Not Very Social Creatures, Are they?

There is something romantic perhaps, certainly idealized, about the vocation and muse of an author. People have innocuous, if not misinformed, ideas about what it is a writer “does.” The beautiful cabin-front that faces a glistening lake, a high-end laptop or pad of paper, a steaming cup of earl grey tea. The author settles back, a knit blanket around their shoulders, exhales a sigh of contentment, and begins to effortlessly engage in the act of creation.

Sometimes, indeed, the process may resemble something similar to this. Self-induced solitary confinement leads to a prolific production of words which feel worthy of remaining on the page. The writer begins to hear nothing but the tapping of their finger pads against the keys; to have the passing of time become simply a vague realization. Oh, is it four o’clock already? The glaring sun, the blustering wind, the drifts of snow that pound against the siding of the house, this reality escapes the foreground and needs not be mentioned again. No, the streets that the characters walk, the way the hair on the back of their neck bristles, the agitation burrowed deep inside of their chest, this seems more a certainty to the writer than anything else. The world consumes them, and the effort required to walk through it, as one of the characters do, is minuscule.

Even so, in these coveted moments that come few and far between the filter of everyday life, they often do not so closely resemble the perfect picture as presented above. At least, not for me. I find it more often resembles the films in which the character in question disappears for an unprecedented amount of time. When someone finally goes in search of them, they reach the apartment, push open the door with the sole of their patent leather shoes. It’s unlocked. Empty pop cans roll out of the way, mounds of garbage block the door’s journey across the floor. Newspapers lay scattered and abandoned on the otherwise empty kitchen table, tinfoil is taped over the windows, thin streams of light come from a lamp in the corner. The character in question, oh yes, they are sitting in front of the white noise orchestra of the television. Except not this character in question; this character–this writer–sits in front of the glowing white screen of Word.

Certainly it is not for lack of dramatic flair that I have not been published?

Even so, when caught in the vice-grip of creativity, it often is at the cost of attentiveness–of engagement in what so many would call the “real world.” The writer tends to forget things that other people do not. Forget to eat, forget to drink, forget that other human beings exist. They become wholly consumed with their pursuit, and it is almost as though a streak of superstition exists inside of us all. We must not get up, not for any reason. The bathroom, mealtimes, the doorbell, can wait. If we get up, we may break the spell that has hung over us; we may remember that we exist in a realm of responsibility, and we may have to tend to it. Until then, we can journey through a world at our whim for as long as the creature Inspiration, consumes us. In itself, it is something beautiful, though unquestionably, not from the outside looking in (indeed, the words, “has she moved all day?” may pass between your lips, not loud enough for me to hear).

Perhaps there are those who can sit at a writing desk and create with both grace and peace, but I have yet to find these people. Writing is often a desperate, frenzied endeavor that requires our complete attention. It means that we may start at the desk, with our tea, but the sun bounces off the lake and into our eyes, so we draw the blinds. The tea becomes cold, forgotten, unsipped, and over steeped. The blanket is much too hot with the heat of the laptop which now warms the top of our legs, and that gets abandoned as well. We soon become creatures of our creation, sitting inside a darkened room, unaware of the rumbling of our stomach.

Oh, it is not all bad. The very nature of a writer’s pursuits allows us to be solitary creatures, capable of standing in lines, participating in long road trips, and remaining inside the house for hours (even days) at a time. We always have a means of entertainment. A story inside of our heads that is brewing; demanding our attention; requiring more planning, thought, and consideration. Sometimes, the moment alone at the grocery store is precious time. This offers us, if only a moment, to plunge further into the reel that plays on our minds, showing us the ideas that we wish to capture in stunning detail with words.

As writers, we have an imagination that will not be tamed, and decidedly, must be tended. Some may say it is both a curse, and a gift, but I beg to differ. Despite the seclusion it often takes to get there, is there anything more fascinating and humbling than reading something beautiful that somehow made it from your head to paper? To have those words pass through slightly parted lips as you breathe them again to yourself, and think, I made this? I cannot imagine there being anything so exhilarating, and so worth the effort it takes to get there. Really, I’m not much of a people person anyway.          mvp-74436-unsplash.jpg

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My Best Friend Google

Research, in the most far-removed application of the word, is something every writer must be familiar with, at least to some degree. Of course, in this day and age, that means being well acquainted with the Google search bar. I am quite certain that, in the event of a stranger stumbling upon the browsing history of a writer, they would quickly flee the premises, screaming. Bizarre knowledge demands attention mid-narration, and a writer must pursue this strain to whatever end they require. So doubtless, a writer is also a researcher.

None of us has,  despite our honest effort or desire, found out everything there is to know about the world. A shame. If only I could be so intimately aware of the table manners of English Royalty; the history of rural Japan; the origin of the Death-Metal genre of music; the name of that part of the telephone that clicks when you hang up the receiver; as well as everything else that could ever possibly be relevant to a story, then the need for research would escape me. Alas, this can never be the case.

As writers, we attempt to write comprehensibly, and believably, about everything under the sun. A lofty goal. Being that we are haplessly incapable of knowing infinite amounts of knowledge, we must learn what we can, about what we need, when the information becomes pertinent.

It is never obvious at first, what unique snippets of seemingly useless fact, will be essential to a writer to communicate to their readers. I cannot recount the number of times that I have begun a journey through blase narration, only to find it taking an unexpected turn. Out of nowhere, I find myself intently bound on uncovering an answer for which I did not anticipate there being a question. In the most extreme cases, I admit that I have plunged my economical investigation (read, free research) into things that would make any self-respecting employee of the Edmonton Police Service a tad bit suspicious. I promise officer, I was only writing a murder mystery!

To add insult to injury, we can never pre-prepare ourselves for the information we do not yet know we will need. I have never fired a gun, made a homemade pie crust, listened to the voices over a police scanner, taken sleeping medication, or, to my chagrin, driven in another city. While it may seem these things are not essential to a short story about a Harvard Alumnus (purely an example), our narrations can barrel high speed towards an off-ramp, taking us to a destination that wasn’t on our roadmap. Suddenly, the graduate is an unsuccessful one that never found a job in his field of Forensic Anthropology. He joined the police force instead. He gets involved in an investigation that goes far beyond what he wished to uncover; popping sleeping pills and making homemade pie crust is the way he copes with the strain of this new case. Unexpectedly, we are now caught in the conundrum of how to depict actions we’ve never done, through the scope of a character that is more familiar with them than we are. For you see, characters, real or imagined, are capable of being people outside of the experience of their authors, and thank goodness, or that murder mystery would take an unfortunate spin in a very different direction.

And so, we must research.

There is a misnomer about writing that as authors, we are boxed within the confines of what we already know if we wish to be successful. Nathan Englander, Stephen King, and certainly numerous others, have spoken to this inaccuracy. It is not about writing what you are already intelligently competent in (for what, as writers, are we truly intelligently competent in, except perhaps stringing meaningless symbols together? At that, every author will tell you there are moments and words for which that capacity completely escapes us). No. These writers tell us that it is about writing what you know to be true, and what you know you can express. Writing about the emotions that you know all too well because you are both uniquely human, as well as unbearably tethered to the mortal coil. Write about that. Research the rest.

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Bucky Barnes is my Hero

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I’m not even going to pretend this was a semi-original idea. I’m just going to own the fact that I read Clementine Fraser’s post, called Why I Fell For Captain America, and I got very excited when, at the end, she asked who our favourite hero is. I responded with a comment that was probably longer than is socially acceptable, and it still wasn’t enough. So here I am.

Hi, my name is Ashley, and I have an unhealthy obsession with Bucky Barnes.

My Pinterest board is flooded, I mean, FLOODED with fan art, stills from the “Bucky scenes,” interviews, fun facts from the comics, screen shots of tumblr posts where people have mirco-analyzed the crap out of Sebastian Stan’s facial expressions in the movies. I have a Bucky Pop-Figure, wallet, shirt, notebook, and the collection grows each day I feel like I can neglect the costs incurred with the responsibilities of being an adult, and buy those things which remind me of my hero instead.

But here’s the thing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is littered with ‘cool characters,’ right? They can fly, they can fight, they can move things with their mind, they can stop time, they can swing from the rooftops, they can phase through walls, they can summon lightning from the skies (but can any of them pull some passing guy off his motorcycle, turn it, take it, and take off, all without missing a beat? Just Bucky? Yeah, that’s what I thought).

Though Bucky is by far the coolest–with his metal arm, and the six thousand different weapons he can wield with deadly precision–that’s not the reason he’s my hero.

Arguably, Bucky has one of the most traumatic backstories. Don’t fight me on this, okay, I said ‘arguably’ and I said ‘one of.’ We can all agree he’s been through Hell and back again. He lost everything when he fell from that train in 1944. He lost his family, he lost his best friend, he lost any semblance of normal, he lost control, he lost himself. He became a weapon, and an object.

And yet, somehow, he’s managed to find his way back. We know he didn’t do it on his own, one Mr. Steve Rogers had a lot to do with that, as did the scientists in Wakanda, but let’s not ignore the fact that Bucky had to crawl through years of indoctrination and mind-control to find himself again. How much easier would it have been to forget? To let the memory-wipe take him back to the place where he could watch, but not control his own actions? Where he could submit his will and his resolve, and give up?

But he didn’t.

That’s the thing I love about Bucky. Just like Steve, he could “do this all day,” fighting to stay on his feet, fighting to keep the barest scrap of himself, even if it means struggling with the realization of what he’s done. Because, let’s be honest, being the Winter Soldier gives Bucky an out, whether he’d take it or not. The Winter Soldier’s loyalty is to Hydra, and there, he’s simply following orders. Bucky’s loyalty isn’t, and he can look back on all those orders he’s followed with shame and regret.

You see, saving himself comes at a cost. Being himself, comes at a cost. It comes with the cost of owning up to a checkered past, splashed with red, and dripping with guilt.

This is the thing, this is the kicker, this is what really gets me. Bucky would rather be himself than be absolved of responsibility for the things he’s done wrong. He’d rather do the hard thing, if it’s the right thing, than allow himself to be used.

It no secret that in Civil War, Bucky is a mess. He’s trying to piece his life together in a world he doesn’t understand, from a past he can’t quite access. He struggles with his fragile psyche, he struggles with his own helplessness to do what he knows is right, he struggles to feel like he’s worth the time and attention his friend puts into him. Hm. Relatable.

Despite all that, he doesn’t give up. It’s not that he wants to keep going, it’s not that he thinks he’s strong enough to keep going, it’s that he has no other choice. And how many times do we grind through the difficult things in life because we have no other choice? If Bucky can do it, with years of suffering, pain, and torment behind him–with literal voices of dissension that can send him on the wrong path–can’t we?

You see, this is what makes Bucky so admirable. Sure, he fights the bad guys (erm, well…mostly we’ve seen him fight the good guys), but he also fights himself. He fights the things he doesn’t like about himself, all the evil inside of himself, and slowly but surely, he wins. One memory at a time–in all their glory and shame–he reigns it back in.

And that’s what a hero does.

 

Should…

I’m going to be straight with you here. I suck at blogging. I can’t seem to motivate myself to sit down and write in this GIANT white box, even when given amazing prompts by my friends. No, I sit, I think about blogging, and then I feel this smothering weight of dread. I may find myself going to my blog when the idea hits me that I SHOULD, and then I wonder why I’m not working on my latest work in progress, I wonder why my blog looks like crap, I wonder why I haven’t eaten anything in the last twenty minutes, and I get up to make myself a snack.

 

Basically, I am the picture of motivation and productivity, always.

 

 

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But I’ve been talking to some of my writer friends lately, explaining my belief that “real writers blog.” They all informed me that, if it feels like a chore and it’s something I don’t enjoy, I don’t have to do it.

 

It’s sad, but that was quite the concept to me.

I swung a little too far to the other side in response. I figured I’m free, I’m off the hook, I never have to blog again. Except then there came moments where I wanted to, and didn’t, because I’m ‘not blogging’ now.

Long story short, here I am, and I came to a realization:  I hate the word SHOULD.

Should is something we tell ourselves when we’re motivated by guilt, or fear, or unrealistic expectations. I should write a blog, because that’s what ‘real writers’ do. I should study this evening, because that midterm is coming up. I should get a better job, because I hate the look in their eyes when I admit what I do for a living. I should stop wasting time on this project, because it’s never going to go anywhere.

In life, there are things we have to do, things we want to do, and things we get to do. There are no things we SHOULD do, it’s a construct.

I have to go get groceries tonight, or it’s KD for dinner. I have to study for that midterm, if I want to get a good grade. I want to write this evening, because I have some great ideas. I get to spend time with my family this weekend, because we’ve planned to go to the park while it’s nice.

It’s a re-framing of your perspective, and I think it makes all the difference. I WANTED to write a blog post today, so I did. If I ever think I should, I’m going to evaluate my motivation. Life’s too short to waste time on things you think you should do.

When Your Writing Says “Yes” and You Say “No, No, No.”

There’s a phenomenon I’ve experienced in my writing–I was more than a little relieved to find out I’m not the only one. The stories I write take on lives of their own.

I’ve just started taking my writing seriously, and have entered into the dreaded phase best known as “editing.” I’ve revisited chapters dozens of times. Each time I rework a scene, something happens. The world I’m creating becomes more real, the characters, more dynamic. The story takes on a life of its own.

My husband once said to me, “You’re such a perfectionist. When are you going to be happy with your writing, and go get it published?”

I tried to explain to him what a struggle this is for me. More than almost anything, I want to see my books in the world. I want to squeal with delight, and earn myself a couple sideways looks, as I pick up MY paperback in the bookstore. I want to feel my characters breathe from the pages. But–as I told my husband with a pang of frustration, unable to explain it quite properly–I don’t feel like I necessarily create the story. It feels like something that’s already there, and I am simply the conduit through which it must move. My job then, is to do the story justice, by writing it as closely as possible to the thing that already exists.

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It sounds crazy, and maybe it is. Maybe all of us writers just harbor tamed madness, but I can see this pre-existing story the deeper I wade into my writing. My characters make their own decisions, and I wrestle with them. They fight the plot, and ruin my perfectly constructed point by point outline. They become people of their own. The twists and turns that occur between the words “Chapter One” and the words “The End,” occur almost unintentionally. I’m not saying I have no control over it, but I can feel it, like a sliver in my brain–ceaseless irritation–when I write something that goes against the story. It’s like I was meant to say something specific–the themes, the symbols, the subtext, they are weaved within the fabric of the writing already, and often come to be by accident. If I don’t write the right story, those mean nothing, and are lost in a sea of what could have been.

When I’m writing the story as it’s intended to be written? It’s intoxicating. It’s a world all it’s own, as vividly alive, as real, as tangible, as the one we inhabit right now. Hours flash by like minutes; I run through the fields of wishes and dreams I never meant for my characters to have; I feel the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as I turn my head to see the threat, just behind me. I breathe a sigh of relief when the hero wins, unsure myself, if he was going to be overwhelmed!

The story beats to the drum of my heart.

Writing, I truly feel, is the purest of glimpses into the beauty and pain of creation. But it’s something meaningful and it  feels like I’m a part of something bigger than myself when I can reach outside of what I think, to tell a story that needs to be told.

 

The Inability to Write Well

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of the foreboding term: writer’s block. The words themselves might bring a cold sweat to the back of your neck as you imagine the feelings that are all too associated with the adage. Sitting, staring, straining, scrawling, indeed, fighting, wrestling, warring with the thoughts in your head and the words in your personal lexicon, trying to force the two together when they simply do not want to go. I often think of the term as not ascribing to the inability to write, for who, despite vexation, cannot string words together? No, falling victim to writers block concedes to the inability to write anything well.

There is a frustration that associates itself with writer’s block, and in fact, why shouldn’t there be? It is this rancorous process by which you know what you wish to express, and yet, you cannot seem to find the appropriate words to express it. It’s akin to carrying on a conversation, and suddenly being struck mute. You gesture wildly, while your gracious partners try to interpret your throwing of hands, and pointed articulation with varying numbers of fingers. Gracious as they are, they constantly get it wrong. A degree of frustration is expected.

There is also a sense of helplessness and futility that comes along with writer’s block. It’s the act of writing, committed unsuccessfully, and over and over, as though you were in the throws of insanity. You write a sentence, paragraph, chapter, again and again, changing your angle, your tone, your diction. Often, feeling drained and dissatisfied, you’ll finish. As any good writer would, you begin to re-read your composition, hoping to find that it is better than you anticipated as you luridly hashed out word after insufficient word. Wasted time. Hour after wasted hour, you try, hoping that the barrier between your brilliance, and the generation of it in words, will break. More often than not you will end up with something that makes your stomach turn, or a blank page and a blinking cursor.

Writer’s block. If those words did not cause your heart to freeze as though you had seen a phantom, certainly they do now?

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This is a struggle I’ve faced before, and will certainly face again. Committing myself to life, it would seem, sometimes builds a glorious wall, envied as it is by those who once constructed the Great Wall, between my ideas and my ability to narrate them. I suppose we all expect the two fated words, writer’s block, to come eventually. It doesn’t particularly surprise me that it often comes with the start of new and familiar responsibilities. Despite this, it does not please me to admit when I am crushed beneath the weight of this inability to write well.
As writers, we realize this dreaded phenomenon is natural. A marathon runner would be expected to cramp up if they did not allow their bodies time to rest; a surgeon would be expected to sit down after hours bent over a meticulous procedure; a mother would be expected to sleep after restless nights with a new infant. Human, as we all are, we cannot function at full capacity forever. But oh, as the desperate control freaks that writers are (and if you have not admitted to yourself, fellow writer, that you are a control freak, I can assure you that your need to create worlds over which you have complete control, points grandly to your Achilles Heel), we cannot handle this lack of control. If only we could chose when we needed to rest; when we must set the pen down, rub our eyes with our fingertips, and actually join the realm of the rest of humanity, than perhaps it would not come as such a blow to our ego.
But alas, it does not. Writer’s block strikes us acutely, and unexpectedly, because we simply don’t know when to stop. Something must inhibit our ability to communicate, which often feels the only thing we can do right, and not always, at that. We stop writing. The stories we fathom, and the expressions to which we have committed ourselves for countless hours, recede. We blink, as though coming out of a daze, and realize regular life must carry on. Other things must heed our attention, if only until we are ready to weave words together again, like a tapestry, baring our souls.
For you see, that is also the thing. As writers, despite the fact that we are both hopeless control freaks and quickly bruised in our egos, we are also desperate to share ourselves with anyone who is willing to listen. We have passions, dreams, goals, truths, facts, stories, ideals, and lessons we want to teach the world. Things we feel must be experienced through the realm of black words, stark against white pages. We desire to bring you through experiences you could never really experience, in order to show you something that never would have mattered to you otherwise.
Writer’s block then, comes not only as a frustrating blow to our ego, or a maniacal defiance to our need for control, but also as an obstacle we must overcome to fill a deeper need inside of us to reveal. Reveal our ideals, our truths, our dreams, and bits of our very selves to those who are willing to listen.
Maddening, isn’t it?

Starting is Always the Hard Part

There must be a name for it, if not in this language, than certainly in another: for the feeling of trepidation that overcomes a person when they are faced with the enormity of a blank page. Surely you have felt it before. In High School English class (if you were old enough, you would have been given a sheet of loose-leaf, if not, you would have stared at that blinking Word cursor like it was tapping out your assignment in Morris Code, and if only you stared long enough you would have your answers). You may have felt it when writing up a business presentation; a letter; your resume; a very important status update. You feel that bittersweet mixture of fear, hope, anxiety and potential, wash over you, because you know that the first words are important; your first words set not only the tone, but the bar, for the entire piece of work you intend to create. You struggle, because if someone chooses to quote you decades from now, and you see those words in italics with your name after that extended dash, you want to be proud of it.

Welcome to the world of writing.

A number of my professors in University offered the suggestion to write the beginning of my paper last, since it’s so difficult. Once my ideas were on paper, I could orient both them, and myself, around the introductory paragraph. I always found this to be a backwards joke against chronology, and frankly, I never listened. It seems aimless to start writing something without a precise thesis, idea, driving motivation. And so I choose not to write anything without starting at the beginning.

So. The beginning. Here’s mine: I have always wanted to write a book, and have it published.

Publication probably stirs up fanciful pictures in your head (and certainly in mine) of bound soft cover books, the smell of worlds unknown between the pages, the raised font of authorship, and the senseless black and white photo of a smiling stranger on the inside of the back cover, where no one cares to look for it. I know this isn’t the only arena where the word “publication” can apply, but alas, I am enchanted by this definition. One day, I desire to be published in the bound book, raised font, novel in the bookstore, kind of a way.

Since I was probably six years old, I would tell you that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I spent numerous hours in elementary school, scrawling stories inside of coiled notebooks, on sheets of lined paper, and eventually on the blinking white screen of the Word document, when my Grandma gave me this ancient tan beast of a computer. My teachers knew of my desire; I read one of my stories in front of a group of students for reading week, my grade four teacher let me sit and talk to a guest speaker about self-publication, I asked an author who came to our school to sign my bookmark. It was never any mystery that I loved to write.

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As I got older, I started to come to terms with the fact that being an author was not a so-called, stable job.  As I was growing into my own, I began to realize that I was the kind of person who craved structure in every area of my life. Colour coordinated school subjects, an alphabetized book shelf, an intense love for the Agenda. I needed a career plan that would follow my rigid sense of “how it’s done.” I was infected with the cynicism that often comes under the guise of pragmatism. For a long time, I abandoned the dream to one day write for a living. It sat in the dusty corner of my cluttered mind, only being pulled out in ideal world situations, when people asked me what I would do if I could do ANYTHING. Recently, I have felt the passion rekindled inside of me, and the subtle urging to just try it. I am not without my backup plans (what kind of frustrated perfectionist would I be without my backup plan?) but I am desperate to see if the magical world of writing, that captivated me in wide eyed innocence, is simply waiting for its future in mine.
Despite never being published in the book-in-a-bookstore way, I do want to dedicate some of my time and energy towards seeing if I can be. I cannot guarantee that you will ever see my books with barcodes and location tags taped beneath their laminated seals, at the library. I cannot promise you will ever be able to hold in your hands the pages which contain the world I still type beneath the brilliant white glow of a Word document. I cannot tell you that you that you will read this, and learn how one author will tread the ground of publication that hundreds of thousands have walked before. Nevertheless, I want to share my journey with you. I want to write, and for better or worse, I want somebody to read it. I want your eyes to take in the sentences that make up my ridiculous musings about writers block, classical literature, late nights thinking “I just want to write one more chapter.” I want to share little snippets of the worlds I create. I want to share the pangs of passion and pain that overtake me when I read something so brilliantly remarkable that I feel my prose will never compare, but that inspire me to make my compositions better. I want to share the feeling of complete and utter single-mindedness that overtakes someone when an idea barrels down on them from the heavens, and demands to be written. I want to welcome you to the world of writing.
And then, maybe one day, I want to share with you the stories that burst out of the boxes inside that cluttered head I told you about earlier. You will hold the bound pages in your hands, run your fingers over the raised font of my name, and flip to the first page. Your eyes will scan those words, and you will enter into the next journey that I’m all too eager to share with you…

Welcome to the world of writing.