Thursday, August 29

Thursday Morning

5YO: "You know what, I want a dog that's rainbow."
7YO: "They don't come like that. You'd have to paint it."
"I know but dogs don't like to be painted."
"Then it would be wet."
"I know, dogs don't like to be wet."
"Dogs and cats don't like to be wet. They shake it all off like this."
"You know what? A cat likes to be wet in the bathtub if you put fish in it."
"There's no fish in the bathtub."
"There is at a pet store."
"There's no fish at a pet store."
"Yes, there is, that's where we got Puddles."
"Puddles was a good cat."
"Puddles was a good cat, except he peed on everything."


Wednesday, August 28

Beliefs are Monkey Bars

beliefs are monkey bars
you hang on
everyone hangs on
you look up at the sky
you think
“if I hang on long enough I’ll go there”
you look down
you think
“if I let go I’ll land in the tanbark”
(no one likes tanbark)
(it’s pokey)
you look around
everyone hangs on
you hang on
your hands hurt

you hear a voice
that voice is me
I say
“let go of the monkey bars”
you say
“what an idiot”
I say
“hey, I’m not an idiot, let go of the monkey bars”
you say
“I’ll fall in the tanbark”
(no one likes tanbark)
(it’s pokey)
I say
“no you won’t”
you say
“yes I will”
I say
“no you won’t”
you say
“what about gravity”
I say
“there’s no gravity in your mind”
you think
you look around
everyone hangs on
your hands hurt
you decide

a) you hang on
until you die
and you let go anyway

b) you let go
you let go of the past
you let go of the future
you let go of prejudice
you let go of preconceptions
you let go of power
you let go of control
you let go of words
you let go of identity
you let go of hate
you fall
and fall
and fall
and fall
and never hit the ground
because there’s no tanbark
(no one likes tanbark)
(it’s pokey)
you float around
with me
and the rest of the dreamers
and imagine a world without monkey bars
and falling

Tuesday, August 27

Four Ways to Edit like a Chef

Last time I used the equation:

Thought + Write + Edit =
Ingredients + Cook + Garnish

Since I’m backasswards, I want to talk about editing first.  We have the most control over the last part of the creative process, which is why we fuck it up.  We let our insecurities, frustrations, and expectations get involved, and then throw everything away.

You have a disassembled word cake that just came out of the oven.  Now what?  Here are the pitfalls to editing, and strategies on how to avoid them, all by thinking like a chef:

1) Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen.  Cooking is not a democracy.  There is a definite hierarchy.  Someone is in charge, and anyone who gets in the way is kicked out (sometimes nicely, sometimes not).

In your brain, who’s in charge of your word kitchen?  How many parts of your personality are offering “advice” and telling you how to stir your macaroni and cheese?  Do you let the images of your family and friends and teachers and critics into your kitchen?  Are they hovering over your stove?

If so, politely tell them to get the fuck out of your writing and go wait in the dining room.  Especially your critic needs to get out of the kitchen, and wait until you are done cooking.

I know this doesn’t make any sense, and goes contrary to everything you’ve ever been told about writing, but your critic doesn’t edit.  You edit.  Your critic waits until you are done, then eats your words, then writes a review.  They might send the dish back because it’s cold or needs salt or whatever, but never let your critic into your writing space.

Be your own word dictator.

2)  Leave the Drama in Your Writing.  You are not a five-star restaurant.  You don’t eat on gold plates.  You aren’t bedecked in diamonds.  When a chef cooks a steak, they know it’s just a steak.  

So why do writers act all high and mighty about what they do?  Your words are just words.  Do you freak out about making a sandwich?  No you don’t, so don’t freak out about writing a sentence.  Don’t act like writing is life and death.  Put the melodrama in the story, not in the process of writing the story.

3)  Presentation is Everything.  Here’s an ugly truth: everyone judges books by their cover.  What?  No way!  That’s not fair.  Yup, it isn’t fair, and life is not fair.

If you wrap a sandwich in paper, people will pay less for it than if a dude in a suit brings it on fine china to their table.  That’s life.  Hardback books cost triple what a paperback costs.

So when you edit, think about how you present your words.  It should match the intended audience.  For example, I can be edgy and swear on a tumblr blog, but in a college paper or a job, I would clean up my language.

Accentuate befittingly.  If you bake a chocolate cake, you might not want to decorate it with mushrooms.  Make sure the language you’ve chosen highlights your core idea (or most likely ideas). 

When I write haiku, I format them like haiku, and I frame them with hashtags so everyone knows it’s a haiku.  In a larger philosophical sense, art is anything in a frame, and as an artist, you need to make a conscious decision about your frame.

4)  Know When to Let Go of the Plate.  Imagine that a cook takes forever to bring your food, then as they’re about to drop the plate on your table they stick their finger in your mashed potatoes and say, “Oops, sorry, need to add more salt.  Be right back.”

You would leave that restaurant and never come back.

When you edit, your goal is to finish, then move on.  As I tell my kids, “Stop farting around.”  Fix your writing, and send it to the table.   Chefs are never like, “Oh no, I’ll never bake a cookie like that one again!” 

Here’s your zen moment: you can only grab something new if you’ve let something else go.   So let your old writing go.  Then you can write something new.

Happy writing!

Good Writing is Good Cooking

oftemm: I just love your poetry. I read it and wonder, “How do you even come up with these kind of things you write about?” I’d ask for an answer but I’d rather be kept in curiousity. :)
Don’t you stop your writing!

Thank you!  I’m glad you enjoy my work.  I want to answer your question, even though you begged me not to.  :)

Good Writing is Good Cooking

Think + Write + Edit = Ingredients + Cook + Garnish 

1) Think/Ingredients.  Words are concrete thoughts, so it makes sense to begin with how to think.  The best writing begins with the best thoughts.  No one wants a piece of cake made with month-old eggs and moldy flour.

So spend time thinking.  Exercise your thinking.  Stretch your brain as far in the past as it can go, then imagine being very tiny, then imagine being massive.  Imagine love.  Remember an enemy.  Remember what someone said.  Combine thoughts.  Mix them around, and see what batter forms.  Then when you have a thought that feels roughly like it could exist in reality, stick it in the oven.

2) Write/Cook.  Writing is an oven.  It’s cramped.  It’s hellish.  It seems like it takes forever.

It’s also something you have to do over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.  Anyone who does anything excellent either had luck or had work.  You can’t control the former, but you can definitely influence the latter.

I’m a quantity over quality type of person.  You think every day, so write down what you think every day.  No good chef is like, “Sorry, I have the ingredients, but I’m not going to cook today.  I’m waiting until I figure out the Next Great Recipe.”  Get in the word kitchen and write.  Don’t set out to write lobster and caviar words: write cookies and ice cream and salad and french fries.  Write what sustains you.

3)  Edit/Garnish.  This is the place where a lot of people get stuck.  If you only have the first two steps, then all you have is writing, the majority of which is garbage.  Most of your word muffins are burnt or lumpy or gooey or dry or clearly inedible.  If you pass off your writing to other people without editing it is trash.  (Unless you won the word lottery, congratulations! You can retire to your own private literary island!)

"Oh no! My precious words! Everything I write is the best thing ever!  That’s how I feel!"  Nope.  It isn’t.  Other people will take one bite of your pastry, and if it tastes like shit, they will not take bite number two.

So how do you edit?  Same way you prepare a cake: let it cool, decorate it, and serve it on your best porcelain.  Think about what you wrote.  Take time with each sentence, every word.  Say it out loud.  Cut off the burnt pieces, the cliches, the clunky word flow, the lapses in grammar.  Frost your writing with a thesaurus. 

(At some point you will be able to edit AS you write, but this takes practice or else you might end up throwing everything you write away.  Writer’s block is overzealous editing, which is a topic for another post.)

I like the haiku format because it forces me to slow down and edit.  Unless I’m lucky and the words taste divine, I’m probably going to have to garnish my work before its tasty.

4) An Example.  I start with the thought:

"Good writing is something that is a good thought that you write down, and you do that a bunch and then you read what other people write and you figure out what is good then you edit it and then it has to echo through people like a drum."

Which is absolute drivel.  So I edit out the garbage:

"Good writing is something that is a good thought that you write down, and you do that a bunch and then you read what other people write and you figure out what is good then you edit it and then it has to echo through people like a drum.”

I check a thesaurus, and I find that “reverberate” is a stronger word than “echo”.  It also means I can get rid of “drum”.

"Good writing reverberates through people."

I look for words better than “people”.  I like the alliteration of “being”.  Also, this applies not just to writing, but to art in general.  A little bit of reformatting and I have:

good art /
reverberates /
in your being

#haiku #sixwords #poetry