Snow White and the Seven Drafts

When I first saw Brevity’s blog post on Seven Drafts, my reaction was unfit for print. Well, it was unfit for professional publication, but for our jaded readers here, suffice it to say it went something like, “fuck you and the fucking horse you fucking rode in on.” (Do recall I’m on lucky draft 17.)

But once I calmed down, I read more and began to appreciate Williams’ excellent advice. Vomit draft. Of course! Story draft where you make sure the whole story makes sense. Optimistic, but I could see how that might work. Don’t let me keep summarizing, go read it yourself.

I have done the polishing draft (I can’t really call it a personal copyedit as those words are too close to my job as a copyeditor) a ton. But I have never done the story draft. I see you beta readers out there shaking your head. Mm-hmm, we could have (and did) tell you that for free, my dear.

[Management: Indy Clause just added and deleted three sentences trying to justify her whole stinkin’ lack of plot, blaming it on everything from the very nature of memoir to Reagan-era politics.]

I guess I know what I’m doing today.

Please ask me more grammatical/writerly/editorial questions so that I don’t have to gaze into the existential void of my writing life.

Now, how did you get that college degree?

How to critique other people’s work is always a tetchy subject. What do you do when someone hands you a piece of writing that is total crap? There are a few initial questions to consider.

How much do you love this person?

Who am I to judge how you feel about people near and dear to you? But I edit for people I have no feelings for frequently. It’s fun. You just have to be polite and helpful and then they (or their editorial overlords) pay you. Easy peasy. Not so much when it’s your spouse/friend/third cousin.

How sensitive are they?

Can they take criticism? How much triage are you going to have to do? Will they suddenly remember that you were late to a dinner party four years ago and never speak to you again?

Are they compensating you?

Are there sexual favors involved? Did they take your kids for an entire weekend without complaining? Then spend the time. Are they paying you/baking you brownies/taking you out for dinner? Spend some of the time. Do they just expect you to take time out from your day without compensation? Do as little as possible.

How much time do you have?

I sit around all day brushing my dog and periodically getting up to refresh my tea cup: You can politely, carefully rewrite the whole thing for them.

My job is boring and I can probably do a little work while I’m supposed to be filing invoices for clown shoes: Point out three of the most egregious recurrent errors and hope the rest of it goes away.

Between taking care of the kids and receiving sexual favors from my beloved, I have no time for anything: Praise the writer faintly and stop returning their calls. You have no time for friends anyway.

Additional tips

Don’t forget the compliment sandwich. Take something that you hate slightly less than everything else and compliment the writer about it! Hacks deserve praise too.

Let it go. You are not responsible for making them have a perfectly written document. Your job is only to make it marginally less awful.

Start an anonymous blog so that you can complain online about the shit you have to wade through in order to make the world a better-written place.

What am I missing?

Why the long silence?

I write this blog when I’m full of shit to say and the dog is asleep. Once the semester starts, I talk a lot: in front of class, to colleagues, to students I tutor. So when I’m not talking in front of/to people, my impulse is to bury myself in silence.

How’s your manuscript? Well, it’s going okay. I ignored it for a few days. Then I decided to do some freewrites in my notebook based on something I’ve already written. One of my (many) problems is that the polished stuff is so polished writing-wise that I can’t break it open to write more. So writing in the notebook helps, because it is away from the page, and my handwriting is so terrible that I can’t tell how bad the writing itself is.

I wrote two and a half pages yesterday. The first page was abysmal. The second page was better and then I got it. The happy awake aroused feeling of getting the real shit on the page.

Then today I wrote half a blog post about how I was worried I would never finish The Fucker. After I deleted it, I went to the library to cram a bunch of stuff about rhetoric and rhetorical analysis in my head for tomorrow’s class. Then I wrote two more long-hand pages. All of this was before noon today.

I’m still fucked. But I’m moving forward.

A few other odds and ends:

Yesterday was the birthday of Cubby Clause, Cougar’s youngest child. She is the ripe old age of 30. Can you imagine? And of course we’re all still thinking about Sarah W., and hoping she is well enough to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Thursday, because if I have no one to live text about it, I will cry. DO YOU HEAR THAT SARAH W? Don’t make big tough Indy Clause cry.

There was an amazing eclipse yesterday, running water on Mars, and soon there will be running water in my dry region, because it’s going to rain later this week if we believe the National Weather Service (which we do)!

Please send me your editorial/grammar/writing process/poetry questions because I’m clearly running out of things to say.

The Black Hole

Until a few days ago, the most recent version of The Fucker was chronological. With the help of Beta Reader, I am breaking the space–time continuum (that’s an en dash for those of you who care). I’m collapsing time. It’s the black hole of revisions. And I’m hoping that’s a good thing.

Please, powers that I don’t believe in, let that be a good thing.

I have a hard time organizing on a good day. Collapsing time terrifies me, and that’s not just because I’ve watched a lot shows that take place on spaceships. The center will not hold.

I’m really just waiting for someone to take a look at it and nod. Yes, yes this works. Polish up all those places where your writing is lazy. Fix your minor errors. Stop changing the tense all the fucking time. Banish “just” from your vocabulary. Then go ahead. Turn it in.

Ah, maybe next draft. Fuck.

How is your writing? Does your guiding hand shake?

Doing Right

Yesterday I gave my students the following prompt: Write about a time you felt a strong emotion; do not name the emotion. I explained to them that everyone has their own definition of feeling sad, for example, and I wanted to know what it felt like for them at a specific time and place. It was the last ten minutes of class, but when I looked up, they were all writing their little hearts out. They were serious and engrossed and the lines on their faces smoothed out with concentration. Whatever else happened yesterday, I did one thing right.


Wait, there was something else I did right yesterday. I am very locally famed for my pico de gallo. According to Wikipedia, pico de gallo means rooster’s beak. It’s a sharp little addition to any kind of food. My traditional pico de gallo consists of a small handful of heirloom tomatoes (we used to grow them) chopped up in a small dice. Add the tomato juice/guts to the bowl. This is not a neat dish. Add a chopped up chile pepper (as hot as you can stand), cilantro (if you have it), lime juice (or lemon, I won’t judge), a tablespoon of olive oil. My pico always has a tablespoon of cumin, a bit of coriander, and a bit of paprika. You could stop there, if you wanted.

Yesterday I made pico with a big local tomato, corn cut from the cob, cilantro, lemon juice (it was what I had), diced yellow pepper, olive oil, cumin, coriander, paprika, pepper, and a wee bit of salt. It was the best thing I ate all week.

Traditionally, pico contains onions as well, but DP is not a fan of raw onions. (Neither is his sister. My brother-in-law and I had a moment together where we mourned our inability to eat onions.) I ate the pico on top of chicken tacos made with corn tortillas, shredded slow-cooker chicken, and a bit of shredded cheese. If one were a vegan, I imagine the pico itself would make a pretty good taco filling, maybe with some beans.


What are you doing right?

Epiphanies Suck

I am listening again to Ann Hood’s Tin House podcast about “How to Write a Kick-Ass Essay” because I assigned it to my class. I’ve listened to this podcast before.

Then I had an epiphany.

I fucking hate epiphanies. They mean that you have to go back in and work. And you have to work hard. You didn’t do it right the first time (or the first 16 times). Writers are lazy. Otherwise they would do something more lucrative.

Today’s epiphany came from Hood saying, “Write about what you don’t know about what you know.” I believe she attributed Grace Paley.

The first part of my book is writing about what I know that I know. Now I gotta go back in and write about what I don’t know about that shit. It’s well written but facile.

What have you had an epiphany about recently?

Reduce, Revise, Recycle, Reuse, Restructure

It’s 7ish in Fangs-and-Clause-landia. I have a little time before I begin my workday. Yesterday my beta reader got back to me with her comments. She suggested a new narrative thread. Of course, after mumble years of working on the Fucker, the new narrative thread is an old narrative thread. But I think she’s right. I’m just not sure how to do it.

I could give up. How many times do I need someone to tell me that I don’t have a narrative thread? But she still thinks it’s worth it. And I would hate myself if I gave up. I guess I still think it’s worth it too.

So time to reinvent myself again. Reinvent the wheel. Be the guy on the bike keeping the whole thing afloat (see Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life for explanation of that one). Publishing was probably an easier game when The Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek came out.

I’ve been realizing recently how freaking low drama my life is. And I’m really grateful for this. I have set up my life this way. This way I can save my drama for my (memoir about my) mama. (This is DP’s joke and I don’t care what anyone thinks, I still find it funny.)

Back into the breach.


Indy Clause