Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Zombies Are Horrible Writers: Advice from Bryan Fry and Sara Oliver Gordus

Trying to Get it Right
Bryan Fry

I am a writer, husband, and father of three. So lately, when someone asks me about my profession, I tell them I’m training to be a professional juggler which draws a lot more attention than when I say I’m a writer. If I’m a writer, the conversation halts because my acquaintance has met one of our types and does not want to travel down another path of strange intellectualism. If I’m a juggler, I’ve broken the ice with a bad joke and I find it easier to slide into a comfort zone, minimizing my romantic profession and getting down to the real, matter-of-fact purpose of life: children.

Approaching eight, Gracie is the oldest member of our troupe and now that she is in second grade and finishing her first year of piano lessons, I’m relearning the art of concentration and detail. With writing, cleaning, and continuous diaper changing, it is difficult to find fifteen minutes to sit down and help with her studies and some days, when the work piles up, I break down into a trance, a real zombie-like state. If you’re a juggler like I am, this is important to avoid. Zombies are horrible writers.

Needless to say, Gracie hates homework and piano practice. After a few minutes of either, she begins to wiggle around, stare up at the ceiling, or break into guttural laughter when she hears her little brother sing, “shake yo bootay.” Of course, this is to be expected because she is young and her mind is free, but I often hear myself telling her to pay attention to detail. When she writes words wildly in her notebook, I have her erase them and start again. When she misses the second beat in a half note, I point it out.

“Try it again,” I say.

Starting over is a hard concept to grasp, and I try not to force my daughter too hard for fear she’ll end up hating school and music altogether. But more importantly, I realize I’m telling her what I’m constantly trying to tell myself. For years, I pushed writing aside because I was waiting for moments when words would begin to rain down and I’d have no other choice but sit down and pound them out. I admit I’ve felt electrifying moments when writing seemed easier. But those don’t happen very often, definitely not every day, and they don’t last long.

No. Writing is concentration. It’s starting over, erasing and trying again. If you walk into a music building, like the one my daughter practices her lessons in, you’ll hear music through the doors of the little rooms where musicians spend hours every day practicing, repeating the same three measures over and over until they get it right. Isn’t that what writers do?

I make it a point to write every day. This is difficult for a juggler, but it’s something I must do. I lock myself up in my own little room where I spend at least an hour writing and rewriting sentences. When the work isn’t going well, it makes it easier to know that I’m just practicing my own little language, twisting sentences around, replacing lame verbs, and chopping out corny devices. I know eventually I’ll get it right.

Bryan Fry lives and writes in Pullman, Washington with his wife and three children.

Sara Oliver Gordus

I set my alarm for 5:00 AM each weekday and hit the snooze button three times. Each time, I need to propel my self out of bed, stumble across the room, blindly press the snooze button, and flop back into bed. I must do this in order to gradually accept the injustice of leaving the warm cocoon of my dreams. Beep, propel, stumble, press, flop. Three times. My husband is a wonderful man.

I torture myself this way so I can write in the mornings. Does this make me a morning person? Not in the slightest. I obviously don’t wake up early naturally and it’s a struggle every single day. I strive to get up at 5:30, but sometimes it’s 6. Any time spent is better than nothing, right? I don’t know why I’m asking your approval. Of course it’s right. It’s right for me.

I stick with it until about seven when the rising sun begins to glare on my keyboard and my coffee cup is empty and cold. My mind is quieter in the morning. My inclination toward anxiety and self-criticism is still groggy and I can write fairly unencumbered by my own self-doubt. I can get my words out in a quiet, lucid space before inviting my editor brain in.

Robert Pinsky purportedly was once asked by a student how one could become a great writer and a noted one. Pinsky’s alleged response: “Three words. Ass. In. Chair.” Well, my ass is in my chair and its 6:33 in the morning. I’m drinking black tea because I was too tired to make coffee. But I’m doing what I love, right? Well, I love the outcome of my writing, but damn, the process sure is hell.

Sara Oliver Gordus was born in California and now resides in Massachusetts, where she is an associate editor at a textbook publisher. Her fiction has previously appeared in the Jamaica Observer. She is a graduate of the University of California at Davis and Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She celebrated her marriage last August.


Anonymous said...

Bryan Fry,

I love how you write. You truly are amazing! I hope to read more from you.

Anonymous said...

Rather interesting blog you've got here. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.