The Work of Writing: Week Four Update

I DID IT! PROOF:

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 9.56.09 AMI wrote more or less 25 pages of flash fiction, as promised, all STRONGLY centered around a theme, which means that the blurry little file you see above contains the bones of a flash fiction chapbook. Don’t get me wrong, it’s as rough as cuticles soaked in lemon water and then sandpapered until they bleed. Many of the pieces are incomplete, none of them are edited. At least one ends mid-action because I just couldn’t right then. I desperately need to do some fact checking, because I need to know where all the world’s biggest forests are.

But it exists now, and it’s ALL MIIIIIIIIIIIINE.

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LESSONS LEARNED:

1. It is kind of harder to write 5 individual pieces of short fiction than to write 5 pages of a story. Coming up with five mini-worlds in a breathless row is no walk in the park. You have to keep regenerating your brain. Like a severed earthworm.

2. But at the same time, it’s kind of easier. Because coming up with new ideas is a sort of energy. Writing a lot of different scenes/pieces creates its own momentum; you’re like dang gurl that one was awesome, let’s do another one! SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS! Caveat: this sort of energy is not sustainable.

3. If you love to lay on the grass, gazing at trees until your idea crystallizes into perfection, you should try this method of writing sometime. My inner perfectionist was writhing in agony all week, believe me. “STOOOOP! It’s not PERFECT!” Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing to celebrate about sloppiness–except for the fact that sometimes, it gets the job done. I had moments of self-doubt, worrying that I wasn’t writing consciously enough, that I was picking characters and situations arbitrarily, but then I just decided to trust the mad rivers down which I was careening. I can sit around all day wondering exactly what to name a character, but at the end of the day, my instinctual knowledge of the name’s rightness is going to be the only thing that informs me. Not my hours of deliberation.

4. Variations on a theme will produce a lot of questionable material but if you do enough variations, THE WORLD WILL SPLIT OPEN FOR YOU AND YOU WILL SEE WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR. You can burn my first 23 pieces as long as I can keep the 24th.

This was a truly great month. I like writing. I really do. I know it was a lot of talk about my writing and my work and my feelings about writing, but I hope it was sort of illuminating and interesting for you, too–it’s always helpful, I think, when “writers” talk about their “process.” (Sorry, just vommed.) Because at the end of the day:

PS – I’ve been writing about controversies over at Bustle lately, if you’re looking for some internet reading to accompany that massive spoonful of Nutella:

Should Men Wear Makeup, or Should We All Just Stop Pretending? (a response to Farhad Manjoo’s final Slate column)

Forever 21, Curator of All Things “Compton,” is Offending People Yet Again

A Brief Defense of Fashion’s Artistic Significance

And here’s me applying eye makeup to the Rocky theme song, BECAUSE I COULD: The Impossible Cat-Eye

WHAT UP WEEK FOUR

So remember how I’m doing this month-long project and I never decided what to do for week four? HOLD EVERYTHING, BECAUSE I DID DECIDE. Unfortunately, this week has gotten off to a weirdly busy/slightly under-the-weather start, so Week Four did not officially start until yesterday. That means I’m giving myself until Tuesday, Sept. 24, to finish this thing up. I DO THE LEGWORK, SO I MAKE THE RULES AROUND HERE!

I thought about doing something shtick-y like writing only by hand or trying a new genre or something. But then I thought, “NOOOOOOOO!” This project has been extremely useful and informative for me; it’s forced me to create and polish and complete a lot of things that otherwise probably would still be lurking on my to-do list. This project needs to end with a BANG, not a whimper, you know? So I decided to do something big. Something fear-inducing. Something worthy of being embroidered onto a doily. Something that I’ve wanted to do since April:

*~*~*~*~*WRITE AN ENTIRE FLASH FICTION CHAPBOOK!*~*~*~*~*

I love flash fiction, I know what I want to write about, chapbooks aren’t very long, and WHY NOT?

So I’m just going to crank out the minimal structure of a chapbook, which will be about 25 pieces of flash fiction. This means I have to write about 5 pieces a day, if I take Sunday off. And I only wrote 3 yesterday. So I’m already behind. Also, I wasted about two hours yesterday making a parody music video to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” featuring me and a jar of olives (because, you know, jars can be so hard to open, and she sings “I just wanted you to let me in,” and…it seemed really hilarious last night during the thunderstorm, okay?). So things are looking great around here.

If you want to watch my poorly edited parody (and figure out whether I’ve hit a new low or a new high), here you go:

PS: The sisterwife whose absence inspired it all, MERIWETHER “JOURNALIST” CLARKE is back from her month-long jaunt around South America, trailing Brazilian husbands and Peruvian babies in her glamorous wake. Please greet her!

The Work of Writing: Week Three Update

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Oh, week three: meant to be a full-fledged orgy of inspiration. Epileptic fits of pastoral joy, “Look at that flame-edged leaf! I muse in agonized ecstasy on its transcendent contours…”, weeping over a perfect shard of broken glass, and so on and so on–basically all the things that make the world hate writers. Sometimes that’s the way it works, is it not? Though you might tremble at the cliched nature of your activity, sometimes wandering lonely as a cloud really does make your heart dance with the daffodils (and then with Microsoft Word and then with Submishmash and then with the PEN/Faulkner award).

But none of that happened this week. I did get weepy at the sight of a water tower. But there was more to the story than just superficial beauty. I’ll elaborate below. Oh, I also cried because an idiot customer yelled at me because his tacos were (gasp) on the same platter as his friend’s tacos. It’s moments like those that remind me I need to buy pepper spray and also fully shuck off societal politeness in order to live as my truest self, which is a FURIOUS OMBRÉD WHIRLWIND OF MISGUIDED VINDICATION!

Instead, I felt like this past week was simply me pushing the reset button. It was full of simple contemplative moments like Oh, I really like reading and writing by hand feels nice and I should write an essay about this feeling and I like music too I guess, just little sweet interludes that reminded me what I love about not just writing, not just about art, but about life. 

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This is what I did:

1. Read Atonement for hours, lying on the couch in a patch of sunlight–the Platonic ideal of novel-reading.

2. Went for sushi in one of my old Chicago neighborhoods (I’m masochistically nostalgic), sat alone, and wrote in my journal for a long time.

3. Went to the movies by myself, which has long been one of my absolute favorite things to do. Necessary: some dusk-colored street-wandering afterward.

4. Went for a one-block walk with my Canon and tried to see things in new ways (results here). I also threw a Coors Light bottle into the air to photograph it. You can guess what happened 0.5 seconds later. Sorry, City of Chicago! Don’t be mad, I got nasty beer/spit all over my fingers, it was punishment enough!

5. Made a tiny movie called ACTRESS FILMS ANOTHER FINAL SCENE with Rose Truesdale (watch it here).

6. Filmed another movie with two amazing Chicago actors in the graveyard where Charles Dickens’ impoverished brother was buried. Cue creepy out-of-tune piano interlude. The film is called THE NARCO’S WIFE and it should be ready for your rapt viewing pleasure in week or so…AAAAAIIIIEEEEEE!

7. Went to the Art Institute and wandered around the ancient parts.

8. Went to the World Music Festival Chicago twice, once with wine, both times with a handsome bass player.

9. Took a train back to my somewhat-hometown, Western Springs, for the strangest afternoon of my life. Suffice it to say that I experienced everything from tear-inducing nostalgia (yes, I started sniffling over the sight of a water tower) to a floaty sense of displacement to surrealish nausea to scoring a hardback of my favorite book of the summer, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, to accidentally buying a second large black hat, to nabbing some birthday presents for my dearest ones. Good day.

10. Started a little zine some like to call CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.  Every morning I do 100 push-ups, eat a raw egg, and start reading. Okay, I actually haven’t finished the introduction yet. But I’m really liking the introduction!

11. In general, spent a little less time online and a little more time interacting with the tangible–flowers, the page, the ancient Japanese sculptures at the Art Institute, which apparently you’re not supposed to touch or take home with you??? NEWS TO ME. I thought “400 BC” was the PRICE TAG, OKAY?

12. One last thing I gotta say, not really part of the week but I just need to be annoying for a second: the first screenplay I ever wrote got honorable mention in a contest!!! And even better, nobody told me about it–seeing your name on a list when you weren’t expecting it is the best shock in the world. I hope to experience it again some day HI MACARTHUR FOUNDATION NO NEED TO CALL ME I’LL JUST KEEP REFRESHING YOUR TWITTER FEED.

Get out there, my loves, and have your own week three, and no need to create something from the experience. Sometimes it’s best to just let things flow through you, I guess. C’MON AND DO THE JAILHOUSE ROCK WITH ME!

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The Work of Writing: Week Two Update

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Hey, you. Yeah, you. [Cheesy elevator music plays.] Does anything feel better than crossing items off a to-do list? Maybe eating Nutella with a spoon when you’re experiencing hipster starvation (= only had coffee and doughnuts today)Maybe taking a shower after spilling Patron XO shots all over your Converse while waiting on ungrateful tables. But working your way through a to-do list like Alexander the Great working his way through “the ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea” is the crack cocaine of perfectionism, and it feels phenomenal. 

The Work of Writing project continues. Last week’s goal was as follows: “make a strict to-do list and accomplish every single thing on it, from intangible things like revision to tangible things like submitting to literary journals.” I expected this week to be a bit of a soulless hustle, but it actually worked out really well. Suspiciously well. Disturbingly well. AM I ON STEROIDS?

This sort of to-do centric approach felt very career-forward…like maybe I wasn’t communing with the Muses, but I was getting paid! Speaking of paychecks (NOT), the most important thing I accomplished this week was a seriously epic revision of a 35-page story (non-writers: that’s a long story by most standards, and really long for me, also you should totally check out “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” while we’re having this pleasant little aside)…I’d been meaning to revise this baby for months but I irrationally dread revision and I kept putting it off. Come last Wednesday, and I sat down, held the threatening, fully-loaded finger of William Faulkner to my temple, and began to revise.

And guess what guess what guess what? Revision feels good sometimes! Why didn’t my husband by law God delusion passion fantasy law Gabriel Garcia Marquez ever tell me that? (Can I be locked up for writing about him like this?) (I LOVE YOU GABO I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU CALL MEEEE.) I sat down determined to revise pages 1-17 of my story,  planning to do the second half the next day, but right around page 20, I realized that I was just in the freaking ZONE, man. You know when you’re just on point? When you’re really flying through something, on fire like Katniss Everdeen or Alicia Keys in that horrible song? MY FRIENDS, DO NOT INTERRUPT THOSE MOMENTS FOR ANYTHING IN THE WORLD. I don’t know about you, but those moments are few and far between for a pleb like me and I will do anything, ANYTHING to hang on to them. For a fleeting second, I thought about stopping, crossing off “revise pages 1-17” on my list, and moving on to the next task….and then my much wiser super-ego screamed at me, “TORI, SO HELP ME, IF YOU STOP RIGHT NOW I WILL PLUNGE FAULKNER’S FINGER INTO YOUR EYEBALL,” so I bowed in obedience and kept going. And it was ten thousand percent worth it. And now I have one million dollars.

Hmm, what else? I filmed something new–an advice columnist responding to the apocalypse. (Full disclosure…that was not on my to-do list, I just got manic one evening.) I pitched some articles to websites that I want to write for. (OKAY I PITCHED ONE ARTICLE, PITCHING IS REALLY TIME CONSUMING, PEOPLE.) I revised something for Ladybug magazine. I sent some emails. You know, the unmuselike stuff. Kinda boring. Good thing week three is FULLY upon me and I can finally wander around dark alleyways and make inspiration boards full of photo after photo of my dear Gabo’s face. ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES TORI A DULL STALKER. *slinks off*

Anyone else? Artistic breakthroughs? Soulless hustle? Menial breakdowns? Creative ecstasy? Opium addiction? Picture of yourself rapidly aging in the attic?

The Work of Writing: Week One Update

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In case you missed it, I’m embarking on a month-long project of trying a different writing work style every week. If you’re a non-writer who’s wondering why I’m doing this, STOP READING MY BLOG AND GO BACK TO YOUR FINANCE JOB. Just kidding, I ADORE you. I’m doing this not-so-glamorous experiment because nobody really talks about the pros and cons of different writing styles–people just talk about how Hemingway drank daiquiris. Oh, really? Writers tend toward alcoholism? LOOK IN THE MIRROR, SOCIETY. IT’S YOU. 

Ugh times ten thousand. This week was not only sickeningly hot, it was a study in everything that is frustrating about writing. If you recall, I was planning to write only new content for an hour a day at the same time each day. Some lowlights:

1. I couldn’t write at the same time every day because my schedule is different every day. Where’s the genius who thought up that parameter?

2. I didn’t write at all on Thursday because I was so sleep-deprived that I had to choose a nap over writing during the sliver of free time I had between jobs. I don’t regret it because I was near death, but I feel guilty about skipping a day.

3. On Friday, I began to get frustrated with the sloppiness of the story. The trajectory seemed off–as though I’d taken a wrong turn circa page 15 and was now careening down a terrible highway. As you may recall, I set a goal for myself to only produce new content–and I did, 20 pages of it, girrrrrl–but once things started feeling off-balance, I just wanted to go back and edit. Or drink myself to death.

4. Yesterday’s “writing” was just awful. I’d-rather-be-anything-but-a-writer-level awful. I was at Intelligentsia, it was packed with loud tourists, I have never felt less inspired. I left in a rage and stalked down Michigan Avenue with my best I’m-a-serial-killer-get-out-of-my-way-you-plebeian-scum face on and bought some expensive honey at Whole Foods.

Some highlights:

1. Despite the fact that I am now on the Chicago serial killer registry for kickstarting the Great Fruit Fly Massacre of 2013, I have 20 pages of a brand-new story that simply did not exist a week ago! I want to fling the pages around an Egyptian temple and make my acolytes strew herbs on them. WRITING A NEW STORY IS THE GREATEST FEELING IN THE WORLD. I KNOW YOU FEEL ME! Earlier in the week when I was young and the world was mine, I was feeling pretty high on the whole concept of creation. Coming up with something new can make you feel like you’re that elusive autopoietic machine or whatever it’s called. FREAKING COOL, RIGHT?!

2. I remembered that stories need to have an “inciting incident.” OH, RIGHT. As I wrote, I started asking myself questions as though I was in a bad relationship: where is this thing going? What’s the point? What am I doing here? Why is that man talking LOUDLY ON HIS CELL PHONE CAN’T HE SEE I’M TRYING TO WRITE?

The takeaway:

If you decide that writing every day is your thing, it’s probably going to feel like what it is: a grind. You won’t always feel like an autopoietic genius. There are a thousand things waiting to burst through the seams of your structured day and just overwhelm you. It’s hard to get enough sleep and make enough money for rent. It’s even harder to carve out time in the day to work on your own stuff when you’re constantly getting new emails, tweets, and texts, and the dishes are piling up, and you remember guiltily that you haven’t eaten a vegetable in days, and also you now have cholera and are skidding towards the grave.

Don’t let the frustration of general existence tear you away from putting in a little time to write. Some of what I wrote this week was awesome, since I am a MacArthur fellow. Some of it was stupid, since my brain is 40% 15-year-old boy. It wasn’t the greatest week of my life, but I put in a little time and I got results: a Frankensteinian baby of a story that needs drastic plastic surgery. Nobody ever said fiction was going to look beautiful without a few stitches.