“(5) I stumbled upon a landscape cut directly in half—one half, the top half, was a brushed on steel gray, and the other half, was a black so black there was no bottom I could see or feel; (6) the equivalent of three full city blocks was made entirely of thick red meat slabs and no matter how I tiptoed or shifted my weight, the meat squeaked whenever any part of my body fell upon it; I met a man who was stripped of all his skin and when he saw me, he demanded that I say, [What big eyes you have, what big teeth.]; (7) I wore a red hood thinking it might protect me from the carnivorous clouds but even with my hair tucked into the fabric, the nebulous forms still found it easy to nip at my nose; (8) Because I was hungry and the only items available to me were windows or curtain rods, I took my chances eating glass, which cut up my tongue but the damage was nothing a needle and thread couldn’t mend in the future; [...]“
Author Archives: alanaicapria
Sometime around dawn, I dreamed about writing. In my dream, I was packing for a trip (I believe I was going to England) and my bag was pretty much packed except for one important thing: my writing. I couldn’t figure out if I should bring a notebook or my NEO. I pondered this while running around the family home trying to find socks and a pair of boots I had forgotten in the closet. I packed the notebook, then took it out again. I replaced the notebook with the NEO, then took that out. I put the notebook back in. At this point, I was dangerously close to missing my flight. I had to make a decision but I couldn’t. I considered the options of both writing methods and just felt confused. The notebook was lightweight but whatever I wrote would have to be typed up. The NEO was considerably heavier but I could just transfer the file to the computer, making things easy on myself. While all of this was happening, I was arguing with the owner of a pizza place for giving me sass when I got upset that there were no pizza slices without meat. Also, there was a guy in the basement who wanted to start construction to make three apartments in what were formerly tiny closets. I don’t think I ever made it to the airport or finished packing my bag.
The struggle is real, my friends. I’m fantastic at packing for trips with the exception of figuring out what to do about my writing and reading. Should I bring a notebook? How many extra pens should I pack? What about the NEO? How many books should I bring? The questions are endless and I rarely have the answers. Case in point, the following writing setups for a series of trips I’ve taken over the last 15 years (not in chronological order and only including trips I distinctly remember packing for):
- Montana/Wyoming trip, 2006 – two anthologies published by The Paris Review, pocket PC.
- Miami, circa 1998-2000 - Jurassic Park by Michael Crighton, pad of paper
- Family reunion, Miami, 2011 – pink Moleskine, NEO, book I can’t remember the title of because I never touched it
- Bermuda, 2013 - One by Blake Butler and Vanessa Place, Anatomy Lessons by Blake Butler and Sean Kilpatrick, Sky Saw by Blake Butler, collected poems of Allen Ginsberg, NEO
- Boston, 2012 – NEO
- England, 2008 - The Tormented Mirror by Russell Edson, The Rooster’s Wife by Russell Edson, Tunnel by Russell Edson, notebook, pocket PC
- Spain, 2001 – two notebooks (one purchased in Barcelona)
- Hypothetical family trip, future – notebook, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
The trip set-ups are always various and never perfect. On the trips that used the pocket PC? Most often, I didn’t bother touching the device (except for Montana when I used it as a travel journal and even that was a pain because the battery never lasted). The notebooks? They weren’t used at all in Miami. The NEO? I didn’t use it in Boston. On the trips where I had a notebook, I wished for a typing device. For the trips where I had the NEO, I wished for a notebook so that my bag wouldn’t be as heavy. For the trips that had only books? I was desperate for a notebook. In my experience, here is what I figured out: for trips that involve a lot of sitting around with other people and the potential of a travel journal, a notebook is the best. For trips that are all downtime and you might not be talking to your travel companion for extended periods of time, the NEO wins (or whatever device you like to use for typing). For trips were you might be sitting around waiting but don’t want to commit to creating anything? Books. While the NEO is wonderful for typing on, there’s something to be said for actual handwriting. Part of the reason why notebooks weren’t really successful for me during some of the trips listed was because the notebooks weren’t the right size. I was using notebooks that were too small or had sewn bindings, making it hard to write on the back of the page. So I would use a larger (not too large) spiral notebook in the future.
On the subject of notebooks, I finished my latest project last night but felt a little uncertain about the final paragraph. Then as I was getting ready to do some before bed reading, a new paragraph jumped into my head. I ran for my notebook and scribbled fiercely. What resulted was an ending I was pleased with. Plus it explained the project’s title. Then I worked on my list of potential titles and considered each one. In the end, I scratched off about a 1/3 of the titles and was left with the ones I felt were strongest. I also picked the title for my new project, which I’ll be starting today. So friends, I hope that when you’re traveling, you have a writing setup that works for you. If you don’t, keep switching things around until you have a setup that works. For me, my theoretical family vacation setup seems the most ideal. But whatever your setup entails, make a point to write something. And if something doesn’t work, experiment with a different set-up the next time. Have a great weekend, everyone.
When I was originally saving my writing drafts as pdf files, I put an editing mark at the beginning of each paragraph. Copying directly from a pdf doesn’t usually maintain line/paragraph breaks and by using the editing marks, I could just use the word processor’s find and replace feature to make editing easy on myself. So for awhile, part of my process involved putting the editing mark down, then starting the actual paragraph. And it was fine. But I almost looked at the editing marks as more chapter/story breaks than anything else. I didn’t like writing a series of paragraphs building off one another and having them physically broken up. To reduce that, I started doing excessively long paragraphs just to keep the text connected.
The process was fine for awhile, until I started reading Seiobo There Below. The style of the book itself was what drew me to it. It was written in the same way I imagined writing my own work. Long, elaborate, winding sentences. It was exciting. The thing is, it was hard to read. I only got a dozen or so pages in before I felt like my mind was melting. I read an article yesterday that spoke about the necessity of blank space in a work of art. The idea was that while the image was important, there was also something significant in the parts of the canvas/paper/whatever that were untouched. I think that was the problem I had while reading the book (and admittedly, editing my own work). All the lettering squished together without end sort of did a number on me. It was overwhelming. Visually, it needed to have a bit of white space to break up the text. So thinking about my experience with reading a book that was visually similar to what I’ve been trying to accomplish and then reading about visual art, I stared rethinking things.
When I mentioned the editing marks before, I said that they essentially signified the start of a new piece. Every novel I’ve been working on was a series of separate pieces. One piece after another. I wrote them with the intention of being able to use the pieces independently of one another. I almost turned the novels into an odd sort of short story collection. And while that isn’t necessarily a problem, it was stressing me out because I wanted to have those separate pieces. I couldn’t have a piece that was 10 pages long and then a piece that was a sentence. They had to be relatively similar. And so there are some scenes that were extended far longer than they should have been. There were some pieces that I stopped abruptly because I got bored.
On Tuesday, I removed the editing marks from my 2014-2016 master file (keeping the writing in three-year spanning documents instead of separate documents for each year makes things visually easy for me—I just prefer to see a small amount of files) and started writing the last part of my current project without worrying about editing marks. The editing marks were somewhat redundant in the actual document because the formatting is maintained. The document isn’t fixed like a pdf. It’s just a word processing document. Thus, the marks aren’t necessary. A paragraph is just a paragraph. But by eliminating the marks, the paragraphs became shorter. The writing seemed tighter. While the paragraphs were all related, they were still separate enough. But writing them is easier. And reading back over them is easier. And to be honest, I don’t feel as stressed about writing the pieces. I placed unrealistic expectations upon myself with my writing and now I’m trying to return to a creative mentality that won’t feel oppressive.
But so far, the writing I’ve done has been pretty good. I’m happy with it. At the very least, I feel freer. When I feel like I need to start a new paragraph, I do. I let the story guide me instead of me trying to force the story. I think I was so used to my old mentality of doing super long short stories for chapbooks that I almost forgot that a novel needs a different process. It’s too difficult to maintain the energy on a project of 40,000+ words that I do on a project that’s only about a quarter of that size. And now, an excerpt from what I came up with after my creative upheaval:
“[When you left the garden, you took something with you,] the first woman says. [You took something that should never have left. Adam knew this. He lamented the loss. He called the losses your kidney stones. But they weren’t that at all. They were smaller things, egg-like. They were all the eggs Adam wished to fertilize. And he screamed and screamed. His screams echoed around Eden. They melted our wings. We screamed in response and that was the time of the screaming. The screaming wouldn’t end. Adam tore a hole in his throat from so much screaming. We came close to tearing our skin but we stopped the screaming much earlier. We weren’t screaming for you or for the lost eggs. We were screaming because Adam couldn’t stay quiet…”
I was having some issues printing a page from my master file. I had the margins set to 0.1″ to conserve paper but because the margins were set so close to the paper’s edges, the printer kept cutting text off. So I changed the document’s margins to 0.5″ which did the trick. So when you create a file for your records, don’t be like me and create impossible margins. It’s not worth the aggravation. Use at least half an inch. Your sanity will thank you. I finished all the pending edits I had for my current project so now I can focus on adding some material to the end of another project. I thought that the newly current project was finished but I wasn’t happy with the end. The story came to a finish too abruptly and I couldn’t help but feel like there was something more to the storyline that I was missing. So I did some outlining yesterday evening and I’m pretty happy with what I came up with. There’s even a little part on the outline that my husband so helpfully inspired. He commented on something I said and the comment was so wild and so exactly what I needed that I had to scribble it down. Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to get out of your own head and talk to someone you trust about a project you’re working on. You don’t have to get into detail. You just have to mention what it is that’s bothering you. Sometimes it’s really helpful to talk an issue out. You can end up really surprised by what paths the conversation leads you down. Or the person you’re talking to might say something completely innocuous that ends up being exactly what you were missing. That’s pretty much what happened in my conversation. And now I have the book’s ending mapped out. I should be able to finish it by the end of this week and then start working on the next project. I can’t wait to start something from scratch.
The planning actually went better than I had anticipated. Part of it was due to how quickly the ideas were flowing but another part of it was more physical. By that I mean the notebook size. When I did planning earlier in the year, I was using a pocket-sized notebook. I was used to all the planning being done on small pages that were cramped. I’d write a few words, go to the next line, write a few more words. A series of ideas took up several pages. Writing in the larger notebook (I mentioned last week that the notebook I’m using is about 6″ by 9″) gives me more room on each line, and thus, on each page. Yesterday’s outline took less than a single page. I know that it isn’t anything groundbreaking but sometimes I’m amazed by little realizations like that. Sometimes it’s about the little things.
I spent part of the weekend going over possible titles and adjusting some of the current ones. I’m still on the one-word-title kick but I didn’t want use words that are generic. So I ended up falling down a rabbit’s hole of dictionary words. I would come up with an idea, find the definition, click on a word in that definition, and just keep getting farther and farther away from the first word until I finally had something that was charged with energy. It’s the idea of finding the best word. And admittedly, not all the words used are in English. There are few that are in German and French because, why not? One title I originally had seemed kind of bland when it was in English but then when I found the German translation, it was music to my eyes. Anyone who doesn’t believe that words have power has never actually spent any time thinking about words. Because, friends, words are beautiful and otherworldly. They’re dangerous and seductive. They’re pretty perfect. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has encountered a word that almost seemed to speak to the soul. Granted, it would be a shame if words didn’t have any emotional effect on the writer. What’s the point of writing then?
“At night, I hear the dogs whispering in your ear. I thought you had put them away a long time ago but it’s safe to say that they’ve just been hibernating. Their voices are clearer than I could have imagined. They are whining in your mouth, panting into your ears. They surround you while you watch television and eat a midnight sandwich. Their voices come from the ceilings, the walls. This house is old and so the acoustics are better than in the houses back home. When the dogs speak to you, their voices are so loud that they seem to be speaking to me. And the dogs howl into your tonsils, [You have to kill her. She's walking around, flaunting her womb. Have you noticed how golden it is? Have you realized how shining she is? It's like she carries a flashlight under her skin. She glows. It's unnatural. If something is unnatural, it is mankind's obligation to destroy it.]“
I bought The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman over the weekend. I finished it in a few hours. It was really good. It’s one of those titles that I’ll most likely read again. After reading American Gods, I’m really starting to enjoy his work. I’ll have to get some more of his books. My husband and I were at BJ’s wholesale club getting some meat for a barbecue when I checked out the book section and found my little literary treasure. That’s my new thing when we go to the store. I scour the book section for anything that I’m remotely interested in. I have a giant list of books I want and it’s getting long. Dozens and dozens of books. So when I see a book that I can take off the list, I’m pretty overjoyed. The problem is that I end up wanting so many books that I can never completely catch up.
On the actual writing front, the current project is going well. When I first started the project, I approached it from a few different angles. One of them involved a serial killer but then I switched direction. But now I think that the section with the serial killer is the perfect thing to use for the last part of the book. The whole book has been about the main character grudgingly finding herself in a relationship with someone who is sort of a stalker/ex-boyfriend. Once I add on the serial killer aspect, it will be that as he becomes more and more oppressive in her life, he starts resorting to violence to keep her, except the violence is symbolically directed at her. I have to fix up parts of the previously written sections for that plot line but I expected that. Right now, I just need to make sure that the transition makes sense. I’m trying to lead the characters to a breaking point that will eventually cause the estrangement that will trigger the antagonist’s violent streak. I think it’s a better way to finish the story.
I’m hoping that the story will be done before the end of next week. Then I want to finish my Garden of Eden story (it’s almost done but there’s a bit more I want to add) before I can start my next project. The planned (so far) story is inspired by my being angry. I find that anger is a great motivation for creative work. The creative process becomes a bit more feral, slightly rabid. Emotion leaks into the words. So what cause the idea-inspiring anger? I was irritated over the Supreme Court’s decision on health care and female contraceptives yesterday and immediately started writing something that expressed that anger. The story is shaping up to be about a sort of dystopian society focused on oppressing reproductive rights. Or, that’s how I imagine it at least. I have to think more about it but so far, I like what I wrote. I’d like to start writing that in August. I think it will be sort of based on a short story I wrote years ago. At the very least, the story will be providing some of the main structure. There’s some fairy tale influence involved as well. But we’ll see how that all goes once I really start writing it. First I have to finish the two semi-completed works before jumping into anything new. But the ideas are just bursting. I’d like to think that the ideas are also sprouting because I’ve been reading more. There was a brief period where I was so distracted by my writing that the reading was falling to the wayside (now I’m thinking about The Wayside School books. Those were so funny. I loved them when I was a kid). But now I’m making more of an effort to read every single day and it’s really benefitting my creativity.
I’ll post an excerpt tomorrow. Happy July 1st, friends.
Notebooks are a personal thing. Every writer has his/her favorite. Some writers like notebooks with colored paper and others like sketch books. Some like reporter-style notebooks and even more like fancy leather-bound journals from Italy. It doesn’t matter what journal style you like as long as it works for your purposes. As for me, I like Moleskine. I prefer the lined notebooks. I usual stick with the large-size notebooks because I find it easier to use both sides of the paper when the notebook has a smaller size. The thing is, people forget that with a journal like a Moleskine (i.e., most journals that are either perfect-bound or saddle-stitched), the dimensions are different when you open the book. The large Moleskine is 5″ by 8.25″ but when you open the book up, the notebook now has a width of 10″ which isn’t that uncomfortable to hold. But when you take the extra-large style into consideration (and don’t get me wrong, I love the extra-large but I rarely write on the back of the paper), what had a width of 7″ is now 14″ in length. Those extra inches make a difference, both in how you hold the book and write in it, as well as how much space you need when transcribing the work.
My personal writing set-up is a small desk with my laptop on one half of the desk and a giant printer on the other. Full disclosure: I hate the printer. Moving on. When I transcribe something from my Moleskine, I have to prop it open so I can see both sides of the page. Plus, it propping it open keeps the pages from turning as I’m typing. The problem is because I don’t really have extra room on the desk, I have to tilt my laptop on the diagonal to position the notebook where I can see it. That or I have to tuck half of the book behind the laptop, then try to move it around to see the other side. It’s a mess. And since I’m planning on spending time with nature a few times this summer, messing around with a notebook that doesn’t allow the pages to be folded back all the way isn’t going to cut it.
Long story short, I went to Staples and found two really nice college-ruled 6 1/2″ by 9 1/2″ Staples brand notebooks (they were on sale for $2 each. I love a good bargain). You might be inclined to say, “Alana, those dimensions are almost the same as the extra-large journal you said you were having issues with.” And you would be right. There’s a half inch difference with length which would be a full inch when opened all the way. But friends, this little writer got a spiral notebook. Hence, there won’t be any opening of the book all the way because there’s no point. I can fold the cover and page easily and then when I’m typing up what I wrote, I can just flip the page and move on with my life. No weird position. No scrambling. Just writing and typing. To test out the notebook, I wrote a page, then typed it. One notebook page is about 400 words when typed (the notebook has about 270 pages, so that should fit approximately 108,000 words). The actual writing act was as comfortable as handwriting can be. I think this is the start of a very productive summer.
Last night, I was looking at the old master file and lamenting why it was opening so slowly. No matter what program I use, it takes forever to open. At least twenty seconds (slowness is relative in the digital world) when it should have been so much faster. I decided to research why it was taking so long (admittedly, part of the reason is that the file contains 1.8 million words). The file is a doc file and as I researched, I stumbled upon a website that mentioned the new standard file format for Microsoft Office. Docx. I’ve encountered docx in the past but stuck with doc out of habit. Still, since my research led me in that direction, I continued reading. And I found out that as far as file size, quickness of conversion, and being less prone to corruption, docx is definitely better than doc. So I did a little test. I saved my master file in the new format. At that moment, I ran into another problem. My default word processor is OpenOffice. OpenOffice can read the docx files but it won’t write them. Then I checked my secondary word processor, LibreOffice, and found that docx is listed among the standard save formats. So I saved a copy, then compared. The doc version of my file is 14.5 MB. The docx version is 5.5 MB. So the new save was about a 1/3 of the original file. All my formatting was intact. I still had a picture on the last page. I exited out of both documents, then opened them again. The doc file took forever to load, as expected. The docx file had a slight delay after clicking it open but then opened right up. Even with the delay, it was still considerably faster than the doc file. So in the interest of not staring at the load screen every time I open the doc file and praying that the conversion doesn’t suddenly mess up (rendering my file useless) I switched to using the docx version. I always find that switching to a new file format is always a bit of a transition but I’m all about efficiency.
Moving on to the reading/writing front, I got ridiculously excited this morning when The New Yorker‘s Facebook Page said there was a new post from Henri Cole. I’ve been reading his “Street of the Iron Poe(t)” series with The New Yorker and I love it. His writing is so beautiful and he manages to seamlessly integrate writing about his whereabouts with different thoughts on literature. His entries are part of The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog and they’re free to read. As of today, the posts are up to part XI (11).
Reading Cole’s work makes me think about my own writing when I’m traveling. My travel journals have always been very snarky. They relied a lot on sarcastic humor but they never stopped being about me. Cole’s writing about himself but it’s also about so much more. So the next time I travel, I want to expand my thoughts. I want to be present in the writing but more in the vein of a psychic channeling a spirit. I want to be the vessel through which the traveling makes sense of something. Maybe those ideas are a little too grandiose. But still, as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And I’m going to venture because I want to.
I’m reworking two projects as we speak. They were previously finished and then I went over them again, frowning the entire time. About half of the writing stayed but I need to reconsider the stories, give more of a plot. So that’s what I’m doing. Instead of writing the pieces as A happened, then B, then C, then D, I’m looking at them more as fragments making up a whole picture. One scene here, another scene there. It isn’t necessary that they be connected because what happens in between isn’t necessarily important to the story. Or so I think. And with those thoughts, I leave you for the day. Happy Wednesday.
I feel… displeased? irritated? utterly let down? Really, it’s a hodgepodge of negative emotion. I finished Doctor Sleep and it was fine. I think The Shining was better. To be honest, I’ve always preferred Stephen King’s old writing to his new stuff. Salem’s Lot and Pet Semetery were so good. This one? I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t even feel uneasy. I felt… nothing really. And then, I realized that some of the names were wrong. As in, characters that were mentioned in The Shining suddenly had different first and middle names. How can a sequel to a book be released with the names of those previously established characters being wrong? I do not approve of that. Especially since the author’s notes at the back of the book mention that a research was hired to make sure mentions of The Shining were accurate. Dude did his job wrong if he couldn’t get the names right. I just feel sad. Things started out so well in the book. I was intrigued by the opening pages. As far as the story itself, it was okay. The horror wasn’t anything I would think twice about. Actually, it’s nothing I would give a first thought about. I prefer my reading material to have more tension and atmosphere, a sort of psychological terror that makes you think, what if? Hence why I always thought The Shining was so successful. A story about a haunted hotel to think about when hotels are already creepy enough? Yes, please. A story about psychic vampires roaming the country in RVs? Eh. I think The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich did the whole modern vampire thing much better. So in closing, if you write a book and it’s based on another book, be kind to your readers and at least make sure that previously mentioned characters are named correctly. It’s such a simple thing. Moving on, I promised you an excerpt:
“When I was young, I had a tooth in my brain. Every night, I would get a headache that felt like I was chewing myself. I cried and cried until a doctor passed me beneath a machine. The tooth was at the top of my head, surrounded by thick red lines that seemed like spider webbing. A woman shaved my hair away, then a knife cut into my skull. The blade cut until a circular flap of skin could be lifted. The tooth was easy enough to extract. There were no roots. It was just a tooth, unconnected from anything. I was awake during the surgery but felt nothing. I blinked rapidly while staring at the flickering lights. I saw the scalpel and it was bloody but I didn’t care. I watched the blade crust over with my fluids. I blinked and tensed my hands. I blinked and opened my mouth. The tooth was exactly like the teeth in my mouth. But my real teeth were rooted into my jaws. They were permanent. The tooth in my head was a dental joke.”
I spend most of my time in the house so when I get the opportunity to get out and about, I revel in it. I love being in the sunlight and breathing fresh air. When I plan a vacation, I don’t particularly like to “relax” but I don’t necessarily schedule by the hour either. I just like walking around. During the weekend, my favorite thing to do is drag my other half out on a walk. Right now, we’ve started walking around the local reservoir. It’s such a peaceful area and at the reservoir’s shallow end, there are a bunch of turtles. Just tiny little turtles sunning themselves on rocks and branches. It’s great.
So when I plan a vacation, I like to figure out what to do. What are the prettiest areas to go? What should we spend time staring at? The possibilities always seem endless. The thing is, my husband isn’t as fond of walking as I am. In his defense, his job is pretty physical and he’s usually exhausted by the time he gets home. To him, weekends and vacation are a time for vegging. This is the one area where we disagree. I hate the idea of just sitting and doing nothing. I like being on the go. When I plan a vacation, I try to balance time out of the house with time in the house. That way, I get to go to the places I want and he just revel in not having to go anywhere. It works well.
Everyone needs a little getaway from time to time just to rejuvenate. And us creative types need to see different things. If you see something different, you get ideas. If you’re always staring at the same four walls and never experiencing anything, you might have a bit of trouble with your work. It’s nice to just get to breathe a little and absorb everything. And if you’re a writer, it helps if you bring a notebook along so you can take notes on anything that pops into your head. I find that I get most of my ideas when I’m least expecting them. If I’m consciously thinking of ideas, it’s so much harder to gather them. But if I just let things go, the ideas start coming in an endless… idea flood.
It’s the same thing with reading or going to a museum. If you take time away from your own creative project to experience someone else’s creation, usually ideas will be triggered. Maybe you see a painting and you want to write a novel based on a small detail in it. Or you hear a song and suddenly, your mind is racing with images that you need to sketch out. The idea is to get out of your comfort zone and just step back. Step back from your work for a little while. Step back from our life. Just go into the world and gaze upon something you wouldn’t ordinarily spend time with. Go to a mountain and sit there. Visit a waterfall and just listen to the water pour. Go to an art exhibit. Just do something so that you aren’t in your usual frame of mind (assuming that your usual frame of mind can sometimes become bored and a little stagnant). Give yourself permission to daydream and wander. Just enjoy the world around you and then, when you get ready to create, channel everything you witnessed into something amazing.
Side note, I started reading The Shining again the other day. Then my husband and I went to the store and I saw that Doctor Sleep, which is based on one of the main characters from The Shining, was on sale. So I got it. And I’ve been reading it. It’s pretty good. It’s not The Shining but it’s good in its own right. I’m about a third of the way through. This is what I mean. Get out of your rut. Do something different. Otherwise, life starts to seem really cyclical. Tomorrow, an excerpt. Happy Monday.
When my husband and I honeymooned in Bermuda, I carried the NEO everywhere. There was a notebook in my suitcase but I didn’t really use it. I just worked on the NEO, typing furiously for the sake of typing. After a day of sightseeing with the NEO in my bag, my back would ache. I have scoliosis and so naturally, I’m a little off-balance. Having a bag with a 2-lb word processor shoved inside isn’t really helping. Lately, I’ve been leaving the NEO at home and just going around with a notebook in my bag. The thing is, my bag was purchased specifically with the NEO in mind. It’s a bit bulkier than I would like. With barely anything in it, it’s still heavy. So I bought a smaller, slimmer version that is more of a writing bag. I can keep my planning/idea notebook in one pocket and my regular writing notebook in another pocket. There’s plenty of room for pens. The good thing about traveling with a notebook (at least in my mind) is that I’m not as crazy about the output. It’s a lot harder to handwrite 10,000 words than it is to type 10,000 words. I also find that when I’m writing in a notebook, I focus more on the story. I’m not as desperate to churn out pages upon pages. I take my time. I linger a little more. As long as the notebook has college-ruled pages and isn’t that small in size, it’s perfect for carrying around.
Last week (or the week before) I thought about doing a novel-in-stories but I’m really used to writing long-form stories now. I like it better. And then I was thinking about making sure that every paragraph was at least 500 words but those restrictions were getting to me. So yesterday, I started writing more freely. I’m still thinking about the story and taking my time but I’m not panicking over whether the piece is a short story or how many words it is. It’s just part of an ongoing project. I want to make the story as good as it can be. Plus, I was thinking about maintaining my writing momentum when I’m working on a piece while away from home and giving myself a bit more emotional freedom can only be beneficial. When I was in Miami a few years ago, I spent the whole time worrying about a project I was working on that was a series of short stories. I got bored writing variations of the same plot, over and over again. I wanted to write about something different. So I’m giving myself permission. I’m saying, “Capria, stop worrying.” Hopefully, I listen to myself.
There’s a simple reason why I’m always changing my mind/direction/whatever. It’s because I want to write about everything. I see so many things that get stuck in my head and I want to throw them all into my writing as one great hodgepodge. I want to experience everything, then write about it. But the thing is, my relentless pursuit of giving everything equal space is sort of impossible. If I were to spend the same amount of time on every single tiny thing I encounter that interests me, I’d never be able to sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, anything. I’d be at the mercy of my writing. So there needs to be a balance between the story at hand and the various things I see that interest me. I feel like it all has a place but not all of it necessitates an entire book on that specific object.
And now, an excerpt:
“You and I visit Acapulco. The flight is long but we make it just in time to watch the ocean swell. We get off the airplane and go directly to the highest building in the city overlooking the water. [I want to be within it,] you say and reach for the foaming water. You rest your head on my shoulder and I reach behind you to grab your hair. Your hair needs to be conditioned. It’s horribly coarse. I worry that if I touch your hair the wrong way, all the strands will drop out of your scalp with a cascade of plucking sounds. You kiss me on the cheek. [Do you miss our livers being attached,] you ask but I don’t answer. I watch the ocean lift up and drop. The bodies on the beach don’t pay attention to how the water bloats, then thins out.”
I’ve mentioned before that my short-story collection will be coming out later this year. Right now, my editor and I are going over the drafts, editing the stories into perfection. Or, he’s trying to and I keep panicking. After the first draft, I started worrying about the stories. I was afraid I hated them. So I sent in a different draft that was a total 180° departure from the first draft. But that meant that everything that had been edited was pushed to the side. Then I had a brainstorm. I combined. I know, it’s a novel idea. Right now, half the collection are the stories we worked on, and the other half are the stories I added. I feel much more positive, especially after some inspiring and motivating words emailed over by my editor.
Months ago, I had a writing discussion with my step-father-in-law. It was a good discussion. It was thought-provoking. He told me I should think about what I’m really trying to say, that if I want people talking about my writing, I need to figure out what it is my generation wants and thinks about. As I said, thought-provoking. Sadly, the conversation triggered a slight descent into paranoia. After that talk, I culled my writing files, picking out only the best writing (which really did have to happen since my writing file was over 3,000 pages long). Then I started my new projects and worried so much about my “message” that I couldn’t actually write anything. I wrote and deleted, wrote and deleted. I was scrapping weeks of work. All I could think was, “Does this writing mean something?” There was also a secondary question of “is this beautiful?” but that’s a story for another time.
On Monday, I read an article about understanding modern art. I am a huge modern art fan. I love it. The more abstract, the better. I feel like being a writer and loving art goes hand in hand. As writers, our job is to manipulate words until they form images, albeit in the head. So why not appreciate art, which is focused primarily on the visual? Anyway, the article explained how to really appreciate abstract art. And it essentially said (obviously, I’m paraphrasing): to stop thinking that the piece needs to be “solved” because often, the artist doesn’t even know what he was trying to say when he created it. I like the idea of there being a mystery to the art. One of my poetry professors once said, “When you read a poem, don’t worry about what it means. It means something different to every person who reads it. There is no one answer.” Once again, paraphrase. But both those ideas speak to what was worrying me. How can I write when all I can think about is coming up with an answer when I don’t even know the question? There’s something to be said for not always knowing the answer. Sometimes, a question can be enough. And there isn’t always one right answer.
Here’s the thing. I feel like when I’m writing, I’m always asking questions. Hell, that’s how I figure out what the story’s about. I write question after question after question. Dozens of questions. Then I try to find the answer. But sometimes, the answer is complex. If I ask, “What is this about?” I don’t usually have a single idea in mind. t’s usually about a series of thoughts. It’s about understanding something that isn’t simple because it’s part of life. I might be talking about one idea initially but as I write, I add more ideas. Writing about a single idea is boring. The writing becomes stagnant. There are no opposing forces. How can you really understand a concept when there isn’t another being related to it? It’s like writing about love without there being a form of death (or whatever other idea you want). If it’s just a story about love, where’s the excitement? I don’t want to get so distracted by the idea of “meaning” that I end up limiting myself all for the sake of the piece being understandable. My favorite stories are the ones I don’t understand because then I reread the piece. Often, I can feel that those pieces mean something personal to me even though I can’t explain what the meaning is. And I like that ambiguity. It’s exciting. So no more worrying about meaning. No more being preoccupied by the idea that there has to be a single right answer. There’s not. And I like it better that way.
I’ve mentioned before that I keep my maser files as pdfs. Well, today, I changed my mind for two main reasons: (1) Writing copied from a pdf doesn’t always maintain the formatting such as the tabs, italics, and italics; (2) I tried to copy writing from an old pdf today and apparently the pdf wasn’t made properly because the text was mangled beyond recognition; and (3) it’s kind of annoying to constantly have to create a new pdf each time I make a change to the main document. So now I’m just using the master doc file. But just to be on the safe side and to keep the document just as I want it, I’ve changed the file permissions so that it’s read only. I also locked the file because you can never be too careful.
On the writing front, I did some drastic culling in my current file. I went through about 150,000 words and removed any writing that didn’t seem self-contained. The removed material went into another file for the sole purpose of keeping deleted stuff and in the end, I removed about 80,000 words of material. That’s a lot of writing but the stories left are the strongest pieces. Plus, I’ve started getting back into the habit of writing more contained pieces so the document should reflect that. So far, I’ve finished three stories this week and I’m happy with how odd they are. I have a list of story ideas to work on.
I’ve also been editing my short story collection. I wanted to add some different stories because I wasn’t too certain about all the stories included in the collection. So I’m almost done with the edits. I finished the main document today and then I have two longer stories to edit over the weekend. I can’t wait to be done with the edits that way I can get back to writing. So in case you were wondering why there really hasn’t been that much writing posted over the last two weeks, that’s why. Edits. Lots and lots of edits. Next week should have more excerpts since I’ll have more time to create. I hope everyone had a nice Friday the 13th (personally, I think Friday the 13th is sort of a lucky day). Enjoy your weekend and I’ll be back on Monday.
“The house is god, it and its many locked fixtures. Every room in the house is guarded by a locked door. Some houses are designed to stay locked even when the occupants are inside. The girl with the ax had a locked bedroom, a locked kitchen, a locked basement. The girl with the ax knew how to crack the lock just by fidgeting with her tongue. We lack lingual dexterity and so cannot render the locks useless by virtue of our mouths alone. The keys are missing. No one knows who had the keys before, no one knows who keeps the keys now. It is a mystery of whether the keys ever existed. Because of all the locks, every door stays closed, except for one, which is the only room I allow myself to enter when alone. A dark corridor runs from one end of the house to the other but it does not come in contact with all the rooms. It does not turn, it does not twist. It is not interrupted by a staircase. No one enters this hallway but everyone knows its exists. I stand at the hallway entrance, in the place where the darkness progresses like tar, and I keep my mouth closed while counting the rooms I can see from afar. One room, two. Three rooms, four. Five rooms, six, seven. The doorways become less rectangular and transform into slits. I narrow my eyes to see better but cannot tell the lines from one another.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I feel like I keep apologizing for the lack of posting. Over the last week, I’ve written plenty of material, then decided none of it worked. It was a vicious cycle of creation and deletion. Yesterday was no exception. I wrote all morning, read over the material, and decided I didn’t like it. So then I changed paths. I wrote more of a story-story. Or something. For some inspiration, I pulled In Heaven, Everything is Fine off my shelf for the second time and started reading. Part of the reason that I’m having issues writing is because I’m so focused on editing my short story collection. I want to make everything perfect and that goes for the present writing. None of the fragments I wrote over the last week or so really struck a chord with me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with starting from scratch if a story doesn’t seem right. And I’ve spent a good amount of time on this project. I started it in March and still have another section to start. That’s why I picked In Heaven up again. I was reading No Boundaries which is a series of prose poems but that’s the thing. I started writing more poem-esque pieces when I wanted to focus my attention on fiction. So it makes sense to read some short stories. And an anthology works better than a one-author collection because the stories are vastly different from one another. The story I finally wrote yesterday ended up being completely different from anything I would have expected but I actually like it. And not in a for-the-moment sort of I-like-it. I really am happy with the writing. But I have several more stories to create. My hope is that this project will finally be done by the end of the month so that I can focus on something different for the second half of the year. Also, if you visit the “publications” page here, you’ll see that several of the publications are now missing links. A few of the places the work had been published are no longer around and so instead of having links that go nowhere, I opted to remove them all. That way, time isn’t wasted clicking for stories that no longer exist on the internet.
“There’s a desert in Salem and it’s made of rusted tombstones. No matter how many footprints we scrape from the street, we can’t eliminate them all. You think licking with a mouthful of bleach is the answer but there are less caustic ways. Already, your mouth is laden with ulcers. If you strain enough, you can push your tongue through the holes and wriggle the tip around. You are crossing boundaries, traversing dimensions, all without worrying that the laws of physics will change once you’ve breached the other side. This isn’t like the little girl who rolled beneath her bed and landed somewhere else. And that place was difficult enough to traverse, with the walls and floors tilting in opposite directions. No matter how many steps were taken to the left, double that amount were taken back. It took a dog and a man to get her out. But really, it took a dog and its leash. Salem is like that.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yesterday, I mentioned that I was having some issues with my writing. The story was a mess. The style was all wrong. I had to rethink what I wanted to do. I considered writing by hand when settling down for the night but at the last minute, I ended up reading some pieces from No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets edited by Ray Gonzalez. It’s one of my favorite books and I always go back to it time and time again. Getting away from “fiction” for awhile was exactly what my brain needed because once I was done reading, I had to get my notebook so I could write a few lines down. The other change to my process is that starting today, I’m using two word processors. I’m doing my daily writing in LibreOffice because the program has a static word count bar on the bottom of the page, which I don’t have to get distracted by writing to look up the word count. Once the day’s writing is edited, I save it in my master file using OpenOffice. Yes, there’s a bit of back and forth but so far, so good.
Friends, apologies. Seriously. I should have excerpts for you. I want to have excerpts for you. I would have had excerpts for you except I scrapped 12,000 words worth of writing from the last few days. I was working on the stories to potentially include in the edited version of my collection but I ran into an issue when I was nearing the end of the first story. I didn’t know how to finish it. I went through what was written and decided that it just wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t right. So I tossed it. I’m irritated that I spent so much time writing material that will probably never see the light of day. The issue was the style. And the story. Things need to be condensed, adjusted. So I have to start over. Getting rid of so much writing is always painful but I know I can do better. Hopefully I’ll have some writing to share later in the week, probably late tomorrow or sometime Thursday.
“You pat the baby while it stays wrapped in a coarse pink blanket. [Is it a girl,] you ask, lifting an edge of the blanket to look between the baby’s legs. The baby doesn’t look like any infant I’ve ever seen. This baby is too round. It’s too gray. Yellow eyes bulge from the fatty head. A red tongue pokes out, licks towards the nose, but the tongue is all wrong. It’s too pointed, too thin, like a satin ribbon darting out and snapping in. You lift the baby to your shoulder for a burping. I walk in circles with the chicken corpse squawking against my neck. [I know,] I whisper to the chicken corpse. [I know. I don't like it either.]“
“You chisel caves to make room for pregnancy. The caves are for you, not me. Hard stone floors aren’t appropriate for my future bloated belly. The caves are so that you have a place to escape to while I’m shrieking with pregnancy pains. You refuse to bear witness to my eventual discomfort. So you will live amongst the rocks, in the caverns, and sometimes, a tide will rise up, the water from an inlet, and it will fill the cave just past your shoulders. With your bare hands, you will fish with a large rock, dropping it onto any scaled heads swimming past.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Over the next few weeks, most of the excerpts posted will be from some stories I’m writing for inclusion in my short story collection due out later in the year. The collection was completed and was being edited but I was uncertain about some of the stories. After my editor said I could write some new ones if I wanted, I started getting back into a fairy tale frame of mind (the collection is based on fairy tales). Most of the stories are just variations on traditional fairy tales. I want the stories I work on to pay homage to the stories but not be overtly connected to the source material. The story I’m working on right now is going to be on the longish side. Over the weekend, I changed the formatting in my master file from 0.50″ margins and a 9 point font to 0.10″ margins and a 6 point font. I wanted to reduce the page count for when I print out a hard copy for my records. The formatting changed brought the file from 600 pages to 200 pages, so I’ll have much less paper to contend with when I start printing. I also rethought my titling system. Last week, I mentioned that I was going to use numbers as the titles but I decided that single-word titles would be better. This way, I can choose a word that fits the theme/plot/whatever and let that be the title. It’ll make more sense than a numerical system. Until tomorrow, friends.
I used to handwrite all the time. It made sense when I was in school. I could sit in class writing parts of a story and it looked like I was taking notes. And I was taking notes most of the time but there were also times when the story had to come out. One summer, I filled about ten notebooks in less than two months. I used to bring a notebook with me every time I went away in the summer. In high school, my favorite notebook for writing was a composition book. Then I got over those. I was obsessed with looseleaf paper for awhile (always college-ruled) and then with hardcover sketch books. Then I got into normal notebooks. My preferred style was a single-subject notebook. I loved going to the store and picking out notebooks in various cover colors at the start of the school year. When I was in college, I got my notebooks from the school store so all my notebooks, while having different colored covers, also all had the school’s name. It was a good time. Then I got a better laptop, graduated, and stopped having to handwrite all the time.
Admittedly, my handwriting is hideous. It kind of looks like a doctor’s scrawl for a prescription. Very messy. It’s hard to read. My THEs look like 16s. I have a tendency of writing ‘ing’ as a long line with a dot hovering in the center. So by virtue of my writing being hard to transcribe, I tend not to handwrite long pieces. Plus, it’s faster for me to type. The thing is though, it might be faster to type, but sometimes that’s all there is. Typing. My fingers move so automatically that I forget what it is I’m writing and when I read it over, none of what I created looks familiar. When I’m handwriting, I’m staring at the page intently. I’m building on sentences more, allowing myself to linger before putting the pen to the paper. I labor over the sentences. To write a full page in a notebook takes time. So I’ve been wanting to get back into handwriting. It’s not even that. I’ve been wanting to slow down my writing, to take my time.
Last year, my writing files numbered in the dozens. There were over 50 projects, many of which were complete garbage. But I wrote them for the sake of writing them. I wrote them so I could say I wrote them. They were evidence of an ego that was getting out of control. Eventually, even I realized that the amount of writing was too much. I used to write with the sole purpose of typing until my fingers felt numb. I would write approximately 4,000-5,000 words a day. During vacations, I’d write about 10,000 words. During a black-out, I wrote 7,000 words in a single night. I was creating pages and pages without worrying if they were perfect. The thing is, I don’t like creating an excess of pages just to edit them until the number is cut down. I’d rather do edits as I write, making the first draft what I want, and then use the subsequent drafts to make that first draft better. So why read over thousands and thousands of words if I’m only going to keep 1/2 to a 1/3 of them? To counter that, I gave myself a word limit. My goal was 3,000 words a day. And that worked for awhile, but at some points, I felt distracted. I cut the quota down to 2,000 words a day. 2,000 words that were exactly what I wanted. If I wrote an extra 1,000 that was okay. But the goal was to keep from going too far over.
But even that wasn’t enough. Using those numbers, by the end of a single year, I’d have about 730,000 words (which is about 450 single-spaced pages using my current document format). So I cut the writing files. I went through them and selected the writing that really meant something. That went into the file for 2011-2013. The file is almost 600 pages. That means approximately 200 pages a year from 2011, 2012, and 2013 were good enough to stay in the volume. With that number in mind, I decided that every year, I would give myself 200 pages of real writing. 200 pages of the best writing I was capable of. There could be less than 200 pages. I’d even allow myself to go over 200 pages if the writing was that exceptional. But that’s where I’m at. That means that I’m forcing myself to edit more, to do those harder edits that have a tendency of making me nervous. I’m imposing restrictions with the mindset that they’ll make me better. The handwriting comes into that. If I can do some writing in a notebook, then type it up, and edit it until I’m happy with it, then I’m spending time perfecting something. I’m forcing myself to slow down and make something worthwhile, instead of just spending pages and pages on crap. When you can cut your writing file down to 10 projects when you originally had over 50, that means you wrote a lot of crap. So why stay distracted by anything that’s subpar? So I’m going to be handwriting more. I’m going to try to think more as I type instead of letting myself drift into an almost meditative state where I write but remember nothing.
And with that, I leave you all to enjoy Memorial Day weekend (or just the weekend if you aren’t American). Relax, rejuvenate, and be happy. And write if you have some spare time.
The topmost shelf of my bookcase is reserved for my very favorite books. They’re the volumes that I find myself reading over and over again, without end, the ones that make me want to grab a pen and start scribbling. They’re also the reason that I haven’t posted semi-regularly this week. I finished House of Leaves and started reading Seiobo There Below and amidst all that beautiful writing, I started to have doubts.
The doubts were specifically focused on a section in one of the projects finished earlier in the year. The section’s key word? “Factory fire.” There was something about that section that made me narrow my eyes suspiciously. I didn’t trust it. It wasn’t right. I had to do something.So I went back. I stared at the passage, reconsidered, stared again. Then I realized that I wasn’t happy with the story in general. Two projects were so conjoined that they could be edited mercilessly and merged to create a singular body.
Hence, my lack of posts. In my desperate attempt to rein these wild projects in, I didn’t have time to post. I was too focused on deleting sections and figuring out where to place the salvaged works. When I finished my edits last night, I had cut approximately 35 pages from my writing file (for a letter size piece of paper with 0.5″ margins all around and the font set at Times New Roman, size 9, that ends up being about 63,000 words, which is an entire novel). It was a rough go. I thought about what I wasn’t happy about, then systematically went through the two projects, eliminating the parts I hated and fixing up the sections that I enjoyed. I made notes on the sections that had to be restructured/rewritten/reworked and left them for today. And that’s how I’ve been spending my day, going through what’s left (the literary rubble) and doing some necessary CPR.
The whole idea is to treat the edits like you’re mining for gold. You have to break up all the useless stones to get at the gold nuggets hidden inside. And that’s what I’ve been doing, identifying the sections that shine and eliminating any parts that obscure that glow. Yeah, it’s a pain. And I’m sad that weeks and weeks of writing has been trashed. But I’m okay with it all because I want to make sure that the writing in my file is as good as all those books on my top shelf. I want to write stories worthy of their company. If that means that I have to spend some time picking away at pieces I thought were done, then so be it.
I look at these long edits as 3rd draft edits. The first draft is everything I come up. With the second draft, I check for grammar, spelling, and any really blatant mistakes. With the third draft, I cut away at the mess until I’m left with something almost perfect. And then I read over it all again, to make sure. That’s the fourth draft. It moves on and on that way, until I finally decide that there’s nothing else to change, until it’s as perfect as you can possibly make it. It’s a process. A long process but also an immensely satisfying one.
So don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty when you do your edits. Print out the pages if you must, or read them repeatedly on the screen. Highlight what you hate, or take copious notes. Chisel away at your manuscript until you find the story inside that you really wanted to tell. Then, celebrate.
“These cracks have been spreading for years. These cracks have followed me, have plagued me, have chased me. These cracks have grown in my closet, have spidered beneath my bed. These cracks are not even cracks. They are more like lined breaks. They are long lines, moving past a horizon of lines, deciding that the crack must have a life that does not stay in a single place. The cracks are mobile. The cracks spread faster and faster. The cracks cause the plaster edges to powder. The cracks get on everything. The cracks cover everything. The cracks can be picked out if I insert a nail just right but I don’t want to risk my nail falling off. What would I do without that enamel cap? How would I grab things successfully? How would I pick fallen pennies off the floor?”
-Excerpt from 11
“Cat fur touches me and I swell with allergy. It is dangerous to follow a cat if the cat is not agreeable with your respiratory system. I follow the cat and as a result, my lungs work at 50% their potential. If I put a finger up my nose, I scoop out a large clump of fur. The fur moves between my fingers. It only adds to my allergies. I stare at the fur and my eyes water. While the cat god does not approve of those who are allergic to its flesh, it will not deny followers on an allergen basis. Those who sneeze are still allowed although they’re frowned upon. And the cat god frowns at me often. The cat god focuses its unnerving gaze in my direction and hisses. Its mouth doesn’t move when it spits onto the floor.”
“Among them is THE CAT IS NOT REAL. The cat is real. The cat has always been real. The cat watches with eyes that prove just how real the cat’s flesh really is. And the cat is dangerous. You can tell by the color of its eyes. Or should I say, colors? Because the cat god’s eyes are not one color. They are comprised of many colors and each color hangs close to the next without merging. Yet, the cat’s eyes do not look striped. The cat’s eyes are something else. They are a look into an alternate universe, a place where colors do not blend but stay wrapped together, separate but joined, so that pink and blue touch but do not copulate. There is no real purple. There is only the essence of purple. There is the thought of purple but the purple is just that. A thought, a metaphor. The purple is not REAL.”