Kayt Ludi
Lately, very lately, I have taken to creating blackout poems. I was first introduced to this concept in a university Creative Writing course I took a few years back. Then I was reminded of it by reading Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist (which, for all I know, is where my instructor encountered it in the first place ... who knows, stranger things have happened).

For years I've been writing a poem a day based on five to six random words. I'm such a weirdo I find this sort of thing fun. But, in doing the blackout poetry I am discovering something else - a way to process the news (aka reality) which borders on the therapeutic.

I normally get something out of writing a poem - obviously - if that weren't the case I wouldn't do it. But what I normally get is something akin to a purge. Taking a news article and covering things up in order to uncover a way to make it about something else, is completely different somehow. Rather than purging something, it's more like finding a new way to see something. Taking reality, and up-cycling it into the zip code of art (in the expressive sense of the word, not the judgey good/bad sense). Kinda like a way of saying yes, this article I just read might be about what passes for leadership rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but I can still try to make something pretty from it.

Anyway, I'm really enjoying this at the moment, and I think it's helping with stress, so I'm gonna keep going.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being CreativeSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Overall, "Steal Like An Artist" is like having a pep talk at the ready for days when you need it. The general theme of the book is a sometimes gentle, sometimes blunt, reminder that there is nothing new under the sun and that's not a bad thing. We don't live in vacuums, and art (of any variety) isn't ever going to be a virgin birth. We are all products of everything we come across, and so is what we make, and THAT IS OK. And even if you know that intellectually, you can still manage to forget it on occasion. So on days, when you feel like every idea you have is unforgivably derivative - this is a great read!

The book also offers valuable practical advice about things like not waiting until you think you're ready (you will never think you're ready) - just make things and see how it goes; keeping some kind of notebook/log of things as diverse as the noise in your head and basic habit tracking; getting/keeping side interests (AKA being a whole person in general); and not being so obsessively secretive about your projects you don't include your fellow humans in the ride (then expect them to care when you finally hit the destination). It's also full of some great quotes - I'm talking genuinely frame-worthy quality quotes!

This is not a stale, cold, boring advice book. Even the things you already know are stated in a motivating way. This book is as if a good friend sat you down and told you to stop putting so much pressure on yourself, be yourself, have some fun when possible, and get off your ass and get busy making stuff - you know you want to, and you know you should.

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I've heard other writers talk about projects that refused to go in the direction they intended/wanted, and obviously I've had ideas morph from one thing to something slightly different. However, I never really thought I'd become a victim of this particular phenomenon since I'm a dyed-in-the-wool "pantser." I have never outlined anything I've written except when forced to do so in school (and even then I always wrote the paper and then back engineered the outline). I suspect it is a combination of however my brain is wired, and the fact that, to me, outlining spoils the fun. Why would I want to bother to write something when I already know what happens?

Don't get me wrong, I have written things with a vague idea of what happens, or else there was some sort of guiding principle keeping the thing on the rails. An example would be a short story cycle in which each section occurred on a day of the week and each had an overriding theme (love, loss, betrayal, hope, etc.). But sitting down to write it I had no idea what would happen within those guidelines. The first draft of anything I write is, very literally, me telling myself the story. Or more precisely, it's the characters doing stuff which I attempt to record accurately. That may sound insane to non-writers, but I have always maintained the only difference between myself and a woman in a padded cell on a Thorazine drip is that, for reasons known only to the Universe, I'm in charge of the voices in my head, while her voices are in charge of her. But when I say "in charge" I mean that in the loosest sense. The characters that meander around in my brain are fairly autonomous, and they aren't above 'arguing' with me when I want them to do something. Though it's never been this bad before.

A couple NaNoWriMo's ago I sat down and started writing something with only the following thoughts at the start:

What if a woman turning 40 - divorced, no kids, no family besides her cat - dead-end job that sucks the life out of her daily - having a slight midlife crisis - who has always loved crime/heist/police procedural books and shows ... decided to see if she could pull off a crime herself? And what if she did it, and it worked out? What if she liked it and left everything about her old life behind?

So that was all I started with. It was NaNoWriMo, so there was no pausing to think or time for editing, just mad fits of writing as much as I could. I decided early on that I felt like this should be a series of books, that I wanted her to become some kind of female Robin Hood, and maybe after a couple of books I'd give her a love interest, maybe. Then, with Me Too in the news constantly, she morphed in my head from Robin Hood to vigilante - she branched out from hacking banks to hacking abusive corporate scum (combining blackmail and hacking to drain them of every penny AND send them to jail).

Everything was going fine, and then she went and met a guy, fell in love, and had a baby (all in the first book!). And I know I should be all "women can do it all and have it all" - I am absolutely a feminist and every woman should make any life choice she wants. But I was really annoyed she did that. I was like, "No, you can't do that yet. This is not who you are right now. You're Robin Hood, remember? Or maybe The Equalizer. You are Wonder Woman. You are Xenia Warrior Princess, for Chirist's sake! What are you doing?!? You don't need a man, you don't have time for a kid - you're saving the world, stop being all normal and shit. I am trying to write a kick ass post-feminist-Me-Too-era-heroine and you're practically turning this into a romance novel!" Not to throw shade on romance novels. Between reading way too much Austen, Kierkegaard, Turgenev, and the Analects of Confucius as a teenager, even I was slightly addicted to Danielle Steel back in the day. But that wasn't, and isn't, what I was going for.

So, the first book of the intended series wrapped itself up nicely, and the second started writing itself with me still pissed off and vaguely resentful. I have since stopped working on the second and spent probably a year TRYING to rewrite the first book, but my MC flatly refuses. Everything I rewrite feels contrived, awkward, and bland - despite the fact I'm trying to remove the 'normalcy' from her life and put her in more extreme circumstances. She went someplace she wasn't supposed to, but the story, and the writing, are a thousand times better than my attempts at reworking it. Why has she done this to me, and what do I do with her? Do I shelve her? Do I publish her? Do I keep going and see where she goes before I decide? All I know for sure is that rewriting this is ruining it.

What do you do when your characters go completely rogue?

Do you silence them ... or do you just shut up and follow them???????

I have the sinking feeling that I need to let go of my intentions and just let her do her thing. Or maybe I'm just ready for the padded cell and the Thorazine, I've been expecting them for years now.


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