Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Audience... and My Stage Fright

As I teach in my college classes, every writing has an intended audience.

You may feel, as I sometimes do, that your writing is to weird or unfinished or crappy for anyone else but yourself, but eventually, if you are a writer, you intend for your writings to be read by someone.

And there lies the problem.

Who is our audience? Well, honestly, that depends on what we are writing, and why. I write in nearly every genre--essay, poetry, fiction (short and long), and drama (short and long). Each genre--and each work itself--has a different intended audience, and a different set of issues caused by the very audience I intend to reach.

My novels are all the culmination of a set of ideas, many months (no, years) of work, and painstaking revision and effort. I have literally (yes, I do know the meaning of this word and use it correctly) have revised my first novel nearly 30 times. My third novel was stopped and almost scrapped three times, and I've overhauled it, starting the novel over from scratch, changing the main character, changing the entire genre of novel, and changing POV and verb tense (which is really, really hard to revise, it turns out). Why all the work? Because I want my novels to read seamlessly, to satisfy readers without annoying them with too much detail, too little, events which are too stupid or too preachy or too unbelievable, without "too much" anything. Of course, I cannot truly know my audience, for so much of my personal preferences in reading come out, and I know other readers will never be exactly like me. Another problem is that I am my primary reader. I've read my books far more than anyone else has, mainly because I have shown them to so few people (mainly because they rarely feel finished).

With plays, I have a different audience entirely. I have to imagine all of the play in front of a live audience. Even more importantly, I have to imagine actors and directors taking my play and making something out of it, and create ways to help them do so easily (few sets, abbreviated action, logical shifts, etc.). After all, if a director doesn't feel the play is worth doing, and actors don't enjoy it, it won't be performed. But the final judge is still the audience, and I have to consider how I can place in the meaning of the piece (the whole reason I wrote it to begin with) into the work without losing the spontaneous feeling one should have watching stage action through a fourth wall. The largest difficulty with this is probably obvious: I can never know how a play, a particular scene, or even a line works until the play is in front of an audience, live, and my writing is already public. This is rather like a comic, who doesn't know if a joke works until it does--or doesn't--in front of a real audience.

With poetry, I usually write with an audience in mind, too, but, in my case, the audience is nearly always singular. Instead of writing from a particular POV (the way that Edgar Lee Masters wrote his Spoonriver Anthology), I write TO a particular person, someone in real life. Often I write to my husband, as I can prove with a huge list of sonnets and other love poems, but I also write to others, even a few people who have passed away. I send poems to people, but often I write them only for myself, with no intent to ever share them with anyone, including their intended audience. Poems are a way for me to clear my head of some issue, to get something proverbially (not literally) off my chest. I have several to my father, for instance, but they are more like letters I write, seal, but never mail.

If you write, you know, deep down, that you have an audience for your work, an audience beyond yourself. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. If you long for a huge audience of superfans who will love your work, your task may seem quite daunting, and any lukewarm response to your writings can feel like a knife to the heart. God forbid that a reader express distaste for your writing, or you might find yourself crushed for months. I am thicker skinned than many, but only to a point. It's the reason I keep revising and not submitting my work to anybody.

It's funny that I am writing about audience here, in my old blog, since only a handful of people even read this, and I rarely get more than a response or two, nearly all from my fantastic sister. (Thanks in advance, Stephanie!) Perhaps, however, if you happen upon this page, you will see that, in the end, I am still writing to myself most of all. I am writing to understand myself better, to work through ideas, to see what is holding me back.

I would love to know what you see holding you and your writing back. What fears do you have about your audience? Who do you believe your audience to be?

Until next time, keep writing...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Hazards of the Unforeseen

I'd ask whether life has ever handed you something you did not expect, but it would be a stupid question. Unless you are Nostradamus, it's happened today... or at least this week. My life is filled with the unexpected.

Right now my existence is permeated with it. I had eye surgery, which, unexpectedly to me but not to the eye doctor, it seems, meant I could drive in a week but would have to read large print EVERYTHING for the next 4-6 months.

My kids, only one month into school, have proven they cannot properly handle their classes without my constant nagging and looking over their shoulder. So they are behind. Again. And I have to refocus them ALL DAY to help them get caught back up.

My house is in need of its final overhaul, remodeling the last remaining ugliness. Unfortunately, that involves ripping down wallpaper and refinishing spots on the wood floor. The wallpaper alone has been a beast--the dining room alone took me FIVE DAYS to tackle.

I could whine more, but I won't. I just use these unexpected events as an excuse most of the time. An excuse not to write.

Not productive, I know. You don't have to tell me. Just as I don't have to remind you about all the unforeseen hiccups in your life. So, my vision still a bit blurry, I rip down wallpaper until my fingernails disappear, spackle, stretch my aching shoulders, and wait for NaNoWriMo.

Yet my hope is unchanged. I WILL get this remodeling done. I WILL see fine within the next few months (already I can write this without enlarging it on the screen, and that is GREAT news!). I WILL find a way to make sure my kids stay caught up AND still have time for my own pursuits. I WILL get my priorities back the way I want them, and not the way I have to place them for now.

This will pass. This is temporary. I WILL start my agent search very soon...

As soon as I get the last of this damn wallpaper down.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Killing Time? Or is Time Killing Me?

Before you read any further... bear with me. My eyes have been lased barely three weeks ago, and I have trouble seeing computer screen writing, so I will likely write with a few errors.

The thought occurred to me, yesterday, that I should be depressed because my eyes will not, at this point, allow me to work on my novels... or work on my plays... or read for more than a few minutes at a time. My goals were to get my Thomas novel #3 done in September, revise #2 in October, and write #4 in November... but I know now that such goals are impossible, at least until I can comfortably write for hours on my laptop.

Of course, since I don't tend towards the woe-is-me-whine-fest that seems a plausible notion at this point, I am making the best of the time while I wait. The hubby and I are readying our house to sell (we already put our house in Washington up for sale, and its contract is pending), so I've decided to concentrate on the activities I CAN do with my eyes as they are. Whining is such a waste of time, after all.

I've already ripped down the wallpaper in two bathrooms, leaving me wallpaper in one more bathroom and in the dining room to tear out as well. (Note to would-be wallpaper putter-uppers: DON'T DO IT!!! If you have EVER had to tear down wallpaper, you would never put ANY up again, I promise!) I have several floors to patch up as well, sanding and re-staining, and then lacquering. Each one of these will have to be done carefully, in steps. Once I've patched the de-wallpapered walls, I'll need to prime all the bathrooms and then paint these as well. If I'm too worn out from going up and down the ladder, I'll replace door hinges (most of the house uses brass, and I'll need to replaced the hinges with steel or brushed nickel--SIGH) and door knobs.

But it can't all be work. Thankfully, I can also sew at this point, too, and Halloween is close enough that I can work on costumes. Crystal wants to be a creepy broken china doll (cool!), and Brandon wants to be Lich King (I didn't know who that was, either, so here's a picture:)

Thanks to Justin Currie on for this rendering of Lich King!
Even my own costume needs finishing (since I started it last October but was distracted by my kids' costumes)... I am dressing up as a woodland faerie, complete with knee-high suede boots and pink flowers. Given my eye status, I might ask Crystal to sew the pink flowers on the costume, in exchange for sewing hers... but it's all bound to be fun.

I assume, if you are reading this, that you have not just had eye surgery. but perhaps you have something else getting in the way of what you REALLY WANT TO BE DOING. So what? Shift gears, try something new instead, and just do SOMETHING. Feel free to browse through possible stuff, find a new path, and just play. You may find your next great adventure.

Now I am off to mine.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Goals

New Year's Resolutions never work on me, if only because I've been on an academic calendar since I was five (perhaps even since my older sister was five). Trying something new mere days before the school semester starts up again is foolish in the extreme, so, naturally, the new things have rarely remained permanent.

Therefore, I am making a short list of SUMMER Resolutions. My son is finished with school, and my daughter has two days more before her classes close, so it looks like I will have TWO WHOLE FREAKIN' MONTHS without tons of daily obligations. What can I accomplish in two months? Hopefully I will manage to do a LOT.

Here is my short list:

1. Completely revise Thomas novel #2
2. Set up and implement an action plan to submit Thomas novel #1 to agents.
3. Sew LOTS of clothing--daily wear stuff AND costumes.
4. Re-cover all four of the dining room chairs.
5. Refinish the hardwood floors in my house.
6. Lose 20 lbs.

Now I just need to put this list up in BOLD somewhere and make sure I take steps EVERY SINGLE DAY towards each goal (I will allow myself to focus on a particular goal, too, but #6 will take daily action).

Even more important, I will NOT add more goals!

At least I think I won't.

Y tu? What are your goals for the summer? Please share if you have them!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Working under Attack

I rarely comment on political topics, mainly because the majority of debates are filled with gross exaggeration if not outright lies, but today I feel compelled to write.

I cannot help but use my own point-of-view in this, as wife to a college president. My husband just took an interim position as president of another college in the area, and he has quite a job ahead of him, but his presidency is far different from the job of President of the United States, in much the same way that becoming a faculty member at a college is different from being a congressman in Washington, D.C.

You see, when my husband--or anyone else--serves as the president of a college, he or she joins a large group of people in a team effort to create as good a college as possible. They are united by obvious goals: to serve students, to provide a great college experience and an even better educational experience, etc.

What my husband does not have to deal with is the likelihood that half the college campus believes he is unfit for his job, will destroy the college during the years he occupies the president's seat, and is an incompetent, borderline Satanic creep. Instead, although some faculty and staff might disagree with a chosen path or argue about policy, 99% of those who work at, attend classes in, and are otherwise involved with the college are united in their effort to make the college as great as it can be.
We need, as a country, to do the same.

If my husband had to deal with 50% of his college attacking him through the press, disrupting meetings, refusing compromises, etc., the college would suffer. His ability to do his job would suffer. The truth is, EVERYONE involved with the college would suffer. How could the college function if teachers refused to teach, or departments could never decide on a textbook because of ideological differences, or maintenance were fighting with housekeeping, or students were bombarded by hateful rhetoric every time they stepped onto campus? Or if contracts were put on hold because the administration members refused to work together to get their budgets, hires, and other necessary work done? The truth is, the college would fall apart, and that is what is happening to our governmental system because both sides would rather vilify each other than work together.

I don't pretend to know which political party anyone belongs to. Honestly, I don't care. What matters to me is that so many of us think it's right to blast the other party just for being who they are, that we are so concerned with ideological differences that we refuse to work together or consider the "other" side our equals.

How do we make it stop? The only person's actions I can affect are my own, but there are actions I can take every day to remedy this.

1. Call out those who spread false information. It doesn't matter whose party or which candidate/congressman/public person the skewed post criticizes. If it isn't accurate, I need to make that clear.
2. Check my own facts before I post ANYTHING.
3. Constantly examine my own way of thinking to see where I have taken leaps of reasoning.
4. NEVER assume that my opinion is "fact" while others' opinions (if they do not agree with mine) are "delusions."
5. Show respect to all, but make it clear that I expect them to show the same respect to each other.
6. Raise your expectations of those in office--and back off. How? To back off, stop expecting every statesman to do what you personally believe in. That they do not agree with you about abortion or the economy doesn't make them evil. It means they don't agree with you (and that is ALL). How do we raise expectations? That's the easy part. We need to expect those in office to DO THEIR JOB.

And that is the crux of it. My job is to be a writer... to DO my job, I have to write. I am also a parent, doing that job effectively requires me to be present, to involve myself with my kids--to PARENT. Those in office need to stop fighting and back biting and DO THEIR JOBS. I respect people who have opinions, but I do not respect those who use their opinions to keep from doing their jobs. End of story. We all do better in life when we DO OUR JOBS, and many of the bad things that happen in our lives are caused by us NOT doing our jobs or by other people around us not doing theirs.

In the end, it matters that I keep my mind open, that I admit when my judgment has faltered, and that I am willing to compromise. I cannot possibly assume that I am the single most intelligent person in the world, that my opinions are all right, and that I cannot make mistakes. Besides, if we stop pointing out differences, if we refuse to let the nasty language divide us from others, we might just see the similarities that tie us together.