What is "Doom Eager"?

Lorrie Moore, from "Better and Sicker"
"Martha Graham speaks of the Icelandic term "doom eager" to denote that ordeal of isolation, restlessness, caughtness and artistic experiences when he or she is sick with an idea. When a writer is doom eager, the writing won't be sludge on the page; it will give readers -- and the writer, of course, is the very first reader -- an experience they've never had before, or perhaps a little and at last the words for an experience they have."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Advice for the Beginning Writer

After my blog yesterday on all the "helpful" (really confusing) advice for beginning writers available in the multitude of writing magazines and manuals, I ran across this bit of sage advice from John Gardner in his classic The Art of Fiction:

What the beginning writer needs, discouraging as it may be to hear, is not a set of rules but mastery -- among other things, mastery of the art of breaking so-called rules.

How does one achieve mastery? According to John Gardner one must both read widely and write not only "carefully but continually."

Here's a thought: In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, reporting findings on why some people succeed more than others, Gladwell asserts that mastery in a craft is likely attained by reaching a number measurement. When do we reach mastery? Gladwell claims it comes with 10,000 hours of practice.

Okay, I've taken liberty with his research and simplified what Gladwell reports, but it's reassuring to know that "mastery" is not some unattainable, unquantifiable, nebulous thing. We're not talking "perfection," we're talking "mastery." I can handle that notion. I can practice writing a certain number of hours, with Gardner's carefulness and consideration, "assessing and reassessing" what I write. That's doable.

So, today I got some good advice I can grasp onto and use. Just thought I'd pass it along. Let me know your advice for the beginning writer.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First post of 2010

January is almost over and this is my first post in 2010. When I started this blog, my goal was to post entries of inspiration and information, material that kept me going, writing day to day. It's so easy to say "I'll get to it tomorrow" and "I'm not feeling it right now."

The good news is it worked. I have been writing more. What that means is I've been working on the novel draft more and, thus, on my blog less. I never intended to create a blog chronicling my progress with the book painful page after page, whining about the struggle for the best opening line, lamenting over point-of-view issues. But, hey, leave it to me to head off one direction and do an about-face. Having said this . . .

I'm 120 pages into the first draft of the novel. I say first draft, but I revise a lot along the way, so much so I rewrote chapter one eight times before I felt satisfied going on to chapter two. The months of May and June of '09 were spent thrashing back and forth over where to begin the story and that elusive first sentence. Damn, you, opening lines ...

You hear everywhere that you've only got the first few pages, possibly the first few paragraphs to grab an agent/editor/publisher, and every article gives the same contradictory advice. Don't open with dialogue, but grab the reader with compelling dialogue or we'll chuck you in the recycle bin. Don't bore us with setting openings, but create a sense of place that's rich and evocative or we'll file 13 you. Jump into the initiating event right away but build character from the beginning. Don't start with a passive sentence but Toni Morrison's opening of Beloved, "124 was spiteful.", is one of the best openings ever (which is totally true). It's enough to make your head spin. Not just spin, but spin off, careening into the YA section of B & N, which, by the way, is a dark and scary place to be right now.

So, the first few months I didn't get past chapter one. Since then, it's been better, slowly. I'm about over the panic that when I sit down to write, nothing will come, that I'll end up crazed and homicidal, typing "All work and no play makes Kimberly a bad girl."

Now I just feel a bit nautious and worry that I won't make my word quota each time, which I usually do. It is just a matter of setting up a routine and doing it. In the last six months, I've learned to take all the helpful writing advice with a grain of salt, or a glass of wine somedays, and just try to do good work scene by scene. At least that advice helps me keep my head on straight.