Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Today's Metaphor for Revision

Here's a project I should have been helping more with. Except I've been indoors, revising.

But I think what I've been doing is a lot like what's going on with this tree. Here's why.
* Sometimes you have a tree and what you need is firewood, so you take out a tree.
* Sometimes a tree falls down and you might as well cut it up (lemonade from lemons, as it were).
* Sometimes a tree hasn't quite fallen down yet but when it does, it'll destroy other stuff so you take it down and since it's down, why not make firewood.
* Sometimes a tree dies and you leave it standing because the birds find it useful.
* Sometimes you have a tree.

The thing is, it's your tree--your life experience. You decide what to do about it. You don't even have to write about it.

But if you want to write about your life experience, sometimes you have to revise the hell out of your original work. Or so I've found.

The work is improving in its new form--either through fifteen to twenty years of seasoning and perspective that lets me see and shape it more clearly, or because I just have more skill. Or both.

So. Sometimes revising is "fixing," but sometimes it's "felling" and "sawing." So I think today, at least.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016

When It's Ajar

When IS a door not a door?

When I'm revising. At least at this point in the process.

In On Writing, Stephen King said, "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." Meaning, write "for yourself" until you get it as right as you can, then think about how other people might read it.

In relation to my (APPARENTLY NEVER-ENDING) revision projects, by his definition my door is still closed. But by my definition--anything that comes after the throes of creation, any time I can return to a draft with slightly jaundiced eyes--my door is ajar.

I'm certainly not thinking, "Who would ever publish this?" or "Where should I submit this?" or "What's the word count for that contest again?" All "door open" questions.

But I am thinking, "What does a reader who doesn't know me need to know in order to care about the story I'm telling?" And, "Oh, by the way, is this even a story?" So: still trying to get it right. Sorta.

Yet, I do have some perspective. I'm far enough away from the early drafts that I can see the things I did to make myself feel better while I was pounding out early drafts--unique word choices, a shrug instead of explanation of why something's important, creating a scene that doesn't do much but justify a character's (my) actions. All "door closed" things.

Some of that stays (word choices for specific people), but much of it goes (justifications), and some has to be massaged (impact).

So yeah. Ajar. For now.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Doldrums

I'm revising a couple of things. Okay, several things. And by "revision" I mean a wide range of things, from "more" (writing new material to see if it broadens the emotional range I'm going for) to "less" (reading aloud to ensure that the words I'm using are the ones I actually mean).

Sometimes I want to throw papers in the air. Most of what I'm working on is still pixels, which are more difficult to toss into the air in frustration. Also: although creativity is a messy process, not all messes actually move me forward. (Your mileage may vary here.)

So to entertain myself, I tried to label this point in the revision process. I looked up "the doldrums," and learned that what I sort of thought meant "becalmed" has a lot more nuance. In fact, the doldrums (according to Wikipedia) include variable weather patterns--severe weather (I especially like thinking of my frustrations as "squalls") as well as those periods of calm when basically nothing happens.

In any case, that's where I am. Depending on the moment, frustrated or inspired (and both!). Trying different things. Resisting things I know I should do (cutting--the "sunk costs" thing is hard for me to overcome). Mulling over options while doing other things. Listening to podcasts to procrastinate.

This week's Scriptnotes podcast: very helpful. John August and Craig Mazin (at about 10 minutes in) talk through ways to apply The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (no I haven't read it) to your writing work. Lots of interesting and helpful stuff there. As usual.

But no podcast is going to do my revisions. That's on me.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016

To Read, or Not to Read?

August brings guests. At least in this part of the world.

Most rooms in our house have bookshelves and/or books lying around. Except for the guest room.

Which, come to think of it, maybe should be exactly the place you leave books. Or at least reading material. Although visitors ostensibly come to VISIT, there may be times when they want to hole up in a room and read. Or there may be times when they're the only person awake and would pick up something to read.

Maybe not novels--unless the guests have real problems with insomnia. But something?

With that in mind, I left a couple of fresh issues of The New Yorker in the guest room.

I just had another thought. We could move a bookshelf into the guest room and THAT could be the one we stock with local and regional writing. Hmmm.

Not before our guests arrive, though.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016


So, the wait is over. I've had some good health-related news, and, of course, some writing rejections, because that's all part of life. I'll take it.

The wait is also over for both political parties in the U.S. By this weekend, both conventions will be over, their nominees officially in place. For the most part, I avoid talking about politics in public anymore. But it's still the best theatre (or theater) in which to hone one's, um, critical thinking skills.

And, as it happens, it's a great venue in which to learn about writing--speechwriting in particular. Here are two articles about the speech Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention earlier this week.
By Roy Peter Clark, at the Poynter Institute: Eight Writing Lessons from Michelle Obama's DNC Speech. Read this to learn about the magic of three, about narrative, about pronouns, and other good things. 
By Rebecca Thering, writing at Medium: The Line I Wish Michelle Obama Hadn't Said in her Badass DNC Speech. Read this to see why people in other countries sometimes roll their eyes about U.S. political speeches. 
Now that July is nearly over, now that much of my uncertainty (and vacation) is behind me, now that political season is pushing through to its November conclusion, I'm switching gears.

Therefore, it's time for a famous quote from one of the best TV shows ever, The West Wing: "What's next?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Five Tips for Waiting

"If you can fill the unforgiving minute/with sixty seconds' worth of distance run" 

I didn't encounter this Kipling poem until my first exposure to sports psychology at university, but it reminds me of my parents' insistence that we spend our time in "useful" ways. And I can't shut up that Kipling-in-my-head as I wait.

Yes, this is the same waiting I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I'm still waiting on the most nerve-wracking stuff, but not for much longer.

Meanwhile, the clock seems to be moving ever more slowly as it counts down. Some periods of time are just awkward--not long enough to complete something, too long to "do nothing" (read for pleasure or scan Twitter) without guilt. (Darn that Kipling.)

So here are some possible ways to handle those weirdo time periods:

1. Chunk the awkward time. If you have a flight, meeting, or appointment mid-afternoon, you still have the full morning to do stuff as if it were a normal day. (I can't be the only person who has to remind herself of this fact each time.) Or not do stuff, as you wish. Set a time (say 1 p.m.) to switch gears, and ignore the commitment till then.

2. Consult a list. Okay, this requires pre-planning, but lists are useful. Awkward time periods can be helpful for research or doing weird tasks. For example: looking into those potentially interesting vacation spots, discovering where to rent kayaks in town, checking whether your streaming service or local library carries a specific movie you want to watch later.

Power outages are prime times for me to use these lists--I don't know how long it will be out, so using time well is a challenge. I use a lot of email in my work, which requires electricity. (Even if the laptop battery is charged, the router needs power. I also have to remind myself of this, because all technology seems so magical.) So I have a list of things to do when the power goes out. Some of them are work things (filing, sorting other stacks of paper), some of them aren't (culling sweaters to give away, using non-electrical devices like brooms and rags to clean things). I keep the list on paper in my Filofax, because I'm analog like that and also so it's available when we don't have electricity.

3. Make a list. See #2. Maybe you have 13 minutes before a conference call and you've done everything else you can think of. You can still make a list--places you'd like to see, activities you'd like to do someday. It doesn't have to be a long list. It doesn't have to be a "useful" list of to-dos. It doesn't have to be a list with a purpose--but you might find one for it later. A list of your favorite board games from childhood might give you ideas for something to do with the kids over the weekend. Or, if you're a writer, what is your main character most afraid of--and can you make that happen? You can list all kinds of stuff. Although making a list of things you're grateful for is always useful, I tend to resist doing it--which is in itself a sure sign of its potential value.

4. Meditate. Or pray, or visualize something peaceful or cheerful or beautiful. Or do whatever makes your mind quiet and helps you remember and then become your best self. Because even if you're gearing up for something unpleasant, like an uncomfortable meeting or a confrontation, bringing your best self to it is going to make it go better.

5. Go for a walk. I spend a lot of time sitting, and my hip flexors feel it. So I'm more conscious of choosing to move. I pace up and down in airports, much as my father used to (and yes, it used to make me roll my eyes). (By the way, it's interesting to see how similar airports are. And aren't.) Even if you can't leave a reception area, you can stand up. Moving around just feels good.

Truthfully, most of these are just more organized ways of goofing off or distracting yourself. But that also helps time pass, and makes that Kipling-in-my-head shut up, just a little.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Vacating and Recreating

That's what I'm up to this week. Difficult as it is to leave this place at this time of the year (or, like, ever), I'm enjoying family time.

Here's something else I really really really enjoyed recently.

Come Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant

I mean, what is not to love? It's funny and insightful and goes off the rails on occasion, and what is not to love about that?

Please: do not say no to this tortoise and her current "owner," Audrey. You will laugh.