Tag Archives: questions

Commitment v. Desire

18 Jun

COMMITMENT

[responsibility, obligation, duty, liability, task]

DESIRE

[wish, want, aspiration, fancy, inclination, impulse, yearning, longing, craving, eagerness, enthusiasm]

I don’t know about you, but to me?  One of these sounds way more appealing.  In an ideal world, the things you desire and the things to which you’re committed would be the same things.  Too bad the world isn’t always an ideal place.

There are tons of directions I could take this topic — relationships, work v. rest, budgets of all sorts, social responsibilities.  For now, because it’s a recurring theme I’ve seen at least three times this week, I’m pointing it in the direction of writer-sees-sparkly-new-project-and-wants-to-drop-everything-in-pursuit-of-said-sparkly-new-project.

As writers, we have more freedom than most to commit to the things we desire — if you’re writing a novel, a short story, even a blog post, it’s probably about a subject that appeals to you.  Right?  I hope so.

The hard part happens when new becomes old, dull replaces sheen, and our eye lands on a new desire.  There’s temptation to drop the current commitment and follow the sparkly thing, the pretty thing, the oh-this-would-be-SO-fun-RIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE! thing.

Usually, that temptation arises when the current commitment becomes difficult.

So, what are you to do?  Stick with the commitment, or follow the new desire?  Or, find a way to stick with the commitment and follow the new desire?  Well, I hate to disappoint you if you were looking for a hard and fast answer, but a) I don’t have one, and b) I don’t know if anyone does.  I have been thinking about this, though, so I’ll give you my thoughts.  Then, you should give me yours.

The way things are today, it’s become normal to do what we want, whenever we want to do it.  It feels unnatural to spend valuable time on a project we don’t always feel is valuable.  There’s the problem.  Feelings aren’t always reliable.  You have to go on truth, too.

Truth #1: Shiny new things will, inevitably, get dull and old.  Truth #2: Most worthwhile things take work.  Truth #3: Work is often hard.  Truth #4: If you’ve committed to it, you committed for a reason.  Truth #5: Nothing will ever get completed if you stop working on it when it gets hard.

However.

Misery isn’t exactly the goal, either.  I don’t think it’s wrong to want to enjoy life, or to want to enjoy the work you do.  So, when is it okay to drop a project in favor of a new one?  Here’s what I’m thinking.

[Click over to the actual post if you’re on the main page & the bullet list is scrunched/impossible to decipher.]

It’s not okay to sacrifice Dull and pursue Sparkly when:

  • Someone else is counting on you.
  • You are legally obligated to follow through.
  • Your financial health depends on you upholding the commitment.
  • Your reputation or your integrity would be tainted because of it.
  • You’re acting purely on emotion, rather than truth + emotion.

It’s reasonable to ditch Dull and pursue Sparkly when:

  • No one else suffers negative repercussions from it.
  • The reason your current commitment is hard is because the idea is lame, will never work, and you’ve spent way too much time already trying to force it into something it’s not.  You had high hopes for it, and it is still hard to let go.
  • You are overcommitted, others end up having to pull your weight, and you are hurting more than you are helping.
  • You genuinely believe, after much thought, that the new project is a more valuable use of your time.
  • It’s a commitment for an undefined length of time, one which will never end unless you end it.
  • You don’t have a jumping-from-project-to-project-and-never-finishing-anything track record.

These lists are, most likely, not exhaustive.  Also, there are probably circumstances where exceptions happen.  And, like I said before, I don’t have answers — these are just thoughts, opinions based on (a slew of sometimes painful) experience.

To sum up: commitment is good, difficulty is not bad, misery is not preferable.  Emotions can blind, and are not reliable if unmixed with truth.  Overcommitment is a draining cancer.  Doing things you know are healthy — even if they’re not particularly enjoyable — can lead to wonderful, surprising results.  And, there are times when dropping commitments can be the best decision.  (Not a lot of times, but they do exist.)  Other times, you can keep current commitments, but still try to get a marginal amount of work done on the sparkly project in time not already devoted to anything.

Okay.  Enough of me.  What do you guys think?  How do you decide what to work on, when to work on it, and when to move on?

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Post #100 | Greener Grass

11 Jan

This is Post #100, and my goodness: how that little number has kept me from writing all week.  I keep thinking, “It’s number one hundred!  It’s special!  Therefore, I need to make something special of it!”

What, though?

Well.  A quote has been simmering in my head ever since I read it weeks ago; now seems as good a time as any to share it with you guys.  This little excerpt is part of a much longer interview with Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time-Traveler’s Wife.  The question is in regards to her sizable advance for her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.

Q: How does that amount of money change your writing life?

A: …Back in the ’90s, I started going to artist colonies.  The one I go to most is Ragdale.  I remember the first time I ever went to Ragdale, and I was just like, Oh my…I’m going to get up today and I’m going to do what I want.  I’m going to make stuff.  And it was such a fantastic feeling to own your own day.  You know, nobody was going to tell me what to do that day.  And I thought, that’s what I aspire to, just to be in control of your time.  So there was a point a couple of years ago where I suddenly realized I had achieved control over my day.  And that was really exciting.  So from that point on it’s all pretty much the same: the freedom to make what you want when you want.  And I think that’s just what we’re all looking for is that kind of liberty.

– from the November/December 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest | click here to read the full interview

Her answer caught me off guard when I read it.  From someone who has achieved what so many writers aspire to — publication, loads of people who have read and enjoyed her work (though ‘overnight success’ came only after many years of hard work and twentyish agent rejections), a huge advance for her second novel — this quote carried a lot of weight for me.  

After all of this, it sounds like she’s most satisfied with freedom, liberty, control of the way she spends her time.  

I think this is an amazing reminder to those of us who are still on the opposite end of the “success” spectrum (whatever that means; I guess I mean the way success is commonly perceived, i.e. sales and popularity and money).  The money is satisfying to her because it buys her more time to do what she already loves to do: create.

Niffenegger’s wisdom inspires me to appreciate what I have, right now.  To enjoy each moment spent creating — whether those moments add up to eight hours a day or eight hours a month.  To not say “I’ll be happy when ____” but to drink in the experience as it happens.  To not wish for a day when I’ll be rich, or popular, or Queen of the Bestseller List, under the deluded idea that these things in and of themselves are a source of lasting, deep, inner happiness.  Because they’re not.  You can have all these things but still be utterly discontent, hungry for more, anxious and unsatisfied.  All of this reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes¹ that says, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This, too, I see is from the hand of God.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against popularity and money and sales and all the things that could come from the love of creation, and diligent work applied to that creation.  I’ve just been thinking about motivation behind my time spent creating, and a realistic perspective of the grass that looks so green on the “successful” side of the fence.  That no matter what happens today or in the future, I can take joy in this day, and the freedom I have to create.

Just thought I’d share that with you, since it inspired me to love what I do, even more, as I do it.

¹Taken from the NIV translation of the Bible, it’s from Chapter 2 verse 24.

Two Roads Diverged in a Wood…

2 Nov

Fear, n. | An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Deep down, I know I have to write the story¹.  At least, I know I can’t ditch it purely based on fear, or an emotional challenge.  You guys are right, and I thank each and every one of you who took the time to read my (very long) post and give such thoughtful feedback.  

Yesterday morning, I woke up on my own at 6:45am, ready to write.  What was I ready to write?  I still had no idea when I sat down at my laptop.  So, I listened, open to all possibilities, and just went with what I heard.  What I came up with stars the main character from the book I’ve been debating about, but already, she’s taking on a life of her own.  

Honestly?  I’m not sure if I’m writing the book I told you guys about, or a different one altogether.  There are two distinct directions I could head with this story, and I’m undecided at the moment.  Right now, I’m only 1639 words in, and it could work either way.  By the end of today, I hope to have boosted my word count in a huge way, and make a final decision.  

Even as I write this, I’m leaning toward taking the difficult path, mainly because the premise intrigues me so much.  I think the ideas I had for the more pleasant path could mesh well with what I have and form some nice, complicated layers to the already complicated plot.

Oh, by the way, it looks like Mr. Cat may go to Mars, after all.  My sweet husband, after some serious hesitation, gave in and wrote several hundred words yesterday, starting with what was pretty much only a joke about our cat.  He doesn’t normally do this kind of stuff – he’s extremely smart and creative, but hasn’t dabbled too much in writing.  I heard his first few paragraphs, you guys, and they are SO GOOD.

Thanks again for all your wisdom, everyone.  Happy writing/NaNo-ing/NaHoCleMo-ing to you all!  (Wanna get in on NaHoCleMo?  Click here to read about Linda’s great idea!)

NaNoMeter:  1,639 down | 48,361 to go

¹If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.

 

Mr. Cat…Goes to Mars?

31 Oct

I’ve taken down the majority of this post, mainly so my novel plot idea won’t be floating around on the Internet forever.  This was originally a post asking for advice on whether or not I should continue forward with an idea I had for a novel after seeing something traumatic (and related to it) in person.  We saw the traumatic event occur two days before NaNoWriMo 2009 began, hence the need for advice (and all the comments on this post!).  

Here’s the tail end of the post, left in tact largely for the question at the bottom and especially for the picture, which never fails to make me laugh:

IMG_1649

At this point, my only other idea is Mr. Cat Goes to Mars.  Um…yeah.  This started as a joke, but if I don’t decide soon, or think of something else, I might just spend the next month writing 50,000 words about Remy the Cat navigating a spaceship (can’t you imagine him doing this, based on this oh-so-cute photo of him?).  He’s cute, but I’m not so sure he’s 50,000 words cute.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  How do you guys handle topics you’re afraid of, or do you handle them at all?  

Melodymakers

1 Oct

In honor of my not getting to sing at last night’s Ben Folds concert¹, I hereby declare today Music Thursday.

What is Music Thursday, you ask?  Well, my friends, today I’m diverting from my usual posts about writing (and the occasional posts about cats and bad drivers) to talk a bit about – what else? – music.  Obviously.

First on the list: My incredibly wonderful husband and I are facing a dilemma, and I want your opinions.  It turns out two of our new favorite musical artists are playing concerts in Dallas in November – on the same day.  If you had to make the choice, based on the live performance videos linked to their names, which concert would you see?

The lovely, eccentric, brimming with creativity Regina Spektor?

or

The fresh, up-and-coming, catchy-yet-not-cliché Erin McCarley?

Like I said, click on their names and it should take you to a video, if you’re not familiar with their music.  If you want to help us make this difficult decision, please leave me a comment about it!  The bright side to this dilemma is that we’d be spending two weeks’ grocery money if they played on different nights.  So there’s that.

Now that I’ve mentioned two major artists, I thought I’d feature some less-known local talent from the town where I live.  After all, it is Music Thursday, and you don’t have to be famous to make great music.

First up: Darcy, a group made up of guys who are as nice as they are talented².  Check out their latest video here.  If you like what you see and want to hear more, they released their first album on I-Tunes today, called The Brighterside.

Also: Ashley Gatta.  She’s got a quirky timbre to her voice, and is a local singer-songwriter.  I like her stuff – click here to see her perform her song “Ain’t Nobody.”   Ashley’s album, Forget Subtlety, is available on I-tunes; also, here’s a link to her MySpace page.

Thanks for taking a break from my regularly scheduled thoughts on writing with me!  I kind of went link-crazy today, but hey – that’s what happens when I come thisclose to performing on-stage with Ben Folds and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  Which means?  It probably won’t happen again.

Remember to give me your thoughts on the whole Regina v. Erin debate, if you are so inclined.  

One final thought: while I was writing this post, my husband randomly started singing Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again” while slaving away at his computer work.  To embarrass myself here more than I may have embarrassed him, let it be known that when that video came out, I spent hours trying to copy the dance from her video.  This wouldn’t be nearly as hilarious if I was coordinated.  There are many things I am – a writer, a singer, an organized Post-It note lover, and much more.  A dancer, I am not. 

¹Fortunately, for them, they were healthy and therefore got to have an incredible experience.  Unfortunately for me, I wanted to fulfill my duty as alternate backup singer and instead, made a grocery list.  

²I guess the “they’re as nice as they are talented” only works if you think they’ve got talent.  They’re definitely nice.  Just thought I should clarify that, lest you be of the opinion that they stink.

Peace, Please

23 Sep

DeskThe peaceful desk you see here is where I normally sit down to write.  

There are times, though, when I cannot focus for the life of me while at this desk, or anywhere at home.  I get wrapped up in life’s infinite to-do list, distracted by dishes, dirty clothes, and other necessary tasks that beckon my attention.  It certainly does not help that over the weekend, we adopted a second kitty.  His name is Dexter, and he’s the most adorable three-month-old bundle of fluff who chases my feet, swats my curls, and runs around the room with a worn workout sock dangling from his mouth.  Cute, yes.  Also?  A fun distraction!

When I get in these can’t-focus-funks, I head to Starbucks or La Madeleine.  The problem with this, though, is familiarity.  Not only am I on a first-name basis with every Starbucks employee, but they’re my friends, as well.  Plus, it’s hard to focus when five chatty businesspeople take the seat right beside you – seriously, two feet away – even though it’s plain you’re trying to concentrate.

One day last week, I ended up writing 1,500 words from the passenger seat of my car, for lack of other private (or quiet) options. Rain splattered my windows the entire time, the sky was gray, and I parked in a place overlooking a green field lined with tall, green trees.  It turned out to be an amazing place to write, something I’d never tried before.  I’d go there now, except my battery is about to die.  

I don’t know what my problem is.  Some days, I can write until my wrists hurt in any location, no matter how loud, no matter how many chores are begging me to spend time with them.  Other days, I feel like I have to have just the right environment or else my productivity (in terms of writing, anyway) is doomed for the day.  Sometimes this depends on where I am in my novel.  Sometimes I just feel like life is cluttered; the clutter closes in on me as I sit in the midst of it, whether it’s noise clutter or chore clutter or too-many-thoughts-about-other-things clutter.  

When this happens, I either push through it, go elsewhere, work on a different project,  read, or succumb to the clutter.  If this happens, I try again later in the day, sometimes with better results, sometimes still under a fog of funk.  Today is finally getting back on track, after writing this blog.  Victory!  Hopefully that will translate to my ability to make necessary headway in my novel this afternoon.  

How much does location affect your ability to write?  How do you beat the clutter, the to-do lists, short of forsaking your writing time to eliminate them?  If you have no place else to go, do you have any tricks for setting your mind to work, and then getting it done?

Lock Them In A Room

20 Sep

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – oh, how I’ve missed it! – and even longer since I’ve written anything specifically related to the writing process.  Lately, it’s been all cats and bad drivers.

Not tonight, though.  I’m writing about writing tonight, y’all (though it’s disguised, in parts, as a television re-cap…trust me on this!).

Tonight is an effort to redeem the twenty-four-ish minutes I spent watching the new NBC comedy Community, which I hoped would be on par with The Office and 30 Rock.  Sadly, if the rest of the season follows suit after episode one, that hope is unlikely.  Thus far, I measure its worth not in how many times it made me laugh, but unfortunately, how many times it made me groan.  

The thing about Community is this: though it made me roll my eyes and sit there not laughing, it did inspire me to think.  Yes, I rolled my eyes, but why?  With such snappy dialogue (sometimes), why did it just not measure up to the tried-and-true treasures of the NBC wonderworld?

As a fledgling author, I’ve done my fair share of thinking about the whole what-makes-a-story-work question.  You’re familiar, I’m sure – depth of character, suspense, tension, conflict, realistic motivations, show-don’t-tell – all that good stuff.

I hate to say it (but I’m going to, anyway) – Community broke all of those rules in its pilot episode.  

First, we are introduced to a bunch of half-developed characters who have their own sorta-cliché little roles (the Pretty Girl, the International Dweeb, the Old Guy).  Then, we move from one uninteresting location to the next, and not only is there very little action, we basically just watch as two or more characters engage in conversation while they stand/sit in one place.  I’m pretty sure this is the definition of boring, and sadly, a bunch of quippy one-liners fell on deaf ears for lack of ability to call attention to themselves.  They drowned in a sea of static blahdom, crammed and glossed over.   Many words were written and read, but good writing consists of more than just words, it seems.

The main thing that inspired this post, however, was the lack of sufficient motivation present in their characters.  I noticed this particularly in a scene toward the episode’s end.

The scene:  Main Guy has crush on Pretty Girl.  Pretty Girl likes honesty, Main Guy is a liar.  Main Guy offers to tutor her in Spanish, but he doesn’t know Spanish.  She agrees.  To Main Guy’s annoyance, International Dweeb invited several people to attend the tutoring session.  All are strangers at this point.  Cliché Strangers don’t get along and awkward bickering ensues.  Pretty Girl pulls Main Guy aside, tells him to fix it.  Main Guy goes back in the room and gives witty speech to Cliché Strangers, who listen and cease the awkward bickering.

Okay.  Now that you have the run-down, what bothers me so much about this scene is why don’t they all just leave?  It’s not like they’re forced to be in this room at the library, at a study group together, with a man who isn’t really in charge of anything.  The door is open, they could just walk right out.  But they don’t.  They sit around a table and bicker, they sit there while Pretty Girl talks with Main Guy, they sit there as if they’re chained to the chairs.  Are they really such losers that they’d rather sit in a room at the library all afternoon with a bunch of strangers, mad at each other?  Are they really that desperate for something to do?  Same with Pretty Girl – if she doesn’t trust or like Main Guy, why not just leave?  She only met him two-and-a-half seconds ago.

This, obviously, got me thinking about conflict and proper motivations while writing characters in our novels.  Characters need to be believable, and not flat paper-dolls puppeted by our contrived little agendas.  We have to lock them into rooms with their adversaries if we want them to stay, because logically, why would a person stay around someone who is berating, abusing, torturing them, or just plain wasting their time?  And, these rooms aren’t merely physical – we have to lock them to the conflict by developing what’s at stake emotionally.  Only then do motivations become plausible, and staying face-to-face with the enemy becomes not only reasonable, but inevitable.

And…that’s the end of that.  To make up for my (slightly negative, though good-natured) criticism of Community, expect a more positive post in the near future about Glee, a show that is inspiring me in much more fun and sparkly ways!

Anyone else have an example of how pop culture has influenced your writing process, whether for good or for bad?