WordPress has my number. No sooner had I obeyed its command to “Create Your Web Site,” than it was tempting me to explore everybody else’s blog instead of writing my own. It waved a dozen links to blogs on writing under my nose, even more to book lovers’ blogs, and one called (truth in advertising) Longreads that can mess you up for days.

Then there’s Freshly Pressed, WordPress’s links to individual posts that “you might like.” How does it know? Yeah, Google tells it. The trouble is, Google is so often right. I told myself I was looking for good writing, for ideas on using WordPress well, for designing the page, blah, blah. And I did find ideas I could use.

But if I read all this stuff, when do I write?

All the wonderful How To Write books pose this same problem. Ideas about writing exist in a different universe from writing itself. Books show you nice clear roads to success: if you are writing X kind of book, and arrange your chapter in Y way, the result for your book will be Z. Those are the basic books. The tone of the more advanced comes closer to celebrity cooking shows: “You’ll be amazed how just a touch of coriander (humor/specifics/pornography) will transform your recipe!”

The actual experience of writing is more like forcing yourself to jump off a cliff, having been told by, say, an angel that you will not in fact be smashed to jam, because you can fly – as long as you think you can. Some days, just the icon for your writing program is enough to send you to Longreads.

When you do make the jump, you can fly or you can’t. You start where you left off or somewhere else in the text that needs something better or different than you’ve managed to give it yet. Your characters need to limber up over a few (dozen) pages. Finally they stop making the kind of remark you make at cocktail parties to people you don’t know why you’re talking to. And then, from somewhere behind your left ear, an earlier prop or an embedded quarrel or a potential love affair hooks around and snatches your plot. Suddenly, the conversation is making sense, but only if we assume that… and the story is writing itself. If you can keep the scene pulled up around you, and refrain from insisting that it “work out right,” you’re golden. For the time being.

And some days, you’re smashed to jam.

There is no way to avoid either the jump or the jam. I read a bit, here and there, in my pile of how-to books, and like the blogs, they add to my little store of technique. I may even recall their tips to my great profit, if I ever get to the third draft. As soon as your nose emerges from the book, you are going to have to walk back to that cliff face. So get over it, close the book, close the writing blog and jump.

That’s all for today. I gotta go write my post.


Wish List

It’s only when the holiday fuss dies down that you realize what you’ve let yourself in for.

I assume that we all asked Santa for books last Christmas. We also gave books; we browsed Amazon and all the bookstores within driving distance; at least every third book we picked up, we wanted for ourselves. And Santa was kind, and now there’s a new pile next to the old pile. Piles, I mean.

But wait! Didn’t I swear a year ago that I would reduce that skyscraper of unread books by my chair? And did I? Actually, yes. For the first time, I kept track. My 2014 Books Read list was in two sections, new (i.e., acquired in 2014) and old. I read 55 books. And as of Jan. 1, 2015, the number awaiting me was down by… four.

Right after Christmas, I can claim that it’s not my fault. Other people gave me those new books. But as the weeks pass, and one new title after another tempts me, I sin again, and the pile mounts in tandem with the VISA bill. There are the re-reads to consider, too. No year passes without a cruise through Ngaio Marsh’s best mystery, Light Thickens. I try to save up Diana Wynne Jones’s Deep Secret for a period of stress, so I can retreat to her fictional fantasy convention where real magic is being done behind the scenes.

So, how does 2015 shape up? I’m dogging on to the end of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, a memoir of his years under the fatwa. As of New Year’s Day, it counts as an “old,” nearly polished off. I could listen to Rushdie’s voice forever, but I didn’t need 636 pages of this. The story could have been told in half that; the other half is personal therapy and score-settling, and who can blame the poor guy?

I’ve read a couple of stories from Subtly Worded by Teffi, aka Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, who lived for 45 years under the czars, through the Bolshevik revolution, and ended up in Paris in 1920, just in time to meet the “lost generation.” The book was a gift from my granddaughter, who described my reading habits and writing efforts to the book store owner, in an effort to make just the right choice. Now I’ve watched Teffi create a muddled would-be agent provocateur, a spoiled eight-year-old, and a disillusioned subject of the new Communist empire. They are all funny, until you see the terrifying truths behind them. I’m trying to see this as encouragement, instead of despairing that I will never write that well.

Thomas Pierce’s new story collection, The Hall of Small Mammals, keeps waving at me from the top of the pile. I discovered him via an NPR interview. I didn’t want to start the book before finishing my current ones, but I just peeked…. How could I wait for a story about a long-suffering mother whose good-for-nothing son parks his cloned dwarf mammoth in her laundry room?

And then there’s the biggie: Evan Thompson’s Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Science of Mind, from my Amazon Wish List. Why did I think I was up to that? The author’s interview in Tricycle was so clear, so reasonable, about his conviction that our “self” does not arise from or exist solely in our brain. We’re bigger and wholer than that. And now, thanks to another granddaughter (a molecular biologist), my bluff has been called. Slow but steady is the strategy for this one.

And then there are the books on how to write, at least a dozen of them. I never get past the first few chapters, because what they advise is so right. I rush off to apply the first lesson to my current chapter, and somehow never get back. This year will be different. Don’t Murder Your Mystery, by Chris Roerden, will be read and applied to the limits of this reader’s ability.

So here is my Mighty Oath for 2015: by December 31, the book pile will be smaller by at least… four.