Monday, August 29, 2005

Writing Workshop Lesson 3 & Assignment 3

Greetings, writers!

If you're just joining us, scroll down to Lessons 1 & 2 to catch up. Work at your own pace and post your answers and short assignments in the "Comments" areas of the appropriate posts. Everything automatically forwards to my in-box, so I read everything no matter when it's added.

I had a ball this week reading all of the Chandleresque (Raymond, not Bing) similes and the overheard bits of dialogue. Many laugh-out-loud moments in both.

Personal faves among the similes:

"Nervous as a mohel with hiccups" from "the procrastinator," who didn't live up to his/her name by being the first to post with the homework.

"Her eyes were as green as her teeth" -- a hot one from "cold potato."

"Nervous as a border collie on methamphetamines" -- elizabeth.

"She held me like she was holding a grudge" -- julesbgood.

"...as bold as a seersucker suit at a job interview" -- anonymous.

"Her eyes were as empty as her pockets" -- shorty1kanobi.

"The house was decorated in early DeMille" -- chittavrtti.

"Her eyes were as sad as a faded velvet Elvis" -- mnturtle.

"...as hot as a 32-year-old virgin in a Harlequin romance" -- sarah the great and wise.

Well, I could go on and on. Excellent work, everyone.

Why are we doing these little exercises, you ask? So far, in just two weeks, you've worked on lead sentences, lively figures of speech and realistic snatches of dialogue. See where we're going?

Details, details. Good writing is the sum of its parts. The better the parts, the more specific the details ... yadda, yadda, yadda...readers love you.

Speaking of which, you know the first sentence I posted last week from Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday? What arrives in my email but a nice note from the author herself:

A reader pointed out your very funny and interesting blog to me...So of course I had to scan my own books and my shelf of other people's books and read first sentences for an hour. (Of course I'm procrastinating; I'm on deadline!) I think it's interesting how often the quality of the first sentence mirrored what I perceived to be the quality of a book, and yet I'd never considered it in that light before.

It is true, however, that I always work to make my opener a 'grabber' - to pique the reader's interest. The first line of the legal thriller I have coming out next spring is "Nobody ever tried to stab me when I did corporate work."

Thanks for mentioning me and thanks for the intriguing line of thought. I hope Nice Girls lived up to its first sentence for you.
It did, indeed, Alesia! And I look forward to that thriller.

Interesting that Alesia mentions procrastination. That brings us to this week's topic.

My old professor, Paul Baker, called it "resistance to work." It's all the stuff we do instead of what we should be doing. For us, it's what we do to keep from writing, especially if we're on deadline. It's the grouting and pouting and scouting for bargains when we should be at the keyboard getting 'er done.

This weekend I had double deadlines for columns. So here's what I did: steam-cleaned the carpets where the dog sleeps, combed the knots out of said dog's tail, dug out an old box of beading supplies and made three necklaces, hung out at the pool finishing Nice Girls Finish First and staring across the water at the cute (but slightly hairy) neighbor guy who suns himself like a lizard on a rock every day from noon to 2 p.m., went vitamin shopping, substitute-taught a water aerobics class at the health club, tried on skirts from the back of the closet, looked up bead stores online and went to two new ones in my neighborhood, went gay-watching with a gay actor friend at a new gelato place on Cedar Springs, paid bills, ran across Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star on cable and watched it start to finish (not as bad as I anticipated...actually, David Spade's pretty funny in it), cleaned the cobwebs off the lampshades and listened to three hours of Britcoms on BBC radio via the internet while playing endless games of computer solitaire.

The writing happened very late Sunday night and under the extreme stress of deadline pressure and so many Diet Cokes my kidneys thought it was a stick-up.

So it goes, right? We don't and don't, until we absolutely have to.

This week I hope you will begin to notice the pattern of your "resistance to work." Mr. Baker used to make us journal all the things we did to keep from working. It's eye-opening to realize when and why we take the off-ramp from creativity onto the truck stop of busywork. Sometimes it's part of the creative ritual -- mostly it's just postponing the inevitable. (And obviously, though I'm aware of my patterns, I still fall into them. OK, I'm working on it.)

If you have any epiphanies about this -- advice, tips, odd things you found yourself doing (keep it clean!) to keep from writing -- post them in comments here. ("Procrastinator," I'm counting on you!) The exercise is simply to make you aware of your resistant motions. Once aware, maybe you can skip past them to get to the writing.

As for that, this is the week to start to work on something you've been wanting to write for a while. Poem, story, song, play, article, novel -- whatever is lurking in your creative "to do" pile. Don't try to finish it this week. Heaven forfend! There's so much knitting to do! And the barbecue grill needs a good scrubbing! How about training the cats to walk a tightrope!

Seriously, just get something down. Work on a good first sentence. Liven up the similes and metaphors. Craft and polish the dialogue. If you spend just one hour this week reading, editing and rewriting a little of that thing, you're ahead of where you were with it last week.

And if you have some time for reading (Who doesn't? We're on deadline!), check out one of the first major pieces of the "New Journalism." This is the famous Gay Talese profile of Ol' Blue Eyes (Esquire, April 1966) titled "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." It's one of the first -- maybe the first -- magazine piece that was about getting the interview. It put the author into the story in a way other journalists hadn't been before. And it was one of the first bits of mega-celeb journalism that wasn't all puffery. You really get to know both Talese and Sinatra as you read the piece. The details of Sinatra's world and his many hangers-on (dig the toupee valet) are fascinating. It is a long story. Four huge sections. Chapters almost. The link gets you to the first section and you can click through via that site to the rest. Some of Talese's writing seems a bit old-fashioned now -- he was awfully addicted to alliteration. But it's still a good read.

See you Thursday, if not before!

32 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually laughed out loud after reading this one:

My ex-girlfriend was as flaky as my grandma's pie crust.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous chittavrtti said...

I believe This American Life did a portion of, Frank Sinatra has a Cold, a few years back--it was hilarious!

1:40 AM  
Anonymous quirogam said...

Oh, but the solution to this little procrastination problem has already been found (or invented, I don't know :-):

Structured Procrastination
http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~john/procrastination.html

7:21 AM  
Blogger kitty said...

I can't write cuz the Prof wants me to read the Sinatra piece ;)

7:48 AM  
Blogger Beltane said...

For some reason, I missed out on exercise 2 when I was trying to overhear good dialogue. I don't get out much, see... stay at home mom. What I did realize (only too late) is that my kids made /perfect/ subjects.

So, you won't have to deal with my terrible simile-making attempts anyway. Lucky you.

Also, my mom is in Mississippi, so I'm a little distracted....

Anyhow, I'm queen procastinator I think. I make everything wait. Mostly, I browse the internet to waste copulous amounts of time. I used to play online computer games, which worked wonders (it gives you this false feeling of accomplishment) so now I do anything non-productive to stall anything productive in my life. I fiddle with Graphics programs, do online tutorials for Photoshop, read blogs, post on message boards, lurk on message boards, play Bookworm, cuddle my dog, cuddle my cat, luxuriate in another school year while the kids are away and there is peace in the house once more, look out the window to the green grass and the robins picking worms out of it, daydream, read books, do some laundry, wipe kitchen counters clean. You name a time waster, I've done it. I'm telling you. Queen procrastinator. I can't remember the last time I actually DID anything worth mentioning.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Ang said...

I set up deals with myself--I may search through 10 pages of uselessness on ebay after finishing my first paragraph. I also set up super-itemized checklists. You know that satifaction of checking something off the list? My checklists are divided 'til they cain't be divided no mo'--Write first sentence CHECK, Give the essay a title CHECK. Though usually, the checklist becomes so elaborate it becomes, in itself, a form of procrastination

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Ang, part deux said...

oh and...my favorite Latin word (shut up, I know)...Cras, meaning tomorrow

9:45 AM  
Anonymous handworn said...

Isn't it spelled "forfend?" Is "forefend" an acceptible alternate spelling which I wasn't aware of?

9:56 AM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

It can be either way -- fore or for -- but I'll change it to "forfend," if it OFfends. I'm very flexible today.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous kim said...

Aargh! I'm on a book deadline. Like, a final deadline. What have I done in the last week? I've almost entirely moved a large web site (including four databases) to a new web host. I've, uh... I have no idea what else I've done, but I haven't written a word.

I left town to try to eliminate distraction, and today's my last day of quiet. One cup of coffee down, I've launched Word, bookmarked Sinatra, and I'm about to close this window and get to it.

Like a teacher's pet at the front of the line.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Garnigal said...

I read web pages :) I knit, cross-stitch, bead, watch TV, do dishes, clean bathrooms, read, allow myself to be dragged out to see real people, do laundry, play with the cats, argue with my boyfriend...

Pretty much anything but what I'm supposed to do.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

The best advice for setting down to write came from Donald (now Deirdre) McCloskey some 20 years ago: "Sneak up on it. Apply rear to chair, apply pencil to paper." He anticipated the urge to arrange the dishes. "Clean up in a dull moment."

11:16 AM  
Blogger Alcuin Bramerton said...

He is rushing
To complete an essay.

It has to be handed in,
At the latest,
By 4.30pm
A week ago last Friday.

Further delay
Is out of the question.

His girlfriend asks him
If he would like
To take his trousers off.

He says yes.

His girlfriend asks him
If there is anything else he would like
To take off.

He says yes.

His girlfriend asks him
If there is anything in particular
He would like to do now.

He says yes.

Further delay
Is out of the question.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please tell me which word was spelled correctly in the last assignment?

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phone calls - always phone calls. After all I can't ignore my family/friends just to get a little writing done - right? Right?

Turning the ringer off on the upstairs phone helps lots.

Tapper

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Frances said...

I nap. Am very catlike like that. Been up most of the night trying to write, so the next day I'll nap.

And the internet, of course.

Also: thinking. I'm very good at staring in space, letting random thoughts flow through my brain.

Sometimes I even write stuff I wasn't supposed to write in the first place, because writing them was so much easier. (Most of my LJ gets filled like that.)

And something else: that I didn't do the second assignment wasn't because of procrastination, but because I hardly ever meet people that talk English in everyday life. I did overhear a great conversation though, maybe I'll translate it, but first I'm gonna take a nap.

12:23 PM  
Blogger ZombieKiller said...

When I need to write, I do short writing exercises to get myself out of the procrastination zone. I find that they help me lose the desire to do any of the million other things I could be doing and I concentrate on what I'm writing more.

My favorite exercise (if I had time, I'd do it daily) is at OneWord. It's short and sweet but it seems to help. I usually post my OneWord stuff in my writing blog.

My very favorite thing to do when I'm supposed to be writing is research. I can waste hours "researching" the subject instead of actually putting pen to paper.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous shelly said...

When I was in college, my friends could tell when I had a big assignment due because I would be cleaning my dorm room. And I had friends who took it a step further and actually rearranged their room to avoid work.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous cmw said...

My most pathetic attempt at procrastinating came when I decided to pop the keys off my keyboard and clean underneath them. I rationalized this by reminding myself the I had been sick the week before and didn't want to germs to spread. Oh, that was a good day.
And since I just graduated college, let's not forget the unbelievable hours spent looking at...THEFACEBOOK!!!

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Nicole Heldoorn said...

I have a lot of things i need to be working on for school.
Three large assignments due this week, work on researching 200 sources, reading rediculous amounts and a few other things.

What I actually ended up doing:
-Scrubbed my shower and bleached the grout with a new bleach pen.
-Dusted
-Laundry
-Cleaned my George Foreman grill
-Cleaned my fan
-Downloaded music
-Did a handstand against my wall to see how long I could do it.
-Picked at a manicure I got about three weeks ago
-Watched about 7-9 hours of The O.C. season two dvds

Rediculous. I feel so unaccomplished.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Girl Flip said...

This weekend, I had my part of a co-written, 40-inch enterprise piece with two sidebars, a table, and a referring article to finish.
My home office is spotless, all my clothes are ironed, my coffeepot has gone through the vinegar treatment, and my nails look amazing.
I try not to procrastinate (well, I'm about to get on that, anyway) but I have two systems in place.
1) Rewards -"I can have a cigarette if I write for 15 minutes. Have a cigarette AND work on that sudoku puzzle."
2) A system I call "Busywork" - I type in the notes. all of them. (It's nowhere near a finished piece, hah! it's not like i've done any real work! it just looks like a lot!) Then I write an outline. (See? It's not like the piece is anywhere near being started! It's an outline! I'm not really doing anything productive, just planning!)
Then I write all the introductory statements for each part of the outline. (Still, it's only busywork to avoid the real writing! there are about five sentences there! that's three inches out of a 25-inch piece! hah! No real work yet!)
Next, I put in the quotes and notes in between the statements. (But look! that was five minutes of cutting and pasting! no real writing!)
And then, by the time I contextualize all the notes, it's a finished piece. With about 20 minutes of what I manage to fool my mind into thinking is "real writing."
With, of course, plenty of cigarette/snack breaks and getting up to refill my coffee in between stages.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Citycat said...

I'm with the people who clean when they have things to do. My apartment is never so clean, my kitchen so pristine, my bathroom so sparkley, and my laundry so perfectly folded as when I am in finals. That's the PERFECT time to alphabatize books, clean out closets, color code sweaters, etc. At least then I feel like I am accomplishing something useful, if not the correct useful thing.

8:53 AM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

The reason I find other stuff to do instead of what I'm supposed to be doing is because I need to see measurable progress. If I have some kind of conceptual, abstract thing I need to finish (or start), the only evidence of progress is its completion. Well, I've gotta have an accomplishment "fix" in the interim. I do laundry. Laundry has definite steps, is predictable, and organized. I also clean. I keep a really clean house anyway, but when you're anal, can anything really be clean enough? I've also made Shrinky-Dinks, painted doorknobs, gone around the house labeling things with my P-touch, and baked scads of cookies. After I whip my ass with any of these tasks, and I can see tangible evidence that something industrious has occurred, then I can finish what I really needed to work on in the first place.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Persephone said...

I'm sorry--the Internet with a cable modem was absolutely THE best (or perhaps worst) thing to happen to proscrasinators. When I have something important to write (as I do now) I obssessively check e-mail, read blogs, comment on blogs (like now) constantly re-load MSNBC to see if anything has changed in the world since the last time I checked 3 minutes ago. . . well, you get the picture. I become rather OCD in my pursuit of on-line distractions. I should note that I do NOT do anything so productive as cleaning. Apparently I'm combining laziness with procrastination. I do like girlflip's strategy of "fooling" herself into writing. That has worked well for me, too.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Cold Potato said...

"'Nervous as a mohel with hiccups' from 'the procrastinator,'"
You mention he was the first person to post, but the question is what was he supposed to be doing when he had an excuse to dream up nervous mohels and overheated ipods?

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Bee said...

NOT getting to it.

I don't procrastinate to keep from writing; I procrastinate to keep from doing anything that is on my "To Do" list. Then, to keep from doing the To Do List I do everything that is not on the To Do List.

Before I sat down to begin this comment, I decided that I needed a refreshing shower. That would get the old juices flowing. It didn't matter that it was noon.

I shaved my face first, and then while I was at it, I shaved the bald spot on the top and back of my head. There! That was better. I really feel the inspiration coming on now. Once in the shower, I prolonged the washing motion in all the normal stinky places for longer than usual. It just felt good to be clean in those places once again. So what if I had showered that very morning around six.

Once out of the shower and having my spraying and powdering done, while getting dressed I noticed a lot of hair on the tile floor from where Maureen had been getting ready for work that morning. I wondered if Maureen knew she was going bald too? I got the canister vacuum out from behind the easy chair in my writing room and cleaned up the bathroom floor, back behind the toilet seat and the top of the vanity sink. Then I moved out into the hallway and cleaned up the loose bits of cat food that Jenny the dog tends to leave in the crevices between the carpet and the baseboards. Then I moved into my writing room and got that. Might as well do the bedroom carpet while I'm at it and on the way out to the garage to clean up the tufts of dog hair from where I gave Jenny her last close trim of the year, I paused in the kitchen and gave it a quick once over also.

I know it's a mistake to get the vacuum out in the first place. I don't know why I do it. I know I tend to get into a cleaning frenzy once I get started. I put the vacuum cleaner away. That was a small victory in itself.

Then I suddenly recalled that yesterday I had found some tomato worms on my vines. I had made a mental note to check them out again early this morning. Better late than never I'm thinking. Went out back and found one worm right away. Sent it to worm heaven under my heel. Went back inside, out the front door and checked the vines along side the garage. Good thing I did. I found six large ones and two so small they were almost invisible to the naked eye. I almost felt like thumping my chest afterward and giving some kind of animal type scream. I restrained myself from that temptation. I hate those worms.

I also thought I should run down and check our mailbox. Thought better of that for a while. I'm not sure he's run yet. Put on a pot of coffee on the way back up here to write this. I can smell it now. Think I'll go get me a cup of it. I hope this is enough for now. I'm hopeless...aren’t I?

11:40 AM  
Blogger sarah the great and wise said...

What do I do to procrastinate?

Ha!

What don’t I do to procrastinate?

4:46 PM  
Blogger Wayfaring Stranger said...

I think I've done more creative writing in the past few days than I'd done in months. So much for procrastination. ;)

Usually I can manage to find about a zillion different things to do so as to delay the time when I have to sit down, stare at the blank page/screen, and start writing. Writing anything.

Not so this week. This week writing has become my escape vehicle, a catharsis, the savior of my sanity, a pool of tears, a wellspring of hope....

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Frances said...

I know I've commented already, but I didn't want to keep this procrastinating technique from you all. I've been using it since I had exams in secondary school and have been improving it ever since: Falling in Love.

Nothing is as good to get the lazyness going as a big bout of heartache. I remember sitting behind my books and saying to myself "After you've studied this page you may go on sighing and swooning and making up silly stories about the next time you'll see him again." But it never works, does it? It wasn't until I felt like sitting in a pressure cooker that I turned to the books for real and studied all through the night.

Years later I'm a high school teacher myself and what do I notice? When I run out of time and have way too much work, and actually should be doing something else altogether I Fall in Love.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elaine Liner: your weekend activities are absolutely pathetic. Get a life...

1:13 PM  
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