair of skates the Christmas I was seven. It was exactly two weeks to the day I got my very first two wheeler, a Schwinn Stingray – green with a banana seat. When I think about it now, I was hitting developmental milestones right and left as this was shortly after I had started reading on my own and beginning to tell time with a fair amount of accuracy.

Christmas night my dad took me over to the public rink at Flora Park. Just water frozen hard over the parking lot for the swimming pool, but when I was a child it was always packed with skaters of all ages and abilities. There was an old barn that somehow managed to survive the residential explosion and became a quasi community center that doubled as a warming house during the winter as the park was also a favorite for sleigh-riding on the hills near-by. My dad’s skates were those ancient leathery looking things devoid of any ankle support with strings so old they were double-knotted in places where they’d broken but he hadn’t replaced them. The rink was crowded, despite it being Christmas and the parking lot lights illuminated the entire skating area. Rock music blared from speakers up on the warming house. Dad laced up my skates as I seat on the passenger side of the front seat with my long for a first graders’ legs hanging out and then leaned against the hood of the car to put on his own while I wobbled and watched. It was always fascinating to watch my father perform some new skill that still seemed exotically grown-up to me. Though I could tie my own shoes at seven, the thought of lacing up my own skates with the same speed and precision as my dad made the two tasks feel completely unrelated.

My father taught me to catch a baseball by tossing them at me until my glove and the ball accidently found each other. This meant that often the ball hit me. Hard. And even more often it sailed by me and I would have to chase it down and run back to my abandoned post in order to be close enough to throw it back to him. He taught my brother and sisters and I the rosary by death marching the entire family through it every night for the vast majority of our collective childhoods even before my youngest sibling was capable of recitation on the smaller scale of singing her ABC’s. My first and only bike riding lesson in the basement two weeks earlier and consisted of him standing by the stairs in our basement with me on the other end of the room and telling me what I should do before turning and walking back upstairs for a smoke, coffee and to finish the evening newspaper. It shouldn’t surprise anyone then, that when we got to the ice he gave me short verbal instructions and then took off into the crowds, circling around periodically to make sure I hadn’t broken anything. And I hadn’t. I didn’t. By the time we left that evening, I could skate. Badly. But I could do it.

We got Katy her first pair of skates well over a month ago, but today was the first Sunday we actually had time to get over to the free public skate at the ice arena near our home. She seems to have inherited my natural athletic ability and by the end of the hour was pushing herself along with what appeared to be a start of a decent form. Also like me, she is a bit impatient and as we neared the end of public skate she made a few attempts to go it alone. No stand and no hanging on to anyone’s hands.

My horoscope for today told me I need to learn to be more self-sufficient. When I was a little girl, I was out of necessity because that was the way my father, and my mother to a lessen extent, parented. I learned not to ask for or expect help and I carried that lesson with me for better, and sometimes not, until I met my first husband, Will. He was probably the first person I ever leaned on and that time didn’t last long. So, I was not really sure what my stars are trying to tell me until I read the last bit of Stephen King’s advice on writing the evening while Katy was taking her bath. King was expounding on writing groups and classes and work-shopping in general and he basically said that a writer has to write a piece, a novel or short story or whatever, alone. That too much input during the creative stages is a hinderance. And now I get what the universe wanted for me to learn today. I learned it long ago actually from my dad that Christmas night at the skating rink. I saw it in my daughter today.

I really enjoy the time I spend at writing groups. It’s energizing and fun, but I cannot share works in progress or even first drafts that haven’t been read by my IR (ideal reader aka my husband). A story isn’t about the “atta girl’s” or the neat feeling that comes with people telling you that you are a good writer. It’s about telling the story. Just like skating is about getting on the ice and falling down until you don’t anymore.