Ready to Rewrite

Most people call this season spring; for me it’s critique season. The beta readers for Providence (sequel to Accidental Child) are hard at work and I’m working hard at being patient. I know I’ll have plenty to do on the rewrite, but my generous readers will guide me. Obviously, the final decisions are mine and the book will live or die on my watch.

Given nine readers, I had to devise a way to collate their observations and advice. I’m not interested in shuffling paper or computer files repeatedly and maybe losing some important remark in the process. So I’ve adapted a story board idea to handle this input.

I have a large piece of foam board, hanging on the closet door in my office by a string and a wreath hanger. Across the top horizontal edge I’ve put sticky labels with the names of the major characters. I’m a character-driven writer for fiction, so this is my approach. Another writer might prefer categories like setting, action, point of view or dialog–whatever seems most useful.

Down the left hand vertically, I’ll list the chapters. As I come across suggestions from my readers, I’ll post a sticky note at the intersection of the character and the chapter in question. Stickies can be stacked, so I think I’ll have enough room, but I might need a second board to accommodate all thirty-four chapters. I’ll decide that when I’ve gone through the comments and see just where I need to concentrate my rewriting energy.

Not only does this plan help me stay on track, but also it’s a visual reminder that I have this work to do, daily if I’m any good. Originally, I had imagined a spring release for this novel, but reality suggests fall. I do have a busy life outside of Providence, and it’s best to take the time I need to write a good book. I’ve spoken briefly to an editor and once I’ve done the rewrite, I’ll ask her to look at it. Then on to the book design and publication. It’s a huge project to write and self-publish a novel, and there’s no point in doing a sloppy job. So, I’m ready to rewrite. Wish me luck–nah! Luck has less to do with writing than determination. And I am determined.

Poems Come from Everywhere

Last week I was journaling about a disagreement with a friend and did not understand my own strong objections to the other side of the issue. So I tossed the problem into my unconscious/subconscious (I never know where these things land.) and decided to sleep on it. As sometimes happens, I woke up from a dream that puzzled me. In the dream I was showing a guest my backyard and as we entered the fenced area, I saw a very long, black snake loosely coiled in the corner. I’m not particularly phobic about reptiles, but I am cautious. I stopped our walk, considered trying to scare the animal away, and thought better of it, not sure if it would leave or attack. End of scene.

Waking up with this strong image, I was more curious than alarmed. Why was that, given the size and location of that serpent in the garden?  I applied what little I know about the Jungian analysis of dreams, an essential point being that all parts of the dream are parts of the dreamer. So I interpret this scene as exploring my deeper self and accepting the presence of the primal unseen part. The debate with the friend? Let go, because I “saw” my dark self in that dream. And of course, I wrote a poem about it. That poem goes today to a critique session where I’ll learn if I have succeeded in turning a dream into art. Stay tuned.

Index Cards & Buffalo Chips

You’ve heard the adage about using the whole buffalo? Hold that thought. I read this week James Alexander Thom’s The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, in which he warns about the danger of relying on the digital storage of extensive research, and the need to retain the material after a book is published, in case some picky sniffer challenges you, or better, you are asked to speak about the book in the future.

I was reminded of the laptop I killed by watering a philodendron hanging over my desk. Ouch! Further more, the CDs on which I had backed up don’t meld with my current computer. (In fact CDs are pretty much obsolete, a fact driven home when I realized that the only device I own that plays my CD music is my car.)

Alternatively, I’ve long touted the use of index cards–cheap, portable, easy to sort or color code, and impervious to dripping plant pots. (Realistically, you can lose them or have your tote bag catch fire. So far I’ve lost a few but the tote bag is intact.) Given Thom’s convincing argument for hardcopy back up, I spent a useful hour this week tidying my card catalog. I tossed index cards that had lost the connection to whatever topic I had researched. I kept the bibliography cards, where I record the author, title, and location of books or online information that I’ve found useful. I record where I made notes from the source in question. Because I date my journals/notebooks, a typical entry might be “Notes: Jan 2016, p. 7.”

Ta da! I can continue my compulsive scribbling as I read, and I can retrieve the scribbles if I need them. Some part of the beast has become unexpectedly useful, like burning dry buffalo chips in a new campfire. All my “chips” are arranged alphabetically by topic in a file box made for index cards. If the house doesn’t flood or burn or get ransacked, my research is safe. That’s a relief.

Hiatus, Respite, Gap

In the big red book The Synonym Finder there’s an inch and a half list of words for taking a break. A poet creates a break in the middle of a line and calls it a caesura. Physiologists call the teeny space between neurons a synapse. Opera goers call it intermission. I call it frustrating.

The rewrite of my novel is done for now. I’m waiting for proof copies to arrive on the front porch and then I’ll wait for my much-appreciated first readers to get back to me with their reactions. Wait, wait, wait. After a year of work, work, work, the waiting feels wrong. I’m restless. I devour mystery novels like bonbons. I scribble in my journal and feel like I’m cheating if I write without a goal.

Waiting is part of writing, my least favorite part. Why am I not creating a text to share with a reader? I guess it’s about recharging, like one of those plug-in cars. Or being pregnant. Driving across country and obeying the speed limit. Some things cannot be rushed. The testing stage of writing cannot be rushed because it now involves other people. In this case, the people who push the buttons on the machinery that prints the books, the folks who see that the books get into boxes with address labels, the people who drive the big trucks that carry the books to me, and the people who will read and take the time to tell me what’s good and what’s not so good.

After all that waiting, I will fix what’s broken or add what’s missing. And then–almost there–I’ll wait for people to buy the book, read it, talk about it and tell me if all this time I’ve invested in it was worth the wait. Writing is not about instant gratification. It’s about interacting with a world beyond my control, and there’s a seven-inch list of synonyms for control.

Perfectly Imperfect Poetry

This will be quick today because I’m about to leave for Loveland CO where poet Marj Hahne will lead a workshop on Poetry of Place. So it’s a poetry kind of day for me.

I’ve been reading a little book, not yet available, by Brian Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry. The main points are that too few people get poetry (and whose fault is that? ) and that the poems we write will never live up to the poems we dream of writing.

Lerner’s second point seems not far off from other idealisms we carry–marriage, careers, children, vacations, our living quarters. But we don’t stop living in imperfect houses, raising our snarky kids, standing by our sometimes maddening spouses. The same rules apply with writing poems: go into it knowing you’ll fall short of perfection and do it anyway. It’s better to write poems than rob banks or eat unidentifiable expensive gourmet food. It’s better to write poems than to write ransom notes or political rants. You could, some day, come close to saying what you believe, what might entertain or enlighten a reader or two or even two hundred. Beyond that, you’re clearing your throat in the hope of singing one pure note in a vast repertoire of sound. Happy Saturday, I’m off.

Beethoven, Yo Yo Ma & Me

PW bookYears ago I first encountered Proprioceptive Writing, a process with a daunting label that attracted me because it seems to have originated in Maine and I lived there, still visit often and was curious to know what other writers in my then-home state were up to. For reasons that I have forgotten, I tried it and set it aside.

About a week ago, it rose to mind and I decided to visit it again. As some of you know, I’m a strong advocate of daily journaling. I do Morning Pages, a la Julia Cameron, and I keep a notebook with me at all times, a la Natalie Goldberg. Now I’ve added half an hour each morning for PW. My first attempts were frustrating. I felt fenced in. The process calls for Baroque Music, a lighted candle, no interruptions, not even to sip coffee, and a deep listening to the thoughts that fly through my head at the speed of sparrows before the cat catches them.

Thanks to Apple Music, I found exactly the recommended Beethoven cello concerti by Yo Yo Ma. I bought a candle that will last a long time if I dedicate its flame to that half hour. I found a stash of unlined white paper and a folder, a little stapler. Okay, no problem with the tools. But the process? I resisted and persisted. And this morning, on my fourth Write, I broke through that resistance. I think I’m hooked. Traditional mediation has not worked for me, although I am drawn to whatever reveals the inner workings of my mind and personality.

If you are curious, I suggest you get the book (see above) and jump in. I started the process as soon as I understood the Three Rules and Four Questions and that seems to be a good plan. I’m aware of the values that Linda Metcalf and Tobin Simon espouse as I go along. My copy of the book is underlined, marked and close by. It’s my instructor and my solace when I’m stymied by writing not meant to be shared. The relief I now feel with this process may well be a reaction to having just formatted the ms of a novel about to go out to beta readers, to be critiqued, chewed up, spit out, panned and praised. The PW Writes are all mine and will remain so.


How Do You Say . . .

The English language has a vast vocabulary, more than anyone–well, me–can fully comprehend. Do we need a dozen words to describe shoes? Yes, if we have a dozen pairs–heels, loafers, sneakers, stilettos, slippers, boots, etc. This variety lets us be specific. I know that I have to wear shoes today to visit the museum, but I won’t wear slippers, boots, or stilettos. (The last because I don’t own any.) The weather is not right for sandals, flip-flops, or ski boots. I’ll wear my tie shoes that are not quite sneakers, not exactly anything but comfortable. I don’t need at the moment to be more precise.

As a writer, though, I value precision. And then there’s the matter of how a character speaks. Word choice defines his/her attitude, ethnicity, economic class, age, gender, all revealed by diction.

Play this game with one of your characters, a fictional person or a family figure in your memoir: the scene is a restaurant (diner, pizza parlor, white linen?) and the character is female. She excuses herself to use the ladies’ room, powder room, toilet, bathroom, restroom, or potty. Maybe she goes to the little girls’ room or the loo. And there’s a range of less polite names for this interruption in her dinner/supper/lunch/luncheon/bite to eat.

If good writing is about the exact word in exactly the right place, we have to pay attention to these choices. You’ll occasionally use that big red book of synonyms. And your character will remain in character, unless she’s trying to impress a date with her gritty language or her delicate sensibilities.