Rainy Days + Mondays Always Get Me Down.

It’s been a while, friends, but I’m back, and we have so much to catch up on.  I still have to tell you about my dinner at elBulli last November, and there are some pretty exciting things coming up (here’s a hint: I renewed my passport, and sent it out to get visas), and I’m trying to turn over a new leaf… I’m going to be sharing all of these things with you, and I’m determined not to go on another three-plus month hiatus again.

In the meantime, a few words of advice:

  • If you live in Boston and like seafood, go eat at Island Creek Oyster Bar.  Actually, scratch that — if you live and like to eat, come to Boston and go to Island Creek Oyster Bar.  If you’re still with me, order the fried oyster sliders (two per person, minimum), try one of the shell-less mussels appetizers, and get at least one glass of the Meßmer Riesling Halbtrocken 2008.
  • Get yourself a copy of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and start cooking.
  • Sharpen your knives.

I leave you this, in closing.  I know the title sounds depressing, but I don’t think it is at all.  In fact, I highly suggest singing along as loudly as you can, ideally while driving with the windows open.

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Irony?

I love how, the day after I write about writing more, I became deliriously sick and incapable of writing.  I mean, I could write — to say I couldn’t would be a lie, but to write with anything like clarity is another thing altogether, and clarity was something I was incapable of grasping.  Instead I grasped the TiVo remote, my favorite pillows, a roll of toilet paper (I can’t be the only person in the world who never thinks to buy Kleenex, can I?) and a bottle of cough syrup before taking to the sofa and dozily watching Animal Planet.

Anyway, my point is I’m starting to feel better.

Ann Patchett on Writing.

My love of Ann Patchett has been well-documented on this blog, and I hate the thought of being one of those people who tell the same stories over and over so I’m not even going to get into it.  What I will get into, briefly, is how thrilled I was to find that Grub Street had recently posted a link to Ms. Patchett’s keynote speech from 2009’s Muse and the Marketplace writing conference.  I left last year feeling incredible, and a big part of the reason why was this speech.  So give it a listen.

“Writing is Not an Indulgence.”

Some truths about me:

  1. I write.
  2. I don’t write often enough.
  3. I like food, dogs and zombies.

That last one was a gimme.  It’s still true.

Every person on this earth carries baggage and has issues about something; I’ve got two huge trunks that I drag behind me, one for my weight and the other for writing.  I’ve recently started to lessen my “I’m fat” load, so it’s only fitting that I’ve got a new outlook on writing.  It may sound harsh, but, as Renée Michel says Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, “I am rarely friendly — though always polite.”  So here it harshly is:

If you’re waiting for inspiration, stop.  This is an avoidance tactic, and even if it is successful all you are doing is crippling yourself.  It’s amateurish and, frankly, a boring reason to not be writing*.  Writers, serious ones anyway, don’t have the luxury of inspiration.  They just get the work done.  And yes, it is work.  You may find writing fun and rewarding and many other cheering words, but when you get down to it, writing is work.  It takes effort.

This is, of course, not to say that you can’t be inspired.  I spent most of yesterday at Grub Street‘s annual Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference; I’ve been to the past two Muses, but this was the first year where I was a volunteer and only stayed for one day.  Still, I left feeling truly excited to go home and write.  It was pretty much a given that I would, since as a volunteer I was able to pop in and out of as many workshops as possible.  That’s how I got to

  • listen to Sinead O’Connor with Steve Almond (“I want to reach a place where defenses are converted into real feelings… the feelings that make us genuinely alive.”)
  • participate in a Choose Your Own Adventure-esque exercise on circumstance-driven fiction with Jessica Shattuck
  • laugh and learn at Lynne Barrett‘s discussion on plot (“You can’t have twenty-seven strippers.”)
  • frantically scribble notes while the immensely quotable Anita Shreve spoke about problem-solving in novel writing (“Sometimes when you think you’re stuck you’ve gone down the wrong tributary,”  for example. And the best: “We don’t strive for beautiful sentences.  We strive for arresting sentences.”)
  • disassemble the high-concept novel with Allison Scotch
  • find out exactly what makes agents and editors stop reading a manuscript
  • get Alisa Libby‘s perspective on writer’s block (“The writing process is happening in your head, even if you’re not sitting down and writing.”)
  • watch a panel discussion on MFA programs featuring Liza Ketchum, Maud Casey, Ron MacLean, Benjamin Percy and Bret Anthony Johnston (whose passionate words on writing seemed like a natural title to this post: “Writing is not an indulgence. The writer gives up indulgences to write.”)
  • meet an interesting group of young writers
  • come home with a stack of new books and a long list of more to read

Not a bad way at all to spend a sunny Saturday.

But to get back to my original point… if you need inspiration to feel motivated, I won’t try and take it away from you.  I’m just asking you to stop waiting for it.  It may not come, or it may not come as often as you like, and all that’s going to happen is that you’ll find another excuse to not write, which is never going to be as interesting as anything you do write.

Please don’t be boring.

* The boring part I’ve borrowed from my friend Monique, a writer herself.

SSSSD, or Seven Short Shorts in Seven Days.

About four or five years ago, my friend Marcella and I had a shared blog where we wrote about — well, we wrote about pretty much whatever we wanted.  One of the brilliant ideas we had, if I do say so myself, was something we called SSSSD — Seven Short Shorts in Seven Days.  For one week we posted a writing exercise on our blog; we invited our friends to participate and share their responses, which were all about five hundred words or less.  Basically, it was a way to force us to write creatively and with purpose for a solid week, with the hopes of jumpstarting a daily writing habit.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time beginning a writing regimen after SSSSD was over, but that didn’t stop Marcella and me from repeating the experiment a year later.  And it’s not stopping me from trying again now; in fact, my friend Beth requested an SSSSD revival, so I’m kicking it off on Facebook.  Each morning starting Sunday, April fourth, I’ll put up a new exercise designed to get writers thinking creatively.  I’m inviting participants to post their work each day, but the goal is to write — sharing is optional.

Want in?  Message me on Facebook and we’ll get you signed up.  No excuses though; are you really so busy that you can’t write a small piece of microfiction (or micrononfiction, as the case may be) every day for a week?   After all, it’s just five hundred itty bitty words or less.  So get writing with me.  It’s just for seven days!  Oh, and don’t forget to invite your friends — as they say, the more the merrier.

An Inspirational CD for Writing.

A while ago, I mentioned my renewed obsession with making mix CDs, specifically thematic ones.  Well, here’s what I listen to when I need a writing pick-me-up.  Let me know if you want a copy and I’ll drop it in the mail.

  1. Panic” by The Smiths
  2. It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” by Belle + Sebastian
  3. “Out of Gas” by Modest Mouse
  4. No Sleep Tonite” by Slumber Party
  5. Changes” by David Bowie
  6. Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr.
  7. Personality Crisis” by New York Dolls
  8. That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” by Mission of Burma
  9. The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” by The New Pornographers
  10. Wake Me When It’s Over” by Longwave
  11. Lonely Lonely” by Feist
  12. The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” by Garbage
  13. Move On” by The Rentals
  14. Leave Me Alone” by New Order
  15. I See a Darkness” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy
  16. Amateur” by Aimee Mann
  17. Hopeless” by The Wrens

“a fab food-ish poem”

I’m back from Maine and slowly making my way through all of the emails and RSS feeds that have piled up this week like an unseasonal snowdrift, but I wanted to share something Marcella sent to me earlier today.  See, clearly I’m very interested food, but what might not be clear is that I also tend to sometimes be a little bit morbid, so the “fab food-ish poem” that Marcella emailed to me just about hit all the right spots.  It’s featured on Poets.org as “Today’s Poem,” but here it is regardless of the day:

My Autopsy (Excerpt)
by Michael Dickman

There is a way
if we want
into everything

I’ll eat the chicken carbonara and you eat the veal, the olives, the small and glowing loaves of bread

I’ll eat the waiter, the waitress
floating through the candled dark in shiny black slacks
like water at night

The napkins, folded into paper boats, contain invisible Japanese poems

You eat the forks
all the knives, asleep and waiting
on the white tables

What do you love?

I love the way our teeth stay long after we’re gone, hanging on despite worms or fire

I love our stomachs
turning over
the earth

Happy end-of-May, beginning-of-June.