The Work of Writing
I subscribe to the Writer’s Almanac. Who doesn’t need a dose of poetry everyday? But it is more than Garrison Keillor’s voice dolling out words that fascinates me. It is the stories of authors and artists that really keep me coming back. At times I am shocked at how easy some people have it to getting published. Others face an epic struggle.
The entry for February 4th contained two stories that connected with where I am in my writing. The first was Robert Coover, who discovered writing was more than a job – it was a vocation – during a solitary month stay on a remote Canadian Island. This knowledge refocused him and he got on with writing and got a short story published.
I also love his quote regarding creative writing workshops. I’m sure not all workshops are so bad, but the point remains. Sometimes we don’t get what we hope out of an experience. Truly, I am responsible for finding what I need to improve my life and writing. When I leave it to others, I tend to get what they need or want. I have to remember to remain the pilot and seek out advice but not give over the controls!
In the spirit of that thought, it was the last author highlighted in the post that really stuck with me. Stewart O’Nan learned to write by copying sentences from Joyce and Kafka, breaking them down to see the structure. But still nothing was published of this daytime aerospace engineer and night time writer. It wasn’t until he got a job sorting through the writings of John Gardner that he discovered how much work writing really took. He said, “It was not brilliance or facility that was necessary, but the determination to bear and even enjoy the dull process of wading into one’s own bad prose again, one more time, and then once again, with the utmost concentration and taste, looking for opportunities to mine deeper.” It was after this realization that he tried again and with some work (of course) his first novel was finally published.
After one session at a writing class where my work was pulled apart with comments of too many adverbs and adjectives but other classmates using the same words sailed through without a problem, I decided to give myself some homework. Like O’Nan, I pulled out some authors in my genre (the class was geared more toward memoirs with only a few fiction writers shaking up the scene). I photocopied random chapters and proceeded to highlight every adverb and adjective. I wasn’t doing this to be stubborn, but knew I needed an objective base to compare my work to. The result? I was average in my usage of descriptors, but my language could use improving! 🙂
Like both Cooper and O’Nan, I’m facing the work of writing. I actually love to edit – almost as much as writing the first draft (Okay, I’m sick. I know!). Perhaps I could make enough money to travel by becoming an editor, who knows? But for now, I’m working on Born of Water again. This time a major rewrite.
As I mentioned in my last post Concepts versus Characters, I realized rather recently I have been a concept writer. I need to really fine tune and bring to life my characters. After a few web searches on character development which resulted in typical things like fact sheets and interviews, I decided to trust my instincts. I tore BofW apart down to each chapter.
You see, an agent recently rejected BofW (nothing new there! LOL), but she also recommended Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents to help me target agents a little better. Reading it, Jeff puts a strong emphasis on the novel being polished to a brilliant shine. Okay, internal question here: Is BofW ready? That bit of squeamishness tells me that I want it to be ready. But no, there is still work to be done.
Pulled to pieces, I wrote down the POV of each chapter in BofW, how important it was for the story and action level, a summary of what the chapter was about, and what work I thought it needed to bring the true theme and character to the fore. With that complete on all 38 chapters, I’m going to put it back together – by character POV.
My goal is to focus the rewrite on one character at a time to keep their voice true through the novel. The story is already written and I don’t think they are going to wander too far off track from the current plot. I do expect to summarize bits more. I found too many places where it gets too blow by blow, some inconsistencies, places where things moved too easily, and decided that two characters needed a bit more fire. I think I wrote myself the note: “Worries and shallow feelings do not make up for personality!” Geesh, harsh critic! 😉
S0 I can’t say it will get me published, but it will make me a better writer. And a better editor! Now if I can just create some more time to do this, I should be all set! Anyone find any loopholes in the space/time continuum recently?