About (still) writing poetry

Out of all the creative outlets I talk about here, my poetry and lyric writing get the next to least amount of commentary. [I talk about writing songs the least, alas, but that’s another post.] For a good number of years I just put it aside and rarely wrote any at all. And since the mid-10’s I’d been trying to force myself to write more of it, only to fail utterly. Part of it was that it had lost its enjoyment and no amount of forcing it was going to help at all. Another part of it was that I felt I was essentially writing the same personal themes over and over.

I’m noticing, however, that this latest Mead composition notebook of mine is getting rather full. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it, which is a lot more than the last several aborted tries at personal poetry chapbooks. This one was started a couple of months after I’d left the Former Day Job, and I’d done so on purpose: this was going to be a chapbook of endings and beginnings. Words about letting go of things I’d held for far too long, of coming to terms with things long left behind, and making the first unsure steps at something wanted yet untried.

That was the thing holding me back with the poetry and lyrics, really: lack of emotional movement. In a way it was the same with my music playing — once I gave it that emotional spark it had been lacking, I got better at it. Or more to the point, I’d finally come back around to the creative levels I’d been at in the past that I hadn’t been able to reach again. I had to do some purging of old ghosts before I could move on.

I might post some of these poems and lyrics here — or maybe even self-publish them on Smashwords — at some future point, but it’s not high on my list of projects. This kind of writing has always been personal: written for myself. Sometimes it’s to figure things out, other times it’s just to get something off my chest. Sometimes it’s serious and straightforward, sometimes it’s oblique and metaphorical, sometimes it’s just having a bit of fun.

I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years, though I wouldn’t know if it’s anything good and worth publishing. But that’s the least of my worries there: if it means something to me, then it’s good enough.

Almost there…

Image courtesy of Polar Bear Café

It’s been…a long work week. Six straight days of working noonish-to-midevening shifts at the shop, including both weekend days. Today’s the sixth day and hopefully I will not be walking home feeling like a zombie. I have tomorrow off, and I’d really like to use that day to get caught up on things. Thankfully I’m only there until 7:45 this time, so I won’t be too wiped out. It’s not that they’re overly long shifts — they’re roughly all eight hours long — it’s just that they’re during multiple busy times and that is what’s exhausting me.

Anyhoo. I have now worked out how I need to approach this next scene in Theadia. You could see it as the culmination of Act I, in which our heroes have taken stock in what’s going on in their universe and have chosen to take action. The original version reads a lot like a detailed “STUFF GOES HERE” moment and we can’t have that, can we?

Unfortunately these last few days haven’t given me much time or energy to focus too much on it, so hopefully my day off and the following morning shifts (the ones I love that leave my afternoons and evenings wide open) for the rest of the week will give me a lot more ability to catch up.

Here’s to hoping, anyway…!

Making notes

I don’t make longhand notes on my novel projects as much as I used to, but I’ll still rely on it when it’s needed. For example, this current scene in Theadia that I’m revising has a lot of intricate interweaving of story threads that need to go together in just the right way that I’ve broken out the small legal pad at my desk to work through how it needs to go.

I do still have a small pad in my back pocket after all these years, something I’ve done since high school. These days it’s mostly for shopping lists instead of music release dates or story ideas. It was probably the candle warehouse job where my writing notes graduated from that pad to folded-up pieces of printer paper.

Somedays I think about that: why is it that I need certain kinds or sizes of paper to work on certain projects? Maybe it’s that back-pocket-pad paper is small, cramped and easily torn, while printer paper is stronger and provides a larger ‘canvas’ to work on. I have some of it folded up and in my pocket that I bring to the Current Day Job. [Not that I have the best time to work on that sort of thing there what with the constant interruptions, but one can hope.] But there’s also that small legal pad I just mentioned — which I’ve been using a lot while working in Spare Oom for working things out. It’s almost like my penchant for the specific spiral notebooks I used to buy for my longhand writing: always a three-subject wide-ruled notebook. Because a five-subject notebook is too big and college-ruled gives the appearance that I’ve hardly written a thing. I know, it’s kind of silly, but so it goes.

Anyway — all this is to remind myself that it’s okay not to get any new words or revised words finished, especially when that time is instead spent figuring things out longhand on paper first.

Influences: Strangers in Paradise

The badass women of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise

Back at the start of my post-college days when I was slumming it in Boston, someone suggested I check out this new comic series called Strangers in Paradise. The first cover was a simple but lovely shot of two women in an art gallery: a moody blonde artist and her seemingly innocent dark-haired bestie. Inside was a story of that second woman having the worst luck with men, specifically a lawyer named Freddie Femur. You’d think this is a classic Bechdel-Test-failing love triangle, yes? Well, maybe not. Because there’s a lot more going on than you think with these characters. A lot more.

Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski, the ‘angry blonde’, is the girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks with a past she’d rather keep quiet. Francine Peters is actually not so pure and innocent and just wants a bit of stability. Freddie, of course, wants to be the slimy alpha male but fails badly at it. And somewhere along the line, Katchoo gets a visit from a fourth character: a kind, quiet and nerdy guy named David Qin, who just wants to take her out for coffee and get to know her.

And that’s only the first three issues. What happens in the next hundred-plus issues that were released between 1993 and 2007 is what truly pulls the reader into this wild universe of criminal underworlds, black ops action, political intrigue, hidden pasts, frustrations in creativity, unrequited love, marriage instability, emotional violence, and spiritual redemption. For some of them, life eventually brings them peace. For the others, not so much, but their downfall is always of their own doing.

What I love about this series is that Moore has chosen to make each female character in this universe as badass as possible in their own unique way. Whether they’re trying to escape their violent past or helping someone battle anorexia or coming to terms with their sexuality or merely just learning how to love and trust someone without any strings attached, these women’s stories very rarely fall into trope or stereotype. These are characters with a vibrant back story and an individuality that sets them apart from each other.

Reading Strangers in Paradise helped me learn how to write and understand my own characters, and how to make them interact. Moore will occasionally throw in silly humor, timely pop culture references, and perfect comedic timing, but when things are serious, he doesn’t hold back. From SiP I learned about pacing, about when to utilize a perfect show-don’t-tell plot device, and how different characters should and could interact. I also learned when to subvert a trope to make the story that much better. And most of all, I learned how a simple back-and-forth dialogue can tell the reader a lot more than just what they’re saying, whether by what’s not being said, or by how it’s being said.

I highly recommend giving the series a try! Moore is a wonderful writer, and he’s also a self-publisher!

**NOTE: If you’ve got $30 to spare, head over to Humble Bundle today or tomorrow, as his complete Abstract Studios bibliography is available in pdf form! If you miss out, check out his work at his Abstract Studios website!**

Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

There’s a World Outside

Image courtesy of Your Name

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work noticing there’s a world outside Spare Oom’s one window.

I mean, I know there’s a world out there, and I’m not talking about the unseen lands past the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. I’m talking about people in my neighborhood. The teens attending the nearby schools. The families in the neighboring houses and apartments in the Richmond District. The dog walkers, the late-shifters stopping in the store at 10pm to buy tomorrow’s lunch, the retirees stocking up for the week or buying that one ingredient they’re out of.

I’ve known they’re out there, but I’d kept them at a very long distance over the years. Part of it was the need to figure myself out without all the outside distraction and influence. And with the Former Day Job, my connection with others was mostly Other Businesses where there’s always that bit of enforced professional distance. I got along with my coworkers there but was never a close friend. But somewhere along the line that became the norm: I just didn’t people all that much.

When I started this retail job, I went in thinking one thing: If I’m going to deal with people, I’m not going to think of them as faceless Clients or Customers. That was a Former Day Job thing. I’m going to think of them as my neighbors and people I could get to know. Same with my coworkers; I may be old enough to be some of my coworkers’ parent (and young enough to be a whippersnapper to the older coworkers), but that shouldn’t keep me from getting to know them, learning a bit about who they are.

This, interestingly enough, has made me rethink how I approach creating new characters for my stories. I think that’s partly why I feel like Theadia is a bit more like the Bridgetown Trilogy than the last couple of novels I’ve written, because I’m giving these characters lives that are inspired or influenced by real life people I’m meeting. And in the process, learning a bit more about myself at a deeper level. Catching myself being who I am in a public setting without defaulting to a malleable People Pleaser every time. And it’s not just eye-opening but incredibly freeing.

Maybe the world outside isn’t as frustrating or stressful as I’d remembered it being.

Getting there

The downside to rewriting and revising is that after working easily through multiple passages and making minor corrections and fixes, I’ll hit a scene that’ll take forever to get through. I’m at one of them right now as I work on Theadia.

The scene is an important point in Act I where several of the main characters finally meet in the same room and choices are made that send the main plot off in its intended direction. This is a scene that I’d purposely skipped because the scenes leading up to it were driving me crazy and I really wanted to move on. [At first I felt the buildup was taking too long, but upon rereading it, it was totally fine and I was just being impatient. So it goes.]

There’s a lot of interweaving of characters-and-plot-so-far going on here, and in trying to do it right without causing more problems, I’m taking my own time with it. I’ve been working on it for at least a week now (and of course I’m getting impatient again), but I know I’m getting close to finishing it. I just need to keep it up.

The good thing is that once this particular trial is done, then I can get back to working on a few more light-and-easy passages again!

Work and Play

So today I find myself facing a three-day weekend for the first time since I started the Current Day Job, and I’ve already planned that today will be my run to Amoeba Records for dvds and perhaps some used cds and whatnot! We’re going to see a play on Saturday and if the weather is nice, we’ll take a walk in the part on Sunday.

Even at this point in my life, I still feel guilty when I decide to spend my non-work time not writing. Even if it’s watching TV — including things we enjoy watching — I still feel that nudge that I really should have the laptop on and work on my projects. Back in my Belfry years I’d allow a few PC games before getting started, and these days it’s other things like reading webcomics or futzing around with my music library for a bit.

How do I get rid of that guilt? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten rid of it, per se…more like I’ve chosen to just ignore it instead. I’ll say to myself that I’ll let myself play until a specific time and have a hard start time, and I’ll stick to it.

And what about all this time away from the PC at my Current Day Job? Good question, actually! If I’ve realized anything over the last couple of weeks, it’s that I’d somewhat forgotten what it’s like to work somewhere surrounded by other people. I mean, more than just an office setting with the same twenty or so people…this is working in a place where I meet all sorts of locals and visitors. It’s been so much longer than I realized, and to tell the truth, I kind of enjoy it! Weird, yes, but I’m seeing it as a sort of writing research, to be honest. Letting myself have a huge rethink about my own created characters. Something I can do for fun instead of trying to squeeze in something while manning the register.

Still, I’m happy that I’ve got these days off so I can rest, too.

Walking and Writing

My work commute, as I’ve mentioned before, is eight blocks. Which means that if I decide to take the bus, I’ll get there in about five minutes. Some days I do in fact take the bus, as the walk to my job is all uphill. (And some days I take the bus home, especially if I’m doing a late shift or had an exhausting day.)

The walk itself takes about ten or so minutes, so I’m really not wasting any time between work and home. So instead of being stuck in a car with my thoughts and frustrations, I let my head drift a bit. Sometimes I think about the next day’s plans, sometimes it’s about what I’m going to work on that evening. Sometimes it’s nothing at all, just a song stuck in my head. And I’m okay with that. And some days I think about what I’m writing.

Because while my schedule isn’t entirely uniform from week to week, I’ve had to rethink how I approach my writing time. I can still write every day, it’s just at a different time now and again. I’ll have a midday work shift but still wake up early so I can write in the morning. I’ll have an opening shift and get some done in the afternoon and evening. And I’ll even allow myself a bit of relaxation time — new release Fridays, chatting on social media, and so on — because why the hell not.

And I’ll still get the same amount of work done that I normally would. Just do it day to day.

The only downside to walking is that I have a stay-on-my-feet-all-day job so sometimes my thoughts are merely Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. all the way home.

Filling in the gaps

The rewrite/revision on Theadia continues apace, sometimes quickly and sometimes at a snail’s pace. It really depends on what I left out in the first draft.

Theadia is definitely the first novel project where I actively chose to let myself use “I’ll write that bit later” more than just once. In pretty much every other novel I’ve written, I’d tried not to skip scenes and always wrote in order. I did this because I’m conscious of the multiple moving parts of a novel and didn’t want to make any horrific continuity errors. I’d done it once or twice in recent novels: one point in Diwa & Kaffi where I knew I had to expand on one thing but I also knew its importance was only to that specific moment in the story and not anything later on. And in In My Blue World I’d had to rewrite a scene due to a major edit that took out an extraneous character I no longer needed. Other than that, I wrote continually from start to finish.

With Theadia, I knew I’d have to give extra focus on one side of the story being told because it was kind of a new area of expertise (I use that term loosely, heh) for me; I knew what I wanted, and I knew that its scenes would complement whatever the main characters were doing. So instead of spending all that extra time trying to get it right the first time, I made a few vague references of what was happening, as well as a few notes at the start of certain chapters explaining what was going on. I did a bit of research in the background while I wrote the scenes I knew I could write easily.

So right now what I’m doing for this project is filling in those gaps. This is working out well for the most part, as I’m doing two things in tandem here: I’m writing those important scenes, but I’m also thinking of how they’ll affect the ones I’ve already written. It’s taking the same amount of time I’d have taken if I’d written it from start to finish, but without the frustrating gaps of nonwriting that I’d have spent focusing on learning more about that new area of expertise.

I still have a long way to go of course, but I’m further along and that makes me happy enough.