Sunday, September 13, 2020

WHAT IT IS: week ending September 12 (the "get back on the horse" edition)

It's been a long time since I've written one of these. For almost three-and-a-half months, during this COVID pandemic, I haven't done any writing. This week was my time to try and get back to doing what I do in my spare time, write. (though, to be more precise, it's not that I utilize my spare time to write as much as I carve out writing time from my daily schedule . . . it's work, and you need to make sure to do it, or you won't. Pretty simple) 

So, this is day 6 of my return to the writing habit. Let's go.


My wife and I finally watched the Downton Abbey film, from a couple of years back. Having enjoyed the original series, this was a must-see, and it was like coming home again to see some old friends. The story revolves around the fact that King George V is going to pay a visit to Downton Abbey, during a tour through his kingdom. This puts everyone on high alert, in order to get the house in order for such a Royal visit. 

It's interesting to see how Julian Fellowes moves characters around, so that they can all get their moment in the spotlight. Managing to craft a narrative that allows for so many characters to stand out, in only a 2-hour film, is commendable. That said, there were many instances where I was thinking about how quickly things progressed in a certain storyline -- for example, Tom Branson's budding affection for Lucy Smith. It felt, to me, that this could have been better done as a seventh season of the series. Allowing things to progress more slowly would certainly have added to the emotional resonance and satisfaction of watching these characters "living their lives" once more. But, when watching a film, one should be cognizant of the inherent constraints of the medium. 

In the end, as is to be expected, everything turned out for the best, for all at Downton, and Lady Crawley, as is her wont, had all the best lines. She, most assuredly, had to have been the character Fellowes look forward to writing the most. 


Ducks, Newburyport was recommended to me by a friend, Johanna Barrett, who runs the bookstore in Castine, Maine. So, I picked it up, and upon completing Alan Moore's gargantuan tome, Jerusalem (clocking in at 1256 pages), I moved onto Lucy Ellman's latest novel, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and only runs to 988 pages (minus glossary). 

This book is amazing, propelling me along with every page. Thus far, at 200 pages in, it's a day-in-the-life story, but taken to an extreme I've not experienced before, in that it is a rolling internal monologue of the main character. Mother of four, living in Ohio, an adjunct professor at a local college who also has a pie business, she is an overly anxious woman whose life has been overcome by hardship, in the form of her mother's death, her failed earlier relationship, and her own battle with cancer. 

The book is primarily a single sentence, wherein the narrator rolls through the needs of the day, the past experiences that have shaped her, along with non-sequiturs and random strings of words that often take on a poetic feel, with their connective tissue often being a rhyming scheme or an aural similarity. It's a brilliant bit of writing, to my mind, in that the continuous stream of consciousness manner of the narration, coupled with Ellman's facility with words, pushes you along its narrative thread, while also feeling very much like the way that my brain will often be working, jumping from idea to idea, shifting mid-sentence, and making connections that nobody else would readily make. It's a propulsive book that also feels familiar, and I'm anxious to continue on with it. 


Tom Taylor (not the DC comics guy). 

I discovered Taylor when I started listening to the great podcast, Indiana Jones Minute, which examines each Indy film, one minute at a time, which he co-hosts with two of his friends. It's great fun, and through listening I discovered that Taylor was a writer and had self-published a YA novel, In Memory of Todd Woods. I bought it and read it, and it was pretty good. I was really impressed with the characterizations in the book. Taylor managed to make them feel genuine, and there was nobody who was fully good or fully an asshole. It was terribly impressive. 

So, when I heard he was starting a patreon, I jumped on. The promise Taylor has put forth is to share a new short story every month, at the $5 level, and if you support him at the $10 level, he will also share a new short-short story on a postcard mailed to you. I know how challenging this can be, and so far he's hit the mark. I applaud Taylor for challenging himself in this way, and I look forward to seeing what he has coming next -- one of those things being his second novel, The Nearly-Useless Powers League. Judging by the initial chapter he shared in his patreon, it should be a lot of fun.


Getting back to writing means getting back to music without words. How I love my soundtracks -- and my jazz and flamenco and classical playlists. John Wick, chapters 1-3, have been playing loudly when I've been writing this week. The heavy bass and dance music vibe adrenalizes my fingers as they play across the keyboard. It's energetic and exciting and just what I needed to get me back into the habit. 


Filed under:  Taking too literally the old saw of "write what you know." 

All of my writing, this week, has been in public, with six blogposts (this one being number 6; THE PRISONER!) Two of those involved making writing a habit, and why that's important. (very meta) 

Basically -- and obviously, though it took me years to get to this point -- without making a daily habit of writing, the work won't get done, and you won't begin to recognize problems with your writing. Only through doing it, living with it, working on it will you ever get to a point where your writing will be ready for primetime. 


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