Monday Earworm: Trent Reznor (and friends)

I have now seen Thor: Ragnarok twice. My husband and I saw the first weekend it was out, and we took our kids to see it this weekend. Wow, it’s entertaining. But one of my favorite elements is the use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” The two scenes in which this song is used are worth the price of admission all by themselves, but the movie is also really, genuinely funny.

It was a little hard to find a good video of Led Zeppelin doing this song. (I found one live version which I didn’t love.) But here’s a really good one from Trent Reznor which features Karen O and Atticus Ross.

Little fun fact, too: apparently Led Zeppelin is really stingy wth their songs, not letting very many people use them. It took the entire time of the movie’s production to get permission to use this song. And with the song’s lyrics being arguably all about vikings and laced with Norse mythology, it’s such a perfect fit. I’m not sure I could think of another song that would have worked better, especially for the scenes in which it was used. It was like they were choreographed to fit the song. (And maybe, optimistically, they were.)



NaNoWriMo Update: Poopy First Drafts and Trying to Find a Balance

I have never been one to write a garbage first draft of a short story or novel, going from beginning to end in one long vomit of mediocre writing, with the intention that I can fix it all later.

The very idea of that feels like giving up on craft. Yes, many have advised me, the best thing to do is just to write it all down, get the whole story out, and then fix the bugs later. And perhaps if I were the kind of writer who can churn out a few thousand words a day, this might be a feasible option for me.

But that is not the world I live — or write — in.

I deeply appreciate Anne Lamott’s advice about “shitty first drafts,” that they are children on a playground, carelessly exploring the world of the manuscript to see what treasures lay buried in its leaves. And I fully acknowledge that I have never, in my adult writing life and possibly not even in my adolescent one, given myself permission to write terrible first drafts all the way to the end, and that perhaps this is an error.

But to keep writing away on something I know in my gut is terrible seems an awful lot like wasting time to me, and if there is one commodity I do not have enough of to spend it willy-nilly, it’s time. I write slowly. I have all the usual demands on my attention of the modern wife and mother and career-woman (i.e., with a day job). I write slowly, thoughtfully, paying attention to the words I’m using. Blame it on my being formally trained as a poet. Or blame it on my attention to detail. Or blame it on my taking pride in my work, even my first drafts.

Or blame it on my not wanting to be a writer of crap and on my persistent efforts not to be. (I acknowledge I don’t always get it right, but at least I try.) I see very little value in writing an entire story that I know isn’t going to be good, or in writing an entire draft of a story and then throwing it away and starting over. This might be a viable option if I were immortal and had an eidetic memory. Neither of those being likely, well… I try not to waste any more time or effort than necessary.

When I write a story, I want to make sure to get the foundations of it right, to weave the texture in a way that sets up the rest of it for competence, if not success. Most of my fiction lives in the fantasy genre — magic realism, urban fantasy, literary high fantasy, paranormal steampunk — and I know that if I haven’t done at least a little economical world-building in the first chapter, my story won’t teach its readers how to read it. They won’t know the genre or the rules they’re dealing with, and the story could be confusing and end up a non-starter before we’re even out of the first chapter. (And if anyone thinks an agent or editor reads more than a few pages of a manuscript that appears not to know itself, well, that optimism is worth its weight in gold.)

Getting the voice right takes work. And once you have that, the other narrative vectors (like point-of-view, conflict, setting, pace, etc.) had better be on trajectory. This is a jargony way of saying that you need a strong foundation for a story if you want it to stand on its own. For a succinct explanation of the building-a-house metaphor, read this piece by George Dila; it’s a counterbalance to Anne Lamott’s treatise.

So I’m doing the NaNoWriMo again, or a modified version of it that makes sense in my world. My goal is 350 words a day, because I don’t often have more than thirty minutes a night to work and because the level of my creative energy by then is in in the basement. So I’ve set a generously low bar for myself, and so far I’m exceeding it nightly. (May this ever continue.)

But I realized about two days into November that I had to give myself permission not to write beautifully every time. I’ve been struggling lately with writer’s block — as well as Writer Brain (TM) — and sometimes the thought of sitting down to write stuff that I know isn’t going to be beautiful can paralyze me against writing anything. I’m a literary writer, a poet: words fucking matter. And the way I arrange them for others’ consumption is not a responsibility I take lightly.

So I’m trying to find a balance between shitty first drafts and publishable awesomeness. I recognize that’s a wide spectrum, so I’m feeling pretty good about hitting the mark somewhere in there.

Tonight I wrote about 100 new words on the latest chapter in my WIP. I also edited the whole thing (a good seventeen pages) and sent it off to my critique group. They will workshop it next week, and then I will revise it before I get too far into the next chapter, because I work too hard to weave the elements of a story together to have to unravel that tapestry every time.

After that chapter went on its merry electronic way, I wrote (and revised) this blog post, which is almost a thousand words. That means I’ve exceeded my word count again for tonight. Is any of what I’ve written tonight worth its weight in gold? I sincerely doubt it. But I’m not trying to be a perfectionist in a rough draft or a blog post any more than I’m allowing myself to write crap.

I’m just trying to write. And according to my word counts — and my growing readership — I’d say it’s working. Onward and upward.

Monday Earworm: Ani diFranco (I know, she’s one of my favorites…)

Tomorrow is Election Day. It’s not a presidential election year or even a Congressional mid-term, and so not a lot of people are likely to show up. When I early-voted last week (halfway through the early voting cycle), I was one of only 1.9% of the eligible voters in my district who had done so.

I cannot stress enough the importance of showing up and participating. Especially if you want change. Please.

If you know me, you know Ani diFranco is one of my very favorite artists, so you’ll get to see a fair bit of her on this blog when I feature music and poetry. This one is not only beautiful, it’s important.

NaNoWriMo: Launch Is Ready For Go

Ready for go? Hardly. But who ever is?

Tomorrow is November 1st, and after what I think I can safely call a successful Hallowe’en in our household, I’m going to tuck in on my writing again tomorrow.

Not gonna lie, the last few months have seen some Serious Writer’s Block, worse than it’s been the whole last year. But I’m tired of that ish and ready to reset. I teach high school full-time and have two children in middle school, so the idea that I will churn out 50,000 words of anything that aren’t work emails or comments on graded papers is utterly bananapants. But I do like to commit myself to my own informal brand of NaNoWriMo every year, and that involves just promising to write something every day: work on whatever is my current WIP, write a poem or a blog post, do some important writerly career stuff, significantly edit. And often I do manage it — last year (when my work came crashing to a horrified halt the second week of November) notwithstanding.

So I’m committing to it again. I’d like to make at least 350 words a day on the new WIP, or more if I hit a stride. I’d also be satisfied if some of those days involved a substantive blog post or a poem or some serious editing. I’m going to try. And because I’m the type of person who needs external deadlines and accountability to really make sure I get it done, you can follow my daily updates on my Facebook page here. (Like the page and turn on notifications to see the updates in your news feed.)

I’ve come to an understanding of myself that there are three things I need in order to keep my stress at bay. (Well, okay, three things other than my excellent marriage.) I need to exercise regularly. I need to read something for fun. I need to write. All of this is most successful when each of them is done every day, or nearly every day. I have found I can handle quite a lot when I have those activities in my routine. So I’m participating in a fitness challenge at school, I have a book picked out that I’m excited to read and which is sitting on my nightstand, and the next chapter of my WIP is outlined and ready for me to draft it.

Let’s hope this works out the way I want it to.

Okay? Okay.

Writer is ready for go.


Monday Earworm: Michael Jackson

You had to know this one would show up sooner or later.

Shortly after this video came out, an hour-or-so-long documentary, The Making of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” came out on cable, and my mom recorded it for my siblings and me because, of course, we were huge Michael Jackson fans, just like most of the rest of the industrialized world in the 1980s. We watched it repeatedly, learning the behind-the-scenes awesomeness of the creation of this mini-movie. In it we saw the multiple layers of make-up and special effects required to transform him from himself to the various creatures he becomes in this video, and we also got to see just how exuberant and hyperactive his personality was in rehearsal. He was like a kid.

Anyway, this is a Hallowe’en staple. I hope your holiday is wonderful.


Witchy Weekends: John Donne

I may have shared this poem with you before? John Donne is one of my favorites of the old poetry masters.

“Witch” is an epithet hurled at many a disobedient or otherwise displeasing woman, and “witchcraft” levied at her actions.

I could go on and on about this for days, but I’ll save it. Instead just have this poem, Donne’s “Witchcraft By A Picture.”


Witchcraft By A Picture
by John Donne

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform they will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more, I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.