Monday, July 19, 2010

What is your earliest smell memory?

Mine is of the smell of wood chips baking in the sun.  The wood chips in question lined the playground at my first elementary school, that I attended as a four year old.  This school was in the Haight, where it is seldom sunny, but in my memory the playground always smelled of sun baking into wood, and it's a smell that still makes me feel a little queasy.  I remember sitting on top of the parallel bars, where I felt myself to be (or ought to have been) safely above the throng of playing kids, and where every day a slightly larger and older child named Omsi (could it have been spelled this way? but how else could it be spelled?) would sneak up on me and spit in my ear.  I tried everything I could think of to get her to stop, including telling on her, but the adults I told didn't seem to take the offense all that seriously, maybe because I couldn't really prove it and there was little to show for it.  One day Omsi was on the bars when I got there, and without really thinking about it I ran up and pushed her, as hard as I could, off the bars, and she fell hard and cut her face and bled on the wood chips, and I swear that I could smell the irony tang of her blood too, baking into them in the sun, and I swear I meant it when I said that I was sorry, that it was just an accident. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

I write like...

Check out this very strange website that analyzes a few paragrpahs of your writing and tells you who you write like.

I apparently write like Chuck Palaniuk, a fact I find hilarious and way off target, not that I'd mind writing like the author of Fight Club.  I remember hearing him read and talk once, and how how said that he emulates Amy Hemphill, which also seemed like a strange and unlikely comparison to me.

UPDATE: Someone inputted a section of the phone book into this database and was told that they write like Thomas Hardy.  So: maybe not such a good judge of authorial influence.  Good to know that as of yet, computers can not do a writer's job. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

PPP or "Post a Paragraph Project"

Thanks (or no thanks) to the dated nature of blog posts, I (and you) can see that it has been two months since my last one.  Truthfully, I am finding the shift from book promotion to...something else, I'm not quite sure what yet, a little uncomfortable.  Lots of writers complain that promoting their books takes up too much time, and I agree that it was time consuming, but there was part of me that found it comfortably "doable" as well, compared to the nebulous and uncertain process of writing new fiction.  I'm a good student.  I can do assignments, no problem.  Each article or interview felt like a homework assignment, with known parameters: a specific word count, guaranteed readers. 

There is such a huge difference between the first year of a project, before you can even say for sure what that project is, and the last year that you spend with a finished book, in which you try to help it find its way in the world by getting it into readers' hands. 

I spend a lot of time, in my writing teaching, talking to people who are feeling in some way stuck or intimidated or uncertain how to form and sustain the disciplined and regular writing practice that everyone says is necessary in order to get much writing done.  I know the advice to give, but that doesn't mean that I can follow it all of the time.  (I'm like the fat gym teacher).  There are two things that I almost always tell people who are stuck in or feeling daunted by the early stages of a project, because I believe that if you follow these two pieces of advice, you will get unstuck and make breakthroughs.

1.  When you don't know quite what to write about, use prompts.  It doesn't really matter what they are.  Just having something to trigger you, something to respond to, will get you writing, and your writing will lead you where it wants to go.

2.  Keep writing forward.  Don't waste today self-editing what you wrote yesterday, before you even know what your story is really going to be about.  Write a lot before you worry about whether you're making the perfect craft choices.  You might need to write 3000 words before you find the right beginning for a piece, and that's fine. 

With this in mind, and because I would love to hear other voices, I'd like to try and experiment that I am calling, "The Post a Paragraph Project."  If you happen upon this site and this post, and you're looking for a creative kick-start like I am, I encourage you (would beg be too strong of a word?) to respond to my post (I'll put up a new one every few weeks, if there is any response to this letter in a bottle I'm sending out), do a free write and then post your favorite paragraph of it here for others to see.

First prompt:

Write a memory, fictional or non, based on the song, "You Are My Sunshine."

I'll respond to the paragraphs if anyone puts them up.