Friday, October 3, 2008

On Writing

Writing is my real love. I am a fast first draft writer. I'm usually happy with my first drafts, but when you write fast, you write sloppy. Down and dirty is what it is. It's raw and immediate. I sometimes drift from past to present in the space of a paragraph. I begin with memory and become snared in the story so that what I'm writing about the past becomes the present. But as fast as I write, I edit slowly, over and over, looking for these tense shifts, and again getting caught up in the immediacy of the story. Sometimes I am working on character's names, and all I'm looking for is a name here and there. Oh, I might catch something in one of these searches, but mostly not. So for thirty years I have been working on the novel, Maggy. Most of the poems I've posted here, were written in one flash of feeling or insight. But I have poems I've been working on for years. I may write them in a moment of inspiration, but I tinker endlessly. The short story is a new form for me. Again, these stories are all relatively new. The first story I wrote is the one called, Still Life. I wrote this story in the evening after the police left. It was a way to cope with my feelings after a burglary in my home. It's the only story I've been working for years. I'm satisfied that it's finished, but I bet a careful reading by any one of you might turn up a typo or punctuation problem. I'm too close to it, too familiar with it now to notice those mistakes. All the rest of the stories are very new, written in that fast all at one sitting pace, except the most recent, which is a work in progress.

Having a blog is a distraction from that kind of writing. Here I can write fast and let it fly. I may go over something a time or two, but mostly I write fast and post. I have a few readers of the fiction who have left comments here and there, but mostly these are brief comments. The one time I asked for editorial help I got it in spades on the story, The End Of Love. I asked my regular blog commenters to comment on that particular story, and to feel free to make editorial suggestions. It was like having a real writing group again. I've missed having the feedback you get from being in a writing group. I had 24 comments and they were all helpful. I made many changes, large and small. I think every change made the story stronger, tighter, and scrubbed it of spelling errors. I'm very grateful for that help.

Yesterday I got an email from a blogger who has never commented anywhere on my site, but who I have seen on other sites leave nice, interesting, intelligent comments. One of the things I noticed first was his avatar--his is a water color self-portrait. Diva and he and I are the only three I've seen. So to find an email from Steve Emery in my inbox was a big surprise. But what he says left me sobbing with gratitude. Kindness and generosity sometimes do that to me. It's never expected. I should work on my expectations.

Thank you Steve for your comment. I treasure it. It's both helpful and an encouragement to believe that I just might be on to something here. What follows is Steve Emery's comment.

Thanks for your comment on Vulture Peak Muse. It's interesting to me how the comments of other bloggers gradually accumulate in my mind until they form some tantalizing half picture. Then I have to go look for the rest, or at least as much as they reveal.

Your work is all compelling, and a bit frightening. Some passages ring with something like wry laughter (Lucy and the UPS man) and some drip with beauty (the description of the Willamina woods) - but others are so casually brutal, or so grindingly cruel. I can't help but understand and hate Maggy, and feel trapped between the two feelings. And the sharp edges and regret in some of the poems... "I spent my life retreating from desire."

Several times, lately, I've had the mental equivalent of stumbling on the scene of a crime - reading in several different blogs of the cruelty of men (and women) to women of extraordinary appearance. I have encountered almost no violence in my life since grade school bullying, and I am shocked by it in almost any form. I am deeply dismayed that people are repeatedly hurt for any reason, and the idea that one might be beautiful enough to continue attracting painful attention sounds like a nightmare. I would not have thought it common or likely but for stories I keep finding lately. Yours (fact or fiction or a combination - I don't know) and Liberality's, most recently.

Blogging opens up all sorts of places for everyone to view. I wonder if we are doing something truly new in this, or if it's just a new medium for some old business that found other expression in other ages, like diaries. I believe there is "nothing new under the sun," where humanity is concerned. Technology is just new varnish - the furniture is all the same.

But I doubt it was this easy to see and find so many people's stories, and to experience so many different people's pains and joys.

Thank you, again, for your kind words about my art. I admire the power of yours - though it leaves me a bit shaken.



Ingrid said...

That is indeed nice and heart warming. Writing is a solitary thing and mine comes in spurts. To have a group behind you (and even be held 'accountable' to in the event you're a procrastinator OR need 'someone' to write for) is priceless..little gems pop up and this week his name was Steve. Thanks Steve!
(maggy is indeed all that, when I have peeled myself away and read a bit, I want to print it out and sit back and read you have a 'word' document version? (remember what I wanted to try to do with it??)..I don't do well reading long articles etc online and when I do research for my blog, I print it so I can sit back and read..
oh btw..have you ever heard of National Novel Writing Month?
check it out..

Randal Graves said...

It's great to see creative minds, whatever the medium, coming together like this, sharing experiences.

When I write, it's usually in quick chunks, then I agonize over them and I'm constantly making changes here and there. Sometimes I think I lay it on too thick. Poetry is the same, but at least they're smaller pieces. The novel is a sumbitch.

Utah Savage said...

Ingrid, I do have a word program. My novel was written on a PC and had to be transfered from the PC to this monster. So my wonderful administrator loaded my Imac with Word, so I suppose it might still be there in Word, unedited. Maybe I could load it back into word. I don't know, bt my administrator Phillip would.

Randal I love your poetry. When are you going to share some fiction with us?

Comrade Kevin said...

I'm different than you. Though every now and again my first draft is high quality enough to remain as is, I'm obsessive and detail-oriented enough that I'll go through at least three drafts before I'm totally satisfied.

I was schooled to think revision was a continual process and you couldn't do it enough and I still think that way.

Utah Savage said...

I'm not saying that my first draft is of such high quality, but it has the rawness and sorrow, or anger, or fear, and that's the most important element, not the elegance or clarity, or brilliance of thought I'd like, but if the gut feeling comes through, I have something to work from. So if I keep that first draft quality, I keep the immediacy of the feeling I have something. I'm not an intellectual, not particularly well educated, but I am glutinously well read. And the writing that stays with me has that raw quality. It may be edited up the wazzoo, but it keeps the intensity. I always knew something was very bad about what my family did to me. Even when I was quite young I had this sense that this was not good, this was not right, life was not for me like it was for everyone else I knew. Like most children in my kind of circumstances, I gradually internalized the cruelty and abuse and made it my own fault. I have so much material of such raw, real horror, that made up scary just doesn't scare me. I don't really know how to be "nice." I can play nice, look nice, act nice. But nice had little to do with my family. And once a very sick family gets its young raised, no matter how far the young run or hide or turn away from that early imprint, the imprint is grooved deep in the brain, heart, soul. Now I have my mother's voice within, and even after many years of having her dead and gone, I still hear her voice speaking through mine.

I've probably edited the novel a hundred times or more and it gets incrementally better each time I go through it, but I'm not good at finding the punctuation problems or the typos or misspellings if spell check doesn't catch them. I simply don't see them, even with a microscope. I need an editor for that.

What I'm saying about first draft is that it runs through me like a river. It tumbles out faster than I can type. It's like a kind of automatic writing. I channel it. I wish it were a better technical writer, but I want to retain the sensory aspect of the lived experience.

Utah Savage said...

When I painted I often went too far. There is a place of just right but not too much, and it's a tightrope. In painting once you've gone too far, especially in a medium like watercolor, you can't turn back. it's ruined. I've done a great deal of that.

linda said...

utah, I know you didn't mean to but I feel the shifting pain of invisibility anyway. (and you know how 20 years of therapy will make you speak your truth, right?) I feel like the corner fire hydrant people met at and then went off and had a meaningful conversation...

sorry-no, I'm not- as I feel entitled to give voice to my part in seeing "me" in your exchange with steve...I doubt you realized how I would feel seeing "Vulture Peak Muse" in the first sentence and then nothing else about being THERE. It's about Steve and you, right? I am trying to get that straight right now but could you have left out that sentence and still said the same thing? mabe in your second draft? yes, I think you could have...and spared me this feeling of somehow being there but not-invisible, invalid, unseen, which I wasn't in the post/letter/meeting of the minds over at my place... I am mentally ill and don't we both know about that? shit, I give up trying to explain....I always write in first draft and hit send. Hoping you get that and me and understand I just needed to spill my guts over being nicked in the heart and left bleeding at the fire hydrant.

I am crazy to feel so deeply over such an immense feeling of unintentional invisibility but no matter - I just didn't need it today.

Utah Savage said...

Linda, I just wrote a long and honest apology/explanation and then blogger made me enter my name and pass word and over and over and in the process I lost the comment to you. I was an ass not to more strongly make your place felt, seen in all of this. Sometimes we who are mentally ill are not the most unselfish and tactful of people. My focus in writing fiction is to turn within and expose what I find there. Very few commenters have written such long and sensitive comments in a single piece as Steve left me in his email. He gets my writing in a way few others have shared with me. So, yes, I focused on my process and Steve's emailed comment. I see you. I hear you. We have a bond, I feel. We get each other. Most of all I love your vulnerability and honesty. Therapy has been valuable for both of us. I will do what I can to repear this damage. I hope you can trust me again. I'm sorry for hurting you.

Anonymous said...

Like you, I make distinctions between blogging and fiction writing. I should probably write more like I blog. Fast and furious. Then I could go back and edit. The trouble comes for me when I start, stop, back up, rewrite, start again. Nothing ever gets finished.

I do have a couple of fiction pieces that I had up before you and I ever connected. I might send them to you for your feedback. Would that be okay?

DivaJood said...

what a gorgeous email! I am glad that he reached out to you, and his email to you was wonderful, insightful and encouraging. Take it to heart.

Utah Savage said...

Dcup, let's start a writing group that is less structured than Deadly Women Write, but private like that. Shared and maybe with a target meeting for an hour or so every couple of week s or every week, or whenever. We have let Deadly Women Write drift, but it still calls. As winter comes I get bloody minded. I like the form, partly because it's more real story telling than what I usually write. Anyway, what do you think. You too Diva. Anyone?

Liberality said...

the idea that one might be beautiful enough to continue attracting painful attention sounds like a nightmare

wow, just wow.

Steve is very deep and kind. There are not many men like him out there. And of course he is an artist. He gets it like few men ever do.
What he wrote about your novel Maggy comes very close to how I felt while reading it as well. I just can't express myself as well as all of you. As a child and a teenager all I wanted to be when I grew up was to be a writer. The power of words struck me deeply. But alas, not for me. I wish I could be a writer but I'm not. I do like to express myself. I love blogging for that reason. I think blogging is diary writing writ large and open and it's just great imo.

Utah Savage said...

Someone need to give me a lesson in testing shorthand. What's IMO for instance. I'm old, don't own a cell phone, and have only been blogging for nine months or so. So give the old woman a crash course in shorthand.

Liberality said...

in my opinion

Randal Graves said...

but it has the rawness and sorrow, or anger, or fear, and that's the most important element, not the elegance or clarity, or brilliance of thought I'd like, but if the gut feeling comes through, I have something to work from.

That's the danger inherent in revising, of losing that unfiltered emotion. Sure, you want the text to be 'better' but you don't want the sentiment diluted. It's a process that's nothing but a wonderful pain in the ass.