Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Revision, Story 2

I don't know if I'm procrastinating by blogging, or if I really think this is a good use of time... But in any case, I need some structure regarding revising Northern Exile, the second story I'm working on this semester. So, here's another of my lovely schedules:

Tonight: Write out first scene of Celia spying at her neighbors through her peep hole.
Tomorrow: Write scene where she meets Abby in the laundry room of the building.
Friday: Read through latest draft to see what should stay and what should go.
Weekend: Write through scene where Celia tells Abby about her divorce, flashes back to some info about her marriage.

This plan is a work in progress, subject to change. All I know for sure is the first two steps that need to be taken. I'm guessing about what I'll feel needs to be done by Friday and the weekend... Best Blogger Tips

Monday, January 28, 2008

Look ma, no hands!

This writing process is an emotional roller coaster! Just look at my last two posts: one minute I was thrilled with the progress I made with my story, the next I was in despair about the story and writing in general.

I laid awake in bed last night (probably because I slept so much all damn weekend...) and I spent some of the time thinking about one aspect of my story that needed work. I think I figured out why the character is doing what she's doing, which will help me take a new crack at the story tonight. But I'm far from that elated, aha, top-of-the-roller-coaster feeling. It's more like I'm dreading the work, not quite sure if I'll ever get that good feeling again.

At least I have some place to dig in. Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Miscellaneous numbers regarding being sick , and having existential crises

Times I've been very ill this cold/flu season: 3

Days this current cold has lasted: 3

Times I've been outside in the last 48 hours: 0

Hours in the last 24 hour period that I have been asleep: 17

Pints of frozen yogurt I've eaten since getting sick: 2

Days of work missed: 2

Social events cancelled: 2

Moments of existential crises gone through: too many to count

What is it about being sick, when my body's defences are totally down and my cells need all the energy I can give them to fight whatever virus has invaded, that makes my mind swim in circles around questions like: What is my purpose on this earth?

I came down with an awful case of bronchitis my Freshman year in college. It was then I decided I ought to drop out of school since I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. This question--of what to major in, of who I was--had bothered me since the day I moved into my cell-like dorm room, but it really started to get to me when I had hours upon miserable hours to lie in bed and think.

I called my parents during this crisis and told them of my plans to drop out of school. Instead of freaking out, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, said, "Why don't you just focus on feeling better and we'll talk about this later." By the time "later" came, I realized that thought I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, dropping out of school wasn't going to help me figure that out.

During this current illness, I happened to get my MFA mentor's comments on the stories I had given her. Even on the best of days, comments on my work are often enough to send me straight to the Land of Crisis. Needless to say, feeling like crap physically didn't make her comments easier to take. So of the 7 hours I've been awake in the past day or so, I would say 5 of them have been spent wondering, WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE? I CAN'T WRITE! WHY AM I EVEN BOTHERING TRYING TO GET A STORY ON THE PAGE AND THEN OUT THERE INTO THE WORLD? WHO AM I KIDDING?????

Her comments weren't harsh or even surprising--I knew the stories I handed in needed a ton of work. And I'm excited to work on them. I guess I was just hoping for some over-arching positive message like, "You've come a long way since we first worked together" or "You're totally going to make it--don't worry!" I guess that's what we're all always hoping for, though, and I should just get used to not always getting it.

For more miscellany, visit Sunday Scribblings. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Snick

Thanks to Laini (of Sunday Scribblings fame) for naming the feeling I've had while writing recently: Snick. She defines it as the sound of puzzle pieces fitting together, and broadened it to encompass the feeling you get when you finally, finally know that something you've been working really hard on is moving in the right direction.

I finally feel like I've got to the heart of a story I first drafted over a year ago. How do I know? I can finally answer the deepest question a writer can ask of her work with confidence: What is the story about? Well, Sit, Stay is about two lonely women who find friendship with each other for a short period of time before they come to a small conflict that they cannot overcome because they are both hurting from recent losses and can't risk getting hurt again.

Ta dah! Now in my next revision, I can make sure the themes of loneliness and fear are present and clear throughout the story. Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Fellow Travelers

I have so many stories about meeting wonderfully nice and helpful people in my travels.

One of my favorite stories is from a trip I took recently with my mother to Paris. Despite all the jokes about how rude the French are to tourists, we encountered nothing by smiles and helpfulness.

When we first got there, we took the Metro from the airport to our hotel with no problems. So on our way back to the airport at the end of the trip, we decided to take it again, instead of a cab.

But this time, the trip was not so smooth. First of all, the escalator was broken at the metro station near our hotel. My mom is a small woman who travels with a large suitcase, and there was no way she could carry it down the stairs. So I told her to wait up top with her bag, and I would carry mine down and then come back for hers. By the time I got half way back up the stairs, two young men had taken her bag and were carrying down the stairs. (I'm surprised my mother didn't freak out and think they were stealing it, since she doesn't speak much French...)

We switched trains and unfortunately got on the wrong one (the first time this happened, throughout the many times we took the Metro!). Once I realized we were headed the wrong way, we got off, as did a young man who overheard us and realized that he, too, was on the wrong train.

When we got off, I asked this Amazon of a woman where we could go to get the right train. Not only did she tell us where to go, but she hoisted my mom's suitcase, balanced it on her head, and told us to follow her. She carried the bag up one flight of stairs and down another to the correct track--only to turn around and go back up and down the stairs to go back to the track she needed to be on.

By this time, my mom was close to tears. She hated feeling so helpless, and was cursing our decision not to take a damn cab. The man who got off the train with us came to the rescue, chatting with us about how he used to live in Paris, and now lives in Greece with his wife and kids, but returns for business sometimes. When our train got there, he helped me lug our luggage onto it (there's an awfully steep step onto some trains in Paris).

Then, when we got to the airport, he stayed with us until we found our terminal (which sounds easier than it is), using his flawless French to ask questions and get answers in a fraction of the time it would've taken me to struggle through the conversation with my limited French.

When he left us, we all hugged goodbye, and my mom kept calling him an angel.

When we got home, we told this story to my family. My brother asked, "Are you sure you were in Paris? You didn't get lost and go to Ohio or some other super friendly place by mistake?"

I love bashing cultural stereotypes, and only hope we helped bash that of the Ugly American when we were in Paris, trying very hard to speak French and honor their customs.

For more travel tales, click here. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, January 18, 2008

An Aha moment

I had my writer's group last night, and I ended up getting the most out of it on the drive home. I dropped one of the members at her house, and during the ride, I mentioned how I was having a hard time with the story I am revising. I decided it was because many of my stories are about the same thing--loss of a loved one-- and I was finding it hard to really to distinguish this character from my others.

My writing group partner mentioned how in lots of author interviews, writers talk about how they often get obsessed with one topic and write about it from a million different angles to try to get a grasp on it. And she noted that loss of a loved one is a big enough topic that she could see how I could do that.

Something about her saying that made me think about the many people a person grieves
throughout a lifetime. And that made me realize why I was feeling stuck--two of my characters are 30-something women grieving after the unexpected death of a husband. Why do they both need to be grieving husbands? There are so many other types of people whose death would really impact a person. So now I am thinking that the character in Sit, Stay is grieving after the death of her father, to whom she was really close.

I feel unstuck! And excited to get back to my revision this weekend. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The philosophy of the book review

An intersting article in the NY Times book section describes a battle between two philosophers over a book review. You see, one philosopher really flamed the other's book in a journal. And I mean flamed.

According to the article, he called the book, "painful to read, poorly thought out and uninformed.” And he said that the review as printed was actually toned down after his editors asked him to make it less critical. Yikes!

Since philosophers are involved, of course they are thinking deeply about the controversy, wondering, What is the meaning of life? Oops. I mean, What is the meaning of the book review? :) The article only touches briefly on the question of whether such scathing reviews should be published. But I think it's an interesting
one for writers to discuss. What do you think?

I think that of course the reviewer's opinion should be front and center--that's what they're getting paid for. But I also think that reviewers and editors should really think carefully about what kinds of books they are assigned. In this case, the philosophers were from totally different schools of thought. Did that influence the reviewer's opinion of the book? Who knows. But it's something to consider.

I remember a professor of mine at Harvard got a letter to the editor published in the Times responding to a Michiko Kakutani review. In it, she had slammed a book by a friend of my prof's. I forget the specifics, but the book was of a genre that Kakutani always slams, so my prof suggested that maybe someone with a more open mind to that type of book should've reviewed it.

Something to ponder... Let me know your thoughts! Best Blogger Tips

Monday, January 14, 2008

Making time to write

Hopefully if I put my writing (and exercise) schedule in writing, it will make me feel worse if I flake out and don't keep it. Here goes:

Write through the scene where Charlotte drops Snoop off at the shelter
(Reward for doing all this: vodka cranberry and some knitting/TV time)

**Before work:
20 minutes of abs/arm workout
Morning pages
Brief meditation

**After work:
Write through scene where Charlotte goes back to the pound to get Snoop to eat

(Reward: Time to order honeymoon album; yes, I've been married for years and have neither a wedding or honeymoon album put together)

** Before work:
Morning pages
Brief meditation

** Lunch: Elliptical at gym

** After work: Write through the scene where Charlotte brings sandwiches to the pound

(Reward: knitting/photo album time)

**Before work:
Morning pages
Brief meditation
Run with Chloe

Read stories for Writer's Group

**After work:
Writer's group meeting

**Before work:
Morning pages
Brief meditation

Yoga class

**After work:
My friend Gracie is in town from Seattle this weekend, so I will probably be spending Friday night with her.

Morning gentle yoga class
Write through scene where Snoop gets adopted
Redo bedroom--I'll post pics of our new space once it's all set up. We rearranged our furniture, ordered a new bed (which will be delivered this week) and now need to move around pictures and get new curtains.

Take a break from Sit, Stay if I need it. If not, write through vet scene.
Do hot yoga class. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A renewed commitment

I admit it, I fell off the blogging wagon. First I was getting ready to be away from a week from work and home, then I went to the Bahamas for Christmas, then I came home and caught up only to leave again to go to my last (sad!) MFA residency. But now I'm back, my writing batteries super recharged, and I'm ready to post!

I'll start with my ubiquitous list of writerly things to do:

This semester I'm putting together my thesis. Yikes! That means I'll be revising 5 short stories and 2 short short stories, getting them to a finished state (whatever that means!).

The first one I'm working on is called Sit, Stay. It's the first story I wrote for the program, more than 18 months ago. It's about a woman who runs a dog pound who befriends a woman who has come to drop off a puppy that was thrown from a moving van in front of her house. Both of the women are fragile, though, because of recent personal losses, and even forming a friendship is difficult for them, it makes them feel very vulnerable. Some questions I need to answer before I can revise:

Whose story is this?

If it's Tracey's (the woman who works at the pound, and whose point of view the story is now told from), what changes in her? What does this episode mean to her?

Should the story be in first person? Or should it be in third so I can follow both women?

What's at stake for the characters?

I just reread the story, and even though I wrote it so long ago, I'm finding it hard to think about tearing it apart, though I think my first step should be rewriting it from the third person POV and seeing what that does. Wish me luck! Best Blogger Tips