The Art of Finishing

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ryan Farish, a musician played, “Sea of You,” New Age stuff, while I started this blog.  Perfect background sounds to help me stay focused, though as you will notice with this writing, the task of keeping me focused is almost impossible.

Certain music allows me to find the sweet spot in my writing. Instrumental music with a steady and predictable beat. Can’t have bird sounds as that only gets my dogs, Ricky and Abby, going. I try to tell them that the birdies are in the TV, but they don’t believe me. Good thing they aren’t around now as there’s an owl in the background.  really got my fingers moving. Music with drums fits my typing tempo.

I also have a hard time shifting between moments of time. One of us has to get used to that. Sometimes I think I could have been Virginia Woolf in a previous life. Maybe I ought to go to England and see if I recognize one of her homes. Like her, I’ll flit between this and that, hoping that I can capture a real moment.

Ryan’s piece of music has me thinking about The Art of Finishing. Just sort of popped into my head.

Maybe in a previous life I was a construction worker. I was what you would call a rough carpenter. I’m good at cutting wood and pounding nails, but expect to get splinters and the nails won’t be straight. Not much in my life is straight.

I’m treating this blog like a 12-step program. First step is to admit that I have a problem. Hi, my name is Susan and I can’t finish things. For instance, stashed away, deep in a box, and deep in the stack of boxes, a couple of Crewel projects sit, waiting for some attention. For some air. None of the stuff in these boxes have seen the light in so long that I’d be breaking the Geneva Convention. (The only reason I know the phrase, Geneva Convention, is because of Hogan’s Heroes. I have no clue what the conventions are.)

Crewel is kind of a needle point arts and crafty activity. Cross stitching is another threading experience. The difference is in the stitching. Stiches like Satin. Something to do with knots. Crossing over. There’s no pearling in crewel. The stitch that I really enjoyed the most or at least was the easiest to make was called the split stitch. Stitch a thread or would that be thread a stitch? Anyway, the line is sewn and then the needle pierces through that line in the middle. I must have pricked my fingers and thumb many times. I wonder if my being so hard on my thumb has got to do with my last name Honthumb. Coincidence? Not sure why I refused the thimble. Probably same reason I don’t like to garden with gloves. There’s a kinesthetic quality the bare hands give me.

I started crewel projects in the 70s or early 80s. Maybe even in the 60s. Franny Littlehale taught me, but I don’t remember if I had stepped into the icky teenage world. I’m starting to think that I must have still been young and innocent. Though this means that I’ve held onto the starts for even longer than I first guessed.

I’ve held onto these unfinished projects too long. But I tend to hold onto everything too long, which is not a revelation to me. No epiphany here.

Would the notion that I used to live on a dead-end road bring me to an epiphany? Maybe this is why I don’t finish things.

I feel especially bad for one of the unfinished project of cute little puppies. The intention was to gift this to my sister Deb. I even showed her the pre-gift: the picture on the kit’s bag. The outline of the puppies on the canvas was cute in itself, but until the multitude of thread colors joined imprint of the picture on clothe, the difference is like the difference between One dimension and Three dimensions. I do remember promising Deb that I would finish it and give her the final project. I don’t remember if the puppies would to be playing on a pillow or be behind glass. It is a really good thing that I didn’t tell Deb when I would give her the work of art.

Now, if I were to task myself to find those pitiful pups and loose threads, this would be a long-entailed mission. (Is entailed the right word?); (And can I have a question mark and an apostrophe next to one another? Grammar’s not my strong suit. Just ask all of the teachers I had all the way up through college.) Where would I begin to look for those forlorn pups? There are boxes in my closet, in the basement, my study, basement kitchenette, rec. room. At least there are no boxes on the main floor, and only boxes of clothes in the loft of the Dome.

Finding the puppy project would almost be like hunting for a needle in a hay stack, which is something I have never done, though I have dropped needles onto the floor while creweling. I had an easier time finding them since my eyes were younger then.

Art of Finishing. Not my forte. (I really wanted to put an accent on that e, but spell checker slapped my wrist and gave me a red squiggle. I wonder if I can change it to a purple squiggle?) I have referred to myself as the Emily Dickinson of short story writers; The major difference between Emily and I, aside from my not thinking of myself as a Frog, is that when people found Emily’s poetry, her poems were complete. When someone reads my work after my death, they will find a lot of unfinished stories; the only thing complete will be my journal. It’s good to have something that is always done. Probably could say the same of this blog.  (Though if that were the case, I wouldn’t be revising it for the fourth time.)

Going down the analytical path of The Art of Finishing, I question what keeps me from finishing stories. Great therapeutic question. Next I’ll be asking myself how I feel. But today, my psychologist switched on his flashlight on as we entered the pitch-black tunnel of What will it take to make me a successful writer? (All of those words in the tunnel title probably ought to be capitalized as it’s a very proper place, but you’ll have to pretend as I’m not going to revise this for the fifth time. I plead the fifth. Better than drinking a fifth.

Dr. F is turning out to be a valuable member of my team. To make room, I may have to cut the Psychiatrist. Between our talks and the Neurofeedback, the light is shining brighter with Dr. F’s guidance. (By the way, it took me weeks to remember the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, especially when my psychologist is a doctor. I still reverse the labels.)

As Dr. F lit the path for today’s session, we talked about my being a writer and what it would take for me to become a successful writer or at least one that is on the threshold. The metaphor of my not being able to enter the room was my image entirely, not Dr. F. I get the impression that the vision he sees has me sitting in a room with ideas flying through my fingers as I actively write.

On the surface, the answers in becoming a professional writer seem easy, rather routine. After all, routine is synonymous with easy or at least a routine makes things seem easier. For example, one of the first things I learned as a bowler was I had to have my own routine and I had to stick to it. Pick up ball. Clean ball with a towel. Make sure coast is clear and I don’t jump the bowler to my right and left. Look for the correct board to stand on and step to it. Make sure elbow is touching the same spot it always does, right above my hip. Make sure I’m planted with my knees slightly bent. Left foot slightly ahead of the right foot. Not much space between feet. Get the wrist and ball at the right angle. Breath deeply as I don’t think I breath as I walk down the approach. Walk five steps. Look at my target and not the pins, and make sure I’m balanced at the line. The breath again and either celebrate or wear a grimaced face. The slightest variation mean the difference between a split and a strike. Between winning and losing.

Repeating the routine over created muscle memory and allowed me to not have to think about any of those things. I don’t remember the exact phrase, but an old-time bowler once told me, “If you think, You will stink.” So true.

Maybe the blog should be about routine and not The Art of Finishing my stories.

The blog could also be about what kind of routine do I envision I will use as I write. Does being a home body mean I should always write at home? How much time should I write? I don’t have a very long attention span, but ADD will do that. Should I pay attention to word count or page count or neither? How many times do I re-write? As I mentioned this is my fifth time through the draft. Am I already sinking in the bog? Where do I get feedback and what should I do with that feedback? Should I write on my laptop, my tablet, or my phone? Should I write by hand/? Ink? Pencil? For a while I only wrote with a fountain pen. Favorite pen began with a W. Waterman. This brings up a dusty memory. I loved that slender purple pen. I’d panic, as I do today with my cell phone, if I didn’t feel it in my pocket. Maybe a good routine can prevent me from thinking about all of those things?

When Dr. F mentioned the word nurturing as a necessary ingredient for the solution to my problem, his face lit up. Nurturing. His words really stoked the fire.

Perhaps it was the wonderful waffle that I had at Off the Waffle that helped me take my therapy session dialogue to a higher level. An Epiphany. The kind of epiphany that smacks you upside the head.

Why don’t I finish stories?

Maybe the better question is why do I start another story before finishing up prior starts? I have oodles of story fragments.

An attempt to explain why I may not finish stories is similar to my experience in learning how to build a fire. I struggled building fires in the wood stove. Just when I thought I had the fire cooking, fire would sputter and choke. Watching the last ember extinguish, I’d feel disappointed, frustrated. The fires that were the most disappointing were the ones that I had enough confidence to walk away, but then I would return to the dark with not even the slightest blink. It’s not very nurturing of me to walk away from my fire prematurely. I’m about to contradict myself, so I better keep moving on.

Luckily, Sylvia’s a great fire-starter.

Last year, or so, I finally experienced some resemblance of being a successful fire starter. Is there a specific name for that aside from Arsonist? Fire builder for the good and not the bad.

Anyway, Sylvia taught me to first make sure I had enough kindling to tease the fire to get it to stick around. We have years and years worth of twigs and branches on the property. I usually go out and fill up an empty a very large dog food bag of these things that make up the forest floor.

Building a strong foundation is important in creating a fire. I tend to do the log cabin style, but I’ll play around with the Tee Pee style. Regardless of structural name, the most important thing is to make sure I give the fire enough air to breathe between the wood and other fuel. It unsettles me when I hear the wood hissing and popping as fire slowly engulfs it.

If were I to compare this experience to writing, I let my stories get too much air and they die. Maybe the stories are blown off of my to-do list. Can something die of having too much air? Aphyxiation. First stab at the word didn’t work. Afixiation? Affixiation? Third time’s not the charm. Affixation? Fourth time I nailed it. (Why the heck I wanted to stick in an extra i, I have not a clue.)

Back to why I don’t finish stories. Maybe it has more to do with not being able to stay on the same subject for very long. Some of you have probably already noticed that while you read this blog, I’m all over the place. Call me The Tangent. That will be my super hero name. Maybe I should live in Tangent, Oregon.

Why don’t I finish stories. Better yet, What can I do to finish stories? The Why really won’t help me out.

Instead of letting my stories sit for so long to breath, I could shorten the wait time between writing and editing. Months and even years tend to go by before I revise for the final time.

Time to hold the horse. I’m always putting the cart before the horse. As Dr. F. suggested, finishing the story is critical. Editing and Revising is so removed from this step. I need to think Beginning, Middle, and End.

How do I know if the story is finished? As I do have one or two or three finished stories, stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Stories that have been through the ringer. What do I do about those stories that I have picked at and revised a zillion time but they just don’t feel done? Maybe I need to let go of that feeling and there’s no such thing as a feeling of done. Right now, my stories are onions; every time I revise, the onion sheds another metaphorical layer.

But I mostly have a lot of unfinished stories. How can I finish them? Believe it or not, but this blog is showing me a little bit about the Art of Finishing a story.

As I mentioned, I’m on my fifth draft of the blog. I wrote it in my journal, thinking that I’d be one draft in and be done. Nope. I re-read it and took stuff out, put stuff in. I copied it to my Word Press blog page, but go the hankering to look at it again. About half way through I hit a wall and couldn’t go on, so I took a break. It just wasn’t feeling so good; the puzzle had way too many pieces missing. So, I cut it and pasted it to a word file.

Perhaps the largest flaw of my writing routine is that I tend to not finish editing the entire piece before I begin another edit. That does effect the true number of revisions I make on a story. I’ve not really revised this five times. It’s more like a fraction or a decimal.

The first thing I can do is to lay off of the edits and nurture the story instead. Just as raising children, it does take a village to raise a story. Don’t you love the way I go from fires to raising children all in the same breath.

With this blog, I have managed to at least write a draft from beginning to end. I’ve managed to give myself some breathing time to take breaks and stop when I realize that I’m no longer getting oxygen to the brain.

But to nurture my writing, I want to develop a no going back philosophy. Can I refrain from endless slashing and deleting? Is that possible? I’m not sure it is. Is it possible to stop analyzing whether I have the exact word or phrase or sound? Nike says to just do it. and that’s what I need to do. That’s what I want to do. I  Just  need to sew it up and call it done on my end.

Call it coddling or pampering, even spoiling, but my band new infant baby of a story needs a lot of love and support to allow it to grow and at this point allow other people to support and nurture my story. Dr. F’s  prescription for being successful involved just two things: Structure and Nurturing. Just another thing in my life that needs fertilizer.

Back to the fire analogy. For me, when I build a fire, in addition to building the framework, I often found myself on all fours blowing on the embers, to energize them. I enjoy being a billow. I love the feeling of the heat on my face, and then there’s the glow. I didn’t realize how into fires I was until I started writing this blog.

What I need is for people to blow on my writing, to help me keep the spark aflame and prevent the embers from dying prematurely. Too many things in my life have died too early.

It’s not like I live in a vacuum. I do have a wonderful nurturer of my writing. When I share what I am writing, especially with Sylvia, I feel that warmth of the fire on my face. Last month, I was working on a story about my grey cat Stanley. I would write, and this is where the crying while writing fits in, and then have Sylvia read it.

She’d read and respond with supportive criticism. I seldom take her words in a negative manner; her words get the fire going. I’ve not had that experience with that many people. And often times if they did say positive things, I tended to not believe them.  I definitely didn’t have that experience while taking Graduate Creative Writing classes at the University of Oregon. Those graduate students stomped on my work. I was, after all a lot younger and tender back then. Need to take those things into consideration. I’m saying I’ve become a tough bird. Actually, I won’t know this until I ask for feedback.

For the particular story, the one about my cat Stanley, Sylvia and I went through the steps of my writing: I’d write, she’d make suggestions. I would re-write. She would read again and tell me more suggestions. After the third cycle of what was feeling like a Gerbil Wheel, I’d sigh, “really,” put my head down, my tail between my legs, and shuffle back to my green comfy chair. Back to the drawing board, remembering that fertilizer will only make the story grow stronger and be fuller.

I did finally publish the story about my very first cat, Stanley, on my blog page. My penpal from my Salem, Massachusetts was so sweet to have read it and send me a note, but that’s the only response I got. But as I sit and think about that story, I may have only published only the first draft. The Pre-Sylvia-read story. I know I had planned on revising the published first draft, but I’m not sure if I actually did follow through on that intention. But since I’m not so good on on following through and finishing things, I’ve got my doubts. Since I’m not much of a better, I would say that the good intentions slipped through the cracks.

I have told you that I like clichés, haven’t I? I like them, so you may not want to follow this blog. Clichés are the sprinkles on an ice cream cone. I don’t like cake and cupcakes. Of course this only makes me think about wanting my cake and be able to eat it as well.

Let’s see if this analogy works: Publishing a polished blog is like crossing Yosemite before it split. Publishing in its infancy has the earth split. That one little step could have been the difference between getting one response than a hundred and one responses. I don’t think the metaphor works since I don’t think Yosemite is like an earth quake and once the edges touched. Maybe they did. Maybe I’m just making a story up.

The bottom line is that my stories need more Oxygen.

4 Comments

  1. Asphyxiation.

    I have been reading this blog all morning so far (interspersed with conversation with husband) and I’m only half-way through it. Will come back to it later.

    Asphyxiation.

  2. Whoa! What happened in here? Did you redesign your page? All different now! I like it! I like the larger font… very nice. xxx

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