Sunday, February 27, 2005

To Bake or Not to Bake?

Don't you just love floating pictures?
I want to bake something, but I don't know what I'm really in the mood for. Give me some time to think it through, give me some time...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

About Me

Lederhosen is the Appalachian Trail, Gubernatorial is the Garden State Parkway, Pumpernickel is for Lunch and It’s Okay for You to Not Understand

A while back I had a writing assignment for a workshop class that I wasn't able to do. The deadline came and the deadline went and all I had to show for myself was a blank Word document and coffee-stained mugs. I told myself it was writer's block and that I would get passed it and write a masterpiece, but it took weeks of skipping class and dodging my professor in the halls before I was able to put something together.
I thought about starting a journal. If I could jot something down daily--a paragraph about what happened when I went to the bookstore or a couple of sentences about what I thought about on the bus ride home--I would become so comfortable writing that I wouldn't have to think about looking at blank pages. The words would end up falling out of my fingers and littering the page, overwhelming me with their abundance and brilliance.
The problem with keeping a journal, though, is that I never finish projects. I can't play a single song on piano by heart even though I took lessons for nine years. I tried writing for publications a few times, but never sent anything in to be published. I sacrificed As for Incompletes by not doing those two-page papers titled "What I Learned in this Class." A plain ol' journal, I knew, just wouldn't help. As someone so completely and totally lacking self-motivation, I needed more than just myself cheering me on.
At the end of February 2005, I started a blog. I figured that with a blog I could keep a daily journal both for myself and others. If there would be an inevitable point somewhere in the future when I would be abandoning the journal, at least having a fan-base would make that more difficult. When five of your closest friends and your parents are reading what you write, it's hard to turn them down.
This semester, I had to read Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power for class. The book said to write--just free write--and then go back later and edit because editors kill creativity. But I raised my hand during a class discussion and said, "oh how interesting because really, I find that my editor is better in the creative moment when I know what it is I want to be saying so I can read back what I wrote and see if that's what I wanted or how I can redo it to make it sound how it should.” I then added a “y'know, I read a paragraph seven times or so before going on" expecting that my professor would, in fact, know.
"SEVEN TIMES? That seems a bit much." Chuckle.
When I started writing daily, I didn’t have the patience to edit properly. It doesn’t matter, I told myself, this is just an exercise. At first I put out little rants--paragraphs about fluff written with words that I spent no time choosing. The more people commented on and read what I wrote, the more I realized I had to be careful with my quality control. Still faced with the issue of not wanting to waste time, I started composing sentences and working on their structure in my head before ever sitting down to write. The writing and editing processes gelled together for me and slowly, writing for the sake of writing was starting to lose its fun.
The truth of writing lies in words, so I went back to the basics. At first, I wrote a list of the words I love. The list--fifteen syllables, three words--consisted of nothing more than gubernatorial, pumpernickel, and lederhosen. So I wrote, “Gubernatorial [goo-ber-nuh-tawr-ee-uhl, -tohr-, gyoo-]. If I could marry the word gubernatorial I would. I just love it that much.” Then I did a free write. It wasn’t a very long free write, but I ended it by saying, “Even now, I wrote out goobernahtour-e-uhl because the word makes my mouth feel happy and I had to say it a few times and then I figured that I should try to free write without editing. Even now with no editing, I reread what I wrote three times. I didn't edit. But I read it over and over. My essays usually get thinner near the end because I've so killed the beginning with my compulsive reading-cutting-changing-fixing habits that all I want to do is hand them in and not look at them again.”
I realized that my theory about my editing skills working best “in the creative moment” was just my denial that I couldn’t turn my self editor off. Surely sometimes it’s better to edit while you work, but it’s only better if you can choose when to do so. I had no choice; I was an edit addict.
I tried more free writes, allowing myself to read back what I had written but not changing more than a misspelled word. And slowly, I started noticing how pleasant it was to write again.
Joan Didion, in her essay “On Keeping a Journal” writes, “it is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you." Sometimes I go back to that quote, reminding myself that it’s okay to write down silly things like tidbits of conversation or to not know something. Because more often than not, I don’t know something. We usually write to find out what it is we want to say, not to say what we want, and find the truth somewhere in the middle of that struggle between self-delusion and desire for integrity.
If there’s something I learned in this class that I haven’t in any other writing classes, it’s that editing compulsively is not just a bad habit, it’s detrimental to my writing. And then, I put aside my personal issues with completing tasks and tried writing without editing. This paper, of course, is edited, but I think it’s far better quality than it would have been had I written something similar at the beginning of the semester. So, thank you.

<---This is me looking like Ruth Reichl. (I wish...)

Feel free to send me a love or fan letter to onceuponavanillalatte (at) or shoot me an IM (aim) at ItsaHairyChicken.
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