The Shelter in Place Diaries: Free Writing

Good morning, world.

It rained hard yesterday and the city is washed clean. Now there’s a thick gray blanket covering all of downtown but I see a tiny bright spot in the distance. It illuminates the small gap between a blocky office tower and the cylindrical apartment building over by the Paramount. I can’t remember the name of the place, but I know it has a Cafe Ladro on street level. Names don’t stick in my brain but my memory is brimming with landmarks. Especially coffee shops. Thus I can navigate from point A to point B on nothing more than a feeling and a long string of remembrances. This turn looks correct. Yes, I remember the shape of that doorway. The distance between a mailbox and the next corner means I turn right toward the forest. But don’t ask me names, or directions, or numbers.  I have a picture-memory. But I can’t give you a description of every picture in the string. Or even a set of verbal directions. Just the next turn, and then the next one, and then the next. The path reveals itself as I go.

My mom’s brain works the same way. We navigate by feel. And I like to think it’s an ability passed down from our ancient ancestors who wandered the Earth in nomadic tribes. East? North? Street names? No one needs that nonsense. Just turn left at the curve in the river where the fish show up every spring.  That’s how you survive.

For me, replace fish with coffee shops. It’s urban survival, yo. 😆

I don’t have a shelter-in-place topic today. This is just me, limbering up my brain, loosening up my fingers, getting ready for the writing day ahead. I’m relaxing into my own voice today. And I’ve been thinking about the way I’ve allowed things like writing groups to squash my writing voice.  I’ve been shaping myself to genre conventions, you see. READERS LIKE SHORT, CLEAR SENTENCES. And this isn’t the worst thing, I know. Clarity is always good. Yet I find myself wanting to put a bit more me into my prose.  Snipping off a clause can be like pruning a rose bush, and other times snipping off a clause can be like amputating an arm because some imagined critic won’t approve of your reach.

Am I rolling around in over-processed prose, armless, blood squirting everywhere? LOL. Maybe.

I’m thinking of a specific author now. His paragraphs are full of gross references and oddly shaped fragments. Reading his prose is like dragging my eyes across broken glass. Yet I admire his uniqueness. He’s a strong writer and his writing is unmistakably his. His fans enjoy that broken-glass writing very much.  And because I’m trying to make my writing more… professional,  sometimes I feel like my prose is becoming unflavored tofu. There’s no reason to feel anything about unflavored tofu. It’s acceptably bland and perfectly serviceable. Case in point, I looked at my partial draft of Power Play the other day. And I was so happy with my initial draft. But I took it to a few writing groups and I let them tell me all the ways they would have done it differently. My favorite scene was too long.  My heroine thinks too much. She made decisions they didn’t approve of. Women don’t think like X. They think like Y. She’s not behaving like a normal twenty-something would behave. She dreamed of going to Paris, but Paris is a cliche. Why not something else?  Why isn’t she spelunking like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible?  I listened to every bit of feedback. Then I pruned away some of the stuff that made it mine. I wish I hadn’t.

But that’s okay. I think I have some early drafts of that story. I’ll dig them up and see what I can reclaim. There was some quality shit in there before I started sanding off the edges. And I hold no hard feelings toward the feedback givers. I did ask! But I need to reconsider the feedback thing.

Brandon Sanderson has this to say about writing groups and feedback:

In business we’re taught to seek out feedback often. We’re supposed to open the gates to our hearts and let our bosses and the experts knock around in there so they can shape us into the person they’d like us to become. That worked for me in business, but it’s not going to work for me as a writer, is it? It’s time I develop a thicker set of boundaries. I need just a touch of that classic artistic arrogance I’ve seen in others. I need to be willing to shut the door and leave it shut so I can develop my own voice, opening it only for a good reason.

But don’t worry, blog buddies. I’ll still fix my damn typos.  😉