29 May 2009

Memorial Day

I spent this past Monday with a very special find — my diaries, from 8th grade all the way through senior year of college. These eleven (!!!) volumes had been locked away in a file cabinet, which used to be in storage at my mom's house; I took them out and regarded them with a certain wariness for weeks. Did I really want to read them? How would they make me feel? There was only one way to find out.

I've finished reading, but I'm still processing the experience; for now, I am emotionally jet-lagged. I've gone back and read single volumes of my diary before, but never the whole enchilada in one sitting; truly, I have seen my life flash before my eyes, and it is a rare opportunity to see the narrative arc of one's own youth. 

Among other things, I'm glad I could reconnect with my twelve-year-old alter ego. It's exactly what I needed, the missing piece in the puzzle of the story I'm now trying to tell. If you can get your hands on your old diary (or any writings from your youth), I highly recommend taking a peek; you'll be surprised by how quickly you can tap back into the emotions and mindset of your former self. 

In many ways, going back in that diary time machine can be a painful experience, a reminder of how it felt to have your entire life ahead of you, to be full of possibilities and hopefulness and youthful energy. Also, it can serve as a reminder for all the stupid mistakes you made. (Why did I go out with that guy? And why didn't I go out with that other guy? Why didn't I study more?Whatever happened to those girls I lived with in college in that crazy townhouse?) But it can also be an uplifting experience. Reading those diaries definitely made me feel old(er). But they also made me feel wiser. Back then, I spent a lot of time writing about not knowing who I was or what I wanted to be.  While I still have a lot of questions about my life, I'm confident now of who I am and what my place is in the world. So I think things turned out all right.

By the way, if I knew you between 1982 and 1992, you are most likely in the LaReau Diaries, Volumes I-XI. If you were a boy who broke my heart during that time, you should be very, very afraid.

21 May 2009

Weeding and Writing

The writing life is not always a bed of roses — sometimes, it feels like a bed of nails. Lately, I've been in a bit of a funk, and I'm trying to make sense of it so I can work through it.

For the past few weeks, I've been working on something new, and my mood about it seems to change every other day.  At the outset, I was exhilarated, then I was wary ("Is this really a good idea for a story? Is this going to work? Can I pull it off?"), then I was hopeful ("Wow, I'm really doing it!  And I think it's working!") and most recently, I've become sullen and defeatist ("This is a schlocky piece of crap.  Why did I think I could pull this off? I am a terrible writer who should be embarrassed for even trying"). This latest creative collapse occurred just as a friend agreed to give my manuscript a read; the reality of giving the story an audience seemed to trigger a pervasive rash of insecurity (and I do suffer from chronic, stress-related eczema, so this is a valid metaphor).

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises us to tune out our negative inner voice, which she likens to a radio station, KFKD ("you might as well have heavy-metal music piped in through headphones while you're trying to get your work done," she says), but it's easier said than done, especially when our (okay, my) creative antennae pick up nothing but that frequency. And while it's very easy for me to be a cheerleader for my authors, I can't seem to turn that megaphone around and use it on myself, perhaps because I've just never really thought I was as important or worthy. It can be a challenge to be surrounded by so many brilliant, successful writers all the time. It's difficult to nurture the writer in me when the editor in me is so fully formed and primed and eager to analyze and criticize.  And after a day of giving other writers the positive reinforcement they need to keep going, I often don't have the energy to give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I just have to stop writing and walk away for a while (usually to the TV, where I can find solace in a particularly grisly forensics show).

Thankfully, the weather is nice now, and I have yard work to do.  I've always likened weeding to editing; perhaps a weekend down in the dirt will exhaust my inner critic, at least for a while. If you have successful methods of tuning out KFKD that don't involve gardening gloves and a trowel, I'm all ears. 

13 May 2009

Blue Bird on Steroids!

I know, I know.  It's not a bluebird, it's a bluejay. But isn't he...kind of...large?  

Speaking of anomalies, I have recently begun physical therapy. This is in part because I am old and creaky, as those of you who know me are aware. It is also because I have been experiencing shooting pains in my right arm, from my shoulder to my elbow. Upon further observation (i.e. poking and prodding) by my physical therapist, it has been determined that I suffer from "editor's shoulder."  Yes, I just made up that term, but it is a very real affliction. Years and years of commuting to work while lugging tote bags stuffed with manuscripts have finally taken their toll. According to the experts, the bones in my shoulder have become misaligned, and the musculature is knotted and angry.

As a result, for the time being, I can no longer carry anything on my right shoulder, can't sleep on my right side, and can't really lift anything heavier than an iPhone with my right hand. Let this be a lesson to all you young, seemingly-fit editors out there: buy yourselves Kindles or Sony Readers ASAP. Your body will thank you later.

Hopefully the PT will straighten me out so I can fly right. But in the meantime, I'm going to see if the aforementioned bluejay might be willing to do some heavy lifting for me.

(Photo courtesy of J.LaReau)

07 May 2009

A Great Quote

The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening

01 May 2009

Reverse the Stitching

The other day, I was working on a new story when my husband came into my office and showed me a new pair of sporty gloves he'd just bought. He explained how the manufacturer revolutionized the design of this type of glove by reversing the stitching, so the rough edges and needlework are found on the exterior. This makes the gloves appear pretty unfinished on the outside, but by keeping the interior smooth, the tendency for long-term chafing is reduced (the technology was meant for race car drivers, who compete in endurance events).

This little discussion made me think of my favorite technique to suggest to writers and try with my own work — determining the least likely, most counter-intuitive direction the story might take, and temporarily taking it in that direction. Have a character whose mother is constantly nagging him? What if she were supportive and encouraging? Have a character with an amazing best friend? What if the friend suddenly stopped talking to her, or moved away, or ditched her for a new boyfriend or girlfriend?  Does the guy have no chance of getting the girl? How would he handle it if she actually fell for him? Have a story that rhymes? What if it's told in prose (or at least, a prose poem)?  Or vice versa?

In other words, reverse the stitching.  Turn your story inside out. Flip the script. Don't be afraid to play. You can always return to your original path, but for a little while, take a walk on the road not taken. The very best things happen when we allow ourselves to take risks — both in our lives, and in our work.