What Girls has to say

I like what HBO’s “Girls” has to say. It has to say that at 23, all girls are lost, but all girls dress so cool and have such great potential for their personalities. This show is a little in your face, but so is 23.

TV shows are rarely about 23 year old girls. If 23 year old girls are in TV shows they are usually playing high school students. I grew up watching Friends and Sex in the City, where people are in their late twenties or their thirties, and they’re starting to figure things out. 23 is so messy.

(photo from imdb)

The four main characters of Girls – Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna – don’t really have their act together (though they live in cool apartments in Brooklyn). Hannah is a writer whose parents just decided to cut her off. She quits her year-long unpaid internship and is struggling to find a new job. Marnie works as an assistant at an art gallery and is having trouble with her boyfriend of four years. Jessa just stopped travelling and is now a nanny. Shoshanna is a high-strung student.

As any good story goes, the characters keep making poor choices that lead their act to fall even more apart. That’s not just a good story; that’s 23.

This show represents its age so well because most episodes are something like written, created, directed, executively produced by and starring Hannah, or Lena Dunham. The only thing Lena Dunham could do to make her show better represent 23 is not include all these labels, which estrange her 23-year old viewers who are not doing any of the above on any TV show.

“Girls” got me thinking that I am 23, and I am trying to write something that feels my age. What do we do when we graduate school? What if we don’t want a real job? What if we just want to be a writer?

Then I realized I made my character 29. At least it’s the age I’ll be when I finish it, because finishing it would mean getting my act together, and that doesn’t happen at 23. See? Lena Dunham is 26.

I Wear Many Hats

I wear the hat of a writer on weekday mornings,

The hat of a struggling writer on weekday afternoons.

I wear the hat of a “writer” when people ask me what I do for work,

The hat of a Writer to people who call themselves that too.

I wear the hat of a poet when I read writing I think is simple,

The hat of a novelist whenever I actually read a poem.

I wear the hat of a child when I talk to someone with a real job,

The hat of a creator when others say they had the same dream.

I wear a writing hat when I sit down to write,

It’s me, holding my head, putting it to work.

(photo from leofuchs.com)

10 Ways to Start a Book

1. Find a character that resembles you a little bit but doesn’t have your face. If your character has your face, it will be impossible to separate him or her from yourself. If it’s a different gender, okay, give it your face.

2. Put your character in between a rock and a hard place. See how film 127 Hours did this. (Actually, I looked up the Wikipedia page for this movie to see if it was first a book, and I discovered the book is called Between a Rock and a Hard Place).

(photo from safehaven.com)

3. Make sure the rock and the hard place are important to your character. If they are not, make up absurd reasons why they are important until one sticks. If we wrote out plot synopses for all the books we read, we would find them to be absurdly simple. It’s the things that go between the simple things that make a book complex and good.

4. Start writing some words; this is what your book is made of. Know you will throw out the first few (thousand) so just write them to have something to discard. It’s so professional to have paper everywhere. What is not professional is no paper anywhere, so fill paper.

5. Keep a notebook asking yourself rhetorical questions about your novel you may or may not succeed in answering while you sleep. If you are not very productive as you sleep, at least you are prompting your writing brain to try to fill in these answers as you write.

6. Tell everyone you’re writing a book. Like pretending you’re going to go for a run in the morning, having someone know you are attempting something makes you less likely to not do it.

7. Try to explain the plot synopsis to your friends and people you meet at parties until at least once it makes a little sense. Change the plot synopsis so it can make sense always.

8. Read books about writing whenever you feel discouraged. Think about how great your book on writing will be when you finally finish your novel and write a book about it. In the meantime, internalize other writers’ advice until it becomes your advice.

9. At least once a week tell someone you will not do something with them because you have to work. Make yourself and them feel really bad about it and like you are giving up on all your relationships and prior interests until this becomes a normal thing you do. You are a writer; you need time to write. Return to normal life once you have inserted writing into your daily routine.

10. Don’t reread your book until you finish. This is how I finished a (draft of a) book and was able to get anywhere with it. Don’t worry – you will not be content when you read again from the beginning. You might be at first, because you see the volume of your work all together at once, but let a few weeks go by and you will be propelled to work on this thing until it becomes readable. After all, you started writing it. Now you have to finish.

Not Winning Contests

It’s often okay not to win contests. I think it’s great.

Once, I didn’t get admitted to the Creative Writing major program at UBC. I imagined myself like Michael Jordan, who someone had to tell me didn’t make the first team he tried out for. Not winning things makes people work harder to win next time, to prove themselves. I thought: I will do this. Unfortunately, upon reading his Wikipedia page, Michael Jordan made the next team he tried out for because he both worked hard and grew four inches.

English: Former basketball player Michael Jordan
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m done growing physically, but my fingers are getting faster at typing and my heart is getting better at handling defeat. I have not won maybe four things now – that means I tried maybe four things now – and I am feeling the motivation.

I didn’t get onto the longlist for the CBC Non Fiction Prize. It was an understandably vast country that defeated me. Still.

I think of each non-win as a rung on a ladder. I step up every time I get some form of defeat or negative critique because these things make me work harder by rethinking things, by sobering my writing up.

Though I look to you like I’m falling, in the reality of my metaphorical ladder, I am climbing. There are only so many rungs to go until I’m so far ahead of the game I’m blowing you all out of the park. You being the whole country, the whole UBC Creative Writing program, and I think I once submitted something to The New Yorker, so the whole world too.

Reading to Write

It makes sense that to write well you have to read well. I read often; I don’t know that I read well. I read to get to the end of books, I read to flag good lines, I read to feel something, so I read fast and I read all-consumingly.

It has come to my attention that I am doing it wrong. I should read to understand my own writing.

As I write, the words and the sentences come to me quickly. The shape of the story doesn’t come as easily. I’ve spent over a year now with my story, but jaw-dropping things will happen frequently throughout my day; my book will call out for enormous, ground-breaking changes to which I will acquiesce with a simple, enlightened, “Oh.”

My book speaks to me in its voice, but not its plot structure. I’m not a chemist. I’m not a calculus major. I am a wordsmith; I smith words. I pile them and rearrange them like this will make a story. Then I try to vocalize the story’s main problem in words (and not written words), and all is lost.

Where is my plot? Can I find it in the books I am currently reading? Can Home by Toni Morrison, and The Outcast by Sadie Jones and Charming Billy by Alice McDermott tell me something about Jillian’s story? Or should I go back to Hemingway. Should I dissect books that have moved me?

I hate it, I hate the structure. But I know it makes the book. I know I read quickly, unstoppably, because I want to get to the end of the story, not the melody of the last line. But how do people do it, the story thing?

Learning Standard

As only a recent adult, I’m beginning to learn that once past growing-up, it’s hard to find things I don’t know how to do. If I don’t know how to build something or count something, I ask someone else to do it. That’s fair; we’re not all experts. We’ve even created the term ‘DIY’ for those people who do things themselves.

It’s not that I know how to do everything – in fact I know how to do so few things – it’s that as an adult I run from things I don’t know. As an adult, it’s okay to say “I never learned that,” like learning happens as a child and never after. How many people learn a new language once they’re an adult? How many change careers? How many learn how to drive? Maybe if they have to, people learn new things, but if it’s possible to stick with what we know, we sure do.

Yesterday I bought a car.

The salesman asked me if I was an automatic driver. I was embarrassed to say yes. Yes, of course I chose the easier way to learn how to drive. And of course I never learned the other way, because I didn’t have to.

Sometimes all we need is a large monetary difference between an automatic and a manual car to make us learn new things.

I was humbled to learn how to drive standard (and by all means, I haven’t yet learned it). It was maybe not since Math or Physics class that I’ve felt something was so impossible to do. I bought a car but I couldn’t drive it and I wouldn’t ever be able to. There are cars around me and I’m going to die. I stalled in the middle of an intersection four times.

But learning standard inspired me to go past what I know. Maybe I make goals to approach the things I don’t know most and learn them. Maybe I make myself take a step further into the unknown. Maybe I don’t write about what I know.

All us adults need to stop being so complacent. Try driving standard. It’s so scary.

Taking My Pants Off

I am just about ready to show my novel.

That’s all I want to do is to show it. Have people gasp and sigh over the width of the thing. Have them count the page numbers, rave over the perfect amount of dialogue lines I put in, my title.

I am mostly worried about spelling mistakes. I am sure that if someone finds one they will throw the book down in disgust and instantly discredit me.

I want to explain things, like when I watch a movie with someone and I’ve seen it and I know things.

Then again, I want to explain nothing and then give a quiz.

A small, squandered part of me thinks that maybe people will give me money, like I entered a contest and didn’t know it.

Another part thinks people will read a few pages then just leave it on their nightstand, or be reading something else right now and they’ve borrowed a lot of books from people already for the summer.

I’m scared that people will think it’s too much pressure and work to read my book.

Then I think, okay, it’s a book. I made this for you.