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Completion

Where have I been all weekend?

Working on my project for my History class. Tomorrow I will scan all 24 hand-drawn, hand-colored and painted pages for my project: ‘Saints, Witches, Madwomen: An A to Z”. Until then, I am going to drink a cup of hot peppermint tea, watch Battlestar Galactica, and pass out in the hopes that tomorrow I won’t suffer to much for being up so late to get so much done.

The madness is just beginning, but I’ve been through far worse in less time.

Dead week has begun.

Bring it on.

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So that’s it. It’s December 1st and NaNoWriMo 2010 is officially over. To all my friends who won, or even attempted this utter insanity, I offer my hat to you in congratulations. Now go sleep for a week. You’ve earned it.

This was a rough NaNo for me. I powered out of the gate, guns and pen blazing like a racehorse covered in napalm, but then I hit stumbling blocks that extinguished my fire and tripped me until I was ass-deep in dirt. I hit 50k on the 15th after two weeks of exhausting myself and then said ‘I can’t keep this up.’

I blame school mostly. I’m almost to the finish line of my final semester of college, and because of this projects, papers and presentations have taken me by the arms and said ‘oh no you don’t!’ and have forced me to pay attention to my studies while leaving my novel projects by the wayside. And I gave in. I chose not to fight. ‘This is my fate’, I said, and allowed the bastardly assignments to claim me.

Normally I wouldn’t do anything of the sort. The writing comes first, hell or high water. This semester is different though. This is the last time I have to put school first. In about two and a half weeks I’ll be done with homework in it’s traditional form and donning my cap and gown at ass in the morning, traipse across that stage and give the University the finger, wishing it Good Riddance.

Then I can get down to the real thing; actually writing.

That’s the real thing I’ve learned this November. That it really wasn’t about the wordcount for me. I’ve discovered that I’m definitely an overachiever, because most of the novels I come up with don’t fit in the 50k frame. I also don’t like to stop in the middle of a scene. I don’t like writing with abandon, because I write fast enough that I have the time to edit as I go.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing 50,000 words for me. It’s about writing. Just writing. The act of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and creating. There’s no right way to do this mad month of noveling, no matter what people may say. And while I love a lot of the community surrounding NaNo, a lot of it just gives me a headache. People being people of course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Or put up with it.

This is my third NaNo, and I will continue to participate, but I will also be taking the spirit of writing daily into my new, post-graduate life. It’s time to put writing first, and even though it stung, even though my idea turned out to be ill-suited for prose novel form, this is, and was, the very last time I have to put school first.

So that’s that. Ghost was a good exercise, but I don’t think it’s the novel for me. I hope to be transferring it to Graphic Novel format as next year progresses. As well as this Jeff and I are looking to start a webcomic together (casually, nothing serious of course), and I’m going to focus my noveling on Strain 10.

And hopefully I’ll end up getting a job so I can support myself without having to eat my own foot.

So that’s my NaNo 2010. Rewarding, but backburnered quickly. I didn’t make it to my minimum goal of 75k, let alone 100k. But I hit the 50 thousand, and right now that’s good enough for me.

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There’s been a lot of amusing talk wandering the interblag lately about the idea of dating writers and just interacting with writers in general (see Chuck Wendig’s amusing Beware of Writer post and Rebecca Rosenblum’s Why Date a Writer for an idea). The gist of these posts, and it’s a gist I can agree with, is that writers are terrifying, tempermental, unpredictable animals who do not play well with others and are best when avoided.

I won’t argue. We writers are a surly, pissed off, poverty-stricken bunch who hide behind their notebooks and computer screens with ideas running around their heads muttering ‘you wouldn’t understand’ to anyone who gets within biting distance. We’re mostly intolerable, narcissistic self-involved geeks who bury ourselves in our own little worlds that we do our best to transcribe onto paper. We don’t even really get along that well with each other, as we’re a solitary breed by nature.

So what happens when two writers date each other?

This is me, Lora. 23 years old, almost out of college, writer and aspiring novelist since she figured out how to hold a pencil for something other than stabbing people and that all she needed was a story and a healthy touch of insanity. Originally from the US and lived 12 years in London, she’s been lurking in Lincoln, Nebraska for the last five years and seems to have survived despite being a liberal and a vegetarian.

This is Jeff. 22 years old, a philosophy major, and has been certain since a very young age that he could write a novel, a damned good novel, and he could keep writing damned good novels and telling damned good stories until the day his brain eventually fell out. Born and raised in Nebraska, he’s a fan of live music, good mixed drinks and silliness. And doesn’t like football, which in this town is a crime practically punishable by death.

We’ve been dating for the last seven and a half months. And we’re both writers. Writers and aspiring novelists.

Everyone’s writing process is a little different. Some of us talk to ourselves, some never speak a word. Some of us work best with deadlines, pounding out a certain amount of words a day, others just let things percolate a while and then throw words on to paper. Some type, some write longhand. It all depends.

In terms of process, Jeff and I have different styles. I type a lot faster than I write longhand, so I work best at my laptop clicking away furiously at keys, occasionally distracted by a chat window or a twitter post. Jeff likes to write in longhand using pens and spiral notebooks, distracted only when he needs to change the music on his iPod. One thing we do have in common is that we enjoy writing as a solitary pastime. To this date we’ve never both been writing at the same time in the same room, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.

Jeff is not a NaNoWriMo participant. He’s not looking to start a brand-spanking new novel every month, he’s been working on the same one, slowly but surely, for the last three years. Every couple of days he cranks out a few more hand-written pages.

I am a deadlines person. I like reaching my wordcount goals. I’m prolific in my pages and my scenes. And I start at least one new novel a year, even if I don’t finish it (if you gave me a dollar for every half-finished novel sitting in my hard drive right now… well, I’d have a lot of dollars).

We have different styles and different methods, but the madness often associated with writers is understood. And that’s the biggest advantage I’ve found to dating another writer. Even if Jeff and I have different processes, different stories to tell, when I inform him that I need to stay late on campus because I ‘just have to finish this scene’, he gets it. When he is sitting in his room at his desk with his headphones on and doesn’t stop when I enter through the door, I know it means ‘am writing, do not disturb.’ When he asks me what’s wrong and I tell him “oh, [insert name of  current main character here] is being difficult because of x,” he doesn’t look at me like I just grew an extra head.

We have writing swaps, where I throw my laptop at him and he gives me a pile of half-finished notebooks and we curl up on the bed, reading each other’s work. We recommend good books to each other. We talk about the hopefully-attainable dream of writing full-time, as we please, being Authors, Novelists, professional Storytellers with published stories. We talk about collaborating. We give each other feedback, knowing full well that we’re as honest as we can be with the bias of being in a relationship. We help each other through tricky plotholes and confusions, even just by acting as a sounding board.

It’s not all a walk in the park. We’re both poor as dirt. Neither of us likes the idea of returning to school after finishing our respective B.A’s. We both get temperamental and irrational in our own ways (I’m overemotional, he’s stubborn and distant). We bicker about silly things like any other couple. It’s normal.

But we both write. And for me, that’s better. He doesn’t always understand HOW I get to where I do in my process, my methods, but he understands WHY.

I still say beware of writers. We’re a pretty scary bunch. We’re morbid, creepy, isolated, rude, conniving bastards a lot of the time.

We even sometimes want to eat your brains.

But ultimately, we have each other.

Even if only because it’s nice to be able to look up from my computer and say “honey, do you know anything about the street price of heroin in New York City” and have him respond with: “have you googled it?” as opposed to “Why in the name of god would you need to know that?”

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Dear Craig Finn;

This isn’t my traditional method of communication; writing letters or blogging them. However, last night I was inspired, and felt the need to share with you (should you ever come across this on the vast expanse of the internet) and my readers the joy that your music brings to me.

I’m a recent convert to your band, The Hold Steady, and like many of my musical journeys this one started with a guy. When my boyfriend Jeff and I started dating seven months ago, he made me a playlist on Rhapsody to keep me upbeat during finals week at College. Among the songs he chose was one off of Boys and Girls in America, Massive Nights:

From this point he let me borrow the rest of Boys and Girls in America, which I copied into my music library and devoured like a greedy child, instantly falling head over heels in love with basically every single song. I listened to them on the long walk to my apartment before I got a car, I listened to them in my car when I finally needed a car, and they kept me entertained on my long drives up to Omaha to visit Jeff when he still lived there.

We’re both relatively in tune with the local music scenes (i.e. we’re Hipsters, which we hate to admit, but admitting oneself a Hipster means that you have lost the true sense of being a Hipster in a way), so when we found out you guys were coming to play at the Slowdown in July, we bought tickets and I drove up to Omaha to enjoy what I hoped would be an evening of amazing live music.

And it was.

But, and I still think this to this day, the crowd sucked.

Seriously, you guys make amazing music, anthems for our generation, your performance was upbeat, so full of energy… and the crowd just stood there. People gave us dirty looks when we yelled and jumped up and down. I was disappointed in them. I didn’t expect much from the Omaha music scene I admit, but I felt bad. You guys deserved a better crowd. I’m sorry.

I loved the show personally. I was still pretty new to your music so I didn’t recognize half the songs, but I loved them and I danced to them, and sang along to the ones I knew.

And then you played my favourite song, the one I didn’t expect you to play as it’s a slower tempo and I wasn’t sure anyone else actually liked it, that maybe it was just me.

But you played it. You played First Night.

I admit it; I cried. I bawled like a small child in my boyfriend’s arms while you guys played the one song I hadn’t expected. It was a glorious night; we were drunk on screwdrivers and danced until our feet hurt. Had the crowd been less ridiculously lame, I would call it one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. Sadly I didn’t get any pictures because my camera was dead and buried in my backpack somewhere back in Lincoln. But it was wonderful.

A couple months passed. Jeff moved down to Lincoln, school started up again, I still listened to your music between classes and during my long night shifts at the library where I work.

I’m an aspiring novelist, and I started working on a new story idea over the last couple of months. As I was designing and creating character concepts one night (I couldn’t tell you which), I was sitting at work listening to Boys and Girls in America for what had to be the thousandth time, and something clicked. Two characters, now older and more grown up, remembering their younger, college days, dancing at parties and going to concerts. The songs spoke to them, made them come to life when before they were just names. Leo and Holly. (A pure coincidence, her name being Holly, but one that I embraced).

From then on the words started to flow. I listened to more of your albums on Grooveshark, playing them over and over as my characters interacted and the story progressed. The music became their anthems, and my inspiration.

Jump forward to last night. I hit a roadblock in my writing process and sat in my favourite coffee shop for hours, miserable and surly and worried about finding a new job, graduating university, following my dreams, trying to figure out if I was good enough, if I was competent in any way.

After a while I figured I should get something to eat, so I shuffled despondently across the street to Noodles & Co, knowing that if nothing else mac and cheese would cheer me up. I settled in to a table in the corner with my laptop and sketchpad, doodling and daydreaming and waiting for Jeff to get off work and go to the Bourbon Theatre. We’d both had a rough couple of weeks and needed a break, so last week I picked up tickets to your show.

Then I glanced up and saw a guy sitting at a table across the restaurant. He looked rather familiar. After a couple quick google searches and picture stalkings I confirmed my suspicions and found myself overwhelmed with nervous childlike fear and excitement.

Because I had just recognized Craig Finn sitting in Noodles, reading a book and eating some dinner before his show.

So, fangirlish little nerd that I am, I took a few deep breaths and dug frantically in my bag for a sharpie. Approaching, hands shaking, I warbled embarrassedly to you, saying you looked familiar and asking if you were Craig.

You were friendly, gracious, calm. Signed my sketchbook without a second thought, even asked me my name and signed it with the date on the top. I babbled a bit about how I’d seen you in Omaha last July, how I was a huge fan, how I was excited to see you perform tonight. Then I left you to your dinner and went back to my chair to hyperventilate a little.

I didn’t get to say all the other things I wanted to say. That your music inspires me, inspired two characters in my novel who are very dear to my heart. That your music sang to me as a girl in America who does a lot of wild things and has a lot of wild nights. That I hope someday to be as passionate about making art as you obviously are in your performance.

But all I could do was shake and babble, and that’s okay. Any more conversation and I think I would have been creepy or obnoxious.

I’m not sure I believe in signs, but if they exist, I think this is one of them:

The name of one of your better albums of course, but I took it to be something of a sign.

The show at the Bourbon was wonderful. Both supporting bands set the mood (seriously, first show I’ve been to in years where the openers didn’t suck), and Jeff and I went through the same routine we did last time we went to see you guys: screwdrivers and dancing.

Hey Citrus, Hey Liquor I love it when you touch each other

I admit, I’m poor as dirt, and never found the time to track down and really give Heaven is Whenever a good listen. But I recognized and sang along to more songs last night than I did the time before.

The crowd was better. The crowd was so much better. We all danced and yelled and sang along. A guy in front of me kept on saying ‘Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” Clearly a first time attendee of your concerts, and definitely a huge fan. We were among good company.

I even remembered my camera.

You played songs I loved as well as ones I wasn’t familiar with. I danced until my feet ached and I reeked of sweat. Everyone around me got sweaty too and we all stank of beer and didn’t care.

You didn’t play First Night. Or Massive Nights, which is Jeff’s favourite of your songs. But we didn’t care, because you played Stuck Between Stations. You played Chips Ahoy, and You Can Make Him Like You, and We Can Get Together, and so many other songs that made us laugh and smile and scream and punch the air. And so did the rest of the crowd.

I thought it was better than the night at the Slowdown. I hope you did too. You guys deserved a crowd that wild and joyous.

We stumbled home and called that night a victory, a triumph in escapist tactics and recreation. An example of why live music is glorious and beautiful and should be experienced loudly and often.

I couldn’t have asked for a better night.

So thank you Craig Finn, you and all your awesome companions in The Hold Steady. Thank you for inspiring me, for putting on such an amazing show last night, and for reminding me that above all, it’s important to stay positive.

You are one of my heroes. I hope you stay positive too.

With sincere appreciation and rock love,

Lora

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I’ve been meaning to put all this down for a while now, more for the sake of my sanity than any desire to impart wisdom on the subject of writing and being a writer, because this is one of those questions I get a lot, not necessarily from other people, but most certainly from myself:

Why do I write? Why do I want to be a writer?

Now’s my chance to attempt to answer those questions.

For me there’s a semantic difference between ‘writing’ and ‘being a writer’, both of which are rather subjective terms that mean multiple things to multiple people. Here’s what they mean to me:

To write, as well as just being the mechanical action of putting words on paper, is the actual process. It’s taking that something from the nothingness of my mind and turning it into something coherent, into a story. Writing has been my passion, my compulsion, since I was extremely young, I can’t even remember how young. I’ve been making up stories both on paper and in performance since before elementary school. The process and act of writing became and still is my life, and is my purpose if such a thing exists.

How does this differ from being a writer?

Well, there’s the simple definition of being a writer, which is again connected to the act of writing. Millions of people are writers simply because they do just that – they write.

But there’s a difference between being a writer and being a Writer. A novelist. Someone who is published, someone referred to as a ‘professional’. Someone who wakes up every day with no other career or profession than the process of sitting down at their desk, keyboard, typewriter or notebook and creating stories out of ether. Say what you will, there’s a huge difference between a Writer and someone who writes by these definitions.

So there you have it. Those are my definitions.

I describe my writing as a compulsion. I even titled this blog after that fact – I write compulsively, and have been my whole life, even when all I did was fill little notebooks with silly tales directly plagiarized from my favourite books and movies (don’t judge – we all did that before we knew it was wrong, and I’ve long since moved on to making up my own madness). It is something I will always do because if I ever stopped, if ever tried to stop, I would quickly spiral into a creative void, possibly even an uncomfortable kind of insanity.

So that’s my compulsion. Writing isn’t so much what I do as it is what I am. It’s my outlet, my reason to live, my purely selfish, somewhat arrogant belief that I can take something out of nothing and make it work, give it life.

Being a writer? Now that’s my dream.

I’ve worked a few shitty day jobs in my time. I’ve flipped burgers, I’ve dealt with pissy customers, and I’ve spent six straight hours moving heavy books around a library. I’m about to graduate college, to get my BA in English, to become more qualified than a large portion of the American Population.

My plans for post-graduation?

1) find a day-job
2) Write

This is my first step, the first part in actually realizing my dream, in taking my writing and moving forward in my goal to be able to live off of it, to get published and be at least a moderate success.

That’s what I want. I want to wake up every morning and have no obligation other than to sit at my desk and write. No day job to keep paying the bills. I want writing AS my day job. I want, by my own definitions, to be a Writer.

Starting in December, I’ll at last being in the position to actively pursue this. I’ll have a job (I don’t know what job yet, but I’m looking), and I’ll be done with the constant cycle of ‘go to class, do homework, go to bed and start over again’ I’ve been in since I was six years old, for the last 17 years straight.

It’s a terrifying and thrilling prospect. For the first time in my life, my writing can really come first.

Writing is an art as much as putting paint on canvas, as sculpture, as music. Like most artists I have a delightful pile of mental health issues, doubts and insecurities that plague my existence, and unsurprisingly these often contribute to that thing I refer to as the Angry Little Voice in the back of my head.

It happens every time I sit down to write, no matter where I am or whether it’s at my computer or a notebook. I stretch my arms, put my hands to the keyboard, and this little voice drifts into my head:

“Hey, what are you doing? You’re WRITING? Haven’t you had enough of that madness yet? Aren’t you sick of people picking your work apart? Is it really even that good? Hardly! You’re a hack at this! You’re just shoveling crap onto the page and expecting someone to like it. That’s completely pointless. Nobody’s ever going to read enough of this to like it, let along PAY you for it! You’re wasting your time and you know it. Now go fill out grad school applications like a good girl and resign yourself to a wage-slave job to pay off all that debt. You’re better off sticking to this as a hobby.”

He’s a bastard, isn’t he? And he’s there every day, especially this month where I spend each day in a half-crazed writing frenzy along with my NaNoWriMo friends across the world, giving me active discouragement and bile.

I have a lot of real-world support to counter my internal self-deprecation. My parents, while neither of them writes fiction, support my dreams and always wish me the best of luck. My writing buddies, both local and out of state, always give me words of encouragement. Jeff, also a writer, has a lot of faith in my abilities and talents. (Whenever I voice my doubts to him about my ability to be a Writer, he always says ‘But I don’t want you to stop writing…’ with a sad expression on his face. He’s been a tireless advocate for me since before we ever started dating, and I appreciate his encouragement. Thanks Jeff).

But true strength and ability comes from within, so when my within decides to remind me that I completely suck and wouldn’t even be able to hack it writing for a newspaper, it can be rather draining.

This doesn’t stop the why though. It doesn’t stop the compulsion. No matter how many times I get beaten down, be it by my own psyche or the discouragement of academia, I still get up every morning and I still sit down to write (or if I don’t have the time, I still think about writing, talk to my characters, make notes in my notebooks). Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment, but it’s like someone is telling me I have to stop breathing because I’m bad at it: it just doesn’t work that way.

Even if my dream falls through, even if it’s true that my writing isn’t ‘good enough’ to get published, for me to live off of, I have to try. Because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and while I know I’ll never stop writing it seems a shame to keep my stories to myself.

So I’ll write. I’ll write until my hands are destroyed by arthritis and my mind goes out. If I can’t find anyone willing to turn my novels into print books I’ll self-publish. I’ll post stories on the internet. I’ll share it with my friends. I’ll do something, even if all I do is keep writing.

It’s not like I can stop. Not now. Not after how much it’s helped me learn, helped me live.

So I say fuck it, voice in the back of my head. I’m 23 years old and I can keep doing this until I’m too old to remember my own name. Even if the rest of the world gives up on me, ultimately I know myself, and my self is the only thing I really have any belief in, even if part of me is afraid that I’ll fail (Because that’s really all that voice is – my fear of total failure and never achieving my dreams). Even if I had a choice, I’d still keep writing, still come up with stories and ideas.

It’s what I love. More than anything else in the world, more than chocolate and beautiful music and vegetarian pasta dishes and my boyfriend (he understands – he’s the same way about his writing). It’s the thing that makes me feel the most alive, the most real. It’s been my standby in every mini-identity crisis or traumatic upheaval my life has gone through, the one thing that’s remained solid and true.

No matter how the world falls apart, I am a writer. I write, Descartes style.

And since it’s very much a ‘therefore I am’ situation, to hell with the doubt (of myself or anyone else). Even if all I do with my life is write stories no-one but a few close friends or anonymous faces on the internet will read, I’ll still love it. It’ll still make me happy.

So, in the words of a person on the NaNoWriMo boards (who I sadly can’t look up to give credit because they said it in September right before they wiped the forums for the site relaunch, but rest assured I didn’t make this up myself):

“You ask me why I write. I don’t know: why do you breathe?”

So that’s what I think of that. Now to go make 22 copies of my short story for class today (that right there? that’s the sound of my wallet weeping) and spend the rest of my day writing. I hope to hit at least 15k for my wordcount today, but since I have a four-hour shift at the library tonight, there’s a good chance I’ll manage more than that.

You know, if I don’t get distracted by Hell’s Kitchen. Gordon Ramsay is my hero.

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Is working on this:

This is my sketchbook, the little notebook I’ll be filling from now until January 15th for The Sketchbook Project. It’s a simple idea: you get a sketchbook, and you fill it with drawings, thoughts and whatever other derp you like. You’re given a theme too. Mine is Coffee and Cigarettes (ironic, yes, but fun too).

The sketchbooks are sent back by January 15th 2011 and then they’re taken on tour before eventually being placed forever in the Brooklyn Art Library for anyone to read. Each sketchbook has a barcode on it so it’s possible to track how often someone reads your sketchbook:

There’s mine.

So far I haven’t filled it up with too much, just some random ramblings about how I don’t actually drink coffee and how I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. But I’ve been drawing my fun cartoony images in it along with writing things:

I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. I hope to scan some of my art and post it on the Sketchbook Project website. Here’s my profile, if you’re interested.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, as well as studying like a madwoman for midterms and feeling ill thanks to what basically amounts to malnutrition (yay for an erratic diet of sugar and caffeine and not much else). That and NaNoWriMo is six days away. Madness, am I right?

Also, my good friend Sam is doing the Sketchbook Project (and NaNoWriMo) also. She has a blog, and you should check it out.

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