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Woohoo, back to guilt-free writing!

This week has been the first really good “writing week” for a while for me. And I’ve finally figured out one of the major factors that lets me just write without restraint: being guilt-free.

I’m not talking about the sort of guilt one might get from having done something “bad”. I mean the sort of nagging guilt that sits in the back of your head, telling you that writing is something you should be doing after you’ve done this or that, that other things should take precedence and need doing first, and then you can get back to writing. That guilt actually has no right to exist! That might be obvious in hindsight, and some may be lucky enough to have a lot more time to dedicate to writing and it never becomes an issue, but to me, it’s something I only really thought about this week.

Working full-time and having a family means I have a very limited amount of time to spend on my hobbies and my passion, writing. (Not that I mind – I enjoy what I do and love my family to bits.) Work has been busy, plus I helped someone out putting together a website, plus a few other things that needed to be taken care of, plus I think I put myself under a bit of pressure taking part in the A to Z Challenge last month, so overall my writing suffered a bit. Oh, I found some time to edit here and there, to make notes about things I need to change/rephrase/improve/add/remove here and there while reading my work on the train to and from work, to write down some ideas I had; I even got around to writing just a little. But it wasn’t really much – not enough to give me that satisfaction that my book is progressing nicely, which is an awesome high.

The unexpected positive side-effect from having had all this time where I didn’t get around to writing much is that, instead of feeling a little guilty, I feel like… well, like I’m owed some writing time.

The pendulum has swung to the other side.

This Wednesday (my designated writing day during the week), I had a really great session and got a sizeable chunk of writing done. Ah, that feels great! And I think that I can now use this experience to my advantage by telling myself that I should be allowed to write more – as long as I don’t neglect the other things I need to do, that nagging feeling of guilt has no right to tell me I should do something else first. Feels good to have figured out that I can now “influence” that pendulum and tell it to stay the heck on one side, the other side is off limits unless it has a really good reason to be there. (Ok, on second thoughts, a pendulum isn’t really the best analogy… but you get my meaning.)

So now, I’m back to sitting at my desk, headphones on with some of my favourite music playing, and I’m enjoying writing a quick blog post (I keep telling myself it’ll be quick, but it never is…) before I get to travel back into that wonderful world I’ve created in my mind. I don’t even care whether saying that it’s wonderful is bragging. 😛 I got some gaming out of my system as well this week (something I need to do periodically, I’ll blog at some point about that “other guilty pleasure”), so nothing is standing in my way, including my own conscience. I have the right mindset and I’m not letting go.

Take that, guilt!

It’s Saturday night, no plans, no guilt, and there are hours left in which I can write. In the immortal (paraphrased) words of the great poet, Homer Simpson:

Mmmmh, writing… *drool*

Understanding Poetry – A to Z: U

U is for Understanding Poetry. Does that phrase ring a bell for you, somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind where you stash your movie knowledge? If not, maybe this excerpt will jog your memory:

To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech, then ask two questions: (1) How artfully have the objectives of the poem been rendered; and (2) how important is that objective? Question one rates the poem’s perfection; question two rates its importance; and once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of the graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.

Are we there yet? Yes, it’s from one of my favourite films, Dead Poets Society (although I keep wanting to add an apostrophe at the end of “Poets”… grrr). It’s the section from the fictitious poetry textbook by “Dr J Evans Pritchard, Ph. D.”, which Keating (played wonderfully by Robin Williams) gets the students to read before demanding they rip it out of their books. His comment about trying to shoe-horn something as ethereally beautiful as poetry into a mathematical formula?

Excrement! That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard! We’re not laying pipe! We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? “I like Byron, I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!”

Now the section they rip out was in fact taken from a poetry textbook still used in the U.S., from chapter 15 of Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. In Perrine’s defense, it’s not as bad (when read in context) as the film makes it sound, but the point remains that trying to apply an objective formula to something that’s typically very subjective is not going to work in many cases, as much as some people would like it to be that easy.

Keating goes on to make his point (and I’ll get to mine soon, promise!):

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer: that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Great, but what does this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, the next time you need to introduce an interesting character in your story, consider introducing her by exposing her to something she absolutely disagrees with, and have her handle the situation in a manner as extreme as befits the situation.

When we show what a character likes, it reveals a little about them, and may invoke sympathy in some readers who have similar preferences. Showing how a character reacts when confronted with something they detest, however – now that will really let the reader know what they are about. After shocking the reader (or viewer, in the case of this film) with the unexpected reaction of a teacher asking his students to rip out pages from a book, and displaying what he is really passionate about, whether we agree with the action or not, the reader cannot help but be left with an impression that here we have someone not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.

To what will your character react in an extreme or unexpected way? What will your verse in life be? Let me know in the comments.

Here’s a video of this part of the film in case you’d like to relive it – enjoy!