Kim’s Review: Writing: The daring balancing act between creative chaos and untold genius!
Writers have processes by which they create. Rituals, habits, disciplines. Ask any writer how they get their ideas. It’s not just the topic they choose to write about, it is also the flow of words that concisely express a time and place, an action, plot, theme or character. If you read much (I have a life-long reading addiction), you will notice the myriad ways in which writers are cleverly able to seduce you, draw you into the story, slam you with a climax and then allow you to dwell, considering the ramifications of what just took place. Sounds a bit like sex? Yes, yes. Yes. Why else would so many people be doing it?
Writing is the easy part. I sit down and let stuff: memories, ideas, names, places and the odd assortment of junk to fall out of my head and on to the page. The hard part is arranging it into a more coherent mass. Shaping the structure of the written word is harder than just regurgitating what comes from the mind. Real sentences (well almost always real) need to be paired with a theme to form a paragraph. Paragraphs need to flow from one idea to the next. Readers can’t be trusted to know what the heck I’m trying to say, so I have to come right out and say it. Or show it! Or imply it.
I can say that my Aunt Ida looked like Mel Torme. Chances are, few people actually know who Mel Torme was. Even Word doesn’t like the word Torme, and I have to click Ignore All for all of the Tormes I’ve just written. I will need to describe her features as droopy with thick lips and a double chin and big ears. Or better yet: through her intense stare, she conveyed her contempt for me with her droopy eyes before she even parted her bulbous lips to express it verbally, an action which caused her chin laps to quiver and her elephantine ears to rear back. I hope she looked more alluring in her youth, and could maybe sing a little better. Mel Torme, that dude could sing. Aunt Ida, not so much.
The mind-splat, described above, is the fun part. There’s lots of stuff in there—the internal circus. Very often it wants to come out to play at midnight when I’m trying to sleep. I never know when the idea monkeys will want to fly. I will be sitting on the bus and wham! I catch one in the gut. Like the lion tamer, I have developed ways to keep the beasts from devouring me at the least convenient moments. Methods of staving off an unintentional mind-splat: 1) Allow one or two sentences to settle in and then write them down—chances are the rest will be pacified and willing to return when the time is right. 2) Tell the circus to fuck off (I don’t care what’s making that wall bend in that strange way) and if the idea is good, I will take care of it later. Sometimes I just forget the details, but sooner or later it will come up again… in church or while I’m on the phone. 3) Sing the national anthem. This distracts any insistent idea. Also the people on the bus. I rarely recover an idea with this method, but the people next to me on the bus will scoot over a bit so I can place my lunchbox on the seat.
There are many good places to open the circus gates. I always carry paper and pen for a quick scratching down. The rule is, if I want to allow the mind-splat to come forth, I need to be prepared to spend a little extra time in the place where it occurs. The grocery store is a great place. So many visual cues to ignite the spark! and entertain me during the chore of shopping. If I come home with a jar of pickled mango, so much the better.
Hiking is wonderfully mentally productive. As are any other activities of repetitive motion. There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other that is so boring that the internal circus releases spontaneously. My hikes tend to be wild extravaganzas of three-ring delight accompanied by mountain vistas and heavy panting. The circus takes my mind off my wingey knees. The good treadmill at the Y is probably the safest repetitive-motion action for a word fest, and I am a world-class competitor in the Writing Olympics, Safe Splatting on an Electric Foot Moving Device division.
I decided recently that renting a desk in a cooperative work space would not only be conducive to limiting the potential for getting run over by a bus while writing in my head, it also legitimizes this writing thing! I have a place to go. Take the bus in the morning, sit and type stuff on my computer and then go home and lie down before I feel the need to do anything else that’s as productive. Dreams die hard. You can’t just pay to go somewhere and write stuff. Is there a purpose to this or is the purpose to just go and extricate stuff to relieve the pressure in your head and give voice to the jugglers and acrobats?
I see that more explanation is required. I also decided to share my writing with the world, or at least my little slice of it. Sharing is harder. Sharing means coherency. Sharing means organization and shaping. Sharing means that other people will need to be conducive to receiving and not recoiling with looks of confusion.
I decided to write a blog. This resolution started a whole bunch of processing. Processing of plans and processing of what shape my writing would take for the actual sharing. After I decided on Ethel, who would help me with the technical stuff (thanks Dawn!) and what I would write about, a darkness settled in. I don’t plan what I am going to write about, it just appears like a bunny from a hat. Sharing meant that there would need to be multiple bunnies erupting from an unpredictable hat.
I solicited suggestions for blog topics from my friends, slammed onto the computer whatever came to my head from a few of these suggestions and then rejected it all. My friends seem to have aberrant desires re the written word. Assisted suicide? Celibacy pacts? Flat earthers, ageism, sadness, torture. My appetite runs more toward the humorous side of life. How can I be expected to write about subjects that are inherently sad? Despite my trepidation of serious topics, the circus, conversely, went on a mad spree.
Querying the circus can be a dicey proposition. Usually I receive its random offerings, furiously write them down, then painstakingly orchestrate coherency from chaos. Asking for specifics is like supplicating the Oracle at Delphi. One must be prepared for what one receives. From the internal circus I received controversy, depravity and inexcusable stupidness. If I published this stuff, my friends may never after see me in the same light. I would need to hire a PR agent. Though these propositions were beginning to sound like fun, I needed to step back and decide how much censoring would be required.
The concept of guest editors was highly appealing to my sense of diffusing blame. Writers often hide out in their private spaces to update journals, scribble poetry or critique their nephew’s school papers. I wanted to draw them out of the shadows and put them to work for my evil enterprise. Ethel editors! When I ask people if they write, I often get the “Well…I” explanation of their secret machinations. That’s all it takes for me to pounce. Will you do a bit of editing? I’ll trust (most) of your suggestions. Using the word criticism often puts them off. The word is too negative for well-meaning friends. With a few names and email addresses under my belt, I launched into the Guest Editor program. If anyone wants me to write about the serious topics discussed above, that person will be assigned to edit the resulting shipwreck and guide me toward the lifeboat.
Once the internal circus imparts its wisdom, the process of molding my work of art becomes arduous, sweat-producing and hand-wringing. Since I am not a renowned sculptor, I appreciate the assistance of my patient editors. As the ring master of a formidable force of nature that is the internal circus, I am honored to be its humble servant, placating the acrobats, grooming the elephants and exercising the big cats. This is a process, a discipline we all partake in together toward creating a little something for your entertainment. We are certain it is something of which Aunt Ida would be proud. We hope it brings a smile to your day.
Yours in chaos with potential,
Guest Editor Kim and I met at our little church in Houston. She moved to Louisiana and I have not seen her since. This is sad, but we are in constant contact on Facebook. She was kind enough to stop me from being over-wordy and borderline ridiculous.