Saturday, October 19, 2013

Week 9: thoughts on writing 'Separate Planes'

I wrote 'Separate Planes' on Oct. 5-6, 2010, i.e., during week 6 of the semester. The hardest part of writing it was dealing with the mental fallout from Week 5. Several people complimented 'Surgery, 'the example piece I used, and those compliments made me wish I could repeat my success so I could garner more praise.

But, alas, writing does not work that way. I knew I could write something competent and intelligent for week 9, but I also knew that inspiration comes when it comes and cannot be forced. One is only as good as one is on any given day, period.

The given day I wrote 'Surgery' was late in the afternoon when I was buzzed from dealing with strange students in a strange room in a way I don't usually deal with students. The idea came in a flash (that's 'inspiration'), and I could see the whole piece before I'd written a word.

That didn't happen for 'Separate Planes' and I had no reason to think it would (there's no button to push for 'inspiration, whatever the druggies tell you), so the corrupting effects of even a tiny bit of praise made 'Separate Planes' harder to start than it otherwise would have been. The whole time I was writing it, in fact, I was anticipatorily disappointed that I couldn't write another 'Surgery.' I wanted more praise, dammit!

If it's bad--I blame YOU!

So, while writers live for praise, it is not an unmixed good. One can become a praise addict and a praise whore, writing with only that goal in mind, doing things in the writing that one thinks will get one a fix of praise. That can't be good for the writing.

Some teachers treat praise as if it were an ocean all their writers should constantly float in. I tend to think of it more as a precious few drops of water in the canteen one doles out as one trudges through Death Valley. Maybe there is a happy medium between these two opposite approaches!

Back to 'Separate Planes.' I never understand how people can work from outlines. I made a few notes to help my memory in the days before I started writing. I listed all the rescue dogs we've ever taken. I wrote the words 'separate planes.' And I wrote 'Chekhov Kashtanka.'

Chekhov's story is told from Kashtanka's point of view--she is a dog with a brutal master who is lost one day and found by a kind master. She lives with the kind master for quite a while until one day her old master accidentally discovers her. He takes her off--and she is happy to be reunited with him, because dogs do love their routine and one's master is, after all, one's master.

As you can see, I used nothing in my notes except the separate-planes idea.

It would be nice, indeed, if writing were as straightforward as building off a blueprint, but it is not so.


  1. Have you ever watched American Idol? I don't get watch t.v. very often but once in awhile I will watch a clip off of 'You Tube' now most people know who "Simon" is (one of the judges) well.....

    Since we have not spoken face to face and we have only our written words to learn what one another is like...sometimes you remind me of Simon. This is in no way an insult...just noticing your 'style'. :)

    From the above notes: I liked, "inspiration comes when it comes and cannot be forced" I completely agree and find this to be very true.

  2. I've seen the original British version, also featuring Simon Cowell. I think what's so interesting about the Idols I've seen is that the judges clearly are supposed to shoot straight and shoot hard--usually in public we are expected to be polite, but the judges on Idol are supposed to 'judge' even when judging runs counter to ordinary standards of tact and diplomacy.

    Simon strikes me as smart (and I hope I'm smart too) but maybe a little stuck on himself, his brains, and the perfection of his judgments of the contestants. Could be I'm not that different....

    But I hope I'm always polite to students!

  3. :) Yes, you've always been polite.

    What you said about the way they judge - that is what I meant, that straight shot sort of style. That's very good to have.

    Friends and family will be kind and tell us "it's good" if it is or isn't. As a teacher, being a "Simon" is a very good thing. If we don't have someone giving it to us straight how are we to learn and grow.