Drawing in the Sand (OR 13 Lessons from Writing Haikus)

Today, we discuss haikus.

Just five syllables, 

Then,  followed by seven more

And another five. 
That is the bare bone structure and an attempt at poetic humor. I am not very good. 

Yet.

I am not very good yet. But, the important thing is that I try. 

  1. It is more important to try than to succeed. 

I have been a bad poet for decades. I know this because I haven’t written a lick of poetry since I was a wee lass. It has been a while. 

You are not a bad poet for writing, you are a bad poet if you simply don’t. And that is hard to define, but I think many of us know it when we hit it. 

ANECDOTE: I had a teacher tell me an art story. Some painter…Rembrandt? He never let anyone watch him paint til his friend begged him. He brought him out and he stared at apples for six hours. After six hours of boredom, his friend asked,  “When will you paint apples?” He responded, “Fuck you, I am painting”

-Actual Quote from Acting Teacher

So there is a level of gray we must sift through as artists. If part of your process is do nothing, then that is your process. But the point is to do it is to art. 

I started doing again.  I got back into it. But, I had no idea where to begin. See, writing was always for the English majors, the professors, the academics. I had no place in it. 

And then, I challenged myself to get into it and threw myself in head first. Only problem was I didn’t know what or how to write. So I wrote like a child: long absurd angst ridden diatribes about my clear and present depression. I look at them and cringe, but they were the best I could do. 

It felt totally hopeless. 

And then I remembered haiku. Five. Seven. Five syllable structure. No rhyme necessary, no metre, just syllable counting. I COULD DO THAT! 

Which brings me to my next point:

2. Tackle the toughest thing you can handle and then back off. 

You don’t need to break your pen, burn your books, or tear your hair, but challenge is where the art is, so find that and make it sing. 

After writing ten of these I started discovering theme. 

After one hundred I started discovering rhyme. 

Now, I am exploring stress and emphasis. Some rhymes rhyme better depending on the stress or intonation and can even be forced depending on how hard you lean on a syllable. 

I am still new and very much learning, but everything I know about poetry stems from my own experience. No amount of beating my head against a desk in English 400 could have prepared me for actually writing my own poetry. 

3. You can only ever really learn anything by doing. 

4. You’re going to suck for a long time. 

5. Like a really long time. 

6. But if you stick with it, you will be able to look back and see your progress. 

7. If you quit before the suck process is over, you deny the world a poet. 

8. You are a poet. 

9. No one can say you are not. 

10. You can always come back. 

You know those stories where people quit and never come back? They are lies. 

Nobody quits for real. Everyone is a come back story waiting to happen. I know. I am one. 

Fight for your art. Because no one else will. 

11. No one else will fight for your art. 

That is hard to write, but it is also okay. No one else will, but also:

12. No one else can fight for your art. 

They can support you and if you get that, then hold onto it. But it is so rare, I wouldn’t count on it. 

That seems bleak to end on. 

13. Sometimes art is bleak and that is okay. 

What is necessary for writing? p.II

The Middle Bit

Okay, for a little bit more…

Q: What is necessary for writing?

A: This much…

-me 2016

So what is absolutely necessary for writing? For art?

For me and my artistry it lies in the middle bit. The beginning and the ending are the hard parts. That is what separates the good from the bad from the ugly. Middles are, relatively speaking easy.

They are not easy. 

But, relatively? Compared to beginnings and endings, middles are easier. All you have to do is right two words: “This much…”

Or maybe less? Maybe all that is necessary is one word: “This…”

Maybe less? A letter? “T…”

Less? “…”

The point is…all you need to write is just to write. That is the secret of the Middle Bit. Writing anything, and let me say this ANYTHING means you are that much closer to a finished product. Think about that.

My saving grace has been and always will be Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo

1

For those who do not know: Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. It is a celebration of the novel inside each of us.

The goal or how to “win” Nanowrimo is by writing a novel in a month. They break it down:

  • 1 month
  • 30 days
  • 50,000 word goal
  • At least 1,666.6 (repeating) words per day

That is a lot of content for those who do not know. But, it is about 2-5 pages depending on spacing and font. Anyone can write two to five pages a day! But, the truth is so much more simple than that.

The truth is the time limit does not really matter. The novel already exists inside of the writer.

50,000 words and the novel is outside of you. Sure, it might be a crummy novel, but that is what editors are for!

So if, after the first day you hit word count: 48,334 words to go.

After five days and you hit word count every day: 40,000 words to go.

After fifteen days: 25,000 words to go.

By the end of the month you have a novel(ette): 50,000 words.

But, even if you are the worst person at Nanowrimo, even if you are just a writer on weekends and you only write two words a day: “This much…” you are still chipping away at that block: 49,998…96…94…92…90…

Don’t believe me? Try it. Write “This much…” right now. Write it in whatever medium feels good: Word, Google Machine, Paper, Stone, Ageless Monolith from the Time Before…whatever blows your skirt up.

Write it out and see if you don’t feel better. If you do, then great, let it lie and call it a good day. You don’t? What would you prefer to write? Did you remember that scene that you have been putting off writing for a script, for a book, for a poem? You want to write it don’t you? You’re itching to write it…I may have to go away for a second…

Okay, I’m back!

The point: Middles beget Middles.

You do not need to get too far into your work to realize where you would rather be and what you would rather be doing. Listen to those voices. Listen to those impulses.

Ideas stack and take up space. By writing them out you get space enough for new ideas. Otherwise they will just keep itching. Write the blog post, sketch the sit-com, write a podcast, & WRITE A NOVEL.

No “or’s”, just writing. Middle bit after middle bit until the work is done. Until you hit your 500/1,600/5,000/10,000 word count. You build and you grow as an artist. Don’t tackle more than you are ready to take on in a single night. Don’t tell yourself you are going to bang out a novel in a weekend. That is probably artistic suicide (unless that sounds really cool to you in which case, why are you listening to some guy on the internet?…go…Go…WRITE THE DAMN THING).

The point is, start small. Start tangible and start with just two words:

“This much…”