Writer's Blog

A place where I write about the writing life and writing projects in progress

November 29, 2009

  • Profession of Faith
  • I am a writer.

    I may not be much of a published or produced writer—some short stories, a screenplay that was a finalist for a prestigious award, some paid web and magazine writing—but I am a writer nonetheless. It’s what I have done for a living for ten years, working as a communications professional in the non-profit sector. I have used my skills and gifts to do what I have always loved to do. To write. And I’ve made a good living out of it, and I enjoy it.

    I guess I say this because blogging on a “Writer’s Blog” makes me feel like I should be, well, famous and have a gazillion credits and everything. But I realize I have nothing to be embarrassed about. My skills as a writer may be used to produce annual reports and press releases, but I still write for a living. I still have insights on the ways and habits of a writer.

    And, yes, I would like to be published and produced. And I’m still working to that end on that. But that doesn’t make me not a writer to have not done those things.

    Perhaps it goes without saying, but I felt like saying it anyway.

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    November 17, 2009

  • Wherein Our Hero Foolishly Forgets His Pen and Enters a Neurotic Spiral Hitherto Unseen…
  • imageLet’s get this out there. I’m anal enough that I have a specific pen I like to use. A Uniball Vision Elite pen, bold point 0.8 mm. I would probably go towards purple or navy blue ink, but they hardly sell those anymore so I’m stuck with dark blue. In fact they hardly sell any of these and I buy them in bulk because I’m paranoid they’ll sell out. (Funny story: Charles Schulz developed a love of a specific nib for inking his cartoons and when he found out the company that made this nib closed he bought the remaining stock—cases and cases of them were still around unopened when Schulz died). As we know, I love to write in longhand. When I finally found a pen I was comfortable using, I’ve stuck with it with a loyalty only reserved to spouses and best friends.

    Yes, I’ve become Pauline from The League of Gentlemen. I have an egregious personality.

    This morning I go to Starbucks to do some writing because, as we know (or I presume you’ve read the other entries on this blog because there’s only ten of them and at this point I’m convinced the readership of this blog is just myself and any passing Internet hobos looking here for pen porn) I love writing anywhere than where I should be. I bring with me my notebook and a pen. I get out the pen, open it.

    Dammit, the pen is out of ink.

    I’m all psyched to write. Got the latte. Got the notebook. Got the table at Starbucks (not an easy feat). Got a general idea what I want to write. And the bloody Vision Elite is dry.

    Leave the latte and notebook at my table and run to the variety store three doors down. Buy a cheap Bic Cristal pen. Run back to Starbucks.

    And I think to myself. “This never happened to George Orwell.”

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    November 13, 2009

  • Reverse Engineering
  • image October was spent reading John Irving’s novel, Last Night In Twisted River, which I frankly think is Irving’s best novel since A Prayer For Owen Meany. It is still not quite at the level of A Prayer For Owen Meany and The Cider House Rules but it is much, much better than the series of workmanlike (though still good) novels he’s done since the mid-nineties. Irving is at his best when he has a passion and a purpose, and here he has both.

    My reason for talking about this, however, is not to gush about John Irving but to talk about his process as a writer. He gives an interesting glimpse of this in talking about how his character, Daniel Baciagalupo, starts writing his latest novel.

    As always, he began at the end of the story. He’d not only written what he believed was the last sentence, but Danny had a fairly evolved idea of the trajectory of the new novel… Danny was slowly but gradually making his way backward through the narrative, to where he thought the book should begin. That was just the way he’d always worked: He plotted a story from back to front; hence he conceived of the first chapter last. By the time Danny got to the first sentence—meaning to that actual moment when he wrote the first sentence down—often a couple of years or more had passed, but by then he knew the whole story. From that first sentence the book flowed forward—or, in Danny’s case, back to where he’d begun.

    In an interview with Michael Enright on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition (you can download the podcast here, it’s the October 25, 2009 show), John Irving confirmed that Danny’s process is, in fact, his own process. (Irving elaborates on how this worked with Last Night In Twisted River on his website.) His books are, in fact, reverse engineered. And while I found that mind-blowing, it also made some sense. Irving’s books are so tightly plotted, the world of them so carefully created, it might well be the only way to build it. That’s not to say that Irving doesn’t do the improvisation and puzzle-solving on the fly that all writers do—and indeed we see Danny do some of that in Last Night In Twisted River—but he’s building on something that’s so solidly constructed there isn’t room for error.

    I’ve never tried to write, nor probably will write, a work with the complexity and scope that John Irving does—it frankly is probably part of the appeal of reading it. Personally, I write more like Francois Truffaut, who starts off with an image (the film The Soft Skin started with the image of two people kissing, the noise of one’s teeth clicking against the other) and it expands backwards and forwards. That’s not to say I don’t write outlines and plot things through (sometimes more tightly than others), but for me it’s a much more anarchic process that starts with an image and making it into a story. But it does make me curious to try writing something like Irving would, knowing the last sentence first.

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    November 09, 2009

  • Forty
  • Not really relevant to writing but I just wanted to note that George Orwell once said “At fifty everyone has the face they deserve.”

    I now have ten years to go with that.


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