Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A writer’s dilemma

When I’m in my car, I listen to the radio, either the public radio classical music station or the public radio news station, except on Sundays when I tune into the local university station for folk, blue grass, women’s voices and world music.

Every once in a while, I’ll hear lyrics to a song or parts of an interview that compel me to make a quick note for future investigation. Trouble is, to ensure I’m not totally distracted from driving, I use a self-made shorthand. Generally, I don’t have a problem deciphering my notes.

However, since my writing comes from all the busybody people who are living in my head, I also often jot down phrases, descriptions, notations, reminders, and quick summaries that would otherwise be lost by the time I get to a word processor.

These are the notes that, when I find them wedged between the seat and the console or in the glove box, or on the floor in the back seat, that I have to wonder:

Did I hear these words on the radio or did I hear them in my head?

Happened today. I grabbed a piece of paper to record a phone number. On that paper were eleven words I absolutely don’t recall writing, yet alone pulling out of my head. They are good words, deep, almost poetic, but totally useless unless I can trace their origin. I think they’re mine because they fit a plot that’s been churning for a few months but I hesitate to use them for fear they might be labeled as plagiarized.

I know I’ll never be organized enough to transcribe the notes in a timely fashion. They’ll always be waiting for me to find them and follow up as originally planned. That’s the way I am.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to use a quick grading system for these notes. I’ll use a question mark to denote something I’ve heard and an exclamation point to indicate the words are mine.

I think this will work. Now, those eleven words … I guess I’ll just have to dig deeper to find out if they come from my imagination or from the radio.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I’m not an expert but …

I’m not an expert but …

I’m not a poker expert.

I play poker – not as much as I did in the past but I play poker.

I am not a poker expert but I know how to play, I do play, and I study the game. I visit the local poker rooms here in Las Vegas, I read poker blogs, I’m acquainted with a number of professional poker players, I’ve worked for poker magazines, I’ve written for several poker magazines, and I keep up to date on what’s going on in poker news.

I write about poker in my weekly column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

I’m not a poker expert. I am a student of the game, an avid fan and a somewhat fierce competitor.

I’ve never won much money playing poker and I probably never will. I’ve never won a major poker tournament title and I am close to lousy at figuring out pot odds, implied odds, knowing how many times a pair of aces before the flop will win.

Someone posed this question to me a few years ago:

If you’ve never made a lot of money or won a major tournament, how can you write about poker?

I usually answer that with an air of smugness.

If you’re an obstetrician who happens to be a man, do you need to have a baby in order to deliver one?

The point is obvious. Serious students who do the research and study related topics can write about something they’ve never physically experienced.

Here’s an example. Let’s say your main character has just been shot. You’ve never been shot so how can you write about it? You describe the character, how she normally reacts to pain (Celia had withstood the pain of childbirth, knew what it felt like to break a bone, but she’d the pain of the bullet in her leg was nothing like either of these.)

You can go on to describe the wound; after all, you’ve seen enough gunshot wounds on television and in the movies. (She glanced at her new white blouse, watched the crimson stain of blood seep into it, looking like a bad imitation of a Rorschach test.)

You can equate the situation directly to something from the past. (Once, when she was fasting for some medical tests, as she waited for the technician, the room began to spin. She felt lightheaded, woozy, shaky, and everything around her appeared to grow dark. She’d fainted then, and she knew she was going to that again, here in the garage, as she bled from her wound.)

None of this is great literature; it’s just a group of quickly written scenarios to show that a creative writer doesn’t need to have experienced what she writes.

By the way: Nope, I'm not a poker expert but based on my studies and research, my tutorial software, and a lot of friends who play professionally, I can more than hold my own in a game.

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