July Notes

Grad School Friend and I fell out of touch. She moved to upstate New York and then out west. Then one day I saw her name somewhere. It took me a minute to connect her full name with my grad school friend. I was pretty sure it was the same person, but I clicked on her website just to be sure, and read one of her essays. Ah, yes, this was definitely my friend. Killer prose backed up by killer transitions. I don’t choose my friends lightly.

When we finally reconnected, she said that she remembered how we talked about politics one day after workshop. She remembers me saying that we write our beliefs, because we (at least her and me) are introverted people who aren’t good at political organization. But what we can do is write.

My words are coming back to haunt me. I’ve been having a hard time writing on this blog because this is really just a place for me to vent my first-world non-immigrant memoir problems. I can finely articulate my writing and editing outrages, but there are larger outrages I should be yelling about.

This week I have begun working on The Fucker again. It will not save the world. But it will be the best thing I can write, I hope. And I will justify my petty complaints here, but hoping that you will find solace in them as you write your own Fucker, and that your own Fucker will do its wordy little share in helping to save the world.

I learned empathy and a sense of history, in part, from reading books (and articles). Both George Orwell and Albert Camus will tell you that describing something in the kind of detail that makes the reader really see something as if for the first time, rather than relying on cliches and “received phrases” is a political act. (I think it was Camus who wrote that if the person reading the paper with his morning coffee knew what really happened when the paper said “justice was served” to describe an execution, that is, if it were described as if the person were there, the reader would spit out his coffee.)

I guess what I’m saying is that I can’t give up on literature. So today I’m working on radical revision of my least favorite chapter. I’ve rewritten and rewritten it, and it just doesn’t work. So. Time to write it differently. And just in case your think my words are cool, calm, and collected, I’ll tell you that I almost cried at my writing group yesterday from frustration about this chapter. They didn’t even critique me; we just sit in cafes and write together. Peer pressure.

How are you balancing anger, fear, frustration, and writing?

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Hiding

I need to do some work at the old homeplace, but it’s snowraining and I’m hiding away drinking my coffee and reading a mystery novel.

I need to be writing, but I’m at the old homeplace, because there is work to be done.

I need to be searching for jobs, but I have writing to do.

Yesterday I caught up with a copyeditor friend, and she thinks our line of work—in specific, copyediting scientific articles—is going to be phased out sooner rather than later. We both like what we do.

I should be thinking about new careers, but my poetry workshop scheduled for tomorrow didn’t fill, and anyway I’m in a different state avoiding working at the old homeplace in the snowrain.

But I’m drinking coffee, which should give me enough energy to do work even in the snowrain.

Then I’m headed back to my new home where I can nurse my cold feet under the blankets and get some writing done.

Maybe if I finish my book, writing can be my new career, because we all know how wealthy those writers of poetry and literary nonfiction get.

What are you hiding from today?

 

Spring Notes

It must be spring in the northern biscuit-less wastelands because I no longer hear icebergs calving and falling from my roof. Also it stays light later. I survived my first winter in New Homeland. Now it’s mud season. My side yard, in particular, can attest to that.

I’m stuck on chapter 6. Mostly this is because I have been taking on more paying work for the financial health of Fangs and Clause Central. However, I did some good revision work, er, a week ago.

April is on its way, ready to breed lilacs and desire. Yesterday, although the cross-country ski place closed last week, I got kicked off a trail by a skiier. Goddamnit, you had all fucking winter. I just need a place to walk my dog and regain my sanity.

I have always adored southern springs. Northern springs are welcome, but do cleave more closely to T. S. Eliot’s view of the world.

What’s your cruelest month?

Plotting for Poets

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that I just needed to find a frame for my memoir, or to pick one thread and use that to guide the rest of my themes, I’d be able to buy the gorgeous owl fountain pen of my dreams.

“I think you should emphasize theme A,” said my faithful beta reader. And she was right. Of course she was right. But three paragraphs in, a detail about pine trees [not a real example] lead me right into the story about the time I went sky diving [never happened], and I lost the thread of theme A. Again.

There are many variables to blame for my inability to execute a plot. My actual writing training has been in poetry. In poems, you just lay out the three elements you want your reader to understand, and then add a snappy line that ties it all together. Bam, you’re done. [It’s a little more complicated than that, but not much.] Turns out that doesn’t work in prose.

Writing about your own life is tricky. You know what’s important to you, but you have to write about what’s important to the reader. I find this extraordinarily difficult. My only saving grace is that if you write about something well enough, the reader will probably be interested. And you maybe can’t tell by this slip-shod blog, but I can take a sentence apart and put it back together again and again until it fucking shines. This is a poet strength.

Did I mention I have ADD—oh look there’s a chicken! My executive function is not so great. My darlingest second sister likes to say that I have holes in my head because I was born premature. Shut up, darlingest second sister. [Ahem, sorry.] The upside of having ADD is that (almost) everything is interesting and interrelated. The downside is that most of my readers will not have ADD, and might require fewer leaps of place, scene, and topic.

So what works? Psychotropic drugs and therapy. And hiring an editor who pointed out examples of places where I kill my own tension. And then I could recognize it and fix it. I’m only on Chapter 2 of draft number 1,597. But I’m killing darlings, deleting beloved facts and sentences. The plot must go on.

A Decade of Crankitude

Ten years ago, give or take, I said goodbye to my job as an editorial project manager and went freelance. (When your boss praises you for your editorial insight rather than your organizational and management skills [pause for hysterical laughter], it might be time to become a freelance editor.)

I read somewhere that it takes writers ten years to become masters of their own craft. We always have more to learn, but ten years gives us experience, confidence (sometimes), and knowledge of our trade. I have two trades: writing and editing.

Today ManEd sent me a copy of the proofs of a book I developmental edited. I swear I spent only five minutes scanning through the book, and I found a number of errors. Most of them weren’t my fault. Designers often enter headings, and because they are hired for their design sense rather than their editorial acumen, sometimes errors are inadvertently introduced. I don’t judge; I can’t design my way out of a paper bag.

My creative writing professor in grad school took 20 years to write his own award-winning memoir. I remind myself of that to make me believe that I can do it. Perhaps this year. Unlike my time with poems I have not reached 10 years of dedicated creative nonfiction writing.

So I fritter away my time, complaining about the weather and reading schlock fiction. I critique a poem my friend hasn’t written yet (long story). Let’s all get the fuck off the Internet and write.

Bisouxs,

(I probably spelled that wrong.)

Indy Clause

January Notes

Well, it’s four degrees below negative oh-shit! in my neck of the woods. The morning light is harsh gold, and the trees’ shadows are blue, or is it violet gray, on the snow. I had to leave the water in the kitchen sink running a bit because the pipes showed signs of freezing.

Yesterday my beloved interrupted an insight I had about my manuscript to tell me about tire pressure in his truck. There are so few people in the world who give a good goddamn about a person’s writing process. I had sent my revised chapter to a friend. She gave me a bunch of feedback. I freaked out because I wasn’t ready, perhaps, to get feedback.

I calmed down and realized she was mostly right, and did some work. Revised the fucking chapter. Again. Last night I dreamed a writer told me that it took him 10 years to write a memoir. I burst out laughing and said, “Thank god, I’m on year eight, so I might be done soon.”

Let’s not think about why I might need a dream to support me. (The Spouse is generally a supportive human being, but he has his lapses, as do we all.)

I grow tired being surrounded by other people’s books. But I try to channel my angst into writing my own. Jealousy is stupid and gets a person nowhere. The good thing about this weather is that I do not want to leave the house. I do not want to leave the couch with the blankets. And neither does the dog. She is snoozing, and I am battling my way to the page.

Are you writing?

The Chart

Many years ago I was at a residency with a not-yet famous author. Residencies are awesome things because small talk is often about writing (or food). Writing and food are two of my favorite subjects, so I fit right in. The novelists were hanging out talking about plot. As a plotless wonder (aka poet) I perked my ears up.

“I draw charts!” my friend said.

“Charts?” The other novelists nodded knowingly, but I was fascinated.

“Sure, you want to see one?”

“Yes please!” And my friend brought out her thick three-subject notebook with her neat round handwriting.

“It’s nothing fancy,” she said laughing.

“I don’t care.” Her x axis was each chapter, and she explained that she had three plot lines going in her young adult novel: the supernatural mystery, a budding romance, and tension with the family. Each plot line had a color.

“I try to advance one of the plot lines in each chapter,” she explained.

I just got 22 single-spaced pages of professional feedback on the memoir. It took me a good week just to process the feedback. And then I talked to the editor and it might take me another week to process that. This brings me to Thanksgiving.

Probably the week before two out of three of my sisters come to visit for Thanksgiving is not a good time to work on my manuscript. And that’s okay because I’m struggling to understand how to even begin the revision. But I think it’s going to involve a chart.

I too have a few plot lines, or lines of tension. I can plot those plots on a draft and color code them. (A convenient excuse to buy new pens or maybe color pencils and sticky notes? Perhaps break open a field note notebook??) Then I can color code the manuscript and impose order on chaos. That is the dream anyway.

First I have to establish the lines of tension. Some of them are old and worn and some of them are new, teased out by the editor. I’d best have a publishable work by the time this is all over. Whenever it’s over.