"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Friday, May 24, 2013

Just Breathe

I leave for New York City in less than a week. LESS THAN A WEEK. In fact I leave next Wednesday. It's been hard not to let that thought worm its way into my brain during every waking moment the past couple of days. To say I'm excited would be a massive understatement. (O_O) But we're going to keep this civilized. Hopefully this post won't devolve into me screaming excitedly from the floor, "I'm going to New York! I'm going to Carnegie Hall! I'm going to NEW YORK!" Right. Deep breaths, Laura.

Recently my twitter feed has been caught in a deluge of tweets from authors saying they are going to be at BEA (BookExpoAmerica, for the uninitiated) in New York City. I just assumed that this huge literary convention would not be happening at the same time as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, because who would want to make my dreams come true all at once, really? But surprisingly, I was dead wrong. BEA is happening at the SAME TIME that I will be in New York. What's that? You mean all of Laura's favorite authors are going to be descending on the very city that she's visiting at the same time that she's visiting it? That's right. And you bet I'll be looking for them.

But! Before this turns into a creep fest, I actually have a direction for this post! Since so many fantastic writers and book lovers and award winning teens are going to be traveling next week, I thought I'd share a few tips on how to get the most of your experience in any new place:

1. Bring a notebook. I don't care if you don't think you're a writer, or if you've never carried one in your life. Bring it, and write in it. It doesn't have to be big or fancy. You don't have to write a lot. Just write down whatever feels most important. A picture of the Statue of Liberty is one thing, but with iconic features like that you can't truly relive that moment unless you write it down.

2. Resist the urge to share every moment on social media. I know it's tempting, and the occasional tweet, instagram, or facebook update is fine, but you're on vacation! The experiences you have are a million times more meaningful than any Facebook status, no matter how many likes it gets.

3. Don't get distracted by your own ideas. When I'm in a new place it can feel like the neurons in my brain are firing at full speed. Sometimes I'll get several shiny new ideas related to where I am or what I'm working on, and I won't be able to stop thinking about them. But the truth is, those nuggets of genius are a result of your surroundings, and thus probably won't seem so perfect once you're back home. How much can I really know about New York subway tunnels after five days in the city? Certainly not enough to base my new idea for a spy novel off of them, even though it might seem  brilliant while I'm rocketing around underground. (Disclaimer, I'm not actually writing a spy novel.)

4. Instead, just breathe it all in. Don't take away from the experience by trying to create stories around it; just experience it. Write things down not for the sake of writing but for the sake of remembering. There's a great quote that I found recently that applies to this idea: "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry move through you and be silent." -Kahlil Gibran

I plan to be as silent possible while in New York, unless of course I happen to spot Neil Gaiman, in which case I'll run up to him and demand that we have coffee and chat about writing or art or something. Fool proof plan, right?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Quote of the Day: The Page

So, I'm writing this from my phone. I'm not sure if that makes me more or less professional... Needless to say I will be thoroughly checking for typos when this is finished, and I apologize for any weird autocorrect problems.

It seems only fitting that after a short hiatus we start at the beginning again. We start with the blank page. I recently ran across this absolutely stunning quote from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life:

"Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know. The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time's scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity..."

I think writers struggle with the blank page for much the same reason we struggle with uncertainty. That's what it is, isn't it? The uncertainty of not knowing what to write, or if it will be good. The sheer terror of knowing that you are creating something from thin filaments of thought that may not hold up on their own. Everyone has felt dread like a weight in their stomach. Everyone knows what it is to be alone and unsure, staring if not into a blank whiteness, then into a blue sky or a pair of eyes that don't answer back. When I first read this quote, I thought "the page" sounded like a cruel teacher. But then, what is life if not the same thing?

But there is one crucial difference between life and the page. Between all the uncertainty and mystery they both hold, the page is permanent. That is something that life will never be, and maybe that's for the best. I love what Dillard says about ruining everything you touch but touching it anyway. Making art is the act of ruining, of marring something that was once clear and white and beautiful, and only when the ruin turns into beauty can we call it art. I used to get so frustrated when my teachers would pose the "What is art?" question, usually citing one of Duchamp's ready-mades as an example of something that was questionable. I used to think, aren't we done with this question? Haven't we figured this out by now? And what's more, if everyone's interpretation of art is different, then why bother to ask? I still think that "what is art?" is a poor question. I think we can do better than that. I think we should assess our own ideas about art and ruin, about uncertainty and permanence. We should come up with our own questions that have answers that belong only to us. And this leads me to my favorite part of the Annie Dillard quote, which is that she is asking us to choose action over uncertainty, to say yes to ruin. This is the part that I'm still working on. For some reason I've grown comfortable with the uncertainty and the doubt, and I think if I just hold out long enough it will fade to the background. And then, when I do act, I discover again how wonderful it is, and how much better it is than staring at a blank page. This is all still a work in progress, but I'm beginning to be okay with that. I'm beginning to understand that writing is work and that it doesn't always come like it is now, straight from my fingers into this tiny phone keyboard. And yeah, most of what we touch is ruined. But there's always an exception to the rule.