Sunday, May 09, 2004

From the Road...

So this afternoon, I showed Maddy Tim Hunkin's experiments website, and we did a number of them. The most successful were Changing the Queen's Expression (luckily I had a 5 pound note to hand, although it works on some US denominations, like the $20, as well, if less impressively), Russian Multiplication, how to Join Paperclips without touching them (one of those I kind of remembered from my boyhood), and the tremendously popular How to Get Someone's Feet Wet, which is one I wish I'd known when I was nine. I would have been handing people bottles with an innocent "can you open this?" all the time. Pulling a string through your neck looks quite impressive as well, but takes a little practice in front of a mirror to get smooth. It's undoubtedly worth it, though. I think Maddy's favourite was How to Make a Pencil jump, although once she had discovered the power of jumping pencils, I had to persuade her not to shoot pencils at people, which I did by uttering the time-worn phrase "you could put someone's eye out", and felt most grown-up.

Having said that, there was one sad message:


I'm sorry to say that the onion experiment did not work in my case. I
placed an unpeeled onion in my microwave and waited and waited. I even
shut the lights off in the kitchen to make sure I wasn't missing anything,
though I couldn't do anything about the microwave light.

Anyway, the onion sat there until finally it boiled and spewed onion juice
all over my microwave. But it sadly did not glow. Your mileage may vary.


Which, on the basis that the web site mentions that every experiment except one works, makes me suspect the whole onion-in-a-microwave thing as being particularly dodgy. (later on edit: someone has pointed out the one that won't work to me, and it's not the onion. How mysterious.)

And now I am off on my travels for the next eleven days or thereabouts. For the next two days I'm working with Penn Jillette on a Secret Project. Then it's on to the next city to tape the Fox Movies 13 Nights of Fright stuff. It's all fun and interesting, but I'll miss the blossoming things, and the first asparagus of the year will be tall enough to eat tomorrow or Monday and I won't be there...

This just came in from someone who's been reading what I've been saying about writing, and she says it all -- and sums it up -- as well as I ever could, or better:

As someone who's been making things up since witches in the closet as a kid, and then writing them down since she...well since learned to write, and also as someone who's gotten a BA and almost has an MFA in creative writing (which was mostly good for having to consistently write and finish things, as well as develop a thick skin for criticism) reading the notes and questions sent by many of the writers who are readers of your journal makes me a little sad.
I think most of the problems beginning writers have are really about fear, self doubt. Everyone wants assurance, to know that they're doing the right thing with what they're writing and how they're writing it, but I don't know how you can ever know that for sure. If you have eight different people read one short story, a couple of them will like it, a couple of them won't, someone will want more about the mother, some won't like it because they don't like that kind of story, some will want you to write it how they'd write it if they were writing it. You're never going to make everyone happy. You have to write what you want to write. When you begin working on a story you have to write without worrying about if it's "good" or not, especially at first, it'll get better, you'll get better. Just keep at it. Just write it, get it out, and you can always play around with it later.
There was a time when every couple of weeks or so I'd go to the bookstore and basically ransack the books on writing, looking for something, I didn't know what, I stopped going when I realized what I was looking for was "the answer" - the book that was going to make me a wonderful writer who wrote wonderful books everybody loved and bought. Of course there is no such book. And anyway how much fun would it be if there were?

The best advice I've ever gotten on writing has been the simple "write" and "finish things" that you've said many times in your blog. And the most useful book I've ever read on writing, is Stephen King's. Full of simple, practical, and encouraging advice. The thing is there is no secret. There's work, sometimes agonizing, but there is nothing like finally finishing a short story or a novel, holding it in your hands, and for awhile being completely satisfied, enchanted, and euphoric.
The last thing I want to say, is that in reading books on writing and in writing classes and workshops you'll hear a lot of "things you shouldn't do" such as switching between different characters points of views, it's more important instead to listen to your story. Some techiques are tricky, but if you understand why they're tricky, and why your story needs them, then use them. There are so many books out there that are considered masterpieces or classics that would be ripped apart in a writing workshop, because of the risks they take, the conventions they break. You have to write like you, (because no one else does) and you have to find a way to be less afraid. Worry keeps you from writing. Stop thinking, start writing :-)