Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The ups and downs of writing (or: Are all writers bipolar or is it just me?)

Been working on some more articles for various animal magazines lately, so that's cool. What I've noticed, however, is the writing process for such an article (or more likely any freelance article) is for me an emotional roller coaster. As with many things, perhaps the best way to explain is through a visual aid. In this case, I've created a graphical representation titled: Anna's Emotional Writing Roller Coaster.

Anna's Emotional Writing Roller Coaster
Allow me to narrate this visual nugget of extreme wisdom.

On the X axis, you have Anna's 7 stages of non-fiction writing, which I will detail momentarily. On the Y axis, you have Anna's 7 writing moods. Blue represents positive and red represents negative. The more extreme the height or depth of the bar, the more extreme the mood.

Anna's 7 stages of non-fiction writing are as follows:

A: Idea/query   
This is, in my opinion, the happiest, most fun place for writing. You are not so much really writing at this phase, just daydreaming and coming up with ideas like, hey, wouldn't it be cool to write about how the decline in kraken sightings has led to the development of the Save the Kraken movement and how this has influenced the sale of eye patches? Once your half-baked idea becomes a little more solidified (like, OK, the correlation between Save the Kraken and eye patches is a little weak but there's still something worth writing about in the movement itself) you crank out a query or a pitch to an editor and off it goes. You're not only swimming deep in imaginative juices, but you are also able to check something off your to-do list, hence creative euphoria.

B: Go ahead/plan
OK, so now you've got the thumb's up from an editor; perhaps you're writing a piece on spec, maybe you've signed a contract. Either way, it's go time and you have to turn your theoretical story into something coherent on paper. Although feelings are still positive (Yay! An editor is interested in seeing what you can do!), you're focused now and you feel a little pressure because you have a deadline. The euphoria is gone but it's all good. You're workin' it, girl.

C: Finding sources
Now things start to fall apart. You know those three interviews you were sure you could get? Well, your one kraken expert is on sabbatical in Fiji, the president of the Save the Kraken movement won't return your emails or calls, and the grassroots member's interview was a disaster for a multitude of reasons, one of which was due to the fact that she was barely discernible through her drunken slur. Panic sets in because deadlines are looming and you have crap interviews, crap ideas, crap stories, and basically you are crap. You have stumbled into gloom.
D: Interviews
OK, so it appears all that panic over interviews was a little premature. Turns out the kraken expert is back in the US from Fiji earlier than expected and was more than happy to go over the intricacies of the dicey history of kraken sightings with you. Additionally, the vice president of the Save the Kraken movement got in contact with you and gave lots of quotable material. You suddenly find yourself more in love with your subject than you were previously because now other people are involved who are just as excited about it as you. Enter glee.

E: Fleshing out
You've got your interviews now, great. Most if not all of your research is done. Now you have a word limit to adhere to. All the fun parts are now over. The science of putting coherent paragraphs together that actually flow (and bonus points for being witty) is now your aim. But look: your favorite TV show is on. And you have to finish reading that library book since it is due in two days. And you have so many other ideas for other articles! The high from your awesome interviews is over. Gloom again sets in.

F: Deadline creep
Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. Where did the muse go? Why is writing a single sentence torture? How did you suddenly forget to speak English? Why did you ever query this stupid idea in the first place? How is it suddenly 2 am? How much is too much coffee? Should you Google that? Oh look, a youtube video on how coffee is made. Congratulations, you've hit despair.
But what about the fifth draft???
G: Finish and submit
OK, you made it. It's finished. Actually, it's not half bad. You're sort of proud of it. There are a few good arguments in there. It will likely appeal to most readers interested in learning more about the Save the Kraken movement and you've certainly learned more about it yourself. Hit send and off it goes. You're relieved and hope that it will be well-received and who knows? Maybe it will lead to more opportunities. You're ending cautiously optimistic.

Anna's Emotional Writing Roller Coaster
Referring back to the chart, it's plain to see the highs and lows of this process. I can't be the only one who gets mentally wrung out--and all for only 1,200 word articles! I can't begin to imagine what special mental acrobatics are induced during the commitment of a novel. Maybe that's why all "classic" novelists were alcoholics...

Monday, March 10, 2014

My kingdom for a horse

Oh dear me, it's been a while, hasn't it? For shame. Apologies, apologies. Quick updates:
  • Running: ran an awesome half marathon in Phoenix at the end of January. Weather was perfect: I'll take dry desert air over the snow we've been getting any day.
Fell in love with Saguaros when out west. AMAZING plants. This baby was well over 100 years old.
  • Writing: wrote a guest blog for my vet friend Dr. Elliott Garber on how to make extra moolah from freelance writing. Thanks for the opportunity, Elliott!
  • Reading: completely immersed in Stephen King's 11/22/63 right now. I haven't read any of his stuff for a while but I remember now why I like him. I just can't put this book down.
  • Vetting: a really cool report from The Horse came out about fossil evidence that prehistoric horses suffered from laminitis. I just found this fascinating. 
Also, as spring is just around the corner, I set my sights yet again on a perennially elusive target: a horse. It seems impossible around the DC area to find a reasonable horse, a reasonable barn, or a reasonable person who knows a reasonable horse or a reasonable barn. I am left much like Richard III at the end of the play, screaming: A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

Seriously, I actually saw Richard III at the Folger Theater in DC two weeks ago. I can't decide if this or King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play.  I haven't read Richard III in quite a while but I was easily reminded during the performance of the incredible language old Bill uses. 
Grumpy Cat quoting Shakespeare??? For more animals go here
Woe to all reptiles and amphibians in ye olde days of yore, since insults were flying fast and furious invoking "snake" and "toad" most commonly. Of course, look no further than the witches over the cauldron scene in Macbeth and you'll have an exotic animal//zoo vet's worst nightmare: newt, bat, dog, lizard, wolf, and even baboon enter (or at least their body parts do). Oh yes, and spiders.

If you want to get really heavy into the Bard's animal imagery, well, go someplace else. I love me some Shakespeare, don't get me wrong, but when the discussion turns to the symbolism of "light versus dark" in Othello, for example, I'm gone.

But I will point out one interesting fact that you have my permission to use at your next cocktail party. Shakespeare uses the word "animal" only eight times in all his works. Much more commonly, the words "beast" and "creature" are used instead. According to the Old English Dictionary, the word "animal" really only comes into common vernacular at the end of the 1500s. If you want a further breakdown on this, look here. If you're over Shakespeare since the days of reading it aloud your sophomore year in high school, look here. (Don't worry--it's just pictures of kittens. Kittens NOT reading Shakespeare, that is. Although that would be cute too, don't you think?)