Veronique Darwin

Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Writing’ 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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Writing Through The Detail

In Language, Thoughts on Writing on June 22, 2016 at 9:38 pm

Not with the detail, or by the detail, but through the detail, as though the detail is the target and the tree on which it stands the thing you are describing.

Don’t write about her honey hair or the way the sunlight hit it. Write instead the ant who climbed up the yolk, the scarecrow wig. That way they’ll see the woman standing there in the fading summer light.

Don’t write about the boy who held his hands to the waist of his pants, about his pee dance — don’t even describe the shuffling feet! Write instead the sounds of compression you hear reverberating in the back of his larynx, the uneasiness of the couch cushion under his bottom.

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Don’t even let them know what you’re describing! Just do the detail thing and they’ll see and hear the world that, even though you haven’t lived in, you’ve made up with words, which is better. You’re passing on that world to them, so you better do it in juicy words and turns of phrases that will make it worth their money. Why say someone is dancing when you can describe the way they move the air? Why tell the reader that someone is talking if you can move their mouth and make the sounds? It’s through detail that you realize that you are the boss of a world and the detail your servant.

Write as though no one is watching, and then make them watch. Make them live through every little gasp or sigh or release of breath, but don’t use those words. Be like Karl Ove, who can make you do dishes for dozens of pages without realizing you are learning nothing, that you hate doing dishes, because you’re so present in the moment that doing dishes is simply what you have to do, as a part of this new life you’ve found yourself in inside of a book.

I’m trying to revisit my novel but it is so painful to see someone who was trying to tell a story. Just give up on the story and realize that life wouldn’t exist if you didn’t take a shit every morning, and that even though high literary art is not there yet, it’s on its way.

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.

cake topper

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.

My Nightmares

In Dreams, Thoughts on Writing on April 6, 2016 at 9:20 pm

I am in a house and someone is trying to get into the house. I am in a house and someone is also in the house and I must sneak out of the house. I am in a house and someone is outside so I need to hide under window frames.

What is with this house business? My dream dictionary, which I opened, says that the house is me. New nightmares:

I am in me and someone is trying to get into me too. I am in me and someone is also in me and I must sneak out of me. I am in me and someone is outside of me and I need to hide under window frames?

I don’t know. The other day someone gave me an apple in a dream and I just thought: That is a thing. Dreams are a thing and I can’t wait to go to sleep at night because I love their entertainment value. But sometimes I wonder about their intentions.

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(photo https://www.pinterest.com/charisbranson/scary-houses/…does not appear in my dreams because I am always inside my house)

Are dreams meant to get me thinking about unresolved issues? Or (as I would like to think) are they maybe meant to resolve them? Because I’m spending lots of my own time in my own consciously-controlled life thinking through issues, so I’d like a little chance to rest every once in a while, and sleep used to be the way I did that. Now I do nightmares. What is their purpose? Why are they happening now?

Yes, it’s quieter here than where I used to be. Yes, my cat is getting older and meowing for no reason in the middle of the night. Yes, so many things are new and scary but I’m not scared of them, I’m not scared of people getting into my house! So I’m thinking, what if instead, my dreams are inventing? What if my dreams are me playing? And what if I can play back?

I once woke up from a vivid, well-crafted, epic dream and decided to write it down. People said you couldn’t do this. I know you cannot do this. I know that the most unsatisfying ending of a story is “It was all a dream”. But why? What makes that so insanely annoying? What is it about dreams, though, that aren’t? They are completely nonsensical, peopled with metamorphosing hybrid characters, places you’ve never seen and situations that make absolutely no sense, but when you’re in them, you’re sold. Like any good story, dreams suspend disbelief. But when you wake from one, why does that semblance of reality stay? Why do we all think we need to tell our dreams to others, as though they will be impressed? They are never! The dreams are bad! Why don’t we see that?

I don’t have an answer, because dreams fascinate me and I can’t stop thinking about them but I also can’t figure them out. What I know is I am night-maring often and this has definitely caught my attention and whether I’m going to Freud it up or not, I need to deal with this people in my house business.

Next time I’m in my house dream, I vow to confront the demons. Maybe I will set fire to the house. Maybe I will break the windows. Maybe I will open the door to the wind.

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.

When Is Anything Done?

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on July 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm

People ask me if I am almost done the novel I am writing, like it’s a novel I’m reading and I’m about to move on to another. I could give writerly excuses, such as I am creating a world, and a world cannot be finished. Or I could claim to be a perfectionist who will never feel finished but will be forced to stop writing at some point. But the truth is I’m really not in any way almost done. I’ve been working on the same story for over three years now (which might make you think I’m almost done) but the truth is the novel itself as I imagine it doesn’t exist yet. It hasn’t been written.

I’ve written parts of it. I’ve written drafts that look like novels and I’m done those. But I am not done the thing itself that I am making. Say you are painting a tree. You’ve painted a tree, but you meant to paint the tree you were looking at. Wouldn’t you have to restart, to get the tree you see and not the simple, other one you painted? Wouldn’t you have to add the branches just the way you see them, have the light hit right where the light actually hits? Yes, I’ve done paintings of trees, but I haven’t painted my tree yet.

I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I can read a page and be done it, but have I really read it? I’m trying this thing I used to do when I was young (a mental challenge) where I don’t use bookmarks. I open the book up again hours later and I try to remember the page number I had put to memory, or the last event I read about. It used to be easier than finding a bookmark, and gave me a lasting ability to skim through pages. But Virgina Woolf isn’t very skimmable. It’s hard to find an event I was last at. It’s made me realize I read books a lot less closely than I should. It’s made me think about the power of rereading, of never actually finishing a page.

Because if I read To the Lighhouse and put it down, did I really read the book? Did I finish it, as it was intended to be finished? I probably won’t have spent a lot of time thinking of the ideas in the book, contemplating the characters’ motives, their relationships, the importance of the setting of the book or the intention of the author in bringing them all together. I would have read the words, yes, but I might not have read the book.

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(from boardgamegeek.com)

If the intention of writing a novel is to have it published, then one should keep working on the book until it is publishable. If the intention of writing a novel is to write the novel one intends to write, then shouldn’t one keep working on the book until the book feels like the book it was intended to be? Publishing, I think, will never be my goal when writing a novel. It will be a way to give the novel life, to let others read it and to let it be the form of art that it is. Is a painting really a painting if no one looks at it? If the tree you painted (the complete art form of the actual tree you saw and then transcribed, somehow, with your paintbrush, until you felt it represented the tree you knew) were never shown to anyone, would it really matter that you had painted it? You would have seen it, but you saw the tree too. What about the person across the world who has never seen that form of life, who has his or her whole life imagined a tree of such beauty, but never taken the trip to visit it? I think you’re painting that tree for them, so you should try your best not to lie about it.

The Still-Living Moment

In Thoughts on Writing on August 12, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I was a vegetarian until a few weeks ago when I ate a sausage. I have since eaten a lot of sausages. My sister thinks it’s funny if I say that I’m a vegetarian who eats meat. It actually makes sense: I didn’t change opinions on eating, I just eat more.

So tonight, for the first time, I cooked meat for myself. I walked to the grocery store thinking about meatballs. They didn’t have any! So I walked to another grocery store thinking about meatballs. And then I walked home thinking about meatballs.

I had to Google “turkey meatballs.” I put them in the oven for the suggested amount of time and even longer because they were still a bit pink. But they continued to be a bit pink! Ten minutes later they were still the same pink, but definitely browning around the edges as though they were burning. I shouldn’t let them burn. So I ate them. They were delicious. I ate them over a nice vegan dish of spaghetti squash and green beans from my parents’ garden.

As I ate my last meatball I thought wow, this meatball is really pink. And my stomach began to turn. Was I going to be sick? Did I poison myself with my first attempt at cooking meat? And the paranoia set in. I became very hot. I lay down with a cat on my stomach and thought about tonight and tomorrow. In essence, I planned my death.

Everyone has a moment every so often where they almost get hit by a car. Or they aren’t sure about a strange pain in their heart. Or they feel something tingle at the back of their throat. And if that moment passes, and you are still alive, you become thankful. You begin to live a second life.

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(photo from telegraph.co.uk)

Tonight I lived a second life. I had a bath. I enjoyed a television show. I got so much planning done, like I was going on a sick leave. I smiled often to myself and told the cat my secrets. But the stomach pain never came. In fact, I have just eaten more.

In the still-living moment I always think about what it is I really want to accomplish. And after things like a bath and a TV show, it is always to do with writing. I picture myself finishing a novel on my death bed, because that’s what probably what I’ll do no matter when I die. How sad, for those visiting me! I will be in such a terrible mood.

What is it that you do in your still-living moment? Call someone you love? Petty! Eat something delicous? Pig! Write something long and tedious ostensibly about yourself? Egomaniac!

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