The Writer and Frustration

Has it been a day for you? Banging your head against the wall?  Oh well. Take heart. It comes with the territory.  And it isn’t all bad. Here’s a plan for managing frustration:

1. Frustration can be a prelude to a creative breakthrough. There will be times when you’ll feel you’ve had enough, and so you’ll throw down your pen in disgust, and storm off—beaten, vulnerable, and open. But in this unguarded state, your mind not at all on your work, pieces of your puzzle can rearrange. Something shifts—not magic; you’ve earned it—and the possibilities that open may be startling.

2. Frustration can be an opportunity to study what holds you up as a writer, and fix it. Take a look at what triggers it. Consider your goals. Assess your expectations. Discern your patterns, how you deal, what works, what doesn’t. And then take what you learn, and like the completely neutral and emotionless GPS, recalculate.

3. No point in wasting all that angst—take some character notes. What does it feel like to try your hardest and come up empty, over and over? Does it sit in your stomach? Any dialogue bits worth noting? Any gestures, any curses?  

4. Some writers believe that the battle alone makes you the best writer you can be. And since being the best writer possible is the goal, there’s only one thing to do for it: embrace the battle.

5. Finally, if you’re frustrated enough, it’s likely that you will contemplate risk differently. Maybe, you are even willing to risk everything. Now, that’s as liberating as it is terrifying, but with nothing to lose, great things can happen.

So, grunt along, as you must. Go on, slog through oatmeal. This is not the part of the job anyone loves. But it can be managed. It can be made to work for you. And sometimes, brilliantly.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: frustrated guy by Sybren A. Stuvel ; frustrated gal source unknown.

Fightin’ Words

I ran into a friend who is the co-founder and co-publisher of Seven Days, the weekly, independent news most worth reading in these parts. She said she had the worst publishing day in memory. And since it launched in 1995, a lot of water gone by as you might imagine, it seemed quite a claim.

One of her newer staffers posted a blog that was interpreted nearly universally as criticizing fans of the band Phish, the music phenomenon that  started right here in Vermont. Local boys made good, like Ben & Jerry, only these guys are international rock stars.

Phish played a benefit concert in the area to raise funds for post tropical storm Irene relief. Parts of Vermont had been hit hard. Twelve thousand attended at the fairgrounds outside of Burlington and lots of money rolled in.

The blog post suggested that the fans didn’t do enough, that in addition to buying a ticket, they should have put on work gloves and picked up some tools. “Here for Phish? How About you Lend a Phreaking Hand” was the title.

Phish fans were livid. They tore into not just the sentiment, but the writer. They used words like snarky and stupid and suck, and those are just the s’s. They plagued the paper with complaint, in print, online, by phone, and however they could get it across, and when the death threat came, Seven Days called the police.

All’s fine now—the virtue of time passing—and the paper published an apology, as well, but it’s a lesson for writers.

Words have power. And if you call someone out for whatever reason, right or wrong, black or white, up or down, revolt may follow.

All this from the mere act of pen put to paper? From opinion expressed?

Amazing, isn’t it.

But how about you? Have your words ever brought you misery?  Comment here, and tell us how it all came out. Any great recipes for crow appreciated.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: Phish by hlkljgk Heather katsoulis; women by Stellarnostalgia Sia photoshoot; crow by monkeyc.net.

Pick a Decent Title, and Move On

Titles are a variation on names. And names, as we all know, can set destiny.

Whether you’re naming a book, story, essay, blog, or post, you’ll find a good title. You just have to prime the pump, let the backwater gush, and wait for the clear, clean answer to emerge.

Here’s how it went, for example, in the naming of this blog.

“Denise” was taken and “Shekerjian” is too difficult to remember or spell. Besides, I’m not the point here.  So, I began by making a list of attributes that I thought described my concept. How does good writing happen? That was the main question I wanted to explore. I wanted something personal — not too stiff, cute or trendy. I wanted it to be inclusive of all kinds of writing.

After weeks of generating lists of possibilities, I finally hit on soulofaword. Then, I tested it. I looked for the light in someone’s eyes when I mentioned it. I mentioned it in the start of a conversation to see if that person remembered it by the end.

Today, 119 posts later, I still think it fits. It delivers what I want from a name:  

1. it’s memorable

2. speaks to content

3. fits the voice

4. makes a genuine promise–that is, it is suggestive of what I deliver, which makes it honest

5. has an inviting feel – a this-is-a-safe-place-to-speak-your-mind feel.

Your title should accomplish much the same, and one more thing, as well.

6. It should pop up in a search by your likely readers or no one will find the material.

Sometimes, this is sad. Sometimes, you have to square your shoulders and kill off a very good title—a perfect title, even—in favor of being found.

And once you find it, move on. You’ve got writing to do.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: Trevor Coultart.

The Writer and the Restless Mind

Which came first: the restless mind or the writing life?

For this writer anyway, it was a mind like a swollen river that cascades with a ceaseless vengeance down a steep and rocky decline.  It refused to settle down and behave already. And it remains ever so.

A romantic looks at this all-powerful surge, the sunlight refracted jewel-like in the spray, and his heart quickens. O the grandeur. An engineer, on the other hand, sees only lost opportunity. Just look at all that power going to waste.

How about you? What do make of this churning brain of yours? What can you do with this near limitless, untapped, and undisciplined foment?

Maybe . . . what would serve you, the writer, best is to play it both ways. Regard the majesty and beauty of it, as would the poet. And then lay a plan and harness it, as would the engineer. Create something beautiful and useful, and you’ve turned chaos into a kind of elegant order.

Do it enough, and who knows, it may just lead to peace of mind.

(Jury’s still out on that one. Any guesses? Anyone? Anyone?)

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: the poet Sir John Suckling by lisby 1; engineers by VaDOT.

Whither the Word?

Why bother with words when a picture can say it all?

The advertisement in the magazine, the Pulitzer Prize winning photo on the front page of the news, the family snapshot—each conveys all you need to know  The advertisement shows that some people live fairy tale lives. The Pulitzer photo shows a harsh or beautiful world. And the snapshot, there on the kitchen counter with the car keys and mail, is proof certain of your particular slice of it.

Now, if everything can be seen at a glance like this, are we writers still relevant?

Of course.

Because no matter how sharply drawn the picture—no matter how telling as to the conflicts in play, the parables or cautionary tales, the comedy, the tragedy, the dramas—it still provides only the outline to the story. How did it begin?  What happens in the middle? How does it end? For this you need words. Someone has to explain, has to make some sense of it.

But in using those words, let’s take a couple of tips from the power of the photo.

Clothing and accoutrements, the degree of order or disorder, the glint in an eye, the turn of a hem, the gesture, the look, the weather, the time of day—every detail need be telling. Every element should speak to destiny.

Next, when fishing around for how to begin a thing, consider starting with a picture, an image, a scene that says it all at a glance, that speaks of the beginning of the story and also of an end foretold.

Write that scene first, and then turn the page and tell your reader how you got there.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: self-portrait by Lori DeLozier; photo spiral by elsamuko.