From time to time, I fail to avoid clicking on a list of what people my age shouldn’t wear, and it always makes me more stubborn.* So what if my neck is a little wrinkly? I’m still going to wear a bit of a scoop neck and a gold chain, not a turtleneck and a brooch. Turtlenecks make me look like Grandpa Munster. I’m growing my hair out at the moment, and would be happy if I could get it into a braid, even if it makes me look drawn. I’m not one of those ladies who look elegant with a silver-flecked close-cropped do, because my head is just too big. Half my clothes are black because I like black, and I will wear athletic clothes any time I like because I’m an athlete. I buy clothes in instant-fashion stores, and my best compliments seem to come from people my mother would have been exaggeratedly polite to because they were Not Our Kind, Dear. Also, I have a couple of tattoos and may get another one some time soon when I pay off my credit cards.
I am also belligerent about other kinds of negative lists, especially lists of what to avoid when writing. If I pay attention to them, I’ll never write another word. For example, Elmore Leonard‘s first rule, “Never start with the weather”? I’ll start with the weather if I feel like it, and I often do. It puts me in the scene, makes me look around and notice what’s going on, and sets the mood.
Another one is “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” I luxuriate in describing characters in detail.
Likewise, I write long sentences, I use adjectives, and I do not eschew adverbs, not even “very.” I use words I don’t quite understand all the time.
That is, on first drafts.
With first drafts, the idea is to embrace writing, not to avoid writing. This morning, for instance, I wrote a very long description of the architecture of a neighborhood, including its past and a meditation on how the protagonist used to be driven through it with the doors locked against undefined lower-class danger. I included weather. I may have even used intensifiers like “very,” “extremely,” and even “immoderately,” because I grew up reading Victorian-era potboilers. The only thing my protagonist did, the only action she took, was drop a child off at someone’s house and purchase a new phone.
As a result of this badness, I wrote over 1400 words over a very brief period this morning†
And when I come to the end of my manuscript, I will go back and take out all the intensifiers, all the passages of precious writing, all the glutinous chunks of extended architectural description, and some of the weather. ‡
That’s because my first drafts are explorations. I write in order to find out what happens, not to craft elegant prose.
You do what you like.
Later today, I’m going to write all kind of things that sound like writing, and a bunch of unnecessary scenes with no action in them, and I’ll sprinkle it very liberally with immoderate numbers of adverbs, and I will triumphantly regard my word count and back up my Scrivener file carefully. Very carefully. Extremely carefully. As carefully as if the wind was about to blow it out of my wrinkled over-60 hands.
*That said, I do like one list of “what not to wear after 50” which begins “You are over 50 for fuck’s sake. Wear whatever you want.”
†I am not including the words in this blog entry. I also didn’t write anything yesterday, the first day of NaNoWriMo, because I work one full day a week and that day was yesterday. I I bring every ounce of creativity in my soul to that work. I usually start the day with no idea what I’m going to teach my teaching practicum undergraduates in their seminar at the end of the day, and within the first hour I know.**
‡But not all of it. I like weather. Books that don’t have any weather in them feel to me as if they take place on a stage set or the back halls of an enclosed shopping mall.
**Yesterday: Attribution theory, fixed versus growth mindset, the huge swaths of time teachers must spend on things that are not actually face-to-face instruction, things my students need to avoid in their demonstration lessons, and all the things each one individually has to make up, reschedule, and complete.***
***Also, figuring out a way to deal with a young man who stayed up until 2:00 am Halloween night before practicum and who arrived in school late, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, when my first session with them was on professional dress. I figured out a way: Direct statement, as in “Dude, you can’t dress that way. Don’t do it again.” He will do it again. Unfortunately, the mandated grading system set out in my syllabus has no provision for advising people to seek another career as soon as possible.1
1. I love my students and they are incredibly hard working and resilient, please do not ever tell me anything that starts with “Kids these days” or anything like that, because I will be rude to you. Individual students, however, sometimes jump the shark in amusing ways and I like to tell stories about them.
§ Yes, I know my footnote system doesn’t make any sense today.