The Muse Works When You Do

unnamed
Hilma af Klint

I just spent the weekend in New York City.  Kara, one of my best friends/travel buddies, and I explored the shit outta that town.  We traipsed and Lyfted our way from Spanish-Italian cafe to French bistro to Korean small plates through Central Park, to the MoMa and Guggenheim, in search of great food, beer, coffee, art, ice cream, and pizza.

What always blows my mind about travel, beyond the obvious benefit of ‘seeing the world,’ is the doors it breaks down surrounding my creativity.  Which is an easier sentiment to have while listening to the Dark Side of the Moon and contemplating Hilma af Klint than sitting in my robe in my bed back home.  It’s a fleeting feeling I’m constantly yearning for, yet what I learned on this trip is creativity is not actually one fleeting moment.

Continue reading “The Muse Works When You Do”

Thinking Writing

…in which the writer thinks about writing more than the writer actually writes…

I do this all the time.  Thinking about writing is probably more pleasurable to me than actual writing because it doesn’t involve any of the work.  It’s like, when you’re planning a trip and the whole lead up to and planning of the trip gives you more satisfaction than the actual trip.  Same thing, to me at least.  I think about writing before I go to bed, while I’m in the car, on a walk, when distracting myself at work… Thinking about writing is my daydreaming.

When I think about writing, I’m not just thinking about sitting down with a pen and paper and how and when, but I’m thinking about characters and stories and traits and worlds.  I create protagonists and villains, dystopian worlds, problems and actions, that all live in my head.  I write whole novels in my head that will never see paper.

This isn’t a “problem” in the grand scheme of things; like I said, this is how I daydream, pass the time, let my mind wander.  It keeps me from running actual real life problems over and over in my head.  But it doesn’t get me anywhere closer to being a writer.  It doesn’t give my stories life.  My creative energy is wasted on a loop with no exit.

It’s easy enough to say, I’m going to sit down and write.  It’s like going to the gym or eating healthier, where there is a lot of thinking about it, and not a lot of actual doing.  I’ve written about this conundrum before.  Sitting down and writing is not always fun, it’s work goddammit, work that I’m, for some reason, totally enamored with and work that I find myself not actually working on.

But I’ve been doing a lot of that thinking writing lately, so that means I need to re-examine my time and hunker down for some good writing.  It reminds me of a Mary Oliver quotation that haunts me.

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative
work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to
it neither power nor time.”

Most days, I try and push this quotation to the back of my mind, forget about it, unread it, because who, with a 40 hour a week day job, and a new home to finish, has the time to push aside “real life” for the solitude of creative work?  Most days, pushing the creative side away works.  Most days, I can get by in this way.  But then, a particular drive in the car gives me a particular thought and my mind spins and whirs again with story.

Is it ever really possible to forget our creative sides?  It may not be fulfilled by an art per se, maybe you do get that fire filled by your day job or you do have an outlet for it, and maybe it’s possible that there is no creative yearning…  But those who feel it, you know what I mean.

And so I find myself with only one solution: to write.

There is time, it is possible.  It has to be.

I finally watched Lady Bird.

…like, a year later, but I finally watched it.

My expectations were super high for “Lady Bird” because the internet loved this movie and because how could all of those award noms be wrong?  This was advertise as a story about a strong female character, and I’m definitely here for that.  I wanted to like this movie, love this movie, be inspired by this movie.  I wanted a fresh story about a young woman going after her dreams and achieving.  Just the day before watching it, I texted my girlfriends to say that I wanted to see it “v badly.”

Halfway through the film, I realized I hated it and cringe-watched it to the end.  This film is an awkward mix of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Garden State.”  It has the same kitschy vibe and, in “Lady Bird’s” case, it makes it feel too structured.  Lady Bird’s reality is so perfectly teenage-early-aughts that I didn’t believe it because it feels completely curated.

Lady Bird is, by far, the least interesting character in the film.  Sure, she insists on everyone calling her Lady Bird, but why?  Where did the name come from?  She had plenty of interesting views that Greta Gerwig (the writer/director) just gave her.  I found Lady Bird vapid, shallow, and ungrateful, all the worse because, unlike her popular “friend” Jenna, she has no idea that she is those things.  Wouldn’t someone who wants to be called Lady Bird have a strong enough sense of self to not give a shit about the popular kids, and think it’s cool to give a shit about the school’s drama production?  I’m officially sick of the trope of the nerdy cool girl ditching her real friend(s), wanting to be popular and liked by everyone, and it being passed off as a “coming of age” story.

I wanted to know so much more about her mother, her adopted brother, the real reason why her brother’s girlfriend lived with them, her sad drama priest, Julie, what happened when Danny came out and so much less about Lady Bird, about whom, as it turns out, there is not much to know.

Lady Bird has no struggle in her life.  The actual worst thing in her life is that her mom loves her too much.  But Lady Bird hates her mom so much, she throws herself out of a moving vehicle.  Why wasn’t that attempted vehicular suicide ever mentioned again?  Lady Bird’s mother, a psych nurse, should know a cry for help when she sees one.

Sure, Lady Bird’s family is “poor,” and true poverty can be tough.  Unemployment and collective family trauma can be tough.  Yet, Lady Bird is so disconnected from her family’s narrative that she, behind her mother’s back, applies for college across the county.  Of course, she makes it to college in New York City and that’s where Lady Bird’s final bits of “growing up” happen.  The ending is hollow and brief.  Ultimately, I felt there is no reason for her to hate or love Sacramento.  It was such a huge part of the plot, but with no supporting information about it.  We never got a sense of Sacramento beyond the fact that we are told that Lady Bird hates it (and then, also that she loves it).

“Lady Bird” is nothing new.  Lady Bird is another manic pixie dream girl, another John Green female supporting character, another hipster claiming originality.  “Lady Bird” is another “Girls.”  I will allow that if this movie wasn’t so hyped, I might have enjoyed it, but “Lady Bird” is old hat.

The Conundrum of Creativity

I told myself the weekend would be for writing.  I told myself I’d find some time to actually put more than a couple hundred words on the page.  And, well, I certainly wish it was easy as declaring it so.  I wish this nurse knew what the heck a weekend is.  When you work nights, and get off of working three in a row, it can be a struggle to balance the free time…because I mostly just want to sleep, and my immediate waking hours are spent eating.

*sigh* anyway, my writing over the weekend was mostly in stolen moments.  But today I have a couple hours free for writing, and afterward I’ll do more research (meaning: reading and watching television, ha!).

If you Google “how to be a writer” (which, I must admit, I’ve done more times that I can count…), it comes up with lists and lists of tips.  Consistently, one such tip is to commit to writing each day.  Treat writing like a day job.  Set aside a space and time for writing.  That sounds easy enough!  And, that’s what I’ve based my writing rules for this project around (writing, a minimum, five minutes per day).

I do view writing as a day job in theory, but I also severely romanticize the idea of writing a novel.  This creates quite a conundrum in my head.  How am I supposed to sit down and dutifully write each day, inspired or not?  This very question is what has stopped me from expressing these characters on page, the characters that live and breathe and have a whole life in my mind.  The muse has come by, the idea has flourished, but the words are still inside.

The struggle that I’ve found in writing this novel in the past is that my momentum ebbs and flows.  That’s the conundrum of creativity, I keep telling myself.  Creativity is not always a present force.  It’s not always whispered plot points or the next line of dialogue.  And why should I expect it to be so?  Just as almost anything worth it’s salt requires commitment, so to does writing a novel.  A dull, time consuming, not very romantic commitment.

Another tip on such lists is that the beautiful writing comes in the revision process.  Some writers state that they’ve completely re-written a novel a number of times before it’s in it’s finalized state.  And I’m holding this tip close, because as I dutifully fulfill my commitment each day to this novel, I can’t help but groan in my heart about how shitty it is.  I feel like every other word is “said” and I can’t connect scene to scene in any inspiring way.

I felt the same way when I finished my NaNoWriMo novel in 2010.  Make no mistake, that novel was a piece of shit.  The idea was interesting, and I wrote 50,000+ words about it, but damn, when I re-read it that one time, I groaned the whole way through.  And I haven’t touched it since.  But, the encouraging point here is that, shitty or not, I wrote the whole damn thing.  And that’s really all I’m aiming for here.  Who knows what is going to happen when this story is finished.

Right now, it’s just getting the words on paper.  Right now, I need to continue to show up.  Later, it’ll be a pretty and nice story.

(I can already tell y’all I’ll be writing so much more on this idea as the writing progresses.  So stick with me!  And maybe groan along with me as this thing unfolds.)

What do you do when your creativity feels stagnant?  How do you talk yourself around, or into, the mundane side of creation?  Let me know in the comments.

exploringly yours,
Alaina x

Making Time to Write

Welcome to a most mundane post!  But, as I want to plot and track this whole writing a novel journey, there will be mundane posts regarding organization and scheduling and all that great stuff!  I’m just hoping to keep all my thoughts in one place, for myself and, you know, posterity…

And so last night was my first day back to work after my trip.  For those of you who don’t know, I work nights (7 pm to 7 am) as a labor and delivery nurse.  The shifts are typically emotionally and physically exhausting, but I only work three shifts in a seven day stretch.  My unit tends to schedule us all three 12-hour shifts back to back, which is fine because it means I get more days off afterward.  When I work three 12s in a row, it’s work-sleep-eat-repeat.  And when I’m off those three in a row, I’m livin on a weird combo of night shift hours, attempting to adjust back to real people hours, and having no clue what day it is.  And, well, I can already tell you it’s going to be hard to find writing time between my twelve hour shifts.

Today, I’m in between two twelves.  I worked last night, got home this morning, hung out with my partner for a bit (won’t see him much in the next 24 hours because our schedules are so opposite and busy!), then went to sleep by 10 AM.  I slept until about 3 PM because, naturally, they are doing some major construction outside my apartment.  Still, I try to wake up a little early before a shift so that I can feel like an actual human being.  I walked to the local coffee shop and got an iced coffee, meditated, ate some food, and here I am.  Instead of writing my novel, I’m writing this blog post….hmm.

I can already tell this is going to be tough because my “creative process” isn’t the kind to just get down to business and produce something.  I like to go out to a coffee shop, browse Instagram, doodle, pay bills, organize, and, umm, not write immediately.  I was talking with my partner, and he suggested just getting in five good minutes of writing each day.  I love that idea!, even if it goes against my “process.”  But it requires a bit of planning, too.  In order to get in five good minutes of writing, I need to have a pre-meditated idea of where I want the story to go.

So here’s the plan… ten minutes of good writing time each day, in which I actually write for five minutes, and then plan for tomorrow’s writing for five minutes.  Sound fair?  That’s the plan for now.  Today is day three of this whole process, so let’s see how it goes.  Also — shoutout to Jessi Huntenburg for today’s Instagram post, shared below, on this conundrum.

💗This one’s for the #girlbosses , for the badass mamas who bust out their hustle to a chorus of requests to meet others’ needs. This is for ladies who work a full day only to come home and pursue their dreams into the wee hours of the night. This is for moms who work part time to save money on childcare, who work full-time because they have to or want to or who work from home while cooking, cleaning, and child-minding in between. This is for women who don’t let a sexist job market stop them from going after their due and who choose to stay home and raise their kids regardless of what the world might say about them. This is for any woman who’s doing her best to be her best self in this world–I salute you💗

It’s time to go after what I’m due.

What are you working on?  How do you schedule in creative time for yourself?  Let me know in the comments!

exploringly yours,
Alaina xx