Yike, a month gone already. I’m still trying to get the hang of the new year.
Well, good excuse for a check up on things, so I’m going to be eclectic today.
First, I would not be a human being if I did not say that I have been riveted and awed by the power of the Internet as used by the citizens of our planet as a tool for revolutionary change in the last few weeks. I would never disparage our own quests to create art and entertainment; it’s one of the ultimate promises of a free society. At the same time, anything I talk about today pales in comparison to what’s going on in Tunisia and Cairo. I feel unworthy to use Facebook or Twitter.
That being said – an update in no particular order.
As part of my New Year intentions, I said I wanted to dance more this year, and that, at least, is one resolution (I mean intention) I’ve kept. I signed up for a two-hour, three-day a week college jazz class.
College dance classes are no joke. So many people want in that you’re only allowed two absences. Considering my schedule, which I am afraid these days even to look at, this is a HUGE commitment.
And yes, I am sore.
I remember this feeling. Specific pain, unspecific pain, a nagging worry about hairline fractures in the top arches of both my feet…. mitigated a lot by the fact that all the other dancers in the class are constantly discussing their specific and unspecific pains in detail, a topic of conversation second only to sex, of course, and dance shoes as always coming in a close third.
On the other hand, after just a week of this, I feel my center all the time. I enjoy every move that I make – sitting, standing, walking, driving – everything in my body feels the way movement should feel like. One of the all- time great feelings on the planet.
And at least for 6 hours a week and the few hours after class, I am calm. The absolute immediacy of dance relaxes me in about the same way that sitting in sand and staring at the sun on the ocean does.
I also have to say that anyone who thinks college is the peak of a human being’s physical power is delusional. At twice the age of some of these kids, even with possibly broken bones in my feet, I am still about ten times stronger. It makes me worried for them out on the street, actually.
But beyond just musculature, I don’t have to struggle with the thing that makes dance or any art so hard: doing everything all together at once, without having to think of the component parts every single second. In dance they call it “muscle memory”. And I wish there was a term for it in writing. Well, maybe there is, I’d love to hear it!
I don’t know at what point in my career that kicked in for me, the point I realized I can always finish a script or book – that no matter how bleak it looks I will be able to pull it off. No guarantee (actually no hope) of perfection, but completion, for sure. All elements pulled together into a whole that is recognizably a story. That’s a good thing to remind myself of today, before I start writing, because I’m doing something I haven’t done before and it’s VERY uncomfortable, like trying to do a triple turn (on the left!) when you’re used to doing doubles.
What I’m doing is a double point of view, when all my other books have been a very close third person from a single focus. Actually, that’s not true – The Shifters alternates between the female lead and the male lead, but this feels completely different, much, much harder. I guess because even though I am inside both characters’ heads, I am holding back so much information inside one of the characters. Not exactly an unreliable narrator, but an opaque one. And I’m not sure if that character’s POV should be present or past tense. And then there’s the nagging feeling that I might need to have another character’s POV as well, which feels completely overwhelming.
Anxiety is a constant companion right now. It always is in a first draft, though, I have to keep telling myself that. Also the world situation, not to mention the publishing industry situation, might have a bit to do with it.
But it doesn’t make writing any easier when in a way you have to teach yourself how to write every single novel – from scratch. You have no idea of what the real problems are going to be until you’re actually in there fighting them.
Still, I sit down every day, and I do the pages, and if I have to do a lot more structural rearranging in the second draft, that’s doable.
And I have to remember, the story chose ME, right? Not anyone else. I have to have a little faith that it knew what it was doing.
Another new thing this year – I am back in school in a completely different way: I’m teaching a class on story structure at Otis Parsons, the LA art school. And for those of you who wonder what’s the point of blogging, I was asked to teach because the chairman of the Digital Media Department read my blog.
While I’ve been teaching several workshops a year across the country, they have been very short intensives, geared toward adult aspiring and professional novelists. I’ve never taught a college class before, so it’s a huge luxury to have a whole semester to explore story – and specifically visual storytelling – with such bright and committed young filmmakers. (But thank God it’s only a half day a week!).
Because of the class I’m watching a lot more movies these days (TCM is the world’s greatest film school, if you ask me), and I can’t help thinking that this intense, targeted exposure to film is going to work a profound change in my creative process and product, just as the discipline of taking an intensive jazz class three days a week will have a profound change in my dancing and body makeup. And that’s an exciting thing. I don’t know what those changes are going to be, but if you’re not constantly growing as an artist, you’re dead. So I’m really grateful that even in the fog of confusion that was last year, I have been put in places that I know will take my work to the next level.
And it must be said – I’m grateful for Southern California weather.
So I’d love to get reports on everyone else’s New Year, so far. How are those resolutions? Or did the year decide to make some changes for you all on its own?
And I’ll copy Brett’s reminder: to anyone in or around Los Angeles on Monday, it’s The Mystery Bookstore‘s final day, and there will be a party starting at 6 – if not earlier – and going until whenever. Brett, Rob, Steve, and I will all be there along with a lot of other writers and fans. And they’re giving away some fabulous prizes. Hope some of you can make it!