Friday, January 29, 2010

Hard as it is for me to believe, I have made it all the way through my novel – rewriting, editing, slashing and adding – in just under a month. I’m not yet convinced that is a good thing. I am fortunate to have a dedicated core of writer companions who are prepared to read those 163 pages and give me an honest evaluation before I even look at the draft again. I’m still considering an additional scene with Gordon and Evelyn, and maybe another ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for Toni on the true definition of family, but for now, I need to step back.

The universe also very kindly provided me with a desperately needed Hungarian translator. I have a smattering of Hungarian dialogue in my book, mostly for effect, but the final revelation for Toni also depends on the language, and I want it to be portrayed accurately. Turns out a gentleman who purchased my Historic Warren County, and who has become a sort of email pen pal (is that possible?), is fluent in the language, has the proper equipment to type the foreign digraphs, and has been kind enough to offer to review my efforts. Synchronicity in action!

So for the next week or so (if I can force myself not to give in and return to the draft), I will work on other projects. Most urgently, I have a lengthy program evaluation paper due tomorrow (1/30) for my grad school program. I’ve taken on a publicity campaign for a new community park in Lebanon, Ohio, working with a delightful 90-plus year old woman whose family originally owned the land. I have several things outstanding for the Museum that I really need to spend some time on, and as much as I hate to think about it, it’s tax time. All those things, plus an extended break to read a few things from my waiting stack of books, should keep me occupied. Of course, I can always be interrupted if someone needs a lunch date…

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why I Write

In the course of an in-depth discussion on revision techniques, how many readers to have during editing stages, etc., one of my writers’ group friends asked a general question of all of us: Why do you write?

I write to tell a story, to entertain (fiction in general). I write to present and then solve a puzzle, to cause that “Ah-ha!” moment (mysteries). I write to evoke a mood, to share an experience, to vent, to argue a point, to persuade (essays). I write to share things I have learned, to offer fresh insight to age-old problems, to reframe old arguments into new ways of finding common ground (academia). I write to clarify my thoughts, to find my way through the maze of life, to find answers, or at least to better understand the questions (blog, journal, ramblings like this one). I write to celebrate language, the rhythm of words, the nuance of meaning, the exactness of a well-chosen phrase. And, yes, I write in hope of someday finding a publisher who feels my words are worth wider distribution and – ta dah! – payment.

I write because I have no better way to express the churning thoughts which fill my mind. The blank page is my friend when I need to communicate. I don’t speak well; my mind too often goes blank when I’m in conversation, whether it be with one person or a dozen, and I can’t seem to follow my ideas to a logical conclusion. There is no ‘delete’ button when I talk, no find-and-replace for the mischosen word.

During my current graduate school program, where I am pursuing a master of arts degree in creative writing, my faculty advisor, my mentor, and at least one professor have asked me variations of that question: Why do you write? One of them asked, “If you were stranded on a desert island with a stack of blank paper and a pen, knowing full well no one would ever see the results, would you still write?” That brought me up short for sometime; my rote answer to the other unanswerable question in my life, “What will you do with your degree?” has been to make a living with my writing. But as I continue my studies, and my writing, I realize that while earning an income with my words would be wonderful, it is no longer the driving force behind my efforts.

I write because I must. It is the fulfillment of my nature, my potential. I am a writer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rough week - started really well, fizzled into nothingness.

I was feeling pretty good about my progress Monday and updated my Facebook status to read: “Well, 86 rewritten/edited pages, just under 25,000 words - not too bad for a week's work, assuming the words themselves aren't too bad! Onward...”

After dreaming about Toni and company all night, I went back to the manuscript Tuesday morning and ran a Find & Replace search on some problem words that came to mind. I found 23 occurrences of ‘finally,’ 38 of ‘then,’ and lots of things getting ‘dark,’ ‘darkening,’ and ‘darker’ while people keep shaking their heads. Far too many exclamation points, too – thank you, email/texting/chat/Facebook.

Wonder what other pet phrases I’m missing?

I’m gathering tonight with some dear gal pals for reconnection and inspiration. Here’s hoping for a better start and finish next week.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

“As far as how much you are putting into this story, you already wrote the my limited knowledge that is the hard part.....editing is the last road of the journey.”

Thought-provoking words from one of my strongest cheerleaders, my father, in response to my musings yesterday about the relative ease thus far of the long-anticipated rewriting. How does one explain the writing process to someone who has never experienced its highs and lows, its joys and frustrations? I’m going to make the effort, as much for my benefit as his. The unexamined life and all…

Contrary to his contention, telling (writing) a story is the easy part, relatively speaking. We all have stories in us that we love to share. Putting them down on paper requires the commitment to see them through from start to finish. The manuscript currently under construction was written in a month-long marathon. Not recommended as a practice, at least in my estimation, but the exercise had a purpose. The daily word count required to meet the deadline required me to turn off the internal editor that often impedes that initial process. Instead of fretting over the exact word choice or the most finely-tuned phrase, I was able to push through and construct a story arc, adding characters and settings, and ending up with a complete story with a start and an end. My apologies to the post-modernists who don’t believe such constructions are necessary. I don’t care for their creations any more than they would care for mine.

So, after the bare bones of the story are down on paper, the much more difficult process of rewriting and editing begins…if an author wants the story to be worth reading. That is the stage at which I find myself with this current novel. The characters are there; the plot begins, develops, climaxes, and ends (sort of). But it is rough, very rough, and inconsistent and jagged and deadly dull in parts. I need to smooth out those rough edges, tie up loose ends, bring dates and timelines and descriptions into a semblance of order and, with any luck, along the way add enough interest and tension and description and maybe a bit of humor to keep a reader sufficiently involved to stick with me until the end.

Is rewriting the easy part, as Dad suggests? Not really. But neither is the initial story line, if I am completely honest with myself and with my readers. It is dreadfully easy to get lost in a maze of minutiae that is incoherent and bland, with no plot to speak of and nothing to compel a reader to turn the page. Unfortunately, books like that get published – I’ve read them! My goal is to create something that Dad, and maybe someone with no sentimental attachment, will actually enjoy reading and, as any good author hopes, make them want to open the book and start reading again after savoring the last page.

Friday, January 08, 2010

And we’re off!

Seventeen pages of rewrites Wednesday, which sounds like an awful lot, until I realize those pages were all workshopped and edited and fussed over repeatedly in the past several months. They shouldn’t need much more.

But I have found a new story line that needs to be inserted, a couple of new scenes to write, and deleted two characters entirely, so I guess that’s progress.

Thursday: Only two pages so far, but it’s an entirely new storyline (sort of) in an added scene. Plus LOTS of distractions made for a short work day…I know, no excuse!

Friday: Twelve pages today, thirty-one pages for the week (ok, three days…) and nine chapters total. Two new scenes, a growing complication that also – I hope – explains Toni’s motivations. Not bad for the first week out, I suppose.

For some reason I feel strangely uneasy with my progress. Isn’t this supposed to be more difficult? Am I fooling myself, and coasting? Where’s the labored, “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again,” variously attributed to Oscar Wilde and others? Not that it’s been a breeze. I still agonize over my word choices, second-guess my sentence structure and obsess over all the little critique comments I’ve received (…she sighed regretfully). But this rewriting/editing thing is actually moving along pretty well. Knock window, cross my fingers, jump over the crack in my desk – we’ll see what next week brings!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings…”

After what has really been a lifetime of preparation, with a more intensely-focused period these past fifteen months, my time has come. Nothing quite as grandiose as Lewis Carroll’s “cabbages and kings,” but my time to create. I am ready to set aside all the books, all the studying, reading, researching and dissecting the words of others and immerse myself in a story of my own making. It’s time to write my thesis.

So many have asked recently, “What is your thesis about?” “How can you write that many words?” and the ultimate enthusiasm-damper: “Why?” In an effort to answer those questions, and many others often of my own making, I’ve decided to record my progress in this blog format. It will also serve as a journal of my work that will make my final evaluation of the process easier to write.

Because my graduate school program is in creative writing rather than, say, education or computer technology, I will not be producing a traditional thesis based on an in-depth study of the work of others with an occasional original thought thrown in to satisfy academia. Rather, I am writing a novel, literary mystery if one must apply a label. The initial rough draft was completed in 2005 during the masochistic National Novel Writing Month exercise. It’s been languishing at just over 50,000 words ever since. I resurrected the manuscript for last summer’s Antioch Writer’s Workshop and found, surprisingly (to me at least), that much of it is pretty good. A lot of it is pretty bad, too, but that is what I will be working on for the next six months.

The radical rewriting and editing will require all of the skills I have studied in-depth during the earlier quarters of this program. I have practiced writing dialogue and narrative, scenes and character sketches. I have read massive amounts of 20th century literature to compliment the two years I spent reading the Classics. And I have gleaned the rules of good fiction writing. More importantly, I have learned how and when to break those rules, as so many have before me, and I am eager to begin this next stage of my journey.

Yesterday, after a rough start, I began searching through my manuscript for character details and today I finished creating the spreadsheet which will serve as my roadmap. Every person is listed; the timeline is detailed; the settings are in order. This afternoon I pulled out all the comments from fellow AWW workshop participants (which I have deliberately avoided reading until this stage) and made notes, remembering the admonishment to take what works and leave the rest.

Tomorrow I begin writing. I’ll record my progress in these pages for those who are interested and as an assist to my overloaded memory banks. I may share a scene or two as the mood strikes. But above all, finally, I will write.

My time has come.

Saturday, January 02, 2010