Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gaa-aah!

So I’ve got a couple of ideas knocking about in my head for today’s post, and I stop to check my comments and – [insert high-pitched screeching sound here as my brain crashes to a halt] – I see a comment from benbirdy1.

Yes, people, that would be Catherine Newman visiting my blog, and it’s like that L.M. Montgomery story (in Magic for Marigold maybe?) when the Queen of England shows up at the doorstep and there’s no cake in the house. Or maybe it wasn’t the Queen of England – a Russian princess, maybe. Royalty, anyhow, and I’m racing around the house checking my hair and saying "Crap! Crap! Crap!" and then kicking myself because I don’t know any good swears (wait, I know! Frack me!) and looking over my posts from the last couple of days – a random list of unrelated ideas preceded by a woodenly chronological account of my son’s health problems – and I think "Didn’t your mother tell you to always wear nice underwear in case you get hit by a bus" and then I think "Beep beep beep!" as the split infinitive alarm goes off in my head, and I wonder, did she notice that I’ve, like, totally plagiarized her writing style?

Deep breath.

Suffice it to say that I’m easily intimidated by fame and totally without HBM’s enviable capacity not to be impressed by people. Or freak out when those people visit my blog on a day when I haven’t showered yet.

*****

Back to my regularly scheduled blogging.

Before the above freak-out, I was planning to write about an article I read a few years ago studying the writing process of "excellent" academic writers (mostly graduate students). The researchers found that the writers used a variety of tactics: some wrote freely and spontaneously, modifying their ideas through a succession of drafts, while others planned carefully and made few changes to their first draft. The second group wrote more quickly, but the first group reported more enjoyment in their writing.

I’ve always been a planner, an organizer, a bullet-lister: back when I would prepare my essays by hand (with a pen! and paper!) I colour-coded my points with red, yellow, and blue pencil crayons (NEVER green or purple – can you imagine the confusion? the chaos?). I determined the path of my argument in advance and never strayed from it. (Another memorable observation from the study: while the pre-planners tended to produce well-organized, convincing arguments, the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants writers were better able to acknowledge conflicting ideas and produce a subtle, complex response.) For me, all that note-taking and colour-coding usually functioned as a way of postponing the torturous and terror-filled process of actually writing the essay: I put it off as long as possible and heaved a sigh of relief when that first draft was in the bank and I could tinker with words and phrases at my leisure.

That need for structure may be to blame for my loss of interest in writing fiction. Not that fiction has no structure, but novels like Emily of New Moon and The Keeping Days convinced me that creativity must take place in a trance-like state in which one simply submits to the whims of the muse. If that was true of fiction, it was even more true of poetry, which I avoided like the plague: when forced to write a poem by my creative writing teacher in high school, I took refuge in a sonnet, comforted by the rigid 14-line structure and iambic pentameter.

With my history of schedules and structures and colour-coded notepads, I’ve found that one of the most liberating things about blogging has been the freedom to occasionally, sometimes, throw down a post without knowing in advance where it’s going to go. I still have a penchant for bullet lists (and one of the reasons I keep this template is the pretty little flower-like bullets it produces), but every once in awhile I come up with an idea for a post and then stop myself, thinking, "Sure, the Teen Missions anecdotes are fun, but what is your point?" And then I think, "Why don’t I start writing and find out?"

It’s not skydiving, or backpacking across China, but the pursuit of adventure has to start somewhere, right?

(We'll see how long that madcap throw-caution-to-the-winds approach lasts now that FAMOUS PEOPLE are visiting my blog. Well, um, one famous person. At least Waiting for Birdy was showing up on "Random Books from my Library" on the sidebar, so she knows I'm not just some random stalker that visited her blog. I'm a stalker who bought her book.)

29 comments:

Pieces said...

I used to call it the procrastination writing style. I would think and organized and outline until the moment the paper was nearly due, then I would spew it all out, edit once and be done.

Yah, I don't blog that way. I'm lucky if I get two coherent sentences put together.

BTW, you look good running around screaming in panic while pulling on your hair. I'd like more famous people to stop by so we can see you do it again.

lynsalyns said...

Congrats! :)

I like blogging for the same reason - writing just to write. No rules, no one watching to make sure everything is perfect. Just like me, my work has imperfections. Sometimes my stories are a bore, but sometimes they work.

Terri B. said...

Funny you mention organization. I'm a fairly organized person ... but not with my writing. I rarely know where my fingers are taking me once I place them on the keyboard! That works fine for my creative stuff, but I found that what works for my creative writing doesn't work so well for my academic writing. I had to learn to organize my thoughts and writing since those papers didn't come out very well if I didn't ... they just meandered and I often got comments like "what was your point?" or "where is the ending?". Writing style is an interesting topic that you bring up. Wonder how many people bounce back and forth in how they approach writing based on what it is they are writing.

T. said...

When I blog, I just sit down and let loose.

Doesn't always work, ain't always funny, or coherent, but I enjoy it. And really, isn't that what the process is about.

You must be doing something right if you get famous people knocking on your door!

Her Bad Mother said...

My approach is pretty similar - just get started and see where it goes. Which is why I so often get distracted from my to-do lists (which I am still very much committed to by the way)... One of the reasons that I like writing/blogging in multiple fora is that I can be all ADD in my subject matter - I can indulge a variety of writing inspirations in a short time frame without worrying about any sort of coherence. Not that I'm ever coherent, but, you know...

Serena said...

Oooh hoo, what a meaty blog! This is going to be fun to flip through.

Hey, just because you get comments on your blog before you've had the chance to wash doesn't mean they ain't bloggin' in their underpants.

Excepting, of course, the illustrious Ms. Newman who has probably been dressed for several hours and already completed one article and at least two crafts before we've rolled out of the family bed.

metro mama said...

I figure things out through writing. For academic papers, I start by doing the reading (2-3 times), writing down what resonates, then building on that until I come to some sort of thesis. Backwards, I know.

Mother Bumper said...

I love the way you describe how you worked on essays. I also needed to do the over organization and pre-work to avoid actually writing. Once it was done I was much happier.

I often blog off the top of my head but lately I've been dipping into my notebook (yup - pen and paper) and dragging some more "researched" ones out.

I must say, I love reading your posts so I'm not surprized by the great visitors you host.

Beck said...

We're supposed to KNOW what we're going to write before we write it? Uh oh! My whole blog is just one big dumb stream of conciousness ramble...
(and I'm so easily excited by famous people that I'm excited to be posting on a blog that a Famous Person read. That's sad.)

penelopeto said...

whatever you are doing - it works! Keep it up; I enjoy reading what you write so very much.

I am a hybrid - I get inspired... think about it... go do something else... think about it... write a few notes, highlight a few things... come up with a good opening line, and... go!

there is rarely a plan; more like a conviction or one lucid thought and then I run with it. It usually turns out ok, but I rarely move in a straight line.
I take this as a sign of genius.

bubandpie said...

I should probably clarify that it was not my renown as a world-famous blogger that brought the Great One here, but rather the comments I left on her blog.

And I appreciate everyone who hasn't said, "So what am I - chopped liver?" (I was equally excited the first time I got a comment from a fellow-blogger, though much more careful to act casual.)

Kristen said...

Holy crap. I can't believe you got a comment from Catherine Newman. THAT IS SO AWESOME!! (I didn't even know she read the commenters' blogs. How freaking cool.

I can't actually get past this, to address the whole writing style thing. Because I've been stalking, ahem, I mean reading Catherine's column since Ben was 2. I feel like I know her (but I know thousands and thousands of us feel that way about her). WOW...I'd be squealing too!

Aliki2006 said...

I like the relative freedom of blogging, too. Often my ideas come tumbling out having gestated in my head for a little bit. I wish I could write my dissertation as effortlessly as I can write some blog entries. Actually, I wish I could print out ALL my blog entries, put them into a tedious format, slap a long-winded title on it all and then submit them to my committee as my dissertation manuscript.

Blog Antagonist said...

That is way cool. To my knowledge, nobody famous has visited my blog. If/when they do, it would be just my luck that they would visit on a day I posted something really whiny and mundane. No reason to run around screaming I assure you. You are always eloquent and entertaining.

Kvetch said...

Ok, I had to google your famous person because I had no clue who she was. So, folks, she's not that famous unless you perhaps have little kids. Which I don't. You deserve attention from those who are in the public eye! Don't let it ruffle your bubandpie feathers though --- just be you. I'm glad she didn't go to my blog -- because to me, YOU'RE the famous and wanted commenter.

Mayberry said...

I like editing the best, because then someone else does all the hard stuff (research, writing) and I just swoop in and make it all pretty.

So blogging is hard.

lildb said...

I, um, yeah.

yep.

bubandpie said...

lildb - You know I had you in mind as I wrote this post, just because I aspire to the feats of spontaneity in which you specialize. For me, it's a big deal to start writing without having pre-determined the entire shape of my post. So I'm working on it...

Momish said...

Very interesting post because I can relate to how blogging can free you. My big hump has always been to edit, re-edit, edit again. I never think it's ever done yet. It could be better. Blogging has gotten me over that hump b/c it's short and daily and quick. But, my palms still get a tad sweaty when I click on "publish"!

Lady M said...

I know what you mean by having a comforting framework for creativity, like the iambic pentameter of a sonnet. I really ought to try out some fiction writing again - it's about time to find out if it is still as fun as it was when I was in school. However, I keep blogging instead - a little piece each day, which seems safe somehow. I think I need to be more spontaneous. Oh well!

Mommy off the Record said...

I can totally relate to how you describe your writing style and how you needed to structure your essay writing. I definitely wrote that way during college as an English major. I think my blogging is somewhere between highly structured and free-flowing, though I think I definitely lean towards the structured post. I think that both writing styles are valid and good and produce great writing. I figure that my writing style is the way it is naturally and I don't want to turn it into something it's not - though it is fun to experiment a little now and then.

Oh, and I do love your writing style (even the bullets). :)

Mary-LUE said...

How many of us were English or Literature majors?

TrudyJ said...

I was both an English major and an English grad student (not to mention an English teacher) and I very rarely plan what I write. Sometimes in an academic paper, NEVER in a piece of fiction, I have managed a passable outline but even then I don't usually stick with it very closely. I'm a big proponent of the "start writing and find out what I'm writing about" school of thought. Which sometimes runs me into trouble -- like now, when I'm nearing the end of writing a book that's fairly plot-driven and I know I absolutely HAVE to outline the last chapters or I won't be able to complete it. I keep dragging my heels on the outline thing. It's such a matter of personal style -- I'm completely awed by novelists who plot every detail out carefully beforehand, but I could never write like that. "I learn by going where I have to go" ... in writing as in life.

Christina said...

If those are the two styles researchers found in excellent writers, then I understand why I don't count as one. My writing style is more "totally by the seat of my pants" procrastination writing.

I usually pissed off my fellow students in college and grad school. They'd go through revision after revision for their papers, while I was still sitting on the research I had done but had yet to organize into a paper. Then right before the deadline, I'd sit down with photocopies of highlighted book and journal pages strewn around me in no particular order, pound out a paper, read through it once, and turn it in. I usually got an A or a B.

One of my graduate professors found out how I wrote and he laughed and said he didn't see many with that style who did well, although he confessed to writing the same way.

I tend to write the same way with my blog. I pick something on my mind and just write. It doesn't always end up where I wanted it to.

Congrats on getting a famous visitor, too!

lildb said...

G, I think it's exciting that you're experimenting with your writing style, but I'm with MotR in that I adore the manner in which you currently write. I am a devoted follower of the fly-by-my-pants-seat school of writing, and, to be honest, loads of other things, too; but I would really like to be able to put my thoughts together and present them in the style in which you are so very, very capable.

yin. yang. you know. *shrug*

I can only see you becoming more skilled and fluid as you try new things. and how beautiful is that?

answer: pretty damn beautiful.

xo

nomotherearth said...

Don't know if you'll get this message because it's not your most recent post (I'm behind in my reading), but I wanted to say that there are two reasons I read your blog: "Magic for Marigold" and "Frack Me!" Anyone who uses those two references in the same post is cool with capital "C" and that rhymes with "B" and that stands for...anyways, I digress. You're also an excellent writer, but I doubt you need me to say that.
For my newbie writing, I let an idea stew in my head for a couple of days, until I finally have to write it or go bonkers obsessing about it. I do start a draft sometimes and write down the salient points, other times I just do it. That's why my writing is so erratic. But I'm working on it!

cinnamon gurl said...

I was the unstructured type of essay-writer and also a major procrastinator. I just did all the thinking and planning in my mind instead of on paper.

I love that you chose this template for the bullets. ;)

I have no idea who this famous person is but look forward to finding out.

Ella said...

I wish I spent more time planning and organising what I write on my blog because I am actually quite anally organised in real life but can't quite get that to translate to my writing!

I've visited/stalked your blog for several days now, reading through the archives, and I love your site. I will be adding you to my blogroll!

BensMom04 said...

LOL - I searched benbirdy1 which brought me here. I truly laughed reading this post because I would totally have reacted the same way. I think she's terrific and like everyone else fear the perception of stalking but can't get enough. So - very well captured expression of your reaction!!