Archive for writing life

A Writer’s life is like being on a Ferris-wheel…within a Sherlock episode…

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2014 by Mj Rains

ferris wheel

A writer’s life, and life in general, is often compared to a roller-coaster ride, but I like to think of it as being on a ferris-wheel. A circle up, a circle down.  On the sweep up, everything is cool, in order, coming together, filled with the anticipation of the top, the peak, the fruition of all the set up, the buckling in, the securing of the gate, to make sure you can safely reach the top and enjoy the ride.

At the top, the view is amazing. We see everything without obstruction. The air is clear, crisp, oxygenating, almost ethereal. We fill our lungs. We feel high, because we literally are.

Now put all this imagery into your job as a writer. We’ve all been on the ferris-wheel of writing. We’ve all been at the top, where we write every day, inspiration comes easily, as easily as your lungs take in that crisp, clean air at the top, and we see our story before us, almost writing itself. Ideas continue to flow. We can’t wait to get back to the computer screen because it’s no longer a blank lifeless page staring at us, but is filled with our words, words we are sure will be the next greatest novel ever to exist. Sometimes the ride stops for a while, to let some other riders board, and we get “stuck” at the top, but it’s not being stuck at all, because we are so high with our writing, our story, our characters who’ve become our friends, our family. We are not “stuck” at all, unless, of course, you’re afraid of heights. Unless, of course, someone next to you starts to panic a bit..

“We can’t stay here forever, right?” this Other voice says.

This Other voice is the procrastinator, the inner critic, and he usually wins.

The ferris-wheel ride continues. We move downward, we slack off. We are not at the top anymore but are creeping down, sometimes slowly…

Slow Descent = playing with websites/blogs more than writing, cleaning closets, watching tv, following 20 people we don’t know on Twitter, taking pics for Instagram…

…and sometimes quicker…

Quick Descent = I have to get off this ride because it’s not good. We listen to the Other voice saying, No one will like it, You are a lousy writer, Why bother, surely it’s been written before. And we think we have to start over.

And starting over gets shoved aside because now we are on the downsweep of the ferris-wheel. We get few circles around. We are bounced briefly up again, but it doesn’t last. Finally…it stops at the bottom. The safety harnesses are unbuckled, the door is unlatched. Time to get the fuck off and let someone else ride.

tumblr_mzkjwsupfp1t1nkcqo1_250Let’s go back to the top – and that Other voice. This “other” you that decided to come along, uninvited, on the ride even though he didn’t want to.  I like to compare this “other” you to the villain in the last episode of BBC’s Sherlock Season 3, Magnussen. He has this control, this power, and it’s source is his words. Only his words. You can listen, take heed, do as he says, and because he has all that power, you believe you have no choice. We discover in the episode all the information Magnussen holds over people to control them, all his “files” are merely stored in his head. His power lies only in what he tells people, how he manipulates them, and his wealth makes it happen. Our inner critic is Magnussen. He’s got nothing however. His “wealth” is our insecurity, our doubt, our lack of believing in ourselves as writers, or in our story, and he uses this doubt well to get what he wants. He takes us off the ride. He brings us down. We descend into his delusions. He tells us again that we are not good enough. “You are nothing,” he says.

And, as he does to Sherlock in the episode, he sets you up so that you go to prison for something you didn’t do. So, my advice: Do what Sherlock did. In the climactic scene Sherlock stands up to him. After all, the Inner Critic/Magnussen admitted all the evidence is in his head. tumblr_n62kuqSp0p1sopacdo1_250Sherlock grabs a gun, even though authorities have arrived to intervene and are yelling at him to step away from the villain so that he can continue to live and steal people’s lives… In one swift move, Sherlock grabs the gun, points and shoots. You can’t believe he had it in him, to kill a guy point blank, but he does. And we have this power too, to kill the inner critic while we are on the upswing, while we are on the top of the writing ferris wheel, before that inner critic has time to get comfortable.

Seems graphically blunt, I know, but I’ll go further. I say, after shooting, throw the fucker off the top and make sure he splats completely.  Nothing left. (Hopefully he didn’t land on anyone…) And then, stay on the ride. Let it sweep down and up continuously, because down is fun too. It’s where we loose our stomachs and giggle and dive in. It’s where we know we are going to be to be swept up once again…

…up where the air is so cool…
where our writing flows no matter what…

What a ride…

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The secret of keeping writing a secret…

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by Mj Rains

….for starters, you don’t fucking tell anyone! Here’s the thing, if you are a writer, you’ll know what I mean, if you are a “commoner” be warned!, we writers have to, positively, absolutely, keep our stories a secret. Sharing your story is not the thing to do as you wait in line to get cashed out, it is not the fun tale we tell on the long drive to Aunt Grammie”s house in God-Knows-Where, Michigan, and it is not the fodder for dinner conversation with co-worker/friends, who, if I quit my job I may never see again. Let me explain.

Last night’s Mad Men episode, brilliant once again, brought this musing/ranting blog post idea into my world this morning, when the character, the young Ken Cosgrove, got his story-writing and publishing revealed during a dinner party. His stupid girlfriend started bragging, of course after she explained how they met, which was when he was at the publishing company that she works for getting rejected. She just felt so sorry for him, she gushes, that she had to go out with him. (cringe, cringe) Whatever. Anyway, she tells the dinner party guests all this, then, then….THEN goes to tell them about his latest short story that’s being published. Mind you (and isn’t this mostly true for all of us?), the dinner party mainly consisted of non-writers, and, dare I speak it, non-readers (I cringe to think it!!) who have no idea what a short story is, especially a sci-fi/ fantasy one that poor Ken had written. After she exposes his brilliant baby, the stunned faces of the guests are enough to make any writer jump from the nearest bridge. Good-bye cruel writing world…was it me, or are most of the people I know idiots?? Main Mad Man, Don, interjects with a not-so-bad comment, we all know he can wondrously save any uncomfortable situation, but otherwise I felt true sympathy for Ken.

I keep all my stories a secret from the civilian populous that I must contend with on a day to day basis or weekends. I guarantee you that most of my family do not even know a shred of one word of even one of my stories, and so do not many of my acquaintances. It just isn’t worth explaining things to anyone when you know that they just won’t get it. Which is why dear Ken from Mad Men kept being an author to himself. He did end up sharing his secret with Peggy, but she is a writer, and a reader, and he shared his pen name and she even looked up one of his published stories and told him she loved it. Great! But before this, he got nailed by one of his bosses, who heard the word (word had spread quickly) that poor Ken, want-a-be writer, was moon-lighting on the side, publishing sci-fi shorts in magazines. Writing here at work should be enough for him, right? Poor Ken tells Peggy, the only one who perhaps would understand, that his fiction writing days are over and done!

Last scene, Ken in bed, his girlfriend asleep next to him, with his notebook on his knees, writing away! Brilliant. Next step, tape the girlfriend’s mouth shut or break up with her!

Do you keep your stories a secret? I do claim to be a writer when I explain what I do to others, but I don’t share a sniff of anything story-wise if anyone asks. Do you do the same? Do you trust people’s opinions if they are not writers? What if they don’t read fiction? What reactions do you get when you share if you do share? I am truly curious…

The Writer at Work

Posted in Cartoons with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2011 by Mj Rains

Love this!

Check out more great cartooning: Tom Gould.com

7 or 8 Things

Posted in Continuum Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2009 by Mj Rains

Whenever I write a new story, I take a tip from Michael Ondaatje, one of my favorites, and write out my own version of his short piece 7 or 8 Things I Know About Her  as a character study.  It always brings out curious, things un-thought of previously…I’m not sure why.  Here’s one.  This is a fiction piece.

               The Father

She waited every day for her father to return.  He’ll be home, probably tomorrow, her mom would lie.  She didn’t know it was a lie.  She’d listen for the Camaro’s engine every night until she fell asleep:  it was always quite loud when it came up the drive. 

              The Music

She loved the rock band’s songs.  When her mother took her to what everyone called the club, she thought of the tree house Sandy down the road had in her back yard and the ‘club’ the two of them created.  They played music on Sandy’s tape recorder.  They threw their supply of fist-sized stones at the boys who tried to climb up the ladder.  They played “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett and the Black Hearts and sang at the top of their lungs.

              One Dog

They adopted a dog with three legs that had been hobbling around the neighborhood.  He was old and raggedy but her mother patiently gave him a bath.  He slept on the rug by the kitchen door.  She took him out before school.  He hobbled off one day and never came back.  Mr. Pierce, who owned the bakery down town, said the dog was living with him for three weeks.  His name was fluffy.  She had called him Scruff.

              First Criticism

She is five years old and her parents are screaming at each other.  She sits and watches Sesame Street with her hands over her ears.  Look at that silly, stupid girl, her father yells.  She doesn’t know whom he is talking about.   She covers her ears tighter.

             Listening In

Over hear her in the bathroom of the dorm:  “You could have started over, you could have started over, you could have started over.”

              Self-Criticism

“I don’t like to feel sorry for myself but I always do.  Why do I always wear these same clothes?  Why don’t I get the highest grade, even when it’s an A?   Why do I have to wait to get picked every time?   I wait patiently for my time to come, because my mother says it will.  But when?

             Fantasies

To be picked as the lead singer of the famous rock band.  Her father says she’s got the chops.  She is given the spot without even trying out.   Everyone loves her.   She becomes more famous than her father.  He sits in the audience every night and claps for her.

             Reprise

At Sandy’s old house in the neighborhood, they tore down the tree house.  It had been up there for over twenty years.  She imagines she can hear that old Joan Jet song again as she drives by in the custom tour bus that is painted black and silver with her name emblazoned on the side in gold.  When the bus stops at the drive way a crowd of people she doesn’t know are there to greet her.  Her mother and father stand on the stoop smiling.

Avant-Garde Djuna Barnes

Posted in Writers with tags , , , , , , on June 30, 2009 by Mj Rains

DjunaBarnes

We still need to know more about Djuna Barnes to grasp her unique style, her radical fusion, her ideology.  Djuna was born in New York State in 1892 to an artistic, eccentric, strong-willed family.  Barnes became a stylish, self-created, self-supporting New Woman.  She lived in New York from 1913 to 1919, creating a bohemian bi-sexual life-style.  Red-haired, she was a vital presence and a vivid wit, sometimes using the psuedonym, “Lydia Steptoe”.  And she stepped on toes earning her own living and helping to support her family as a journalist and illustrator.  She also wrote stories and plays. 

Brange-Solano and Djuna Barnes Au Cafe, Photo by Maurice Brange of Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes in Paris, 1922.

During the 20s and 30s Djuna moved to Europe, finding a home in Paris, Berlin, and England.  Once again, her free-lance writing and her avant-garde lifestyle brought her into the artists groups and the lesbian circles.  She became friends with the celebrated lesbian leader of Paris Natalie Barney.  Her best known novel, Nightwood (1936) is a profound study of women relationships and encompasses her long affair with Thelma Wood, a sculptor. 

Others she associated with respected her work and her vision.  Some of these names included: James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Mina Loy, Samuel Beckett. 

Later, after WWII, returned to the United States, moving to Greenwich Village.  Here, she had such friends and admirers as Marianne Moore and Dag Hammarskjold {just love that name!} who was the Secretary General of the United Nations at the time.  She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Once a heavy drinker, she eventually gave up alcohol, but her famous red hair whitened with age and her brave wit seemed to turn vicious  and prejudiced nearing the end of her life.  She wrote, but rarely published, and died in 1982, sick of being old and alone.  (which is what this Wit sometimes worries about for some people that she knows.) 

Source:  The Heath Anthology of American Literature

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