Tag Archives: Writers

Just keep swimming

Via She Started It, this column is a fun and inspiring read: Rats with Islands.

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Perspective: Get Some

As a technical writer, I have a lot of anxiety about releasing documentation with errors. Sometimes I lie awake and wonder if I should have had another person review the godforsaken diagram I’ve been toiling with for two months. The diagram chases me through my dreams. (And I have reason to believe that I haven’t seen the last of that bastard.)

This weekend, I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is about Krakauer’s disastrous expedition to the top of Everest during which an unusually large number of people died. At the beginning of the story, the author laments that when he returned from the trip — badly shaken, of course — he had to get right to work pounding out the contracted 17,000-word article detailing the tragic adventure for Outside magazine, who paid for the trip. Under the wire, he bungled some facts and made a major error that he says caused a lot of pain to the family of one of the deceased.

Now let’s discuss what’s worse: falsely representing the events surrounding the death a person who perished on Mount Everest during the deadliest season on the mountain vs. incorrectly labeling an arrow on a diagram in a software manual that 27 people might read.

Perspective. I have some now.

Tiptoeing outside the perimeter of my comfort zone

I have a narrow comfort zone. It has enough room for my couch with an annex for my office (preferably with the door closed). I like to spend a lot of time in this zone. But being comfortable is not inspiring. Every once in a while, when the well is dry and I have nothing to write about other than my high score on Mario Kart, I’ll get brave enough to try something uncomfortable.

For you, trying something uncomfortable might mean jumping out of an airplane or traveling to a foreign country by yourself. For me, uncomfortable is never that far away. I consider shopping at an unfamiliar Trader Joe’s to be uncomfortable.

My husband is less chicken when it comes to trying things or going places that he’s never been. He’s climbed two of the tallest peaks in Northern California with only a few pints of water and a peanut butter sandwich in his backpack. He once danced with our daughter on stage in front of the school during a class concert. He thinks nothing of going to a foreign Trader Joes.

Through him, I am sometimes encouraged to push the limits of comfort. I never intend to climb a mountain, but I have kayaked, skiied, hiked, and attended social events that took place way outside of the zone.

Obviously, the positive side effect of being uncomfortable is having something to write about. That’s why I am sort of, kind of doing Script Frenzy (so uncomfortable! it burns!). That’s why sometimes I volunteer to work at the food bank with a group of strangers or offer to host a dinner despite my hosting anxiety or agree to walk in a parade with a bunch of baton-twirling second graders (wow, that hurts just to think about). Trivial things, but any departure from the ho-hum revs up the creativity that has gone dormant during those weeks in the zone.

Maybe this weekend I’ll check out the Trader Joe’s in Mountan View. Dare me?

Not happening

The script thing, it’s so not happening.

Sometimes in the past, when I joined challenges like NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo, I experienced unbridled rage and irritation when idiots posted on day 2 or day 3 or even day 10 that they were giving up. How hard can it be? I cried. Now I’m one of those idiots.

I’d like to say, “I’ve been so busy at work. After writing all day, I just want to veg out, not spend my evening writing for ‘fun.’ I want to watch American Idol and drink 2 Buck Chuck from the bottle. What are you looking at!”

But the fact is, I don’t watch American Idol and I always drink wine from a glass. I’m just not into writing scripts, I think. Or maybe my brain is actually drained after 8 hours of sitting at my desk trying to figure out hard stuff that I’m paid to write about. Whatever the reason, as of April 2, I have written zero pages for Script Frenzy and I can’t see that number increasing in the next 12 hours.

Talk to me again Monday. Maybe this weekend I will have a burst of script-writing energy and the game will be back on.

Inappropriate Love Scene Terminology Tuesday

You should be familiar by now with my hatred of The Russian Concubine. Unfortunately — but not unexpectedly — the novel includes several “love scenes.” One of these “love scenes” contained a word so offensive, so inappropriate, that it deserves its own blog post.

Spoiler alert: sometime in the last 1/4 of the story, the non-concubine Russian girl and the non-concubine Chinese guy have sex. The scene is repulsive from many angles. For one thing, just three days before, the Russian girl had dragged the Chinese guy out of a roofless hovel, where he was covered in maggots and minutes from death. Three days before. Hardly time enough to get over the maggot factor, but even if the girl could push that image from her mind, the man probably should have spent his scant resources on building enough strength to run from bad guys — or walk to the bathroom.

At some point during the gruesome and improbable love scene, the author describes one of the girl’s movements. The word she chooses: bucked.

Here is where I submit that one should never buck during a love scene.

Aside from the TPS reports, it’s not so bad

I just finished reading On Writing by Stephen King, a book that pairs useful information about the business of writing with personal anecdotes about King’s career. It wasn’t a page-turner, but I did look forward to picking up the book whenever I had a free moment.

Toward the end, though, King risked losing my appreciation when he wrote: “… but it’s not all about speed … And if you think it’s all about information, you ought to give up fiction and get a job writing instruction manuals — Dilbert’s cubicle awaits.”

I probably shouldn’t be offended as he’s not actually talking to me here. I am a technical writer first and a “fiction writer” second, if at all. He’s talking to the starving artist in the corner at Orchard Valley Coffee who is using the free Wi-Fi and nibbling his scone slowly enough to last through lunch. I’m not that starving artist because I did choose technical writing over more romantic literary pursuits, for better or worse.

Even if he’s not talking to me, King’s obvious disdain for instruction manual writing does offend me a tiny bit. Working in a cubicle — in fact, I have an office with a soundproof door and a window that opens — may sound like worse-case scenario to a creative. But most days, I get paid to practice the nuts and bolts of writing; I work with editors, I interview sources, I trim out the useless adjectives, I’m challenged to see a subject from a perspective other than my own. It’s not such bad way to spend a writer’s time.

The Artist’s Life

Is a writer an artist? I am not sure. But the life of someone who paints, for example, and the life of someone who writes, is not so different. I am qualified to say this because my mother is a watercolor artist.

When we were growing up, my mom wasn’t an artist only after my brother and I went to bed or while we were in school. She was – and is – an artist all the time. We would go on vacation and she would bring her sketchbook and her mini palette and her camera. She’d sketch or paint whatever she saw, wherever we were. She’d take photos of barns and gardens and whatever else she wanted to sketch or paint later. She wore her artist hat no matter where she went (and sometimes it was kind of annoying, but I am more understanding now as a parent myself).

Even though I’ve always considered myself a writer, I am a little disappointed to realize that I haven’t followed my mom’s example. I don’t have the equivalent of a sketchbook that I carry around with me. While sightseeing, I’ve never dragged my family down a side street so I can take a picture of a particularly odd house to use in my next novel. In other words, I don’t live and breathe writing the way my mom lives and breathes painting.

I think I may have trained myself to ignore the semi-manic voices in my head, those voices that might compel me to write whenever and wherever. I am not sure why. Maybe because my career as a technical writer isn’t terribly creative and I don’t get paid to listen to my inner monologue. My mom’s livelihood depends on her ability to keep finding subjects to paint, to keep being inspired to produce art.

It’s not too late, though, for me to start living the artist’s life. Sure, I am stuck (by choice) in an office 32 hours a week. The days blend together into one big gray blob broken up only by the eagerly-awaited day that I treat myself to an eggplant panini at the cafeteria. But even that environment is full of characters who are sometimes stranger than fiction, should I choose to see them. For example, I’ve been dying to write about the guy who does Tai Chi by the bathrooms every morning in his Spandex. And I love to talk about my favorite sous chef, the Italian cook who makes heavily-accented small-talk while he grills my panini.* So there’s no reason not to carry a notebook, to let these characters and surroundings compel me to write and to go with it.

On a related note, Victoria writes about observing what is around you and recording details to use when developing characters. Her post is what made me start thinking about living the artist’s life and finding material in my surroundings.

*Not a euphemism.