Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Verbalizing my voices

I don’t like reading aloud, especially my own work. When I write well, the voices in my head speak the words onto the page in soaring language, dulcet tones of surpassing beauty and emotional oration – at least that’s what I like to believe. If I read them aloud, as writers are exhorted to do at every turn, my vocal chords strangle the language and trample on the emotional vibrations. Such desecration pains me every time it happens.

I rarely enjoy listening to anyone read aloud. The first sentence I hear is overwritten in my brain by the second, which is overwritten by the third, until the fourth grasps for tenuous connections to earlier phrases and fails to communicate the author’s meaning. I’m subconsciously distracted by efforts to put the audible into words on a mental page where they can be studied and absorbed. In a book, I can see complete paragraphs at a glance, follow the flow of words from one thought, one phrase, one sentence, to the next, and see the discrete parts as a glorious whole.

Yet the literary world insists on oral presentations. We’ve all been witness to an esteemed author whose written words are a joy, but who when faced with reading to an audience is a less-than-stellar performer. That’s what reading aloud is – a performance. For the solitary author, accustomed to toiling away in relative silence, the experience of speaking in front of a gathering is often as personally painful as it is to the listeners. We are writers, not performers. We stumble and stutter and mangle the precious words we slaved over, the careful sentences crafted in hours of intense labor. This repeated pointless sadomasochism can only destroy a writer’s spirit.

In One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, author Gail Sher writes eloquently of the argument I’ve only vaguely been able to articulate over the years in classes, workshops, and writers groups:

“The written word also has a ‘look.’ It’s ‘build’ is alchemical, even as a woman’s build. In its timbre (mental ring) as well as its juxtaposition with other words, there is a resonance that can be squelched in speech. Though we may pronounce a word similarly, its silent sound is like ‘a white bird in snow.’ (Poets are sometimes loathe to read their poetry aloud, as if something precious will be lost sharing that version.)” (140)

I heartily agree.

Of course writing for performance is another matter altogether. Dramatists such as Shakespeare or modern screenwriters such as Aaron Sorkin offer language that can only be appreciated in its oral form. For the rest of us, leave our words on the page where they form the intended neural connection with devoted readers focusing on the work literally in hand, not the tonal vagaries of an uncomfortably positioned pseudo-performer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


No post this week in support of the effort to stop SOPA

Stop Censorship

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Please punch my validation...

If you don't change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. ~ Douglas Adams

With the inevitable life review ushered in by a new year, I’m reminded all too strongly that I can’t expect my life to change if I don’t change my attitude. The insanity of continuing old patterns of behavior yet looking for new outcomes looms large, and while I talk a good talk about changing my habits, when it comes down to actually performing, I stumble.

Instead of writing or tending to any of the several projects stacked in file folders on my desk, I wasted invested twenty minutes or so this morning taking an online personality test of sorts, this one called PersonalDNA. The results didn’t surprise me: empathetic, introverted, trusting, preferring experiences over things and small groups of close friends over large crowds. My assigned label of “considerate experiencer” is a bit odd, but I suppose the site needs to offer something unique.

The irony of this seemingly benign entertainment hit me only a few minutes later, as I mulled my continuing penchant for procrastination. Why had I spent that time answering ambiguous questions in hopes a computer program could tell me something new about myself? Once again I was looking for outside validation, this time in the nebulous “personality” arena as opposed to my usual anxieties over my writing. I’m always waiting for someone else to tell me I’m on the right track, that I’m worthy of – something, anything. That insidious need for approval is holding me back and I’m tired of it, but I can’t seem to break free.

I fill my desktop with aphorisms like “What other people think about you is none of your business” and “You wouldn't worry so much about what other people thought if you realized how seldom they do,” but I remain mired in self-doubt. Awareness of my crippling dependency on the acceptance of others doesn’t make my escape any easier, although I maintain awareness of any addiction – and that’s what this is, an emotional addiction seeded in the murky past – is half the battle. Unfortunately, the other half, the skirmishes I face every time I send out a short story only to have it rejected, or turn to a friend for counsel only to be brushed aside, don’t seem to diminish even as that awareness grows. Such dismissals only reinforce the niggling voice that says I’m not good enough.

That voice echoed all night and kept me awake more than usual as I replayed an evening spent in another search for validation of my feelings. After a weekly writers group, I’d only half-jokingly demanded Hubby provide answers to a vexing relationship issue I’d faced. He likes to fix things, so he tried, but ultimately we both knew the solution had to come from within me. His validation was accurate, and not unexpected, and offered with love. But I still needed someone to tell me what I already knew. I simply don’t trust my own judgment enough to ignore naysayers with private concerns and personal agendas.

Hubby knows me better than anyone else does, and certainly better than any online quiz. I should listen to him when he tells me to believe in my “considerate experiencer” self as much as he does.

His is the only validation I really need, while I figure out how to accept my own.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

My mistake

As I warned earlier here and here, I’ve now spent the past two weeks reevaluating my online presence and, by extension, my writing life. So much of my time on the ’net has become a myriad of not-so-subtle forms of procrastination, taking me away from actually putting words down on the page. Add to that friend base, build that platform, follow that blog roll, comment/review/submit to contests that often have little or no relation to my writing interests.

I’ve also been reading Gail Sher’s introspective One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers. Her words kept me grounded during the chaotic holidays which arouse such anxiety in me that I can’t write anything of substance. The focus of her slim volume is to guide readers to developing and nurturing a writing habit, something I had, briefly, during November’s NaNo sprint but lost again with the holidays. (digression: As a devoted wordsmith, I flounder searching for a better term for the hysterical upheaval which strikes from Halloween through New Year’s Day. For me at least, the period is certainly not holy or holly-jolly. But that is a musing for another time.)

Sher’s Four Noble Truths are plain enough:
1. Writers write.
2. Writing is a process.
3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write. I need that emblazoned over my desk, looping on a soundtrack, tattooed on my forearm. The only way to fail is to not write.

All the other mileposts, the gauges of a “success” that the writing community imposes on us all, are distractions from who I am. I am a writer. See #1 above: writers write. Not writers publish; writers blog to develop a platform; writers tweet; writers Facebook/G+/review others’ work on Amazon or Goodreads. Writers write. All those other things are distractions with limited usefulness.

Almost two years ago, after yet another of my sessions of despair over ever “making it” as a writer, my grad school faculty advisor asked, (and I paraphrase), “If no one ever saw anything you wrote, would you still write?” At the time, my “Yes” was grudging. Today it is stronger, yet it wavers with the emotions of life. Sher’s book strengthens my response.

I often quote Emerson’s “Life is a journey, not a destination,” coupled with Lao Tzu’s “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I need to learn to see my writing in the same way. It’s a process, not a product. I think that’s why the continuous communal buzz to market/self-publish/sell-sell-sell has always bothered me. Far too much of what is rushed to market is ragged, immature, and worthy only of standing as a step on that journey. That’s not to discount its value; rather, to delineate between exercise and performance recital. Right now I’m on the rehearsal schedule for that future recital. I may never make it in the eyes of the publishing world, but I’ll grow and learn and write every step along the way.

Because I’m a writer, and writers write.