You find yourself in a dark forest, the thick canopy above creating a perpetual twilight. Looking around, you see trees marching off into the infinite distance, their trunks standing in a sea of thick underbrush, the rough bark covered in dark moss and lichen. Here, there is no sense of place or time, no sense of direction or distance. You stand immobilized, trying to decide what to do next, unable to make a decision.
Eventually, you realize you can’t stay here forever. Surveying the immediate vicinity, you see the brush and ivy make some areas nearly impassable. Finally, you choose a direction, picking your way carefully lest you twist your ankle on some hidden rock or divot in the terrain. Some time later, though how long is impossible to say, you find a small stream, the clear water trickling musically in the deep silence. Thirsty, you drink, the water cold and refreshing, and as you crouch there, the dark rocks of the bank slippery beneath your feet, you resolve to follow the stream, hoping it will lead you out of this place.
How long you walked like that, it’s impossible to say. But eventually, after what seems like many hours, the forest ahead of you starts to change, the brush seeming to thin, occasional bursts of light breaking through the trees above. Soon, you catch a glimpse of the edge of the forest, it’s green leaves shining in bright sunlight, and you break into a run. Careless, you trip and stumble, barely catching yourself on the trunk of a nearby tree, the bark cutting deep scratches into your palms. And suddenly you are in the open. Before you a hill slopes down into a great open plain, tall grasses marching endlessly into the distance, their blades swaying rhythmically. Turning your face skyward, you see the sun directly overhead, the sky clear and unmarred.
As the minutes pass, the initial excitement fades, and you begin to realize that you have no more idea of where you are now than you did before. Ahead of you, the plain fades into blue obscurity, the horizon an unbroken line with no feature to recommend one direction over another. In the back of your mind, you discover a small part of you regrets leaving the forest; at least there, the dark trees and thick plants meant you had few choices to make. But here your options are limitless. Overwhelmed, you sit in the deep, warm grass. What now?
<table/note a> a: In case you were curious, this would be my attempt at describing where I am in the piece I’m currently working on. Why didn’t I just stay in the damned forest? —-
As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the most important bits of advice given to anyone interested in writing is that it’s vital to write as much as possible. After all, how else does one improve at a craft than by practicing it? Furthermore, if one is really serious about improving, it’s important to set some hard, achievable goal which can be used to goad oneself into action. And so it is that I’ve decided to take on the challenge outlined in King’s book: to write 1,000 words a day.
Now, part of me thinks it’s a little premature to announce this here. And I will freely admit that this is quite an ambitious goal (though, what’s the point of a goal if it isn’t at least a little ambitious?). “What if this is just another passing fancy?” a little voice in the back of my head whispers. “What if you get bored or frustrated and just give up?” Well, what better way to strengthen my weak will than to back it up with a public declaration?
Of course, the biggest challenge the past few days has been finding the right time to do this. On a poorer day, it takes me around two hours to pound out 1,000 words (not necessarily good words, mind you, but words nonetheless), and so I need a block of time that would otherwise be unoccupied. I’m also of the belief that it’s important to pick a consistent time of day, so that this becomes a habit (and also helps my brain switch gears from daytime layabout to evening fiction-hack). Fortunately, the two hours after we get home, between 4:15 and 6:00, should work pretty well. We usually spend that time idle in front of the TV, anyway, so at least I’ll be getting something useful (to me, anyway) done.
But as always, one of the biggest difficulties is finding ideas. Fortunately, in “On Writing”, King outlines a simple little scenario and challenges the reader to hack out a story based on it, and so I’ve chosen that as my first project, mainly as an exercise to just get some words on paper. And at 3,100 words, I think it’s making some decent progress. Of course, I have no idea how long it’ll be once it’s finished, and I will freely admit that it’s no Pulitzer Prize winning piece of work, but it’s something, and it’s mine.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered another difficulty which I hadn’t anticipated: coming up with new, interesting ideas while working on another piece. This morning, while standing half-conscious in the shower (which, as it happens, is where I often come up with my best ideas, whether they be stories or programming solutions), I suddenly had what I think is an interesting idea for a short story. But, of course, being in the middle of something already, it’s necessary for me to set this idea aside for the moment and focus on the piece at hand, something which is much harder than I had anticipated.
As a bit of an aside, no, I haven’t made any progress assembling Jory’s friggin’ baby blanket. I made an attempt to sew the thing together, one day, but was unhappy with the seam I constructed, and so I’ve since felt rather discouraged. On the other hand, I really do need to sit down and just finish it, so I can dispense with all these little red doilie-esque pieces that are laying about our house.
However, for those concerned readers, no, I don’t think my writing goal will interrupt with the progress of the blanket. For one, I’m not making any progress anyway, so unless I start actively unraveling the thing during moments of blind frustration, I fail to see how things could get any worse. And for another, I tend to knit later in the evening while watching TV, anyway, so it should all work out nicely. I hope.
First, The Bits
Well, I must apologize for my last entry. As is, I think, fairly evident, the truth of the matter is that I hacked out that little fragment more out of a sense of duty than a real desire to write. It’s an excellent example of a simple truth: if you’re not in the mood to write, it’s probably best not to.
Second, it would appear that some people feel they were rather under-represented in my (decidedly mechanical) tale of our vacation. So, in an effort to remedy the situation and avoid any chance of future retribution, let me say a big thank-you to Michelle and Jeff and their lovely children for hosting us during the Alabama leg of our trip. Michelle is one of Lenore’s friends, whom she met duh duh duuuuh online! Yes, I know! For all we knew, we were walking into some sort of bizarre, Deliverance-esque nightmare. But, luckily, things seemed to turn out alright. And I didn’t even have to squeal like a piggy.
Anyway, I know I had a great time, and I’m fairly sure Lenore did, too. Although, Alex, I’m gonna get you for giving me this cold! So thanks again for putting up with us. Southern hospitality truly is alive and well!
If it hasn’t been evident, in the past year or so I’ve started making small forays back into the world of writing after a break of, oh, thirteen or fourteen years. You see, back in junior high, I took a course on creative writing and produced a long, decidedly derivative fantasy piece involving some quest for a magic crystal or somesuch. This was, I suspect, around the time I was reading the Belgariad and the Mallorean, so I suppose that’s not entirely surprising. Anyway, I quite enjoyed the process, but it didn’t take long before I was side-tracked into the world of computers. This was probably inevitable as, aside from a natural aptitude, I also had a very encouraging computer teacher and a not-so-encouraging creative writing teacher.
But after a hiatus of over a decade, I’ve found myself drawn back to writing and storytelling. This is, I think, in no small measure a result of increasing boredom with programming and computing which has almost certainly been exacerbated by a, shall we say, less than stimulating work environment (yes, I could remedy this situation… but I’m lazy, damnit!). I also happen to have a history of searching for new creative outlets, as anyone who knows me can attest. Programming, guiter, cooking, knitting, they’re all ways in which I am empowered to create.
The problem is, in the end, they are all limited in their way. The simple fact is, I’m not a terribly good guitar player, as much as I enjoy making noise with my old Yamaha. Nor am I a particularly good cook (competant, yes… but good? No). Knitting, while enjoyable when I’m not in the mood to think too hard, is too restricted (do I really want to make another pair of socks?) And so I find myself drawn back to writing. Of course, that’s not to say I’m actually any good at writing, either, but I do enjoy the process.
Anyway, as if by divine inspiration, a couple of years ago my sister Rheanne bought me a book by Stephen King entitled “On Writing”. To be honest, I’m not sure she really knew what she bought, purchasing the book based entirely on my clear enjoyment of King’s work (you need only look at my bookshelf to see I’m a fan). And at the time I was somewhat bemused by the gift. I had, to some degree, moved on to other authors, and why would I want to read a memoir about Stephen King, anyway? So, to the basement it went where, I’m ashamed to admit, it ended up in a garage sale box.
Well, as it happens, last night I was musing about the process of writing. As I was considering the thought of creative writing classes, I suddenly remembered the book my sister had bought me. So I raced downstairs and dug it out of the box it was in, and promptly chewed through three quarters of it, finishing the rest this morning.
In short, I found the book inspiring. King spends the first half of the book detailing his early life, showing the events which lead to the development of one of the most prolific authors of our time. The second half is then spent on the process of writing itself. It begins with basic guidelines that everyone has heard from time to time (e.g., avoid adverbs). He then goes on to issues of description and dialog composition, advice on plot and thematic development (King’s approach is situational, allowing the plot and theme to evolve as the characters interact, rather than relying on premeditation), pacing, and a variety of other topics. Eventually, he even covers how to find an agent and get published. And to top it off, the end of the book includes a section where King presents an unedited excerpt of his tale ‘1408’, followed up by an edited version and explanations for the various changes. In my opinion, this section alone is worth the price of the book.
But what I most enjoyed about the book is the simple, down-to-earth approach King takes. In an industry full of high-brow critics and literary posers, King’s book is simple, honest, permissive, and encouraging.
It’s just a shame that, apparently, there isn’t some magic trick for finding good ideas. Because I could really use some help there…
I didn’t think I’d like Disney World. The kids. The strollers. The cranky parents. The constant barrage of Disney-branded products. And that damned Mickey head everywhere! Really, it sounds like my worst nightmare.
But it wasn’t that bad. Okay, sure, it was cheesy, and there really was a constant barrage of Disney-branded products. It was crowded, expensive, and the weather sucked. But oddly, I had a pretty decent time. We spent our first day in Animal Kingdom, which is basically a large zoo. Day two was dedicated to Magic Kingdom, which is the Disneyland replica. And day three found us in Epcot. Yes, we chose to forgo MGM, since neither of us cares that much about rollercoasters or movie trivia.
I can’t say I can really pick a favourite among the parks. I enjoy zoos (at least ones that have decent animal enclosures and work hard on conservation efforts and so forth), and they had some decent attractions. The Magic Kingdom had quite a few good attractions, and I particularly enjoyed the Haunted Mansion (some of the effects there are quite impressions) and Space Mountain. Of course, the Dream Fastpasses we won, which allowed us to hit each FP-enabled ride once whenever we wanted, were pretty darn nice as well. And Epcot has some fantastic simulators (the space simulator was particularly impressive), and a ridiculous fireworks show at the end of the evening.
So, yeah, overall, good experience.
After that, we visited Lenore’s friend Michelle and her family in Alabama, which included a visit to the Huntsville Space and Rocketry center, which is run by NASA. That was very cool, and gave me a chance to see the Pathfinder shuttle, a real Saturn V rocket, as well as a vertically standing replica (the Saturn V will actually collapse under it’s own weight if it’s stood vertically without being fueled), and a ton of other artifacts, including a capsule from one of the Apollo missions. Very cool stuff. And, as a bonus, one of Michelle’s friends, a guy by the name of Andre, joined us. Andre works at NASA. Andre was involved in the Cassini mission, and now finds himself working on the liquid stage for the Ares I rocket!
So, in the end, a good trip. Exhausting, but good.