Sunday, 22 August 2010

What I love about Writing

Today's topic for the weekly Sunday evening #writechat on Twitter is: what do you love about writing? Well, I decided that 140 characters were not really enough to answer that, and I know I have a few faithful readers out there who must be wondering if I am still alive, so I put two and two together and came up with the radical concept of a new blogpost, possibly partly motivated by slight panic at the thought that I might otherwise actually be in bed before midnight on a Sunday.

Firstly, and because no blogpost of mine would be complete without a mention of Bradley Whitford, I must quote the great man himself, with apologies to those of you who have read this a million times before on this very blog.

(Pause here for a few minutes while I use this as an excuse to distract myself by googling him, in the interests, you understand, of journalistic integrity. Or something.)

"... Want to write more than you want to be a writer. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey."

My point being, not just that Bradley Whitford is very wise, on top of all his many other qualities, but also that number one on my list of things I love about writing ought to be this:

1. Writing

The process itself. Sitting down with my coffee and my writing music (a mixture of classical music, easy listening Norah Jones type stuff and jazz) and entering another world. And that high you get. You know the one? Nothing else does that for me, though I'm told runners experience this. Is that an external reward? Probably. When I meet Brad I will get him to clarify. (Or he could comment right here...)

I feel like when I'm writing I'm doing what I was born to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddle, "God made me to love words, and I feel his pleasure when I write."

And when you feel you're doing it well, forming beautiful sentences and bringing characters to life, it's exhilerating. Really.

2. It's an excuse for doing all the other things I love, namely:

- Reading voraciously
- Learning new words
- Watching the West Wing (seriously - it inspires me! Plus, it so happens that two of my characters, Brad and Kate, are West Wing fans...)
- Listening to jazz (Brad is a jazz pianist, so...)
- Keeping up to date with American politics (Kate is a Senator, so...)
- Travelling (for research, and also because being in a new place seems to seriously inspire me.)

3, Escaping to another world.

Reality sometimes feels over-rated. My love life is non-existent, and has been for so long I prefer not to keep tabs on it anymore. In the world of my novel, I get to be someone else and be in love with a beautiful man (though I do get my heart broken, which is perhaps not so great).

I admit that this part of it can be unhealthy and that my head-in-the-sand tendencies which were already considerable are now insurmountable. But still, it's a lot of fun.

It's brilliant to create characters and see them come to life on the page, go and hang out with them for a few hours a day.

4. I am never bored.

There is always something to observe, a conversation to "accidentally overhear", a detail to scribble in my notebook.

5. There is the vague hope that one day I might be a published author. Maybe even a famous one.

Yes, yes, Bradley, I heard you when you said the joy was in the journey. However, I can't say that any of these things would be unpleasant:

- Having a fan page on Facebook with more than two members. (It's here, if you're interested.)
- Seeing my name (well, my pen name) in print
- Reading positive reviews about myself
- Maybe making some money

6. Apart from the world of my book, it also allows me to indulge some other fantasies, like:

- Sending it to Brad, and to Janel Moloney (who, in my head, are two of the actors on screen when it's a film) and hearing back from them that they love it.
- Brad saying he wants to write the screenplay
- Generally getting to meet loads of cool, famous people (Yes, yes. They are just people. I know. But.)

I know you're judging me for that right now. The fact is, though, I'd be willing to bet that all writers have those fantasies. It's just that only some of us admit it. Also, some of us allow them to develop further than others do.

7. Bringing other people pleasure

The first (and so far, only) person to have read a draft of Inevitable from beginning to end loved it. She cried! She wanted more! She couldn't stop reading even though she was getting up early the next day! I want to do that for people. I want them to laugh and cry and miss their stop on the tube because they got so caught up in the book. This probably ought to have been nearer the top of the list, but there you go, it's late, I'm tired and if I moved it further up, having only just thought of it, I would feel hypocritical.

8. It allows me to develop all my other interests

This might sound like I'm repeating point 2, but allow me to expand. I'm one of those people for whom the following book was written: "The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one". I am such a person. And I've always felt as a result that life felt a bit messy (although, possibly the, erm, mess in my life also contributes to this). Writing gives me a framework, a reason for all those passions: they can be articles! Ideas for novels! Short stories! They all meet in that one goal and that is oddly satisfying. Anyone else feel like that?

9. It allows me to meet really interesting people

Writers are great people to be around. Possibly because they love Scrabble.

10. A tangeible result

Sometimes life can feel a bit plod, that you're doing the same thing day in, day out, that your business is not particularly growing, that nothing new is happening, that you have no answer to that dreaded question: "what's new?". This is particularly true when all your friends have a nice two-year cycle of Exciting News going: I've met a guy! I'm engaged! I'm married! I'm pregnant! I'm pregnant again! etc.

These days, when people ask me what I'm doing with my life, I acutually have an answer, and although this novel has had a longer gestation period than human babies, it is growing, and doing many of the other things that babies do, like taking over my life and messing with my sleep patterns. And at the end of it, I will have a real, physical thing and I will be able to say I DID IT! And that's quite exciting.

So, there you are. There are some of my reasons, and I've probably missed many out. What are yours?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Happy birthday to me!

A number of things about today have been fab...

- My birthday started a few hours early with a noisy but fun trip to Pizza Hut with my adopted big sis and her family. Apart from the delights of Pizza Hut itself, too many to name here, there were also a couple of waiters who weren't unpleasant to look at - including one of them who entertained us with a brief but spirited rant about the noisy Germans on the table next door. There was also a baby to cuddle and a niece who, out of nowhere, suddenly I feel a lot closer to.

- It was not dignified, but I begged: on Facebook I asked some of my heroes to come and sign my page in honour of my birthday. One of them responded within minutes, which made my day, and the next within hours: "Happy birthday Claire (from everyone ever associated with The West Wing, except Brad Whitford)!" You can probably guess who that was. But it made me smile. As for Brad himself, he is still hiding, and frankly I don't blame him.

- Unrelatedly to my birthday, and yet delightfully timed, was a comment from the first person ever to have read the second draft of "Inevitable", the novel I've been harping on about for about a year now. She loved it! She couldn't stop reading! She said her heart was breaking! She even cried! This was the high point of my day. Possibly I need to get out more, or possibly I've found my passion in life and that is something to be celebrated... Later on she emailed me detailed comments which will be so helpful in writing up the next draft. Amazing.

- I now have, in writing, an invitation to visit a good friend in Colorado. Yay.

- I opened my birthday presents, and shouted "Yes!" when the Studio 60-shaped present in fact turned out to be Studio 60. Only one thing better than Bradley Whitford and Aaron Sorkin: the two of them plus Matthew Perry. (Who, by the way, always reminds me of Brad and vice versa, but apparently that's just me.) I was also really chuffed to get books from my mum and step-dad: they seem no longer to buy me what they thought I should want, but to go, as directed, to my Amazon wish list. It's a ridiculous length, which means that when I get a parcel I really have no idea what it's going to be - and this time it was an intelligent-looking book about the West Wing from my step dad, and two books about writing from my mum, which may be her way of saying she believes in me. More books from another friend, too. Which is useful, since I've promised myself I'm not buying any more till I've read all the ones I've got. (Hmmm. Not sure how long that will last.)

- Time with my dad was great. It's so nice to have such a chilled, and normal, relationship with him. Also, the Chinese restaurant we went to was great. And, he's bought me a coffee machine (useful after staying up till 2 am rewatching my favourite Season 7 episodes). So all is well with the world.

- CQ Politics ran a headline that should not have pleased me, but did: apparently aides are now burned out and leaving the White House in droves. Today I have been asking the birthday fairy for a job in the White House. Coincidence? Didn't think so.

Plus, I'm now back in even numbers of years, which pleases me. I'm a little odd, I know - but I think you'd picked that up by now...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Those pesky Americanisms...

Views expressed in this post are not intended to cause offence! I'm not saying Americans should change the way they speak...

I used to have no fear that my English would be, well, corrupted. I lived in England; read British novels; watched so few films that there was no way American would creep into my speech, much less my spelling - perish the thought.

These days, I spend a lot of time communicating online with Americans and click through to links on US websites. I read American novels. I listen to seemingly endless podcasts about American politics. My internet browser is stuck on "US English" spellcheck. I'm writing a book with two dishy Americans in it. (Take that, Safari spellcheck. Dishy is more or less what you guys would call hot.) I even hang out, face to face, with a few real life Americans. And then, of course, there is the West Wing.

This morning, I was thinking about the month of January (who knows why - this was in the not-quite-awake stage of my day) and I suddenly realised: why am I pronouncing it JanuAry? What has happened in my brain? Eek. This invasion must be halted.

And then a friend of mine sent me a link to this fab, if somewhat grumpy, piece by a newspaper editor, and for the first and hopefully last time ever I found myself nodding vigorously when reading a Daily Telegraph article. (I hope you will not judge me.)

"Some Americanisms keep slipping in, usually when we are given agency copy to re-write and do an inadequate job on it. There is no such verb as “impacted”, and other American-style usages of nouns as verbs should be avoided (authored, gifted etc). Maneuver is not spelt that way in Britain. We do not have lawmakers: we might just about have legislators, but better still we have parliament. People do not live in their hometown; they live in their home town, or even better the place where they were born."

Here's the thing: we all know about words like pants. (Even though in the episode when Josh asks Donna is she's wearing the same pants as yesterday, my first instinct is always to wince in disgust.) But there are other, way more insidious phrases and grammar differences that creep in. There was one, right there: way more. And another: right there. I'm not sure I would have written either of those before my West Wing obsession.

So I'm starting a little blogpost, to be updated as I go along, probably more for my own benefit than anyone else's, so that in ten years' time when I'm married to Bradley Whitford and living in California I will remember how I used to speak.

I guess - I suppose
A couple people - a couple OF people
I just saw him - no, no, no! I spend hours bashing my students over the head with the difference between the past simple and the present perfect. By definition, if you've just seen him, then you've just seen him. Present prefect.
Way to... - okay, I love that expression, and I don't think we have an equivalent, do we, unless it's "what a great way to..."
movie - film, people! If you're British, it's a film!
I could care less - I think, surely, you mean "I couldn't care less"? If you could care less, then surely you care a little bit to start with, which is the opposite of what you're trying to say, isn't it? And yet if even Aaron Sorkin makes this mistake, it can't be a mistake at all. It must be an Americanism.
come see - come and see
stay-at-home mom - didn't we used to have our own phrase for this? I can't for the life of me me remember what it was, though - can you?
Gotten - you'd have thought I would never, ever say that. And yet, I heard myself, loud and clear.
Psyched for... - two for the price of one here. What you really mean is "excited about". Although my public-school teacher friend justifies it thus: It's my favourite Americanism: it combines excitement and nervous energy with confidence and a generally positive mental attitude, and I don't think that any other single English word conveys exactly the same meaning. :) And I think that's a pretty good argument. Erm, sorry, I mean quite a good argument. How do you translate "pretty" into British anyway?
Awww - shame on me for this one. I didn't even realise I was doing it - which is precisely my point on these cheeky Americanisms. The British spelling is Ahhhh.
Ugh. I always, always used to say, yuk. I'm not saying I don't prefer ugh. But, still.

Monday, 2 August 2010

You've got 90s Nostalgia and Dial-up Internet

Ah... You've got mail. I remember thinking last time I watched it about a hundred years ago that it was a film I really ought to have loved, but I didn't, not quite.

Well, I've got more emotional in my old age, and I welled up a couple of times, but again... unconvinced. I get that they fall in love online. After all, I was gutted when Mark from Columbus stopped messaging me back - I was developing a crush on him, his style of writing, the way he thought. And if you've been paying any attention at all, you will know that I profess to be in love with a man I have never met, although I know an awful lot about him through what I've seen and heard and read.

So it's not the falling in love part I object to. It's just the fact that (spoiler alert, by the way) one minute they're fighting and the next minute, ping, he's in love and taking her flowers. No explanation, really. I suppose in a book you could explain that better, the complexity of his thoughts. But unconvincing.

But anyway, it was fun to watch, mostly for the nostalgia. That internet dial up tone. The absence of Harry Potter books in the bookshops. And back then, no guilt, because I'd yet to place my first order with Amazon.

And, of course, New York. Places I tell myself I vaguely recognise, though on closer inspection it's just generic New York I recognise, but that's good enough for me. I love it there - but then you know that, too.

And Starbucks. When I watched this back in whenever it was I probably had never seen a Starbucks, let alone having a clue as to what it would become. (And how desperately I would one day come to miss it...) And I don't think I even fully understood whether they were emailing, instant messaging or what. In my defence, I never had AOL, so it was all a bit confusing: computers didn't talk outside of America back then.

I'll leave you with my favourite quotes, and recommend you watch it, if you too long for the happier, simpler era of the late 90s...

"I could never be with anyone who didn't take politics as seriously as I do." (and you were thinking there would be no mention of the West Wing!)

"People do really stupid things in foreign countries."

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino."

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Spiritual lessons from the West Wing: Season Five moments

Fans of the greatest TV show ever made will know that something terrible happens at the end of Season Four. And no, I don't mean the departure of Rob Lowe, though the loss of Sam Seaborn upsets the balance of characters and, in my opinion the series never fully recovers from this.

No, I'm talking about something far more fundamental: Aaron Sorkin left. Someone else was writing the characters. Getting America involved in peace-keeping missions, keeping Josh and Donna apart, all that stuff. It wasn't the same. Still now people complain about the change in the behaviour of some characters: Richard Schiff was reportedly angry at what happens with Toby later on, and loving Donna as I do, I desperately miss Aaron Sorkin's version of her. She would never have said "not much nostalgia there". Anyway, I digress.

Those who watched the West Wing for its fast-paced, intelligent dialogue (and I'm guessing that's most of us), for its, well, its Sorkin-ness, went into mourning.

The change was jarring.

Life feels a little like that, sometimes, doesn't it? Everything's going along well. You think you know where things are heading. Then something happens, something you did not expect, something perhaps that years later you will still question. Something that upsets the balance of your life.

If you're in a Season Five moment right now, struggling to work out where things went wrong, why it had to be this way when you liked it so much just the way it was, take heart: God is still in control. He has not left you. He still knows the end from the beginning, and He is still getting you there. Remember Joseph? Thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. But God meant it for good.

I'm reading a brilliant book by Pete Wilson at the moment: "Plan B - what to do when God doesn'tshow up the way you thought He would". The best advice I can give you is to work through that. Well that's not entirely true: the best advice I can give you is actually to cling to God, but that book will show you how.

Who's writing your life? Be thankful (no, really) that it's not Aaron Sorkin. Be thankful that it's not any man (or woman) who at any point could leave you at the mercy of less-than-perfect scriptwriters. He knows where He is taking you, and He will get you there. Even if the route seems circuitous at times.

Aaron was apparently going to bring back Sam Seaborn, going to resolve the cliff-hanger at the end of Season Four very differently. (Who knows, maybe we'd have even seen Donna's answer to Amy's question.) But He wasn't there to do it. That will not happen for you: the Author of your faith is also the Perfecter of it, the Finisher of it. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.

He will not leave you. He has not left you.