1. Honey woke up late, and I didn’t feel like getting out of bed either, even though I heard the boys stirring downstairs. So we got off to a later start than usual. And then Toots slept in a bit and didn’t want to wake, and for about the third time in six years of living together, I woke up Grandma, who I knew had an earlier exercise class on Tuesdays, to ask her if she would take Toots with her so I could edit. And, by the way, Toots only wanted Grandma to get her out of bed this morning, too.
2. I was getting into the shower when the last family members to leave for the day were already out the door — that put me about an hour into the precious writing time.
3. I experienced a few technical difficulties that caused much smoke to emit from my ears and unsavory language to disembark from my mouth. Good thing I was home alone, but that did not prevent me from calling my tech support, Honey, at work to fume and swear in his general direction. Poor guy was working on a big project at work. Like he needed my vitriol in his ear at that moment, too. Thanks for putting up with me Hon, even though you didn’t really help and I ended up figuring out ‘go arounds’ myself.
4. I figured out ‘go arounds’ myself. Even re: stuff I didn’t bring up to my dear spouse.
5. I opened the Document.
6. I stared at it, knowing full well what I needed to do to it, and I stared at the critiqued copy which was telling me what to do with it, but apparently I did not have my listening ears on.
7. I called a fellow writing friend who thankfully was home sick from work up in Boston (how selfish of me, I know, but I did wish him to feel better, and he did help a lot with giving me a better perspective of why I was using a device that I was at the moment struggling to edit).
8. I listened to a couple of songs on youtube. Those youngsters today are making some good music. Please check out bands: A Day To Remember, Rise Against and Snow Patrol. Be forewarned, these are my rocknroller teen’s current favorite bands.
8.5 I whined on Facebook.
9. I kicked myself in the figurative butt and started typing.
10. I ended up pretty happy with what I got, and called my Boston writing friend again to confirm, and he gave me one more good piece of advice: put it dialogue instead of the main character’s thoughts. Actually, I think I screamed it over him as he said it, but it would have taken me longer to get to the realization if I hadn’t called Mr. Snuffles.
11. I saved it, in two places (always back up, lesson learned a long time ago when I was writing my thesis and my hard drive crashed taking my thesis with it, and I had 3 days and nights to cobble it all back together from old notes while hallucinating from sleep deprivation) and then
12. Grandma walked back in the door with Toots.
So I will finish the last few pages another time, maybe when Toots goes down for nap. Or tomorrow morning before I go to work…
I guess, I’m saying (and I have to thank the same friend in Boston for this one, too): “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” ~Doris Lessing
Crossposted from Musings in Mayhem
All I want is to finish it. In my heart, I still love it. But after so many edits, this edit is really a bore to do. In my house, two kids are gone for a month, including the most distracting one. In and around my house is a lot of neglected house stuff, largely due to my trying to focus on the manuscript.
When I try to write at home, even if I have my mother-in-law take the 3-year-old out of the house for a couple of hours, invariably I putz around finding other things to do until, lo and behold, they return, and I haven’t even pulled the critiqued manuscripts out of my tote bag. Like the day last week, when Toots decided waking up throwing up was the way to go that day rather than out of the house with Grandma. I sank her into the couch with Netflix streaming kid videos, and the next thing I knew, I found myself hacking branches in the yard in 100 degree heat, because that apparently was immensely preferable to actually finishing my novel.
And I had a good session on it the day before when I did my usual Tuesday routine of packing everything up and taking it to the library to edit. Okay, so the next day, off to the library I went, and knocked through two chapters in a fairly painless edit session.
As I write this, I look back over this very morning, noting that, yes, I had an early doctor appointment, from which I left a bit upset, mostly just burnt out on doing the specialist shuffle, so I gave myself permission to see another human being, I mean tea chat with a friend, and then another friend who is back in town visiting from far far away showed up, and finally I trotted myself off to the library. I couldn’t settle in as the place was teaming with people, and then the summer camps came tromping through in droves, so I turned right around, having never even opened the laptop. Read more
Yesterday my 3-year-old son discovered the camera. Now, given that his father and I are both photo obsessed (to the point that we have weekly photo dates and are signed up for a photo retreat together this March) the only really surprising thing is that Gabe hasn’t picked up a camera sooner. I do have to put in a little disclaimer here, that the camera he picked up was our point-and-shoot Fuji, not one of our two DSLR cameras. So instead of freaking out and yelling “PUT THAT THING DOWN NOW!” I was like, “Go nuts, kid.” And he did.
For the last day and a half he has been snapping pictures of anything and everything, from the pantry cupboards to our cat (many, many pictures of the cat), his grandmother, his Ikea crawling tube, rocks, and his own shadow. He especially seems to like extreme close-ups, which come out in a cool blur of color. At one point he was closing in on his sippy cup and his grandma said something like “Don’t do that dear, it won’t look good,” and I practically jumped down her throat. OK, not quite that bad. But I did tell her to let him have his experiments. We’re in the digital age, he can take as many pictures as he wants!
After a day and a half of photo taking, he had filled up the memory card. Here is where I thought the hard part would come. I wanted to teach him about the most important part of photography — editing. So I loaded all his photos onto the computer and asked him to give me a “yes” or “no” as to whether he liked each image. What surprised me was how a string of “no”s came out easily. He kept his favourite subjects (the cat, grandma, his Ikea crawling tube) and quickly nixed anything that he didn’t love. I ended up over-riding his “no” a couple times when I wanted to keep an image. After all, it’s my baby’s first photo shoot! And that shot of the cement tiles was really cool!
And what I have now is really priceless. A collection of images, literally from my toddler’s point of view. I get to see the world from his perspective. And it’s chaotic and swirly and beautiful. And it may just be that I am biased because his father and I are both artists, but I think this first venture into photography shows his already acute artistic eye. But then, all children are artists. We only cease to be artists when we cease believing in our art.
So here again I can learn from my son. I can see his joy in capturing the moments of his day, and it is a reflection of the joy I feel when I look at my world through that lens. It reminds me why I love photography so much. Because in that process of re-framing your world, you become child-like in wonder at the smallest thing. That awe, that connection to the world around me, is why I keep coming back to my camera. It is meditation in motion. And I am so excited that now my son gets to have that experience with me.
…you can frustrate me:
1. my new printer won’t communicate with my computer, so I can’t print out the edits I did at writing group to read and redline a bit more by pages in hand.
2. you come to me in fits and starts while occupying half my concentration all the time.
…you make me do cartwheels, figuratively speaking, of course:
1. I love a new idea, it makes my heart race and my arms want to write or type in that very moment to the exclusion of all else. I get that tingly feeling like a teen falling in love.
2. I love rewriting, reworking, getting it right.
3. (Please let there be a 3 so the positive side can win today.) That netherworld feeling of one foot here, in the house with the kids and the laundry, and one foot there, in my imagination with my character and his family and friends and dog. This week has been hovering around 100 degrees outside and in my manuscript, it’s Thanksgiving in New England — bare trees, the beginnings of snow, nose reddening winds.
Ah, thank you writing, for the cool, cool breeze!
[Crossposted from musings in mayhem]
Remember this list?
I spent the previous two days at writing camp with my writing group. Two whole days dedicated to writing. Yesterday I had a different meeting in the morning, but then I headed straight to my writing camp’s day two, and thought I was going to have trouble, but amazingly got right to it! I seriously surprised myself by what I accomplished in the last 48 hours!
The List now looks like this:
DONE~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes
DONE~write observatory scene using A. H.’s notes
Fixed~pay attention to name changes for T. B. and T. N.
working on~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description
working on~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene
working on~edit down cooking relevance
mostly finished, maybe a bit more at the end~more on comets
I also edited it a bit more in making sentences and paragraphs more succinct in the first 50 or so pages.
I need to edit the observatory scene now, but at least it’s on paper – er, computer screen. I think my next stage is to print and edit again by hand. I read very differently on paper than on screen, and can see needed changes so much better.
I obviously need to be in a different environment than my office with my home distractions to be able to concentrate on my manuscript edits.
The other five women I sat in quiet with for the past two days expressed the same thing. Here’s the funny part: I thought it was because of my kids, etc, but only half of us have children at home, and of varying ages. I am the only one with a toddler or a special-needs child, of course, I have one of each. Two are grandmothers who live with their retired spouses, who are both very good at busying themselves. And one is home while her husband still goes to the office.
We’re all at a stage of editing a large work we’re committed to. All of our projects are middle reader or young adult novels. Yesterday we planned that the rest of our usual twice a month meetings for the summer will be devoted to writing, no critique.
This way, when autumn comes around, we will all have work to critique. How’s that for commitment? I couldn’t do this without them. I am so grateful to my writing group and to the time we commit to working together.
[crossposted from musings in mayhem]
Some people are born list makers and some definitively are not. I fall somewhere in between.
I like to make a list then buck it; or avoid making a list, thinking I can keep this, that and everything else in my head.
The truth of the matter is there are some instances in which making a bonafide list is truly necessary.
Otherwise I go into the grocery store for lemons, milk, asparagus, dill, and artichokes, and I come out with ice cream, cookies, potato chips, and baking soda. Then we have no vegetable side dish for dinner.
In the case of working on my manuscript, I found, I had a good editing list “in my head,” but I wasn’t doing the editing. It became daunting knowing I had to look for, and keep in mind this variety of “to dos” as I read through the manuscript. So what I actually ended up doing was nitpick editing the first 20-30 pages over and over again, getting hung up on a comma or a sentence, or a preposition. Then let two weeks go by, until I hit my writing group again and could sit there for three hours and look at the same 20-30 pages over again.
So, when I was at writing group yesterday, this suddenly dawned on me. I mean, it wasn’t really a new concept. I had been vaguely aware that I was preventing myself from doing the real work that needed doing for a while, but I saw an honest to goodness bluebird out the window, which set me dreaming about the edges of things, because they live in edge forests by open fields. The next thing I knew, I realized, I had been on the edge of my manuscript for months now.
So, yes, I KNEW what I needed to do, and it was plenty the more I mulled it, so I decided to write it down.
First I wrote down the chapter headings, made a list of all the chapters, like a table of contents without the page numbers. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that I could combine a couple of these short chapters into one in a few places, which would simplify a lot, really.
Then I made a list at the bottom of that which looks like this:
~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes
~write observatory scene using A.H.’s notes
~pay attention to name changes for T.B. and T.N.
~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description
~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene
~edit down cooking relevance
~more on comets
While it still covers a lot of tasks, some quite involved, to see them written down is so much less confungulating (hybrid of confusing and confounding and frustrating my non-writer Honey came up with, which I love!) than when I was trying to keep them in my mind.
This way I can separate out the tasks and work on them, one at a time, and maybe fix a few of those name changes along the way.
What a concept! And to think I used to counsel my tutorial students to do exactly the same thing in organizing their much shorter papers.
Crossposted from musings in mayhem
Friday night, I arrived with Honey in Denver, CO. Gor-ge-ous sunset on the drive from the airport. Sorry, I did not bring a camera for this trip. I was going to write, after all, not fool around taking pictures! But I did curse myself up and down for lack of camera when it came to that sunset.
We helped my husband’s cousin set up his speaking engagement/seminar, and ate a late dinner of hotel bar food. the Grand Hyatt 1876 Lounge had a three-sauce sampler for fried zucchini and portabello mushrooms that was a bit greasy, but the middle sauce for dipping was a tomato jam I could have eaten on anything for eternity and never missed another flavor. I ate it on Honey’s sweet potato fries that came with his pork sliders. I couldn’t get enough of that tomato jam.
Food rhapsody over for the moment, I turn to the purpose for leaving my children on Mother’s Day weekend: to write!!!
My manuscript is, after all, my other child. They do vie for attention constantly.
Saturday morning, my dear Honey trotted off to do his tech support function for his cousin, while I stayed in the hotel room under the auspices of writing. I proceeded to drive myself completely berserk, agonizing over getting past the block I had regarding what I knew I needed to do to the manuscript. I’d been having this block for months and was blaming my lack of time alone for it. So I got the time alone, and still went bonkers.
I finally said, I must walk! I am in a new city. I have never set foot in Denver proper. I must find the nearest green space to find some solace in my frustrated writer’s soul.
I rode the elevator down to concierge and she pointed me toward the capitol and its park. Then she looked dejected as she recalled, “But there is a huge Cinco de Mayo Festival going on there, so you won’t see much of the green.”
I replied, “No problem, I love to people watch.” Along the walk, I met an adorable nine-week-old brindle coated sweet little pit bull puppy. And the young man on the other end of the leash, who had a big smile, proud to show off his new little girl. It’s been a long time since my “Boston days” between tall buildings, seeing the slant of light and shadow play down the walls and windows. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I hit the busy amusement park set up of Cinco de Mayo, on the eighth of May. Lots of good sights and sounds and distractions and rhythms, and some construction of the park, and children on rides, and walking and Spanish and dancing, and a lot of Dos Equis displays.
I didn’t stay long, and the capitol building in Denver is a gold domed beaut, like my beloved Boston capitol building, so that was nice for my suburban aching heart to see. Then I turned back to the hotel and to face the open document on the laptop.
More agonizing. I called a friend, who asked me to send it to her, to which I promptly said NO! Then backtracked that I was sitting there staring at seven critiques already. She kindly said, “Oh, no, you don’t need me to look at it. You need to know that what you know you have to do to your manuscript is good because it will make it better!”
I said, “Aha! That was the missing piece! Editing will make it better!”
And so I began to edit. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I still struggled, was still largely attached to what I had already written, but I moved stuff around, rewrote the beginning.
Loads more to the weekend, but as far as the writing, that’s what I did. I agonized, I moved something around, I agonized, I moved stuff around. I agonized, I deleted a few lines here and there. And I agonized some more. I made it to page 5 out of 120. And I was disappointed enormously with my new first line.
I thought, “If I picked this book up off the shelf, and read that opening line? I’d put it back.”
And then, the day after my arrival home, my writing group met to write on Tuesday. All of a sudden, I was able to work much more effectively in the company of my writing group all sitting quietly with their laptops and notebooks, doing largely the same thing I was doing: editing what we already had.
But if I had not gone to Denver; had not driven myself crazy until I chiseled away a crack in the writer’s block, I would have been of no use to myself or my manuscript on Tuesday.
And, like Edith Ann says, “That’s the Truth, thpblbubblepppbubth!”
[Cross-posted from my personal blog.]
Spring cleaning is done because throughout the year our house has gained weight. Yes, I admit it, my house is morbidly obese. The good news is, unlike my body weight, my house weight can all be lost by a simple trip to the “dump.” Or can it?
We created a new room above my studio. Now its contents must be tossed — oops, did I say tossed? Not exactly everything. NO way. There’s good stuff there. No problem, we’ll put it in the basement. We just need to toss out the basement stuff. But, then again, not everything. Moving along, like worker ants, we come across stuff that simply can’t go to the dump. And even more, didn’t belong in the basement in the first place. Are there poltergeist moving our stuff around as we sleep? Now we’ve engaged a third room in the well-intentioned process of “spring cleaning.”
It was a long day, and in the end, one dump trip later, we did have a slightly thinner house. It’s still messy, as all the remaining stuff is scrambling for new hiding places.
I was going to describe this day on my facebook status. Believe me, I tried. Only when I hit the button to ”share,” it wouldn’t go through, saying my update was too long!
How’s that for a smack in the face? Or am I to accept it as my subconscious, constructive criticism?
So, I’m off to the “word dump,” trying to rid myself of all those pesky, overrated, not so profound words. Here’s hoping the little bastards don’t cling to me as I leave.
An article in this morning’s Boston Globe picks up rather nicely where we left off last week. On Thursday, Brittany expressed her frustration with the process of finding a publisher and I wrote a rather lengthy comment about publishing in general (which hopefully helps spur our writers to action, rather than prompts them jump out the window). In the Globe, Stephen Bergman wryly illuminates the publishing process in “Five Laws of the Novelist“:
Law Two: Editors Are Ephemeral and Don’t Edit. The editor of my first novel moved to another publishing house for my second. In the middle of my third, at another publishing house, she was fired, and my new editor, after sending me terrific edits, was fired the next day. The editor on my fourth novel, at still another publishing house, said, “I love this novel. I won’t change a word.’’ But when I got the manuscript back she had marked it up with so much red pencil that each page was pink. We struggled. I took few of her suggestions. In our final conversation she said, “You’ve ruined this book. It will get bad reviews,’’ and then she was fired. As one editor told me: “We no longer edit, we acquire and market.’’
Law Three: Publishers Don’t Publish. When my first novel was about to come out, I asked my publisher if it would sell. “No, your novel won’t sell.’’ This startled me. “It’s about medicine, and that’s good, and it’s funny and sexy, and that’s good.’’ Why won’t it sell? “Because it’s a good book. Good books don’t sell.’’ Bookstores can return any book for a full refund, a business model that spells doom for publishing. Only about 5 percent of books pay back their advance. Those hardcover remainders piled up in stores mean that the publishers overpaid, overprinted, and undersold.
Law Four: There Is No Humiliation Beneath Which a Writer Cannot Go. My second novel had come out in paperback, and my wife and I were on a hiking trip in New Hampshire. We stopped in a mom-and-pop store for lunch. There, in a spindle bookrack, were two copies of my novel. I immediately suspected my wife had placed them there, to make me feel good. Nope. I took both books off the rack and went up to the little old lady at the counter, and announced, “I wrote this book.’’
“Oh, you wrote that book?’’ she asked.
I averred yes. I asked if she would like me to sign the copies.
“Oh no, our folks would never buy a book that was writ in.’’
Another standard humiliation: At an author-signing in a bookstore, sitting at a desk near the window, facing a wall of Grishams, watching people hurrying past as if you are a child molester. Not fun, especially if your publisher has overlooked advertising the event.
Law Five: There Is Only One Reason To Write. During a post-second-novel depression, I spent six months, more or less, in the bathtub, trying to give up being a writer. Finally I realized that while I disliked publishing, I still loved writing. But if you want to respect what you write (rather than write for cash), you need a day job. Luckily, decades previously I faced a choice: between Vietnam or Harvard Med. I became a psychiatrist because I might learn about character and story, and could leave mornings free to write. Not as good a day job as my first, working the graveyard shift as a toll collector on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge – you can learn pretty much everything from what goes on at night in cars – but still.
Only write if you can’t not.
Read the full piece here. Then, get back to work!