Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My memoir, in 6 words

Tori and I must've been listening to NPR at the same time, because we both heard the story about a neat book of people's 6-word memoirs.

Here are mine. (They're three seperate 6-word "memoirs," not one 18-word one. So don't think of me as a cheater.) If you decide to post one, let me know so I can be sure to take a look!

Tackles too much, gets much done

Sleep, animals, writing, reading, snuggling, yoga

Worries much about own, others' feelings Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I was clearly kidding myself in that last post. I sit here, a day behind on my writing schedule (see post from a few days ago), completely stuck with Bee Keeping. Ugh. What was I thinking, giving tips? What do I know? Double Ugh.

The one thing I do know is that I've got to get back to it. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, February 25, 2008


I'm finally making headway on my Bees story (renamed from Queen to Beekeeping). This one has been a toughie for me. I don't know if it's because I'm juggling a bunch of fairly emotional stuff in my regular (ie, not fictional) life or if I'm getting a little burnt out, or if it was just a tough nut to crack.

B asked me how one goes about revising, saying something along the lines of, "Everyone says you have to allow yourself to write a shitty first draft. But then what? Anyone can write crap." It made me realize that first of all I hadn't given revising it's due before this semester--both in terms of how hard it is and in terms of how important it is. And second of all, I hadn't given much thought to the steps I'm going through in revision. Here's some of what I have learned about revision. Please add your own thoughts in comments--I'd love to learn more from you!

1. The work must sit for weeks or months between first draft and second. Before each residency, I tried to revise stories that I worked on in the previous semester. But I didn't really revise them. I tweaked them, making scenes more visual, characters clearer, dialogue better. But I didn't re-envision them. For me at least, I need a few weeks or months to be removed enough from the story to see what needs to be re-envisioned.

2. I need to freewrite about some questions around the story:

"What does the character learn in the story?"

"What are the main themes of the story?"

"What is the narrative drive of the story?"

(ie, What makes the reader be compelled to read on?)

I think freewriting is important here--not just thinking about these questions or trying to answer them as you type in the story file. I need to use a journal for this step because getting away from the story file allows me a freedom I don't feel when the story is in front of. On the pages of my journal, I feel freeer to try theories out, to test things, than I do in the Word document of the story. (I use a paper and pen journal for this step, but I imagine blogging or even typing in a clean Word doc would work.)

3. I need to open a fresh Word doc and begin revising by cutting and pasting a paragraph or two from the original draft into that fresh document. Something about this step allows me to feel freer to move things around, delete things (by not copying them into the new doc), and write completely new material. This is clearly all psychological, but it works for me.

After all of this, I have a story that barely resembles my first, shitty draft. It generally starts and end in a completely different place, the focus of the story has shifted, some of the characters didn't make the cut, and some others have been added in. My next step will be revising at the sentence/word level--reading the piece aloud to make changes concerning rhythm and word choice. (I haven't gotten to that point on any of my stories yet. Yikes!)

Now, tell me about your revision process! Do you do anything similar to this? What isn't on my list that would have to be on yours?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yet another schedule

Ok, unless you're really looking for something to read, skip this post. Really. It will be boring. And it will repeat/contradict the schedule I posted earlier. But I need to get this revised schedule out there so I can refer back to it as needed. And I need to get very specific about how I'll be spending my writing time in the next few days. I've been finding that I'm feeling stressed and unproductive/unfocused, so hopefully a schedule will help me both buckle down and pencil in some downtime.

April 1: Thesis to Hester
March 12-April 1: Do line editing of all stories. Spice up verbs, cut extra words/paragraphs/etc.
March 12: DONE with major revisions
March 6-12: TBD (depending on how well I stick to the schedule, and if I have the energy to revise the two short short stories I have been debating about including in the thesis)
Feb. 27-March 6: Revise aneurysm story
Feb. 26: Journal about Aneurysm story, decide where to go with it.
Feb. 25: Day off.
Now-Feb. 25: Revise Bee story
Sunday: Family party, time spent on story TBD
Saturday: TBD (depending on how tonight and Friday writing go)
Friday night: Spend one hour on story, go out with B
Tomorrow: Morning pages about story. Night off! (Writer's group meets/Lost)
Tonight: Read through story, deciding where to insert new information I wrote
yesterday and responding to Hester's comments

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A funny quote

This quote made me laugh, as I imagine it will anyone who has simultaneously struggled with writing and enjoyed it immensely:

"Writing a novel is like making love, but it's also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it's like making love while having a tooth pulled."
--Dean Koontz Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What do you want, character Celia?

I've been distracted by some regular life things, and very busy at work. Not a good combination for making my deadline to send another draft of my story to Advisor by tomorrow. So, now, before I leave work to meet Brian for a Valentine's day dinner, I will journal about what I think is the biggest of the currently known problems in the story.

What exactly does Celia want in this story? She's a soon-to-be-divorced 30-something woman who moves to Boston from New York to escape her ex, who cheated on her. She's lonely and sad and cold. She is also very confused about what happened--her marriage hadn't seemed bad before she found out her husband was dating someone else and had no intention to stop.

One of the main things she wants to figure out is: how could she not have known? How could she be married to someone--smell his morning breath, know everything he's eaten in a given day--and not know that he's someone who could break a vow that she took very seriously, and that he once did too?

And more specifically, how could she not have known that he was cheating? Sure, in retrospect she can see certain behavioural changes that can be linked--he started "going to the gym on Saturday mornings," he worked late a few more times a month than usual.

But more than not questioning those could-be-benign signs, how did she not notice anything change in him? Did he not change how he looked at her, how he had sex with her, how he talked to her? How could someone not change those things while they're falling out of love with you, and decieving you? Did they change and she just didn't notice? Did she chalk up any minute changes to the changes that happen between all couples, day in and day out, the changes that come and go with mood, and external events like a bad day at work?

The answer of course is that people and relationships are complicated. Very good people can do very bad things, and vice versa. Very good relationships can take very bad turns. What might be a sign of a revved up health kick one month may be the sign of someone cheating the next. It wasn't that she didn't know Bobby well enough, or that she misjudged him completely. It's that people are so complicated that even those you think you know well can surprise you. Hell, you can surprise yourself.

It is through her budding friendship with a neighbor, Abby, that she begins to figure these things out. And when it comes out that Abby in fact cheated on her first husband with the man she is now married to, Celia can better understand that people do shitty things and even though they may not be sorry at first (her husband never apologizes, and Abby didn't really feel bad about what she did until much later), they probably have regrets and remourse later on.

So... how to insert this more into the story?
1- Have a scene where Celia is asking Abby about how she couldn't have known he was someone who could cheat, and have Abby say something about how people are a complex mix of good and bad, and how people often do things that they are surprised they can/would do in a given circumstance. She should give a small example, like that she shouted at a scary-looking teenager on the bus once to give up his seat for an old woman who just got on. She never would've said she'd do that, but something about the situation just made her spring into action.

2- When Celia finds out she has to go back to NY for the divorce hearing, have her imagine asking Bobby these questions, and her not even being able to imagine what could be a satisfying answer to them.

3- Have a scene where Celia surprises herself. Maybe after she storms away when she finds out that Abby cheated on her husband. On her walk back to her apartment, something happens and she reacts to it strangely because she's all wound up from their interaction. What could it be??

4- In the denouement, after Abby apologizes to Celia and Celia gets a sense of satisfaction from that, almost as if it was her husband saying all the right words, Celia should make note of some sort of acknowledgment that it wasn't her fault to know any more than she knew, and that people are indeed complex.

OK, I drafted this in a hurry, so I'm sure their are typos. But please ignore them, and offer your thoughts! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More audio, an update

I've been a bad blogger. Mostly because I haven't had much to say. I do have some pictures to share, but that whole plugging-the-camera-into-the-computer thing seems like something I just don't have the time for.

So instead, I bring you a link to Harvard Book Store's Audio page, where you can hear authors like Steven King, Barbara Kingsolver, and Richard Russo read and discuss their work. (I'm going to see Charles Baxter speak there tonight. Hopefully they'll put the audio of that up at some point.) Another good literary thing to listen to while I knit!

And as my blog title promised, I also bring you this update: I'm still plugging away at revising Northern Exile (the second of the five stories I'm revising this semester for my thesis). It's going a little slower than I'd like, but it's moving. I decided I will send it to Advisor on Friday No Matter What, so hopefully a firm deadline will get my little fingers moving.

I've been doing morning pages (journaling) and that has really helped me work through some of the problems in each of my stories. I highly recommend freewriting about the issues you're having in your poems/stories/novel/essays. It seems a little odd that writing about your writing might help, but it really does! Something about writing in a journal (ie not having the problematic work staring you in the face) releases enough pressure for your brain to work out whatever needs to be fixed. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Backwards Schedule

I'm doing pretty well on my revisions, but I'm getting nervous that I'm not working quite fast enough. So, the remedy of course is a backwards schedule:

April 1--Thesis draft due to Advisor
March 17-April 1--Make final revisions on all stories.
March 17--Get third draft of Purpose to Advisor and fifth story (Untitled, second draft) to Advisor
March 8--Get fourth story (Purpose, second draft) and third draft of Queen to Advisor
February 22--Get third story (Queen, second draft) and third draft of Northern Exile to Advisor
February 12--Get two stories to Advisor, one will be the second draft (Northern Exile), the other will be the third draft (Sit, Stay)

This schedule is super tight, so I'm guessing I might need to push the April 1 date a bit. I think (and hope!) Advisor will be OK with that. I'll double check as the need arises...

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Need to be read to?

As some of you know, I like to listen to books on tape, NPR, and things of that nature while I knit. I thought I'd share two writing-related audio features I just learned about:

1. The New Yorker has published free audio clips of authors reading their favorite short stories and discussing them with the fiction editor of the magazine. So far, I've listed to Jhumpa Lahiri reading/discussing William Trevor's A Day, and boy was it worth the 45 minutes! I learned a lot about the story, which I had read already. Go to and search for New Yorker. The fiction should be easy to find.

2. recently featured Billy Collins in its Video Dog feature. Click here to watch him talk about poetry and the writing process in general. Best Blogger Tips