Friday, March 10, 2017

"Bad" Pieces of Writing

So I am currently sick. I've got a flu situation going on and a headache that won't go away, so that's a thing. I started noticing that my nose was running yesterday while I was teaching in class, and today it seems to be building towards a climax. As I'm typing, I feel like it's already at the climactic point of the sick day, but the thing about sick days for non-doctors is that we never really know when it's over until it's over. So I'll just have to endure it.

I wanted to start typing a monologue just now, and I got about 100 words in before I gave up on it and started writing this post instead. I didn't know how to start writing the monologue so I watched Mike Birbiglia's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend to listen to how he started his hour. After the welcoming applause died down, he started with "So about five years ago, pretty much everyone who I knew started to get married". So he started telling his (true) story by clarifying the context of the story. He wanted people to know that it was in the recent past, and it was about people getting married.

He continued to explain that he didn't believe in marriage, saying that it was insane. And having watched the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute thing before, I knew that by the end of the story, he said he got married to his current-wife, Jen. So what happened within that hour-and-fifteen-minutes was a journey of a guy who didn't believe in marriage to finally getting married. The main character goes through some trials and tribulations, overcomes some difficulties, and finally develops into a person who can accept being married to the person they love. So there's a very clear "from here to there" story type of situation going on, and I like that structure a lot.

And when I was trying to figure out where the story my character was trying to get to from the first hundred words, I couldn't come up with an answer. Trying and failing to figure out a story is no fun. Add a headache and runny nose to the equation and the result is even less fun. So I ended up bailing on the story, because I felt it was too tacky. I was trying to pull a lot from my own experiences as a teacher, but still trying to make a work of fiction. And sometimes that helps, but in this instant, it didn't because I feel like I was trying to inject some drama into a story that didn't have any. At least that's how I view my own experiences as a teacher. Lots of perceived misery, but objectively rather smooth-sailing all around.

I had the thought of "maybe Mr Birbiglia's story was so interesting because his life was an interesting one and he thus had interesting stories to tell, and mine isn't at all interesting, that's why I can't put down anything even half as interesting on the page". But then I am reminded of a screenwriter I follow on Twitter's advice, which was "just finish that first, bad draft, because you can't fix something that isn't there to be fixed."

So maybe it would be in my best interest to write that uninteresting thing first, and then after I've finished it, figure out how I'm going to turn it into something interesting? It sounds like a lot of work, and I'd be putting myself in a vulnerable position by making a "bad" piece of work. I don't want to finish something I would consider bad. I'd much rather have not made anything at all, instead of having made something "bad".

But of course, that works against my interest, because at the end of the day, everything I write is bad, if not to me then to someone else. And because I think I have real good taste in writing, it'll be even harder for me to finish making something "good enough" for me, because the bar's set so impossibly high. I want to achieve what I wrote in one night to be as good as what somebody else took a long long time to perfect and edit many many times. Memang susah la kalau macam tu.

So let's try writing that "bad" piece of writing, Anwar. That's your first step, okay?

Here's to finishing "bad" pieces of writing.

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