Monday, September 29, 2008

Nothing to say...Good article on writing

I haven't posted in a while because, frankly, I've had nothing to say. I'm dealing with some stuff that is keeping me from writing. And since I don't want to go into that stuff I just haven't been posting.

But I read a great article on Writer's Digest's web site today that I thought I would share:

It's by a recent MFA graduate who is having doubts about his writing. (Sound familiar?)

Here are two of my favorite passages:

Worst of all, there was no one pushing me forward—no thesis advisor demanding pages, no editor lashing me to finish before deadline, no father demanding I get out of his hot tub and start writing.

Everyone talks about doing things—how they have an idea for a book or magazine piece or whatever—but how many of those people actually sit down and do it? The irony was that I’d already gotten through the hardest part and now I wanted to give up. It’s like quitting a marathon in mile 25 because your shoulder hurts. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Forgotten step

I forgot a very important step between writing and editing--letting the story sit! So I'm leaving the Obit story alone for a while. Instead I'm writing a first draft of another story I've been thinking about for a while. This one is about a woman who goes home to see her parents after a break-up, but doesn't find the consolation she needs there. I'm not really sure what will happen. I guess that's the fun of the first draft!

I'm also gearing up for NaNoWriMo. I can't wait! Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Editing my new story

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am happily writing again. I have finished a very very messy first draft of a story, and I need to figure out how to go back and revise it. And this story will need re-visioning in the truest sense of the word. As I said, it's a mess. But it's a mess I've created, and that makes me happy.

Questions--asked and answered--that will help me revise

1. What is this story about? On a plot level, it's about a male reporter who helps a widow grieve by rewriting her husband's obit. The husand's parents wrote the one that ran in the paper, and it was factually accurate, but not emotionally accurate. She wants a document that she can show their unborn daughter that better captures her husband as the 3-dimensional person he was.

2. Whose point of view is it in? Right now it is told mostly from the point of view of the male reporter. I jumped into the widow's point of view when he starts to interview her about her husband. At the time, I was thinking I was doing this just to ease the writing of those parts. But I'm wondering now if maybe the story should have both points of view in it. I think that's something I may hold off on exploring though until a third draft if the POV doesn't seem to be working.

3. What is the emotional story? I think the story is about this reporter who is a bit dejected; he just went through a divorce and is questioning his rather spur of the moment move to the island of Nantucket to be a newspaper reporter. He thought he would like the work more, that it would matter more. But it feels like a bit of a grind, like he's just reporting on these wealthy people and their wealthy people problems.

4. What unexpected element has come up as you're writing? When I was writing in the POV of the widow, she went down this road about how the husband couldn't really stand up to his wealthy parents, that they gave the son money--even a house in Hyannis--and that he felt beholden to them because of it. I think the couple fought over this, with her feeling like she'd rather be less wealthy and not so much under their thumb. She wonders if he would've regretted his weakness in this area if he had lived longer.

5. What are you going to do with this element? As I'm typing this, I'm realizing that maybe talking with the widow about her seemingly perfect husband, with all his money and his beautiful wife and baby-to-be, makes the reporter feel worse about himself, makes him question even more what the hell he's doing with his life.

But then the widow asks about him, how he ended up on the island. He tells about how he just picked up and left after his wife left him, that he came here knowing no one, and having never worked at a newspaper before. She admires him, and talks about how that's something her husband never would've done, moved away from his parents, and that whole element of his parents' control comes out. It makes the reporter feel a little better to know that even people who look like they have it all figured out are just slogging their way through life, too. And now, maybe when he asks himself what the hell he's doing there, instead of hearing his ex-wife's shrill questions about why he would move to an island in the middle of nowhere, he'd hear this widow's amazement at his bravery.

And, as the widow talks more and more about this, she realizes that if she stays in their house, she'll be in the same boat. So by the end she is contemplating moving back to the little, artsy town in Rhode Island that she lived in before she met her husband.

6. How does it end? She falls asleep peacefully in his office as he types up the obit, feeling truly useful--because of him she'll have an obit that reflects who her husband truly was, and because in helping this woman create it, he also helped her realize that she didn't want to stay in the controlled situation she was in.


The end, among other areas, still doesn't feel quite right. Something is off regarding the reporter and his emotional development/arch. But I think I need to get into draft #2 to figure out what it is. Or maybe I'll post an interview with the reporter to get a better sense of who he is.

And now a question for you, readers: I'd like to know something about how you revise, on a very practical level. Do you just into the Word document you've already been working in? Do you open a fresh document?

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Good quote

"Stop thinking, start writing"
~Sara Gruen

In a recent Writer's Digest, Gruen, the author or Water for Elephants, said that was what she told herself when she was trying and failing to write. I think it perfectly sums up my own writing struggles, when they occur.

(Though luckily now is not one of those times! I'm working on a short story and enjoying it, and I have an idea for the novel I want to pursue in November for NaNoWriMo.) Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 08, 2008

Another submission

I sent my paris/postcard out to another journal. This makes 3 that it is under consideration with. I'm planning on sending it to 2 more in October, and then I will start sending out my next story. My plan is to have a few stories out to 5 journals each at a time. Then I'll wait for the acceptances to roll in and move on from there. :) It's my nature to be all negative and say "wait for the rejections", but I stopped myself. Let's remain positive, shall we? Best Blogger Tips

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sacrifices/cutting back

So at that BPL talk I went to on Monday, Matthew Quick talked about the many sacrifices he and his wife made to nurture his writing-namely, they moved from Phili to outside of Boston to live with his in-law's rent-free so he could work on his writing full time. Talk about a sacrifice!

I'm realizing that I, too, need to make some sacrifices in order to start pushing full steam ahead. Namely, I have to go out less. I spend a lot of time socializing. Some of it really nourishes me. Others of it feels like more of an obligation. And there's a whole range of things in between. So while I'll obviously try to keep the nourishing stuff in, and throw the obligatory stuff out, the overall result is that I won't be going out as much.

I think a reasonable goal is no more than one night out after work per week. And only one planned activity per weekend day. So if I plan to play tennis in the morning, then I don't also have people over for dinner that evening.

I have a sneaking suspicion that not only will I get more writing done, but I'll also enjoy life a tad more when I'm not running all over the place. And hopefully blogging about this plan will keep me honest about sticking with it! Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Gratitude Post #2

I'm feeling myself slipping back into my recent funk, so it's time to be grateful again.

On Monday night, I went to a reading of first-time authors at the Boston Public Library. Each writer told his/her story about getting a first book published, and then read a bit from the book. It was very inspirational--the overall message was to just work really hard. I especially appreciated one of the author's outlooks. Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Lining Playbook, said that hard work can outrun talent, that he might not be the most talent writer out there, but he sure did work hard--both to write the book, and to find an agent. I also feel that with hard work, a person can do almost anything, so it was nice to see that confirmed (did I mention his book as already been optioned for a movie??). The other writers--Amy MacKinnon and Brunonia Barry--also gave interesting talks about getting to where they were.

So, I am grateful to live near Boston and to work in the city, making it fairly easy for me to go to so many literary events. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gratitude Post #1

As I posted last week, I am doing some Gratitude Postings this week to keep me focused on how many wonderful things I have in my life (even though it can seem like the crap outweighs the good on any given day; hence the need for Gratitude Posts!).

When I think of gratitude in relation to writing, I immediately think of the community of writers I have around me, and the people that support me as a writer. Here is a very short list, which surely doesn't encompass everyone:

  • My MFA buddies. One of the best thing I got out of school was the friends with whom I can commiserate and talk about writing. It's amazing to have friends who went through the same schooling, who are at similar places with their writing, and whom I just love in general.
  • Blogging buddies. I love having the blog as a place to write about writing, but most of all I love the conversations it allows for, and the friendship it creates and rejuvenates. For example, I worked with/for the fantastic writers Boston Erin and Poet Mom, and then we lost touch. We reconnected mainly through our blogs, and now I consider them to be two of my Writing Gurus, my go-to gals for writing questions.
  • Non-writing friends and coworkers who get it. Not everyone does, and it can be frustrating. But I am very grateful to those non-writers out there who sympathize with my struggles, and who ask in very kind ways how the writing is going.
  • And lastly, but certainly not leastly (a word I just made up), my dear husband B. Not only does he put up with me during the many crazy ups and downs of a writing life, but he also (god help him) encourages me. And he believes in me, even when I can't really figure out why.
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Some time away

Without planning to, I took the weekend off. I gave myself total permission to do nothing productive. I even napped in a hammock, the quintessential relaxing endeavor. Now I'm back, feeling very refreshed. And the odd thing is, I even managed to slip some work into the weekend--I created a chart to track my submissions, and researched some journals to submit to. But it didn't feel like work. The beauty of not expecting anything out of yourself.

Speaking of which, I think the very reason I am having such a hard time writing right now is because I'm expecting too much from myself and my writing. I'm not allowing myself the time for Shitty First Drafts. I'm expecting to have been published yesterday.

So I'm going to start over in creating my post MFA writing life. I'm going to experiment with ways to keep myself writing, but also keep myself enjoying the process (with room for the occasional freak out of course. What kind of writer doesn't freak out from time to time?). I'm not sure what the experiments are going to look out, so stay tuned. Best Blogger Tips