With the exception, apparently, of blogging.

I haven't intended to be absentee lately, but feeling open and honest, I'll admit to struggling with some depression and identity issues surrounding work.  But work is work; it doesn't define me, or you, or anyone, so moving along from that...

The key to all things, it is said, is in moderation.  I've always had a problem with this.  Not the statement or the theory, mind, but the practice of moderating myself.  I'm a bit loud, as my friends can attest; I'm passionate, and passionately protective; I laugh like a donkey on nitrous (use your imagination); I have zero willpower when it comes to food; on and on and on... I enjoy life when I can, and I tend to be swayed by my feelings fairly easily. 

But tonight, Jenn suggested I blog about Graze.  If you've never heard about Graze, it's a straight-to-your-door program that delivers tidy little boxes of healthy little snacks each week, guaranteeing variety and, yes, moderation.  (If you're interested, you can visit Graze here, and if you're more interested, use this code to sign up: JWGPZV3)   While I'm fascinated by the concept and looking forward to my first wee snackbox, the idea of moderation got its hooks in me.

Creativity is a passion, it's a constant flow of ideas and urges and needs and inspiration.  Sometimes, however, it can be too much.  Not too much in all ways-- oh, my characters can run wild in my head all day every day-- but in many ways.  You can overthink things, you can overplan things, you can overtweak thigns, you can overinvest in one opinion or another.  But the idea, of course, is moderation.  The middle ground. 

It's particularly important to me right now, as I struggle to find my place professionally and in the Boston area, as I try to determine what my next steps are and where the grand adventure is taking me.  Overfeeling that struggle can sink the biggest ship in the world-- moderation is key.  And it's key in creativity, too, in letting yourself second- and third-guess, in beating yourself up to seek perfection.  The world doesn't need perfection, or overabundance, or everything.  Because there's no such thing for all people at once.  The world needs moderate

So my goal is to be good.  Be as good as I can be, but within the bounds of my sanity and my happiness.  My mental health.  Seek quality in my writing, seek that finely honed sword, but only until it's sharp!  Oversharpening can be as bad as not sharpening at all.  Think, feel, love, be.  And remember that despite the ebb and flow and push and pull, there's always a center to come back to.

There's always the moderate place.
 
 
I'm a sucker for love stories. 

I suppose that's probably evident, given my taste in books and my usual subject matter.  I started to make this blog entry only about love stories, but then I was going to say "My soft spot for love stories doesn't exactly explain my fanaticism about, say, Stephen King," and my brain went wheeling off in another direction, inspired perhaps by my husband suggesting I blog about trying new things.

Bear with me, I'm tying it all together.

Perhaps my love of the love story does encompass my love of Stephen King, and thrillers in general.  Love is risky, after all, and scary.  Falling in love-- even if you've done it before, even if you're one of those gals or guys who does it all the time and has the scars and glory stories to tell of it-- is always something new, always trying new things.  It's opening yourself up to a situation and a person and a set of circumstances that could go spectacularly, end poorly, or any of number of in-betweens.

And therein lies the fun of it, I think.  The reward.  If falling in love weren't something new, if expressing that love were commonplace, then the specialness would be lost.  It should be scary, it should be risky, it should be novel. 

The process of writing something and letting it loose onto the public has been very like that for me (and I think I can speak for both of us when I say that).  It has been scary and exhilarating.  It's definitely a new thing, and a risk.  And it's far from perfect.  Second Summer was written many years ago, and written in a hell of a hard way, through individual messages bounced back and forth.  It probably needed a lot of red pen before we set it loose onto the world, a lot of tightening and trimming (because I'm a wordy gal, in case you haven't noticed), but given its origins and how we were, at the heart of things, writing to amuse, entertain and comfort one another, we didn't give it that brutal of a red pen.  Maybe we couldn't.

There's improvement to be had, and we're falling in love all over again and taking a risk all over again with Finally Fall.  It's a risk, it's trying new things.  It's the reward, I hope, in the end, that should come of falling in love. 

And what of me, then, and new things?  And risk?  Resolutions aren't my cup of tea, as they are broken as easily as they are made and usually made in haste.  But everyone should try new things, regardless of age or where they are in life, where they've been or where they're headed.  So maybe this is a year for new things.  Maybe I'll ski for the first time (and maybe you'll send me whiskey and Icy Hot in condolence).  Maybe I'll get a new job-- one that utilizes my creativity and makes me feel right.  Maybe I'll go out on the ocean in a boat for the first time, or try dim sum for the first time.  Maybe lots of things.  And maybe I don't want to know or predict what they'll all be, because I love surprises.

I love surprises almost as much as I love a good love story.
 
 
My Latin is a little rusty, you’ll have to forgive me.  I think you get the point, though, which is that sometimes, things interrupt the creative process.  It can be small, like the phone ringing or the dog needing to go out.  But usually—at least for me—it’s something big that throws off my creative flow, and never for a few minutes or an hour.  No, my interrupti are ambitious, and they attack with all they have in them.  For me, the one thing that most commonly stifles my creativity and ruins my mindset is my job (and associated stressors, like time and money).  When in a role that utilizes my talents and strengths, in a team that’s collaborative, relaxed and fun, I have more time and energy, it seems, more creative motivation. 

But when I’m in a position where any number of things seem to jam up the gears, from compensation to coworkers, I find my creativity suffers for it, and is usually the first in line to suffer.

It’s hard to know how to fix that.  Unfortunately, for most people (and most writers), that full-time, working for the man role is a necessity, not something done by choice.  But I know, when stressed, I make an effort to still clean (kind of. I’m cluttery.), cook, go to the gym (sometimes), work on my marriage.  All things that are not easy to do when work is sucking the life out of me, but I make the effort.  And I make the effort with creativity, as well, but it feels more like a struggle to do so.

So why?

I think it’s easy to convince yourself that creativity, art, writing, all should come “naturally.”  I know better, and I don’t expect it of other people, but when I sit down at the computer and stare at the blinking cursor (or, when I’m really stuck, pen and paper), I am plagued with doubts because I think it should be easy.  It should be divine inspiration, the muse come to life, all the things that creation never is.  That rosy picture that doesn’t bother portraying the long hours of editing, or mentally arm-wrestling with your characters, or struggling with that ONE WORD dancing mockingly around the edges of your brain.  I know the process, and I know everyone has their own version of it, and still I sit down and nag myself.

Jenn and I have come up with a (sort-of) remedy for this.  Consider it kind of like meditation, a mantra.  Get your best, droning intonation on. 

“I can write crap.”

Because, no matter how much I beat myself up or how much work is stressing me out or how much things don’t feel right on the page, I can write crap.  And hell, I DO write crap at least some of the time when I think I’m NOT writing crap.  That’s the beauty of editing.  This is why books aren’t chiseled in stone tablets, because crap happens, and you need room to breathe, maneuver, interruptus and change.

I’m not sure how many Steinbeck fans are out there, but for the few that may be lurking around and for any writers who occasionally struggle, I highly recommend Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.  (If you haven’t read East of Eden, go do it now.)  Each day before sitting down to write, Steinbeck wrote correspondence to his editor in the left-hand pages of the notebook where he composed East of Eden.  It was his catharsis and his warmup, and if the final product is any indication, it worked.  Another writer’s thoughts on how motivating this is can be found here.

Even Steinbeck had to prime the pump for what is, in my opinion, his greatest work and one of the greatest novels of all time.

I can write crap.

Just as long as I’m writing.


 

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    Salem Patterson is the pseudonym of co-writers Jennifer Patterson and Amanda Salem. The two live, work and write in North Carolina.

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