Veronique Darwin

Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Okayness

In My Writing, Teaching on December 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm

There is a certain feeling that sets in after realizing I’m sick (or I’ve been broken up with, or I lose something very important on a bus), and it’s this oddly good feeling, an okayness with myself. I don’t usually give up easily on things, choosing instead to obsess over them. But when something has stepped in, something that stops me from moving forward, I’m forced to sit still and give up on myself.

Laryngitis offered the best kind of respite. I was forced to stop talking, to take two days off work, and other than a stubborn throat, I wasn’t feeling very sick. But did I ever nap. And did I ever sleep in. And did I ever reconsider what it is I’m doing running around all day and not writing. And not even thinking about writing. And barely thinking even, except about what I’m doing. Rarely am I thinking about what I’m thinking.

I loved getting lost in my mind, spending days in my mind. I loved waiting on something, writing on something, instead of producing something every day and immediately presenting it, and then seeing the outcome of it, and then marking it, and then handing it back. I loved the extreme inefficiency of building a life on a novel that doesn’t really exist, does it, but in my mind. Here I now I live in 28 other people’s lives, and their family’s lives, deciding their every day at school, deciding whether they know equivalent fractions or whether they’ll be forever traumatized by equivalent fractions.

And I thought I lost something of me for doing it. I thought that maybe giving so much away every day lost some storing-up of things I had in me (things I’d kept to write about, things I’d felt and could have used but expended). And I wasn’t able to write in my journal, and I wasn’t able to write in my blog, and I wasn’t able to write in my novel because I’d felt I’d lost the pattern. I felt I’d lost my way of seeing.

But maybe all I’ve done is I’ve changed. I’ve gone and expanded. I’ve just about grown up. And in some deep, dark way, I guess I’ve given up.

So what I’m feeling now, here at the precipice of having lost my soul to the working world, is a certain okayness. A certain good, warm, guilty pleasure at it being simply okay that I haven’t finished this novel. That I haven’t put my name in every single literary magazine, or even one, or even tried. It’s okay. Something else is happening right now. It’s important.

I guess this feeling is what you get when you almost died. But then you realize you’re still living! And all you really lost is an umbrella on a bus.

images

 

(image from hd.wallpaper-s.biz)

 

Preparing for a 3-Day Weekend

In Literary Events, My Writing, Teaching on August 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Next weekend I write a novel in 3 days. Not this novel! I’ve been working on this one for 2 years. Three days to finish it would be ridiculous. But a whole new novel? No problem! I speak of the 3 Day Novel Contest, something I didn’t make up. It’s a thing! Click on the link! I’m paying money to do it!

My mindset going into it is one of naive confidence, something I’m hoping to cultivate for my first year of teaching, which starts the day after I finish my 3-day-novel. It’s a frame of mind I’m actually trying to cultivate in all areas of my life.

I spent a weekend by a pool in the middle of summer. I kept cannonballing into the pool, telling myself before I took the leap: this is you jumping into everything.

penguin-jumping

(from http://www.hiren.info)

I know that for my first day of teaching I need to look like I know my stuff. I need to have the right amount of desks. I know that for the 3 Day Novel contest I need to have an outline. I need a main character with a cool name.

But there’s something else I need for both these journeys, something so much more important than anything already mentioned. I need to be absolutely crazy! I need to go feral. I need to trust my instincts before my tired, sketchy, rigid mind. I need to keep doing cannonballs even if no one’s watching, even if I’m paying thirty-five dollars to sit alone all weekend writing something that will undoubtedly have such poor grammar.

But that’s what it seems to come down to. I need to keep doing what makes me happy, in the strange, clumsy way that I do it. It’s only then that I’ll find the things I’m looking for (or what I didn’t know I was looking for, but happened to find). If I don’t whisper maxims to myself before jumping into a pool by myself, then I’m not being me! I’m not putting all of myself into it. And what better thing to teach, to write about, then the feeling of power that comes from giving it all?

The Shortest Story

In Literature, Thoughts on Writing on May 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm

It seems that if we all had the choice, we would choose to read the shortest story possible. We’re lazy and we’re losing our attention span on words. Fewer are better. If that short story has the same impact on us as the longest novel ever (Atlas Shrugged felt like it; I skipped a 100-page speech) then wouldn’t we always choose it?

I had a conversation with a friend last night who told me she only reads short stories. She reads one novel in the summer. I thought this odd, that one could like reading but simply ignore what I like to read. As I am easily influenced by others’ reading choices (the mark of all good readers, who want to be reading everything), I immediately started naming the merits of the short story in the face of the novel.

hemingway1

(Heminway, photo from reinhardkargl.com)

Short stories are never boring. They don’t have time to be. Short stories are always finishable in one sitting, giving them a mood that is influenced by the mood you come at them with. Short stories must have strong characters, and you must know only key things about that character. You are given room, then, to imagine and create from what is given, and the text must give you hints in order for you to do so. Most importantly, short stories are about moments. The more striking the moment, the more the story will stay with you. It’s hard for a novel to have a striking moment without it being cheesy, without it seeming too climactic and overbearing for the rest of the story. The novel is a story about time; the short story is about a moment.

When I read I want details. I want to feel them, not live through them. I’m living already – I want to feel.

Short Story

In My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on September 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I need to write a short story. Months ago I committed to writing one short story a week, and sending out one short story a month to a contest or a magazine. I have so far written one short story (in my lifetime). I’m sure I have other stories that are short, but I have but once set out to write a short story and written one.

In fact, I always thought I hated short stories. They weren’t worth my time because they were either confusing or pointless and couldn’t I have just been reading a novel instead? A novel, that’s something beautiful. I don’t remember where I read this, but someone wrote something to the effect of “It’s not hard to write sentences, and books are made of sentences, so if you’re going to write a sentence, why not just write Moby Dick?” Of course, they said it better. I think I read it in a book. They were already writing that sentence as a part of a full-length book.

Then something happened (I guess I read a few short stories) and I got it. I understood why people wrote them. A short story is a moment. A novel is weeks.

(this is the library I’m about to mention –

taken from lynnvalleylife.com)

There is a quote on the glass wall of the library near where I do yoga: “A short story is what you see when you look out the window.” Okay. I look out windows. A short story is maybe the kind of thing you can write when all day long you are sitting in a class and all evening long you are doing homework from that class. It is the thing you can do in one of your breaks. Right?

I don’t know. I’ve only written one.

I often come up with plans such as the one I already mentioned: give myself a quota, some sort of routine. If a short story is a moment in time, it should take but a moment in time to write. So why don’t I start?

My biggest issue with short stories, and the reason why I still feel the tinge of distaste I used to have for them, is that they are based on a plot. A novel is based on a character. Anytime I try to come up with a plot for a short story, I feel as though I am a child who was asked to create a comic strip for class. This happened. Then this happened. This image then that one. It’s so dull. It sounds horrible to write. I can’t make myself do it.

So I think I need to change things up. I need to start with moments. I need to rifle quickly  through journals and take eyes-half-open glances at things I’ve written in there – quotes I like from books, things I noticed that day, dreams – and turn those moments I catch into stories. I need to write from a moment, not a child’s plot.

So there!

I Made Scenes

In My Writing on July 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm

There was a time about a year ago when I wrote a book. It was this book, the very novel after which my blog is named. I thought, “There! I wrote a book.” I wrote it straight through and I printed off pages and I stuck them away and I didn’t read them until I got to the end. The end, of course, was horrible. The book, of course, was horrible. But it was the feeling that was wonderful. I wrote a book.

You see, when you write a book in six weeks, when you write a book just to get a book written so you can have something to eventually write a book with, you forget about the basics of fiction. At least, I did. I forgot about plot. I forgot about “scenes.” I forgot about language (I meant to, it was a “shitty first draft” on purpose, after all). I forgot about character motives and dramatic tension and suspension of disbelief. I thought I would do all that later.

Well, now is later. Much later. Too late?

I guess I spent the last year rereading my book. I changed a lot, certainly. I am four drafts lighter (heavier). I did plot, I did character motives. I tried for suspension of disbelief. But it took a transformational week at a writing workshop (my first ever) to understand things from a different perspective. Yes, first you have to write a book. Then you have to write a story.

So I made scenes. I was told the following (by the excellent, excellent Steven Galloway):

Each scene must answer

A) What does the character want?

B) What happens if he/she doesn’t get it?

C) Why does it have to happen now?

It was with these simple guidelines that I set about writing an index card for each scene with these responses on the back.

I feel like I wrote a new book. A book that makes sense! Now to implement this new sense into my nonsense, there is the rub.

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