Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Walked Out

In the mailbox yesterday:

That, my friends, is the cover of the South Dakota Review, issue 49.3, which contains my story "Walking Out."

South Dakota Review is going through what it calls "an ambitious transitional phase," so now would be a really good time to subscribe or submit!

Of course, you should read a sample issue before submitting. Why not this one?? On the "subscribe" page, you'll find that the "most current" issue is only $10. Less than the cost of a movie ticket, and many more hours of entertainment.

Thanks, South Dakota Review!
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Turnabouts and Mismatches

Last week, I was in the throes of updating and revising this website and didn't post anything up front here. I'm still mid-throe, as it were, but meanwhile, here's something to mull over.

Last week, the generous and talented Graham Strong, Thunder Bay writer and novelist, directed his blog readers here, to read about how I take crappy photos and yet manage to learn writing lessons from them.

This week, I give you those links to Graham in part because I appreciate his generosity and in part because he's a fellow suffer-er of the vicissitudes of country living (wells in particular). But also, I've been thinking about his novel-o-meter and "journaling the journey" approach to this novel-writing thing. I'm glad he's doing it because it's interesting to watch. So I encourage you go to over there and click around a bit.

As a professional editor and writer of things business and educational and technical, for which clients pay me, I must be aware of time. I can track time I work on something once I'm working on it, but estimating the hours a project will take has never been my strong suit. Over the years, I developed rules of thumb (e.g., double the amount of time in my estimate), but I often find that my estimates are farther from reality than I would like -- especially as I write more fiction and essays.

I am finally starting to accept that my desire to know in advance how long it will take me to "finish" a particular project (defined sometimes as "getting it published" or "giving up on it for good"), for fiction and creative nonfiction, is irrelevant. It's trying to apply a business model to an inappropriate part of the creative writing process. Lipstick on a pig, if you will.

I can certainly track the hours I put in on my fiction/essay projects. I can work to submission deadlines, which represent at least a step along the way toward "finished." I can set time targets (25 minutes at a time!) or daily word count targets for creative projects. But I can't yet accurately predict how long a particular revision (or novel draft, sigh) will take -- and maybe that's okay, too. Maybe it has to be okay. Maybe allowing things to take as long as they need is important, both to my creative development and to the quality of the finished product.

"Take as long as they need" within limits, of course. Nothing gets drafted or revised if I don't DO that. And if I need to put "draft" and "revise" on my calendar, 25 minutes at a time, to make it happen, I can. I do, in fact. And sometimes, I make progress.

In any case, for both "work" writing projects and personal writing projects, I'm always looking for ways to improve my prediction ability. So thanks, Graham, for chronicling your journey in public -- I appreciate the opportunity to learn from your experience.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If Your Writing Were a Photo...

As part of my daily "suffer for 25 minutes" discipline, I'm going through the bazillions of digital photos I've taken.

I'm also struggling a bit with several works in progress. They're in revision, as in re-vision, as in "Where is this thing going?" Not to mention, "Why won't it get there more easily, for crying out loud?"

I was mulling this over while deleting fuzzy image after fuzzy image, and I happened on a couple of photos that gave me useful ways to think about these recalcitrant works.

Whoa, dark. So maybe the answer is shining some light on the characters. What's important to them? What do they want? It's not outside the realm of possibility that I'm putting a heavy symbolic burden on those poor people, and all those symbols are obscuring the real point of the story. In this case, I need to get the actual story part out first, and leave consideration of the difference between good and evil for later. Like, maybe never.

Wow, that's a gorgeous birch tree back there. Too bad that fuzzy thing with the thing on it got in the way. Maybe the answer for my writing is to look at point of view -- which character is telling the story? Whose story is it? Is it the type of story better told by an observer or a participant? How does the observer change by observing? Another set of questions: is the setting of the story entirely in focus and particular, but the story itself too generic? How can I sharpen the characters?

Both images represent ways to think about different elements of a revision. Who knew that dud photos could turn out to be tools?