Friday, August 14, 2009

Failed Writing Exercise #1

I need to write fiction. It is my goal to write. Only problem is, I feel terrified by having to write. I am not a perfectionist about many things. Scrapbooking is an activity of squinting at the page and pronouncing, “Yup, that looks straight. Sort of.” And then slapping some glue down. Anyone who has spent much time with me and a house has seen first hand how I approach housecleaning with the attitude of “it's good enough...”

Some things, some things I want to be perfect. Knitting. One of the hardest activities for me as an adult was to learn knitting, and be mediocre at it, and still keep going. I unraveled a lot of wool. Heck, I still unravel a lot. When I actually do knit, that is. I have a personal rule to never knit when it's warm. I can't handle all that stuffy, hot yarn touching my hands and warming up my lap. Sewing. I can't handle sewing, because in my mind's eye I know what I want. I love to plan sewing, to pick out fabrics, to love fabrics. But then the actual work of sewing I really struggle with. This may be partly because my sewing machine is the hand me down of my mother's, and I have to re-sew approximately 50% of all seams, because the tension is permanently wonky, and so half the time a seam will fall apart on its own, because the stitches are so wide. It's like when I went to sew my first medieval dress, which also happened to be my first real sewing project ever, not counting the peach fabric I sewed on badly in eighth grade. My first medieval dress – a three part project of underdress, cote'hardie, and sideless surcoat, were respectively sewn out of nice muslin, apple green raw silk, and a stormy blue damask. I loved that fabric. And then I, with help, cut it out and sewed it. And it looked so much less than I had imagined it. So much more generic. The neck was too large, and the hemming was sloppy. Every medieval outfit I have sewn, and I think there are only three total, has turned out so much less than I thought it would, or should. I cannot handle my mediocrity in sewing, and I don't know how to overcome this. I took a sewing class in College, so I do have the basic skills. And I do not think it's innate inability. No, I think that all I really need is practice. But I do not want to practice, because it won't be perfect.

I can't write either (pay no attention to these printed words), because it won't be good. My dialogue will be stilted, my plots transparent, and my descriptions hackneyed and overwrought. And yet, any writing I think of producing will never be more than this unless I actually do it. I don't want to be an award winning author. I don't even want to write a novel necessarily. And I definitely have no intentions of attempting publication. I just want to spread my wings on the creative horizon. In my adult life I have written all of two short stories. And I'm counting my adult life as beginning when I was a freshman in high school. I wrote one story for my freshman English, and won the school's Reflections contest, I might add, and then I wrote one story, a redacted Cinderalla story, for my persuasive writing class my senior year of College. That's it – the sum total of my written fiction outside of elementary school.

I have always been an avid journalist, and clearly I do not suffer with writing about myself. I could write memoirs of my life – that certainly seems to be a popular activity for many pop books. But, at the tender age of 26 I do not think I would have much wisdom to impart, less still many life events to review. But, despite my blogging, which I love, I wanted to try and do something a little different, a little more made up. I set out at the top of this page to begin writing to loosen my mind, to prep me into writing fiction. It's the method I started most papers with in College – writing about my inability to write the paper, and then within a paragraph I would work my way toward the subject, and then zoom on into the Introduction. Once the paper was written, I would just go back and erase the meandering thoughts, and it was all beautiful. Now, instead of working my way into writing, I just wrote a blog post. What does this say about me? And how can I start practicing creative writing? Please, I'd love little writing exercises and ideas. Otherwise, there may be a lot more meandering blog posts I publish, which were written in an attempt to get over my fear of mediocrity.


  1. I know exactly how you feel. One of the reasons I think academic writing tends to be better is because there is some oversight, and you have to show to someone, perfect or not.

    Writings for your own benefit don't have that and stay in your head. And, as you say, it's always better in your head than on paper.

  2. You're right about sewing. I've made plenty of "wadders" in my day (good for nothing but wadding up and throwing in the trash). I don't wear anything that I made when I was a teenager. Somehow I stuck with it and it got better, but I even occasionally make some bad ones today.

  3. One thought I've loved about writing is that it is never done. Sometimes it is due (like a college paper or a publishing deadline.) Writing is a discipline that hones the mind but for it to be focused, you need to go somewhere with it. I'll always read what you write.

  4. "The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner gives great insights into creative writing, and he has some very useful exercises listed in it as well. Check it out.

  5. I am so much the same way. I hate to undertake any task at which I may prove mediocre. Practicing is difficult for me, because the trial and error phase of learning something new seems far, far too full of errors. I do not like it.

    Writing fiction is so much that way though. Practice. Trial and error. Constant rewrites. Even if the idea comes out write, the actually words need tweaking. Mulling over and then more tweaking. It's hard and all kinds of humbling.

    For me, the key was how badly I wanted it (sometimes I forget and stop writing for awhile - so, so damaging to my sense of self). I wanted to write badly enough to go through the humbling and suffering and above all, learning that would be required. I still falter. I still avoid it at times because of the many fears interwoven with the process, but ultimately I want to write more than I want to be perfect.

  6. one of the saddest realizations of my adult married life is that I am medicore is most things, if not below. Not only do i not sew well, i dont know do it all. I like to dable in cooking and scrapbooking but I am just your average woman dabling. I find that as a young child i felt like i did nothing good enough, then i went through a phase where i felt I was amazing and could do lots of things with talent.. then i becuase a full fledged stay at home mom with a messy house, grilled cheese for dinner, and nothing to really show for myself other than the children i created.

    I personally think you are an outstanding writer and I wish i could put to paper my thoughts like you do. Maybe you could start by writing one of those stories that you and avram made up while washing windows. Just the practice of writing it would help you move to the next level of what you want to do.

    oh and by the way i want to read your short stories!

  7. Try starting with something simple, write a children's story. There simple, easy, and do not require loads of detail. Then as you become more comfortable with it you can then move on to bigger and more detailed things. Plus they can be stories that you read to your girls, so you have an audience to read them to.

  8. There are lots and lots of great writing ideas on the web (as well as recommendations for books with more great ideas.)

    I took the same approach you did to writing papers--just made myself write something, and then honed it. I've tried to recommend that approach to blocked research-paper-writers but haven't seen anyone take my advice, so I'm at least glad to hear that I'm not the only one who did it that way.

    Perfectionism sometimes gets in my way of enjoying sewing, too. In fact, I picked up a mantra from an online sewing friend that I rehearse to myself: "It's only fabric." Of course, unfortunately it's not always just fabric, but sometimes it's also very precious free time and perhaps my one shot at having something I need for some occasion. In those instances I try to tell myself that the educational value of the failed project is worth a lot more than the cost of the wasted time or fabric. (It does get frustrating when I have a lot of wadders, though.)

    You do need a better sewing machine (eventually, if you want to enjoy sewing.) Permanently messed-up tension would make anyone crazy. (I'd recommend getting it serviced, but it depends on what it is--the cost of repair might be better spent towards a better machine.)

  9. One of the reasons your blog is so wonderful Thora is because you have such a fun way of looking at life and you share your experiences. I know some of your experiences may seem like fiction to some people - like medieval quests - why not write a fictional story based on some of your experiences like those quest? Use your memories, kids, neighbors, etc. to give you inspiration to write - if it's like your blog and like talking to you I know people will enjoy reading it! ;)