Veronique Darwin

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Do Not Feel Alone

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on August 18, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Do not feel alone when you write: remember that one day someone will read this, and will not see you lonely at your desk, your hair undone, the tissues piling up. Feel transformed by the words you write, as though they are sprouts or moulds living inside and feeding off you. Pretend you are surrounded by people watching you, waiting for the unique vocabulary and visual imagery pouring out of your finger pads. One day someone will read this and if they think it’s good they’ll want to be your friend. Do not feel alone alone when you write.

Do not ask yourself questions when you write: know that there is nothing more important than trusting instinct and believing that the word you chose out of nowhere is the very best word. Let the winds of poetry roll off your back and the craziness that possesses wolves at full moon time possess you too. Move forward, like a blind woman with a purpose that she has since forgotten. Trust that the answers will come to you as you reread the words you littered behind you. Do not ask yourself questions when you write.

Do not check Facebook when you write: guess that there is probably someone you know minimally in an incredible place you will never visit because you live your life inside your head. Miss a whole day of group wedding photos and baby videos; use that energy not wasted to write fictional versions of these things! Don’t answer a friend request because you are making friends in your stories, and you can make these friends do and say anything. Do not check Facebook when you write.

Do not read someone a passage: like when you recount a dream, you can be sure that this person will not think the passage is as great as you do. Spend time instead making the writing better, so that person will one day want to sit down and read what you’ve written as though you are a real writer whose book they were given to read for a school assignment. Write that person to whom you don’t want to read your passage into your passage in a venomous way, to supercharge your writing. Do not read someone a passage.

 

 

Do not do any of these things when you write, but do them all when you edit.

Feel alone! Let it seep into your psyche until you become a better writer for it, more cynical and isolated, the world your very specific oyster of which only you and the words that you strung together are trapped.

Ask yourself questions! Let the questions become answers become changes, big and small.

Check Facebook! Editing’s boring!

Read someone a passage! See where they wince and where they laugh; where their eyes light up and die down. Even ask them for a suggestion.

In my summer of play-acting again as a writer, I’ve noticed that sometimes I’m not a very good writer. In trying to identify what was going so wrong, I realized that I was acting as an editor while also trying to be a writer. To separate the two parts of my job into creating and cutting is a distinction that works for me in theory, but hey, if I want to check Facebook, that’s a good time to place my editor’s hat on, and if I want to write down whatever comes to my head, which I always do, I am free to call myself back to duty as a writer.

The whole thing is unworthy of categorization until I decide for myself that I need to be more productive and proficient at my job, at which point I might block out times for writing and times for editing, or choose to only edit on paper and only write on the computer. But as the laziness remains, I’m free to continue on this path of two-headed destruction, writing a sentence, rereading the sentence, hating and loving the sentence, changing the sentence, deleting the sentence, and somehow, at some point, my life becoming the sentence.

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Accidentally Writing Songs

In Inspiration, My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on May 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Writing songs is a very easy process if you don’t know what songs should sound like, which is where I feel I am at in my musical journey. I listen to songs, and I like them, but do I really know what a chord is? A key? I wrote a song a few weekends ago for a songwriting workshop I casually took, no big deal, and they asked me what artist I pictured would sing that song. I still don’t know. I can’t figure it out because the song doesn’t actually seem like a real song.

Wondering if a song I wrote is really a song is the same issue I ran into when I started writing short stories: does what I just did count? It wasn’t until a few stories in that I noticed that it did, not because I read a book about the short story structure or because I analyzed anything, but because I knew innately from reading them what a short story feels like. What I’d written felt like a story, and whether it stood up or not in terms of language and structure and characters didn’t matter. Having gone through the process of writing and enjoying writing a story was enough to let me sleep at night. Even if the feeling wasn’t there, I would probably still have slept at night, though.

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Isn’t that the first step, really, to writing a song? Making sure the song is a song? I don’t mean it needs to have a bridge, or rhyme, but just that it is musical in some way that is familiar, just that it has some sort of art to it. And I can’t expect it to be any good, but if it feels creative and expressive and I had fun and surprise doing it, then that is enough for me right now in my writing. I love writing a sentence in a story that I don’t recognize. And when I sing something and play on my ukulele a series of chords that goes with that thing I just sang, that feels insanely creative and out of the limits of what I thought I could do. So that is a song. That is creativity expressed in music.

When the songwriting class asked who it was that I pictured singing the song I’d written, I really wanted to say Taylor Swift. Or I kind of wanted to have written an indie ballad or one of those build-up songs that gets louder as it goes. But I hadn’t written anything like that. I’d written a hokey song about crabs. Then I wanted to tell the group that I pictured myself singing the song, but not in public, because this is the first song I’ve ever written, so no one – not any artist alive, even myself – should be forced to sing this song, not even in the recesses of my mind. Then I sang it to them, in public, and I realized that answer was okay. I couldn’t picture a musical artist singing it because it was very much my song, a song I needed to write and sing. And I wondered how that could possibly be, that I could have just written a song that felt like me. And though I don’t really know the answer, I’m going to keep asking it, and by doing so, I’m going to keep sleeping at night.

Finding Time from Time

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on February 23, 2016 at 10:03 pm

Whenever I have a day to myself I imagine the writing I will get done and the reading I will indulge in. But everyone knows that the busier person is more productive, that the vacuuming will only ever happen minutes before the guests arrive. We find time in the most unlikely of places, squeezing any last drops, draining it out of impossible taps. I’d like to propose an alternative. What if we found time in time itself?

A five minutes in front of the mirror, smiling at the face you once knew but have recently forgotten to take care of. A fire is made for watching, but when did I last sit, as my cat does, in front of it for hours? That moment where you’re leaving and remember you needed to put that thing away for the fifth day in a row but there’s no time now? There’s time in time. What if we made time for time.

I ask you to indulge me in a fantasy: an hour being 60 minutes, each of those minutes 50 seconds or more. What could you make of that, if you lived it?

I’m learning to play the ukulele. It’s been a while I’ve been learning, but not a while were you to tally up all the minutes of playing. I play ukulele the way I live: it’s a thing I’m constantly doing but not always actually doing. I joined an advanced class thinking that might kick me in the butt, in whatever way, and it has so far in several. Being inspired to practice more, I notice the blooming of time when I’m practicing, as though it’s just opened up and offered itself from itself. Where was that hour before? It just appeared, seemingly, out of every day life.

It helps to watch a cat live. There is no time. There is no apparent purpose. There isn’t, like, enormous heaps of joy either, but there is a life there. There is a life there worth considering.

Time with those I love feels precious. Why doesn’t time alone have that same quality? I cherish writing, reading and daydreaming as some of my favourite and most important things I believe I should be doing. So why do I do them so little? I think if we all put a bit more effort into stealing time away from itself, not into slowing it down but into expanding it, we’d notice the special effects of relativity: that the experience of time depends on the speed of the observer, and not the other way around.

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Accidentally Writing Poems

In Inspiration, Language, My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on January 31, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Never did I mean to write a poem. I didn’t like reading them for school and though I once wrote one based on a dream, I never thought I could really evaluate how good it was. It seemed perfect. I sent it off to The New Yorker. What makes a poem good is a question I never asked myself. Then I accidentally started writing them, and now the question hangs there, unanswerable.

Poems seem derived from their structure. A sonnet or a haiku only is one because of how many syllables and lines it has. That makes no sense to me. Isn’t poetry an art? How can it possibly be so different from other things, so boxy, so rigid? I took a whole poetry survey course at UBC where I (unadvisedly) read poems really fast, at my normal reading pace, then showed up to class expecting to participate in discussions. I never could and I never tried reading them differently. I never saw the point.

When I started having to teach poetry to my elementary school students, I asked them to start with free verse, because this was where you could play with words. I executively decided this to be the heart of poetry. We never moved on from that. Any other forms of poetry didn’t make sense enough for me to teach. Why on earth would one write a limerick? Is a child really expressing himself by writing an acrostic poem using adjectives that start with the letters of his name?

I know that stories and novels have structures. They have beginnings, middles and ends, characters and certain other tropes one usually has to adhere to or at least understand, but these seem so much more intuitive to me. I have actually been afraid to write a poem because it seems like an exercise in solving a puzzle, some precise and well-planned thing I would not be good at, like planning an event or buying the right items for a recipe.

The poems I started writing were, as I said, by accident. I was writing the first line of a story, and then I suddenly became looser (drunker?), more willing to follow the flow of my thoughts. I payed closer attention to the pattern in the language and the ideas I was playing with, and from there I built a structure within which I wrote a poem. It was not a structure I knew, but one I made up on the spot, to fit my ideas. A self-serving structure. And then I thought, oh! Oh! Maybe that’s poetry.

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Upon rereading the poem I wrote, though I still can’t judge it for what it is, I can see the ability to make it better. There is a possibility of digging deeper into the idea, because now I can identify it. There is a way of being more faithful to the structure, because it exists. There is the question of specificity, and rhythm, and feeling, and all that can be dealt with now that there is a poem in front of me, a life form waiting to be better moulded and presented to the world, though maybe not The New Yorker.

It occurs to me now that this is the only way I could have ever written poetry, by discovering what poetry is for myself. I find myself wanting to read poetry now (at least the first few lines of one), thinking of a person sitting there and sculpting a thing out of nothing. And I wonder, as I often do, why no one ever told me this. Why did no one ever run up to me and tell me to read Walden, to listen to Destroyer, to watch Noah Baumbach movies? Don’t people actively follow my interests, seeking to give me guidance? Actually, they don’t! So the discovery of Lorrie Moore, of e.e. cummings, of ukulele and trail running become all the greater when done independently. Hey! I like this. Now let me find out why.

Unsure How Much to Shovel

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on December 12, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I found myself today

a) shovelling

b) unsure how much exactly to shovel

Do you want to shovel just to get a packed surface so your boots aren’t sinking into deep snow? Or are you supposed to shovel down to the soil, the stair, the icy road? Then you get that brown mixing in with the snow and it doesn’t look so nice. Also, it involves a certain thoroughness I don’t want to do.

I’m afraid someone might come and see the outcome of my shovelling, I guess is what it comes down to. And I’m concerned that I might have misinterpreted what the point of shovelling is and be embarrassed by their reaction. So I just wanted to check.

Do we shovel to make things as they were, or do we shovel to make things a little bit better? Should I really try that hard when I’m shovelling, or should I satisfy myself with the fact that I shovelled at all?

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(photo from crossfitnickelcity.com) 

Of course, as we know from Sex and the City, this is about more than shovelling. When I read a book, should I read it to the end? When I watch TV, should I put down the other thing I’m doing? When I heat up last night’s dinner, do I really need to wait until all of it is completely hot? Life is a spectrum, and I would like it sometimes if someone told me where I am supposed be on it.

I know someone who cries multiple times in conversations, because of passion. Am I supposed to be there? Am I supposed to know everything about a thing I am teaching before I start teaching it? What about writing, how deep to go with each line, how far to take a story before letting it go? I think we all want to be good at shovelling, but I don’t know whose standards it is that we are supposed it to meet.

I went inside halfway through shovelling the path to the back lane because I realized I’m not actually going to use that path today. I just dropped the shovel and turned around and went inside. I figure it isn’t what I would like from a mortgage broker, or a surgeon, but it’s an okay thing to set idiosyncratic standards as a writer, as a teacher. Because a lot of the time it’s me making up where the ground is, the icy street or the stairs, and I have to decide if I’m willing to get there or not, or if for today, and maybe forever, we don’t need to even make that path to the back lane! Let’s just not walk there!

Places to Write

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on December 1, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Outside, when windy. Everything gives up and blows away.

A big desk, for people with job-jobs. Leave your work scattered, like you must return soon.

Frozen nights, paper lit by fire.

Alone, with only ghosts watching you.

In public, naked.

At a coffee shop, a hot chocolate on your face and on your paper, a good song in your ear.

Under a table, writing about people’s shoes and deepest secrets.

Wherever you please, at certain key hours.

Whenever you please, on your favourite chair.

In Mondays and on December.

From your head, the tip of your pen, the nubs of your fingers, the first of your thoughts.

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Here! Now!

Tomorrow. Yesterday.

The cabin in the woods or the train in Europe or the garret in Paris or the classroom in college.

In your heart or your lover’s heart or your mother’s heart.

Inside of your head but never on paper.

In a Moleskine notebook your ex-boyfriend bought you at graduation but you never opened because you stopped talking and was he judging you, by buying you only a notebook when he should have really bought you a necklace, something beautiful, something lasting?

Inside a memory, a hard drive.

Or maybe

it’s less about

where you write,

and more about where you leave it

once you do it.

Is It Because

In Inspiration, My Writing on August 25, 2015 at 9:46 pm

When I’m not writing, is it because I have nothing to say? But I speak at all hours of the day, to whoever will listen. I speak in full phrases in my head. I interrupt myself and continue the conversation you are having over there with someone who isn’t answering fast enough. I’m not writing because I have nothing to say.

When I’m not writing, is it because I’ve lost my nerve? But I step out of the door every day, sometimes to terrifying places. I try new things, I cook food, I carry heavy boxes over very tiny toes. I’m not writing because I’ve lost my nerve.

When I’m not writing, is it because I’ve become bored with my work, with my mind? Maybe I’m just letting my work go off and do its own thing, go on vacation, because I honestly haven’t thought about it for weeks. Maybe it’s bored with me.

When I’m not writing, I’m rearranging bookshelves and getting tingly excited by literary things in a way that I don’t when I’m trying to accomplish them. When I’m not writing, maybe I’m becoming reinvigorated and reseduced by writing.

When I’m not writing, is it because I’ve decided writing isn’t important anymore? I don’t think so, because I’m always so frustrated that I’m not writing and saying things to myself like What does my life even mean anymore?

But I don’t have that edge when I’m not writing, that edge like I’m going to fall off the edge of the world at any moment to go write down the world. I love that nervous energy at dinner parties after even half a glass of wine when I think of all the characters I know and can’t wait to get back to.

When I was little, I would be out for forest walks and just want to go home and draw a picture of people lined up in rows. That is a very vivid memory for me, of every time I was out on a forest walk, returning home and drawing an image that was maybe at first supposed to be the beauty of the forest or something but would just end up being cartoon people standing in rows, each with different hair, a different facial expression, funny looking feet.

Is it because I’m not writing that I’m not writing? Yes! That’s it!

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Nuggets

In Inspiration on July 10, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Nuggets – things I grew up thinking were chunks of chickens, not chunks of gold – are where I get my ideas. Writers say they get their ideas from the world around them, from other books, or from research. Okay. But aren’t you mainly just inspired by a nugget? A truth, often simple, generally arrived at on the toilet or in the shower, and in popular culture featured on Twitter. Nuggets! I get my ideas from writing down nuggets, and then trying to recreate the bird.

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Oh, what fun writing can be if you only draw one eye and have to uncover the rest of the decomposing body. What a joy it can be when you realize that you don’t have all the pieces, and the reader won’t either, and that this arm and this leg and part of this torso are all your story needs. It’s a way of discovering the ending too: what is left to tell? What should be left untold?

I tried writing a fantasy story today. It may have worked. Fantasy feels like history, as though you need a keen sense of what has come before and what rules are required of you before you begin. But today I let myself go (which is really my only mode of writing, a loose, lazy letting go of self never really followed by a catch). And out came this spool of a story that had wings, and monsters, but was still a peephole into our own world, which I think all good fantasy must be.

I know fantasy through Neil Gaiman and children’s literature. What I know from reading these books is that a world needs to be clear to the writer, and the boundaries and parameters of that world need to be divulged to the reader as soon as possible. But I also know that with a new world comes new discoveries, and unexpected surprises, and it seems that the beauty in writing this kind of fiction would be in seeing those nuggets you’ve created grow into something you’ve never heard of before but have, unwittingly, invented.

I wonder how far the story I started today will take me, how long I’ll write this blog for, or what one day I’ll think of when I hear the word nugget, but what I know is without these suggestions at truth there is no story at all. I also know that when I read a story I can find the nugget, and it gives me almost the same passion as the writer had to dig deeper, to know more. I’m reading Kafka on the Shore. 15 school children fell down all at once, hypnotized. I just finished The World Before Us. Ghosts follow one person around, trying to find out who they are. Think of Karl Ove: what if I wrote a truthful, detailed account of all of me? Nuggets: they are what stories are made from and why they are alive.

Simply Curving

In Inspiration on February 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm

I just watched a movie called A Simple Curve, a terrific Canadian film based in New Denver, British Columbia. It’s the story of a twenty-seven year old wondering whether he really belongs in the place where he grew up. I can relate to the story: twenty-five, trying to find a belonging place,  seeing if the one I come from will do.

I submitted a scene outline to my writing group last week. It was one of those things that I wasn’t sure I really did, pressed send on an email that contained the scene outline of my novel. I woke up the next morning feeling like something had shifted (my first kiss? did I really land in Paris?).  I bared some soul that day last week when I sent out a scene outline of my first novel. I exposed the inner workings of the fears I am experiencing, fears I’ve loosely tied up into a plot outline. What hidden secrets are exposed in those lines? What Freudian themes do you see in the dreams I’ve told you?

But when I met with my writing group it became clear I hadn’t shown them anything. The resounding question from the members of my writing group were this one: what is it your character wants? She needs some motivation! And though I tried to answer under my breath (as though it was just a line I had left out), I found I couldn’t. My character, I wanted to say, is me. What she wants is obvious, isn’t it?

But I wrapped the motive of my character all up in a life-dream, in the idea that there is something special out there waiting for her, and that she needs to discover it. But is that a motivation, a concrete thing she can achieve at the end so the reader can put down the book? A life-dream is not the respect of her family, it’s not the love of her boyfriend, it’s not the security and fulfillment of a well-paying, meaningful job. My character wants a life-dream and I can’t even define that to you!

I’ve been writing a novel over and over again for the past three years , and only two months ago did I decide to sit down and write a plot outline. That’s what my mid-twenties seem to be (your mid-twenties seem to be, our mid-twenties we are told are supposed to be): a series of repeated mistakes, a learning curve that rather than arcing like a rainbow, falls off at places as we give up on things we tried and realized weren’t us. I’m happy I’m not giving up on this novel, that I’m not giving up on writing. Though I’m taking sojourns away from it, into the land of the real world, I’m always curving back, trying to straighten my life out into a straight line I know it’s not supposed to be.

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(from beloblog.com)

A Life-Dream

In Inspiration, My Writing on December 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I realized tonight what my narrator was missing. She was always conflicted, always in trouble, I was just never sure her problem was enough of a thing I could describe to you if you asked me. But then it hit me how to make it tangible, somehow, even through all the vagueness that exists from being in your twenties, in the beginning of a life and not sure how to spend it. The concrete problem is that Jillian once had a very real life-dream, and then over the years she stopped dreaming. Even if she doesn’t quite realize it now (which she’ll have to, because she’s in a novel), her very real problem is that she is now in a big way giving  up on her life-dream.

The appearance of the opposite of the dream, the “life” part, makes her realize the gravity of what she is giving up on. It propels her to look into the mystery that so obsessed her ten years ago. From that comes a reawakening of all the old issues that accompanied her first escape. This time, however, she is set on carrying it though.

From over the past hour, I’ve recognized a more true form and spirit to my novel than I’ve seen yet. Maybe it’s me that’s changed, or maybe my narrator rolled over while I let her lie dormant and did some work for once. With a loose paint stroke, she set an idea in my mind that has since led me on a roll toward reformulating my own life-dream that has as a large part of it writing this novel.

088-walden-pond-2(image from waldenpondstatereservation.wordpress.com)

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