Hello, I’m back. You’re glad I’m editing trade nonfiction again, because it means I have more to complain about and thus more to say! For example, what do you do if your author is being an insufferable sanctimonious heteronormative writer?*
(*I was about to write “asshole,” but truly Author is not an asshole. They were just ranting on the page. Lord knows, I would never rant on the page.)
Query your author’s assumptions, because it’s your goddamn job. When your author says, “Only terrible people eat dark chocolate,” warm up your diplomatic querying muscles to state: “AU: Please consider rewriting. Eating dark chocolate does not make a person terrible.”
Change every instance of “mom and dad” to “parents” or “adults.” Your editorial overlord will likely back you up.
Singular “they” is the word of the fucking year. Rejoice. And don’t stint on its use.
Be subtle. Your author has written, “Eating oranges will be the change you have always wanted see in your life,” twenty-thousand times. They won’t notice if you change something to be a little more inclusive.
Flex more diplomatic muscles. “AU: This sentence reads as if you are suggesting that people provoke bear attacks by just walking down the street. I know you would never mean that, but please rephrase to make more convincing.” You know goddamn well that Author thinks victims of bear attacks are at fault in their own mauling (although sometimes they are; be careful how you store food). But let’s maintain this useful fiction.
What useful fictions are you maintaining lately?
Am I talking about fried clams? No. I’m talking about my foolish writerly self. It’s been a complicated fall, as I’ve said previously. I’m back on different, theoretically better anti-depressants. This is a good thing. I needed them and they do seem better. I seemed better.
Did you note the past tense in the last sentence? I did too.
I have a lovely little writing group. We don’t critique each other, rather we gather in a room and write together in silence. Then we talk briefly about how it went.
For the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how I’m making progress and am gearing up to send my final (could it be? could it be??) manuscript to my Trusty Reader. And then for two consecutive days I’ve gotten absolutely nothing done on the manuscript.
I’m in the tricky phase where I have to fill in the dates, fix the wording, and figure out passages that have been eluding sense for years now. It’s hard. I’m not making progress. And it’s driving me up a fucking wall.
I have three repetitive paragraphs describing technical subject X. And I cannot for the life of me figure out how to make it into cohesive prose with a narrative flow. I am a professional editor and an academic writing tutor. I have skills and inner resources! I should be able to fix three measly paragraphs.
How do you get yourself out of writing morasses?
(Fun fact: Bubkes means goat droppings.)
I like using the word “notes.” It lends dignity to what really is just a jumble of random thoughts that I (and maybe you?) find interesting.
I am a freelancer and a temporary serial bachelor. My spouse is getting a degree in Good Works in a different part of the state and is gone two days out of the week. Sometimes this means I eat complicated bean and rice dishes with fresh salsa. [Spouse is a person of excellent taste (especially in women), but his views on Mexican food are disappointing to say the least.] Other times I eat cheese toast and pretend it’s healthy.
Baked food is the freelancer’s friend. You assemble something and then
get some work done write a blog post while it cooks. I am a fan of roasted chickpeas, baked eggs (which dispose of many and various leftovers), and roasted vegetable hash (with eggs or meat depending on what you have; fish is also amazing).
It’s been a difficult fall. Personal upheaval. Minor, but persistent, inconveniences. Two workshops to present each week. Everything has calmed down, except the workshops, but even so I had a freelance job evaporate in a particularly startling matter last week.
But I am writing again and clearly eating. I’m still married. My dogs are alive. My house is standing. The wood is stacked. Yesterday I made my first one-match woodstove fire of the season.
The beavers moved in and turned my stream into a pond, which has been a pretty fascinating process. Fortunately the stream is at the bottom of a ravine, so the rising water does not affect the house or yard. We now have ducks and I’ve been seeing a great blue heron too, which is lovely. It turns out that beavers whistle at sunset and sunrise.
What have you learned this fall?
My book and I are in an unhappy relationship. Well, I’m unhappy anyway. I don’t like to look at it. I have to work on it in my notebook or printed out because I can’t look at the manuscript on my computer without feeling ill.
Its familiarity bores me. And the part that I haven’t figured out frustrates and enrages me. I’d consider divorce, but I ain’t no quitter. (I’ve always hated “I’m not a quitter” as an argument, as if doing something that punishes your health and sanity is worth preserving your identity as a not quitter.)
But I’ve put a certain number of years into this relationship and quite a bit of work. I used to be in love with the book. Obsessed. And today I saw a little glimmer of humor and then emotion that moved me to a long-forgotten moment of tenderness. Aw, little book, you’re not so bad after all.
I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.
My hometown’s name has become synonymous with white nationalist violence. On the zillionth readthrough of The Fucker, I realized I had to write about it even though the most recent famous act of violence happened years after the events in my book.
First I surveyed my friends from elsewhere. “Everyone outside my hometown considers Hometown to be the site of racist violence, right?”
Yes. Yep. Sorry, but yes. That’s where the tiki-wielding neo Nazis were, right?
I’m writing about science and other more memoir-y stuff. It is tempting to think that race is irrelevant to my book. But that would be wrong. Everything about how I lived my life in Hometown was dictated by the fact that I am white. It affected how I was treated and perceived. It affected my educational path and thus my future/present.
(And if you don’t believe me, just ask the equally bright kids of different backgrounds who were my peers in elementary school, but whom work in the college cafeteria.)
My father would not have been a professor if he had been born black. A black man born in his place or time with his abilities might have been a mechanic or a tradesperson of some kind. And I would have grown up with a different background and other things to write about.
White nationalist violence has occurred in my hometown and in the rest of the country for a long time. I read somewhere that white people make all their choices of where they live, socialize, worship, and work based on race. And I think that’s true for most of us. It’s just a matter of recognizing it.
How does race affect your life?
I am truly appalled by the fetishization of fall that occurs on my stationery/bujo/notebook-habit instagram account. I don’t know why I should expect more, however.
I spelled stationery two ways, but had it right the first time. Go me!
In spite being in thrall to Japanese paper that does not show gel pen marks on the other side of the paper, or the verso if we’re being fancy, I have not fallen into the fad of buying All the Stationery. Mostly this is because I am not flush at the moment. Although Kokuyo paper is cheap and lovely.
I had to look up verso too, because I always get recto and verso confused.
I am a total fraud.
Even so, I am going back to school tomorrow. I haven’t been in front of a classroom in two years, but cooler heads promise me that the ability to teach college students to write doesn’t disappear entirely.
I have been assured that these college students often feel like total frauds themselves. I’m going to make them write about their writing fears, and then I’m going to make them talk about their fears in front of others. I will talk about my own writing fears. I no longer fear that I cannot write, rather I feel I cannot write enough or that I will look stupid. They are also worried about looking stupid. We will be in good company.
What do you fear about writing and/or fall?
The addition of a red-headed demon to my household. Her name is Alice and she is a puppy.
I’ve sworn a dread promise to myself upon my arrival to cannot-deny-it middle age to work on my book every day (except when I have visitors or other extenuating
sisters circumstances) or at least every weekday. So far, so good.
The fact that my authors provided no volume, issue, or page numbers in any of their 51 references
The need to write a few more poems about space for an upcoming reading
Feeling of futility of complaining about my privileged editorial lifestyle when my own country is locking children and adults in camps for trying to flee oppression and violence largely caused by my own country
Why aren’t you writing?