25 March 2010

What do you read?

Not what are you reading, but what is it you read habitually? In writing, you constantly hear the phrase write what you know. I think this means more the style of things you read, not that you are knowledgeable about everything you write. By that rule, you'd have to murder someone to write a mystery - not a good plan. Research can take the place of knowing what you write.

I have always felt slightly bothered that I wrote for newspapers for years and I've never been an avid newspaper writer. Should I have been more of a news reader to be a reporter? I enjoyed my job. I rarely read my stories again after I wrote them and rarely read my coworkers articles.

I read magazines but not voraciously. I had a conversation with someone a few months ago who said they never read books but mainly magazines. I found this interesting because I like magazines but I usually would prefer to read a novel if I have one going. Often I read a magazine to sort of cleanse my reading palette between books. Magazines stack up in my house and eventually feel like work.

I've also tried reading nonfiction books after each fiction book. This has only been the last couple years. I find I'm impatient for the nonfiction books to end and if it a particularly stressful episode of life, I'm irritable if I am not getting my dose of escape from real life in my fiction.

Some people don't even read -- this amazes me. I totally don't get that. Perhaps you can explain it to me if you are one of those.  I am lost without something to read and maybe almost panicky if I don't feel I can lay my hands on some reading material.

So (other than blogs! ha) what do you read?

18 March 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity | Video on TED.com

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity | Video on TED.com

Now this is not spiritual in the evangelical sense whatsoever, but it is a 19 minute discussion of the writer's internal life that is perhaps one of the most freeing things I've ever heard. Elizabeth describes the angst of the eternal what-if that torments the writing life. What if this book is no good, what if I'm no good.... And she follows this with a discussion of how some parts of history viewed the muse. She doesn't use the word muse but I'm using that to abbreviate the idea of the writing life. If I can apply this, I think it take me to a new place with my writing life. Imagine being able to sit down and rather than a weight on my chest of fear and what-if, that I could simply enjoy the craft and, yes, put in the hard work of editing but without the emotional trauma that I have made go with it.

Oddly enough, this also applies to my missionary (aka fund raiser) life. I have been very unbalanced as of late. The same voices that have tormented me as a writer (and perhaps as a perfectionist) have tormented me in this alternative world I live in as well. What if I haven't done enough? What if I'm not doing it right? What if I'm just bad at this and the enterprise fails? It's a really worthy thing I feel compelled to do here and I don't want it to fail - because of me.

So what if I could convert all this emotional energy into something useful? In her monologue, Elizabeth sort of refers tongue in cheek to fairy dust and speaking outloud to this thing, this creative torment that for many accompanies the process. I know that for us with a belief in God that we would say, oh no that's wrong, she's praying to something that is not God. I disagree. Her intent, the way I view it, is more about speaking to the fears that lie within and putting them in their place than addressing someone other than God.

I want to say to my fears or my creativeness or I've heard another writer refer to it as the internal editor -- I want to say: I showed up. I did my part. The outcome is not my fault. It just is what it is. And yes, if I am at all capable of doing so, at this point I would like to put it in to God's hands, and if it is possible for my personality type, leave it there.

In writing, another what-if exists. It is the what-if that makes good stories. You see something in a shop, or a thought goes through your mind, yes, but what if this character suddenly did this or what if circumstances turned against her and then this happened? Ooooooo, and then you start pulling at the string that makes the story in your mind.

What if I could live out the ideas I have just described?

11 March 2010

Comparing travelogues

I'm Off Then: My Journey Along the Camino De Santiago
by Hape Kerkeling
link here

The Places in Between
by Rory Stewart
link here

I read these two books in the last couple months and wanted to compare and contrast them a little. Both were written by European men who took a walk - a long, long walk across chunks of countries. One a comedian by trade and the other a historian, author. One walked one of the most walked/famous pilgrimages in the world and the other across a recently liberated from the Taliban Afghanistan. 

I tend to read mystery fiction as my first choice of books, but one of my favorite books of all time is a travelogue by Peter Mayle about moving and living in the south of France which I find intriguing since it is not my usual reading choice.

"I'm off then" was recommended to me by a German friend who is married to a Spaniard. It was a real book of spiritual exploration on the camino which runs across the north of Spain. I was interested because of both the spiritual aspect and the Spanish aspect. I've been fascinated by the camino but not enough to actually walk my behind across it for weeks at a time. I enjoyed his self depreciating humor, his willingness to complain and not glamourize the journey. The spirituality of it was perplexing because he was raised with a Roman Catholic version of God and came to embrace a somewhat ethereal, esoteric version on his journey which as one raised in evangelicalism was somewhat uncomfortable for me, but interesting all the same to see so intimately into someone's spiritual thoughts.

"The Places in Between" was something I found exploring the travelogue section of a book store in Arizona. I'm interested in learning more about the Islamic cultures and that is why I bought it. The author had walked across several countries in the region and had skipped Afghanistan because of the Taliban and found an opportunity to walk it in 2002. It is a much more serious book with strong introspection, neutrality on much of the culture while describing it fairly. The physical aspect of his journey was frank but no complaints or humor were involved. It had more flowery descriptions that could only be described as literary. I feel I learned a lot about Islamic perspective through an outsider's eyes and I don't regret the read.

I feel I learned and enjoyed both books, but "The Places in Between" was more like researching than pleasure reading for me and "I'm off Then" was more light and enjoyable while still strong on provoking thoughts.

It was interesting to accidentally read two books of walking journeys in close succession with such different perspectives. Depending on your taste in books, they both had value, but were very different. I surprise myself a little that I read them both.

Oh, and I receive no royalties or kickbacks, or free books for that matter, for this "review."

05 March 2010

All work and no play?

I've been pondering what makes something pleasant or fun and where is the line where it crosses over to pure work. I have dabbled with some hobbies and plunged myself deeply into others.

Right now for instance I'm in the process of reupholstering a couch. I'm not doing this out of any creative instinct. I inherited (borrowed? stole?) it from the basement of my parents house.I'm only going to be here a year or so but the furniture in question looked a bit like raccoons had lived on it and it needed a refreshing. So I'm pushing myself to get it done sooner rather than later. You know what? It's not fun and I'm not that good at reupholstering. I have a sore back and I just want a clean couch.

Gardening falls into that same category. On a nice day, I think I'll go pull weeds or plant flowers or something. After about an hour and only half way or less through the project, I'm really not having fun. It's like the idea of these things is fun and drives me to do them but in the end it's just...well, work.

I've been debating the same issue in regard to writing. I always have wanted to tell stories. The idea of stories come to my mind and I want to develop them. Totally different from gardening, it is very, very hard to sit down to start the writing. Something akin to being trapped in a traffic jam - you go out of your way to avoid it. But when I do write a story, sometimes once you get going a magical moment occurs where you are inside the story like you are watching a movie that moment is great fun. You lose track of time and live the story for a few moments. The bad news is no story is ever complete with one magical pass at putting words on paper. The next step is killing your darlings -- editing, editing, and editing some more. This is like having my fingernails removed without anesthetic. So I wonder, why do I keep doing it?I seem driven or obsessed.

Is it work or play? Yes.