Beth Deitchman

Reader, Writer, Knitter, Slayer

Category: Writing (page 2 of 2)

Musings on writing

Blogger’s block.

When I started this blog in December I intended to post regularly–maybe not daily or even weekly, but definitely monthly.  And I was dutiful about it for a few months.  I posted some writing that I was proud of, and I felt good about myself for it.  But after I finished my hypochondria post, I found myself stuck in a rut.  I started to write several new articles (all with clever titles), but I could not finish any of them.  They just seemed silly or self-indulgent and so I abandoned them, leaving them to languish as half-developed drafts.

I’m naming my inability to post anything new blogger’s block rather than writer’s block because I write almost every day.  For the past few months I’ve been working on a story that started its life as a five-page free-writing exercise and has grown into a seventy-five page novella about Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice (think P & P meets Northanger Abbey and Harry Potter then says a brief hello to Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  In it Mary gets to have some adventures and romance of her own, which I think she deserves.

I also have a temporary job that I found through Freelancer.com that involves writing “articles” using key words sent to me by a marketing firm in Boston.  I’m pretty sure I’m writing a series of fake blog articles about Thai yoga, youth soccer, and IT asset management with links embedded in them to direct readers to websites offering something for sale.  Despite the soul-numbing boredom that the topics can inspire, I have been churning them out pretty quickly.

Yet, even with all this writing, I have been unable to bring myself to post anything new here since March.  Until tonight, of course, when I decided I have to break my blogger’s block.  So here I am, blogging about not being able to blog.  Does this mean that I have broken the block?  I hope so because I really want to do something with all those drafts  just waiting to be shaped.

 

All Writing is Re-writing

Every written project I have ever completed started with a leap of faith that I would be able to do it because I had done it before.  But that faith often (maybe always) wavered after I  jumped into the project–sometimes as soon as my metaphorical feet left the metaphorical ground.  When this happened I turned to free-writing to discover that I had something to say after all and I could stop panicking.  Nevertheless, as a graduate student I often experienced frustration and disappointment with my writing even after it began to take a vague shape.  Being a non-Stoic, I tended to share this frustration and disappointment with my colleagues and my advisors.  One of those advisors, Richard Schoch of Queen Mary College, used to remind me from time to time that all writing is re-writing.  I liked to quote Richard when reassuring my frustrated and disappointed writing students, elaborating on his advice by adding my version: good writing does not spring fully-formed from our minds like Athena did from Zeus’s.

Early drafts of my academic writing almost never came out easily.  I felt that I was coaxing, dragging, or pulling each draft of each paper or chapter out of my brain and into my computer.  But once I managed to get the first drafts written and I actually knew what I was writing about, I knew what I needed to write next.  And, more exciting to me, I could see where I could begin doing the shaping; I saw where I needed to develop the thoughts in each paragraph with more thoroughly explained evidence and how I could untangle confusing syntax and make my argument stronger with well-developed and clearly crafted sentences.  I also saw where sections could be or had to be cut.  Then, as I got closer to finishing the project, I began the refining work.  Once I got to the final stages of writing my dissertation, for example, I could spend an entire day working on one sentence.  And I LOVED it.

While I was often overwhelmed by the difficulty of writing as a student, I am astounded and delighted by the sheer volume of work that I have produced recently just by letting my pen fly across the page.  I have three long(ish) stories in draft form, written purely as free-writing exercises.  As I have written about before, these stories seemed to be waiting in my mind for an invitation to be told.  But, just like my work for graduate school, these stories did not spring fully-formed from my brain.  Now I’m getting to the re-writing and re-working process where I know I will find holes in the narratives and characters that need more depth and dimension.  I am sure I will find many awkward sentences to smooth into, I hope, elegant phrases.   In other words, now the fun begins.

I’m not completely sure why I find restructuring sentences so thrilling and picking just the right word so deeply satisfying.  I think it has something to do with my desire for clarity, for understanding the world better.  Or maybe it is just about beauty or my subjective idea of the beautiful.  Then again, in an earlier draft of this essay, I gave Richard’s advice another interpretation: I don’t have to worry about the shape of my early writing because, if all writing is re-writing, then I have plenty of time to fix it.  I think that comes closer to explaining why I love the re-writing part of writing–the craft of writing–so much.  I don’t have to get it right the first time.  I need to be reminded, frequently, of that fact.  I also need to be reminded that it is okay to spend an entire day sculpting one sentence.  My drive to produce so often hurries me along, but the craft of writing slows me down, inviting me to linger lovingly, even greedily, over my words and phrases, those imperfect but gorgeous children of my mind.

 

Writing Sex

Last year I played Mary Bennett and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice adapted by Jon Jory (I liked playing Charlotte but I LOVED playing Mary).  Jory’s adaptation really moves the story along, which means characters like Mary and Charlotte get short shrift.  His cursory treatment, however, gave me lots of room to create a wonderfully nerdy Mary with a slight adenoid problem who, if she were around today, would be playing Dungeons and Dragons, collecting Magic the Gathering cards, and writing fan fiction about Star Trek.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post.  A few days ago I decided to write a story about Mary Bennett that takes place after the book / play ends (like P.D. James except there is no mystery).  Since I am currently indulging my love for fantasy fiction in my writing, I gave Mary’s story a recognizably fantasy slant.  Mary, unbeknownst to her family, has become an accomplished witch, secretly reading spell books in her room (when she isn’t reading Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.)  When I started writing the story I thought maybe she would discover a way into a magical, Narnia-esque world and have adventures of the kind that brainy plain girls don’t usually get to have in Jane Austen books.  Instead, the story took a decidedly erotic twist when Mary recognized the new Vicar, who was visiting for tea, as a master magician whose books she cherished.  He, as any good magician-pretending-to-be-the-local-clergy will do, also recognized her as a fellow spell caster.  That plot twist led me to write a steamy , bodice-ripping sex scene that left me a little spent and kind of embarrassed.  Not with the whole story–I’m actually pretty pleased with the story, and I think that with a little more work it could be good.  But I’m embarrassed to post it to my blog because of this bodice-ripping sex scene.

Before Mary and the Vicar, I didn’t think I could even bring myself to write a sex scene, as I told Emily about a week ago (Emily, I hope you don’t mind being a recurring figure in my blog posts).  It’s not that I’m a prude or afraid of sex.  And I have no trouble performing sex scenes or being nude on stage (to be honest as long as there is no mirror, I can be nude pretty much anywhere).  I’m not sure exactly what it is about writing a sex scene that is so embarrassing to me.  While I worry what people will think of me and wonder how I could have such things on my mind, I don’t think that is the explanation.   I think it is me at my most vulnerable, writing something incredibly intimate and opening a window into a part of myself that I ordinarily keep very private–except, you might point out, for when I share it onstage.  But there is an important difference between acting and writing a sex scene: on stage I am performing someone else’s sex scene.  It does not originate in my imagination, so it feels a lot less intimate and I feel a lot less vulnerable.

If it is a matter of vulnerability, then I have a great chance to push my boundaries with my decidedly un-Jane Austen story about Mary Bennett.   I pride myself on being fearless as an actor, so why not as a writer?  And I guess that is my answer.  Why not?  So I will revisit the draft of Mary’s sexy story, work on it, and publish it to my blog.  I imagine my heart will be pounding as I go to hit that publish button, like Mary’s heart when the Vicar, well, you know.

On Writing I: just keep writing

As I go back to my notes from my two weeks at Habla Ya, I see my writing at its most naked–handwritten in pencil with lots of crossing out and writing over–and I really like it.  I have always believed in lots of drafts because it takes me so long to find out what it is I want to say.  I’m pretty sure my dissertation has at least 5 drafts per chapter, not including the dissertation journal that I kept for writing warmups every day before doing the “real” work.  But now that I look back at that writing process, I think the real work was actually in that journal because I didn’t really know what that giant piece was about until I’d written a couple of chapters.  And in the writing journal I was free to go wherever I wanted without any preconceived ideas about what it should be or what I should say.  The only rule I had was to just keep writing.

Yesterday I had a lovely conversation with my friend Emily about writing and we agreed that one of the wonders of writing is how surprising what comes out of us can be when we follow the simple rule just keep writing (or in my case lately, just keep the pen moving).  I’m working on a story as part of a writing experiment–writing part of the story every day for a month then I will type it up and see what I have–and every day when I sit down to write I have no idea what I’m going to say.  Sometimes I have a sentence or an image that gets me started, but I never know where it’s going to take me.  And I like that because by the time I’ve finished the day’s work on the story I’ve always gone somewhere surprising and exciting.  It’s like really good improv–saying yes to the scene as it evolves instead of trying to shape it to some preconceived notion of what will be funny or deep or entertaining.  My preconceived notions never seem to be as good as what just comes out as I let the pen in my hand move across the paper–even when I feel like I’m writing myself into a corner, which happens a lot.  Because my only rule for this month’s writing experiment is “keep the pen moving,” I often find that there are ways out of those corners that I could never devise if I sat and thought about it.  When I just keep the pen moving, it takes me places I didn’t imagine were there.  And that’s the beauty of writing.  And of really good art in general, isn’t it?  It takes us places we didn’t think we could get to but that were there all along.

Kind of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.

 

 

A return to writing

I used to write a lot.  When I was a kid I wrote stories and kept first a diary then a journal (the difference as far as I can tell is that a diary says “my diary” on the front and has a little lock to keep unwanted readers out while a journal is just a blank book for recording the same thoughts that would go in a diary.)  Then I wrote papers for college.  Then a thesis and another thesis and a dissertation and then I stopped writing.  Well, except for the occasional journal entry in which I bitched about any number of things that I thought were wrong with my life.  But nothing I would consider real writing because I figured I didn’t have anything to say since there were no stories clamoring to come out and since I figured acting was my creative outlet.

I was wrong.  It turns out I do have stories to tell; they are just buried inside my head and need (only) a little coaxing to come out, which I realized when I was in Panama studying Spanish.  For homework assignments my teachers often asked me to write stories to practice using verb tenses correctly.  My first story, El Campéon, was an exercise in using the present tense.  I discovered while writing it that a. I can write in Spanish (who knew?) and that b. I may not have any idea what’s in there before I start writing but there is something in there.  And so I’ve been writing for the past month or so.  Every day.  Then I decided that I’d like to share my writing and if I’m going to share my writing, I might as well get started.  So Dave set up this blog and here I am.  I’m posting the stories I wrote in Panama first because they are complete as they are and I like them.  I plan to post pretty regularly to keep me writing regularly and to keep me writing for an audience, even if that audience is only in my imagination.

So welcome to my blog.  Enjoy.

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