Category Archives: Writing

Writing Sadness and Joy

I remember discovering, maybe when I was 12 or so, that it was a lot easier to write sad stories that have a strong impact on the reader than happy stories that elicit a similarly strong reaction. Now perhaps this was because testosterone was cracking my voice, reshaping my body into something I didn’t recognize, destroying my ability to relate to the opposite sex, and dragging my emotions through the melancholy muck of puberty. Certainly an angsty adolescence has brought many such not-so-profound revelations to the suddenly sage minds of newly minted teenagers.

But really, what could be easier than introducing a likable character and presenting an endearing detail, a tender moment, making your reader vulnerable just long enough to mercilessly slam your character into the pavement and grind his face on it? Who can resist the death of a child? The ultimate rejection of a character we identified with? The grand tragedy of human suffering, leading to meaningless death?

I’ve written my share of sadness in this world, and will probably pen a good deal more before I run out of stories and record keeping. Eventually, though, even the most obstinate of us have to graduate out of teenager-hood into the great world of responsibility, and then we have to ask “Why?”. No, not why the sadness in the world, though I’ll get to that in a moment. I mean, why am I writing at all?*

Sure it’s fun to toy with people’s emotions and bend their understanding of reality to my own version of history and events. But it really doesn’t take a mid-life crisis to get us thinking about purpose and intent.

Frankly, I want to have an impact on other people. Life seems rather pointless if you don’t make any difference doesn’t it? And if you’re making a difference, it seems that making a positive difference would be the way to go, right?

So, somehow, I’ve found that I’m not happy with my writing anymore unless I can forge good from my endless drivel. Suddenly there is the real danger of ascending from the contented darkness of happily achieved sadness to the despairing heights of unfound joy and ineffectual motivation.

Until you realize that my teenage revelation is a lie. Everywhere you see sadness, there you will find joy behind it. We knock down our characters so that we can cheer when they get back up. The fragility of life reminds of its inexpressible value, the incredible gift that none of us have done anything to deserve, but get to enjoy anyway, briefly or at great length.

Rejection brings meaning to acceptance; the chance of failure is the only thing that can possibly bring meaning to success. Suffering is required in equal amounts to our joy. Ultimately there is renewal, and life goes on, in all of its awesome grandeur.

So I take up my challenge to write the next chapter. The happiness that can grow out of sadness and hardship. The triumph that follows defeat. The renewal which inexorably follows collapse.

Even that hopeless teenager I mentioned before managed to find some wonderful friends, marry the woman of his dreams, and raise four beautiful children. Sure,  he’s still funny looking and his voice leaves something to be desired. With miracles and joy, I can truly say that he is happy.

If I can do it, anyone can. And they do, every day, in their own spectacular, quiet ways. That’s who I want to write about.

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* Okay, I have to admit that I know why I’m writing. I write because I can’t stop the words from flowing out onto the page, the computer, the napkin I meant to use for lunch. I can no more refuse to write than I can take a vow of silence and never speak again. Some people can’t seem to speak without moving their hands about. Mine, like many others’, just seem to prefer a pencil or keyboard.

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Organizing the Pieces

writingscrapI find myself writing bits of stories, poems, or even song lyrics in odd places. Sometimes an idea shows up and demands that it be written down while I’m eating, or in a meeting, or waiting for the bus, or on a telephone conference. Consequently, scraps show up on my desk as precious bits of napkin, envelopes, or powerpoint cue pages. They are found amid meeting notes on my computer, saved as email messages to myself, and scattered across a dozen types of word processor files on every computer I’ve ever used.

From time to time I attempt to track them all down. When, in the course of getting things done, I fill up a steno notepad, I flip through it page by page, typing up anything that seems like it might be potentially useful. Deconstructing the heap on my desk always results in a motley pile of mismatched paper products, from which I seem to be less successful in gleaning–perhaps because I mistakenly assign them more permanence than the notebooks that I’m about to entomb in neat paper boxes, somewhere in the garage.

Mining the creative pieces out of old computer system backups, however, seems to be the least dependable of my content collation routines.  Everything I’ve written in the last ten years is saved…somewhere.  I think.  If I could just find a SCSI-1 interface with a Centronix port to hook up my old SPARC drive.

Even when I know where information is stored it doesn’t necessarily do me much good.  I just purchased a 2TB drive for the purpose of short-term backup in my house.  That’s 2,000,000,000,000 characters of storage.  At this point the total data storage in my house is approaching the storage requirements of the Library of Congress (itself a unit of storage capacity).  I spend far too much time down in the stacks of my own personal research library.

So, for anyone who writes on a regular basis, how do you keep track of it all?

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Thinking About It

I need a lot of off the clock thought to write anything more than a page or two.  Somewhere in the dark, scary recesses of my subconscious, oversize concepts are digested and reassembled, like leaf cutter ants feeding their subterranean fungal colonies.  Dim shapes appear in the ultra-flexible fabric of thought as ideas are juxtaposed and connections are tried and discarded or selected.

Sometimes it is like building a nest.  The pieces come from many places and are of various materials, woven into the written structure so each one depends on the next.  The developing form is built from experience and observation, but the shape is an independent creation; anecdote feeds analogies, and these service explanation and elucidation, but the integrated whole, while sustained by its members, resembles none of them.

Whether the piece I am working on is a research paper, essay, or creative fiction, I seem to require at least as much time on this particular step as on the actual writing itself.  No amount of later organization or revision can make up for lost time in pondering what I am writing, because the substance itself is weaker.

With all of the demands on my time, it is often the demands on my consideration which wreak the most havoc on my tortured writing.  While I can set aside a place and time to write–perhaps even escape the chaos of home and the clammer of work to set words on paper, if I have not expended the time and effort in thought then the product is shallow and leads no where that I care to go.

Chaos and clammer, though, are excellent materials for nest building.  With a bit more space and time for digestion, it could yet produce something interesting.  In the way of “hey, check that out,” rather than “ugh, what did I step in,” I hope.

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Gentle Words

adeniumbuds Peace.

Joy.

These are what life is all about.  We struggle with hundreds of important issues each day.  We win some, lose a few more, call it a draw and work on it tomorrow.  But really, peace and joy are what we’re after–they are the yardstick by which we measure our satisfaction with the world and ourselves.

Our success, building on this, depends on the degree to which we bring peace and joy to ourselves…and others.  As human beings we have a capacity for altruism which informs our own sense of self.  In helping or harming we help or harm ourselves.  Ultimately, as social beings, we rise and fall together, mutually building up or tearing ourselves down.

Our peace and joy must be built; we cannot rise while tearing down.

Physicians have an oath: to do no harm.  Unfortunately this is too broad for us, because in this world there are many who have mistaken what will bring them peace and joy, and they seek satisfaction from tearing down.  From these we require defense, and defense can bring harm to an attacker.  Sometimes patterns of anger and hate are so strong that much force must be exerted to remove them.  There is no glory in this, and no joy will come of it until we are once again able to lift each other.  Forever our joy is tempered by sorrow for those who reject it.

The world is wide, the variety endless.  The internet is overwhelmed by words, such that my few contributions seem almost meaningless in the vast torrent.  Perhaps, though, you, gentle reader, will find something to help you in your own building, for who knows the potential of a few gentle words?

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