A Need for Nonsense

When I was quite young, still in the elementary school years, I used to write like mad. I had notebooks and notebooks full of stories and I was rarely ever without pen and paper. But as I grew and other things began to be important to me, my writing dwindled down to nothing. By the time I hit high school I was barely even writing at all.

Then my best friend and I began a strange collaboration. It started because of a particular English teacher who I loathed. My best friend and I used to jokingly plot crazy ways to be rid of this particular teacher (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I swear, and besides, she deserved it), and somehow or other it became a super-short little story. I honestly can’t remember which one of us wrote the first chapter, but I remember that it was only about a page long, featured ridiculously overblown explosions, and ended with my boyfriend and I being pursued by the police. It was an incredibly goofy, over-the-top little piece of flash fiction that would have made little to no sense when taken out of context, but it started something.

You see, at the time that this strange little story first came to light, my friend and I shared a keyboarding class. For you youngsters, that was a classroom full of typewriters – not computers, mind you, but honest-to-goodness typewriters – where a teacher would run us through exercises to learn how to type properly (you know, with your fingers on the right keys and without looking at your hands). Since my friend and I were already rather good at typing, we would often finish our assigned tasks quickly, and thus we took to spending the remainder of our classes adding to our little story. She would type up a page-long “chapter”, and then I would type one. Back and forth, back and forth.

The thing is, there was absolutely nothing sensible about this story we were collaborating on. The cast quickly ballooned to include my best friend and her beau, two other friends and a boy one of them had a crush on, and a random goofy guy from my best friend’s science class (who, funny story, wound up becoming my husband). This motley crew of eight went on lunatic adventures to stay ahead of the police, and that adventure got more and more bewildering as it went on. Among some of the more outlandish plot points were an armada of flying enemy pizza-minis who were destroyed by being sprayed with donair sauce, alien cows who could disguise themselves to look like humans, and the use of such devices as a SRMLD (Stark Raving Mad Lunatic Detector. Since one of the first pages of the story involved one of the characters accidentally blowing up the planet, we called it “The Day the Earth Blew Up”, and filled the thing with so many terrible in-jokes that reading it now makes me twitch a little.

A snapshot of one page of the original copy. At the time this seemed like the height of humorous dialogue.
A snapshot of one page of the original copy. At the time this seemed like the height of humorous dialogue.

And here’s the point of this little trip down memory lane…Our story was utterly foolish. It had numerous spelling and grammatical errors. It had no discernible plot, and certainly no semblance of act structure. It was complete and utter nonsense that would mean absolutely zip to anyone other than myself and my friend. It was nothing that could ever be shared with the world in any way. And it was fun. It was ridiculously fun and it started me writing again.

There’s a moral here, and that moral is that writing doesn’t always have to have a purpose. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be publishable, or even readable. You can have goals and deadlines and lots of writerly responsibilities, but you can have fun too. You can write silly, meaningless nonsense every now and then. You can write whatever foolishness pops into your head just because it’s in there and you’d like to get it out. I think that’s something that a lot of writers forget. They focus all of their time and energy into writing words that can be sold, or used for marketing or promotional purposes, and they forget why they got into writing in the first place.

Writing can absolutely be your career, but it is also something that writers do because we enjoy it, because we love it, and it’s important to remember that. After all, we all know what “all work and no play” did to a famous fictional writer.

The Trick is to do it Sneakily…

Despite the fact that I currently have no fewer than four projects on the go (not counting the manuscript I’m in the process of editing) I have recently had one hell of a case of writer’s block. On new than a couple of days I found myself staring at my notebook for hours, unable to come up with the words. Even worse, when I did find words they were terrible ones. The bits that I was managing to get onto paper were making me gag.

It was with that gag reflex in tow that I found myself searching the Internet for ideas on battling that great evil we know as writer’s block. I skipped past a number of ideas and suggestions before landing on a list of writing exercises, on which I found a simple prospect: observe the world around you right now…describe it in as much detail as possible.

I whipped out my pen and notebook and began immediately, but soon found my pen stalling. While an interesting idea, it wasn’t exactly exciting to describe an industrial control room…it’s pretty much just desks and computers. But then I got a different idea…I glanced at the coworker to my left and began describing him: his face, his clothes, his mannerisms…whatever I could see or knew from having talked to him. Then I moved on to the next coworker and the next. I wrote everything I knew about them or could see by a quick glance in their direction. I wrote about the bosses and the secretary. I wrote about the field technicians who came in the discuss issues. I wrote about the engineers we share the building with. I wrote thoroughly and honestly. Over the course of three days I wrote over 3000 words just on descriptions of the people around me at work.

I thought this turned out to be an excellent exercise for two reasons. For one, character descriptions is something that is difficult to get right when writing fiction, since you want your reader to be picturing the character the way you do, but you don’t want to bore them to death by ranting on and on about physical details and personality traits. I found over the course of this exercise I slowly got more information in while being more succinct. The other reason is that when I was finished with my exercise I found myself presented with approximately two dozen perfectly viable characters. Names would have to be changed, to protect me from my own brutal honesty, but other than that I now have a small smorgasbord of possible characters to choose from the next time I need a new addition to one of my stories.

What do you think? Does my exercise sound like a worthwhile one? Will you give it a try? Or have you done something similar before? Please share! 🙂

Tune Out the World

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

74. Music or silence while writing

Remember back in school when you had two or three different sources (parents, teachers, etc) telling you to turn off that TV/radio/Walkman/whatevs and concentrate on your homework? I always hated that, hated it with a passion, because for me music always helped me with my homework. That’s not to say that all music is the same…Metallica doesn’t exactly encourage academic thinking…but for the most part having background noise has always helped me concentrate. I’ve always found silence to be strangely distracting. Whenever I tried to do homework without music playing or a show on the TV, I’d find my mind wandering to other things, as though it was somehow desperate to fill up the silence. I don’t really know why, but I always found it particularly difficult to focus if it was too quiet around me.

This desire for background noise has followed me into adulthood and manifests itself while I’m writing. I find it nearly impossible to sit down in a silent room with a pen and paper (or my laptop) and just write. My brain ends up floating off in a hundred different directions. That’s not to say that there aren’t some kinds of noises that are distracting. Writing in the lunch room at work, for instance, is damn near impossible because there are conversations happening all around me and it’s difficult to tune that kind of thing out. Writing with music playing, however, is bliss. It’s just the right kind of noise to allow my subconscious mind to occupy itself while still allowing my conscious mind to keep on task.

No matter how many times I try to explain this, however,  I have never yet found an employer that agrees to let me listen to music while working…I wonder why that is? 😛

Is it love? Definitely.

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

55. How to enjoy writing time more

I’m quite certain that this is an issue that plagues many writers, particularly those who write as their primary form of income. I can’t say that I wouldn’t face the same problem if I were in a position to live off of my writing, but at this current time finding ways to enjoy my writing time is definitely not an issue.

I hope to be published someday, but right now the reason I write is because I enjoy it. I love creating a story with nothing but a pen and paper or a blank word processor document. I love finding the perfect words, and I love writing a scene that’s so powerful I can almost feel myself experiencing it. I love to get into the heads of my characters and let the thoughts and emotions that come through pour out onto the page. I love to torture them and I love to reward them. I love reading something I wrote and being able to honestly say that it is something I would enjoy reading if I’d found it in a bookstore. The only thing I don’t love about writing is that I don’t have more time to do it.

But that doesn’t help you. I guess if I had to give some advice, it would be this: write what you enjoy. It’s not always possible, for many obvious reasons, but if you find your enjoyment of writing beginning to wane, take a break from the usual and sit down and write something that you want to write. If you’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, do it. If you’ve been secretly longing to write a cheesy romance story, do it. Let the words that have been building up inside your head pour out. No one has to read it if you don’t want them to, but I’ve found that one of the most cathartic things a writer can do is to sit down and just write the thoughts that are running through their head, no matter how silly, cheesy, foolish, or nonsensical.  Letting yourself write what you want instead of what you think you should is a surefire way to enjoy writing more.

Just the Essentials

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

52. Tools every writer needs

Writing doesn’t seem like a profession/hobby that requires a lot of equipment, but it can actually get quite tool-heavy depending on what kind of writer you are. Every writer has their own preferences for writing tools, but here are a few that I personally believe should be must-haves for every writer:

A nice notebook and pen
Even if you’re a typing-only kind of writer, sometimes it is very useful to have a notebook and pen in your metaphorical toolbox. For one thing, sometimes you may be somewhere where you can’t have a computer, but you could still scribble out scenes via pen and paper. Also, sometimes a computer program just can’t handle the thoughts, ideas, and plans you want to document. And beside those points, sometimes it is just extremely soothing and peaceful to write manually by the light of the sun or a soft lamp, rather than the harsh, technological glow of a computer screen.

Computer software designed for writers
Microsoft Word is not a writing program. You can write in it, for sure, but it was designed with essays and business documents in mind, not manuscripts. Every writer who chooses to write on a computer should have software that was designed with their needs in mind. I personally use Scrivener for Windows, and absolutely love it to death as it is so flexible and fun to use, but if you’d rather not shell out the cash for writing software, there are plenty of free options out there such as yWriter.

A quiet place to work
Not a tool, technically, but necessary none-the-less. Lots of people can write under duress, with noisy kids and/or pets running around them, or while sitting on a city bus, but being able to squirrel yourself away into a quiet place sometimes is absolutely essential. Sometimes you need a moment to yourself to think without distraction, and sometimes you need it to take a break and relax for a few minutes so your brain can work again later.

– A security blanket
Okay, not a literal security blanket, but I firmly believe that every writer needs something (or several somethings) to get them in the mood and through the process. For myself, my “security blanket” has become hot tea or cocoa. David’s Tea is the best. I just can’t seem to get myself to sit down and write (or edit) without a hot, yummy drink beside me, and it definitely helps keep me calm and focused on my work.

Those are my essentials. Anyone else care to share theirs?

Damn right, dragons!

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

8. Describe your dream writing space

If I had the time, ability, and financial stability to actually make writing my whole career, I would dedicate a whole room to it, a study if you will. I’d paint the walls a nice, warm, chocolate brown, and I’d have big heavy curtains on the window in case I felt like I needed to be in the dark. I’d have a handsome desk – not your average computer desk, but one of those big writing desks that the authors in movies always seem to have, with notes scattered all over the place, a lamp or two, and a laptop or typewriter plunked in the middle. But besides the desk (which would presumably come with an ergonomically correct chair), I’d also have a big, cushy armchair so I could just curl up with a pen and some paper if I wanted. Finally, the walls would be lined with bookshelves, filled with all my favorite books and my dragon figures (because, hey, dragons!).