Tuesday, December 31, 2013

year end review

I wrote a lot!

At the start of the year, I took two online workshops and learned more about the craft of fiction and essay. I wrote more words each week than I had in years and finished the two months feeling a little lost, like what next? Hungry for more.

I tried new assignments and prompts. I'll post a couple of favorites soon.

I wrote through the summer - always a challenge with our yearly travel.

I transferred my honest journaling into honest essays. Lately I've been thinking about Oversharing versus Transparency. I want my essay pieces to be plain: this is me, this is what I think, this is what I don't know. I like writing essay pieces.

Sloppily.

Which brings me to revision, which I've decided I love. I think through revision before going to the page. So before I open a file, I have ideas. And as mentioned in the last post, I'm learning to be vicious. Right now, I prefer revising fiction over essay. It's like it's more okay to be vicious with a character than with my own wobbly ideas.

I read a lot too. I'll post a few favorites soon. But what I've learned through years of this practice is that reading widely feeds my writing.

And this year I recommitted to writing a book. Thinking about finishing a book length collection makes me want to hide. Just saying I'll do that, especially after futzing around with writing for years and never submitting to any recognizable publication or carving out an online audience or even managing regular emails to friends and family - the Book Project seems like a reach. It is a reach.

I'll write more about humility and realistic expectations later. Just know I'm not dumb about how this might turn out.

Also know I'm having a great time meeting new characters. This year I drafted several new fiction pieces and returned to years-old stories. I love when an idea comes.

I also let a few ideas go before I got to the page, thinking: I'll remember that line. Then I didn't.

Maybe those lines will show up next year.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

vicious editor

A month ago I decided I need an editor. If I am going to play serious about completing this Book Project, I need earnest, paid help.* After reading her latest comments on pieces I sent her, one phrase stayed: her suggestion that I play the vicious editor.

I did that yesterday. I opened a fiction draft set in Kuwait, reread my editor's comments, took a breath, ate some panic chocolate, ordered a mocha for delivery, checked the news, opened my email, stared at the ceiling, rolled my neck, and got to it. Cut cut cut. I cut three characters at her suggestion. I swapped a page of backstory for a few sentences. I puzzled show versus tell.

Always a puzzle for me, that sweet little writing workshop phrase.

I realized two things:

I don't trust the reader very much. That's why I want to saddle you with five paragraphs about why Jeff took a job with a contracting company in Kuwait. I need to learn that those five paragraphs about the ex-girlfriend and parents and brother and forklift job in Milwaukee - those paragraphs are for me. I need to know Jeff first. But you don't need his elementary school report card. You need me to trust you to see what I show, to build a Jeff in your reader mind without me telling you.

Second, from reading loads of short fiction: most really great short fiction pieces are tight on two or three characters. That's it. When I draft I spin a dozen characters that all seem Very Important, even in minor roles. But when I cut three characters from yesterday's draft, the piece was better. Now the reader can follow Jeff without the distraction of George and Honeybee.

Okay, a third thing:

Revision is where the risk is for me. I can wander through a short fiction piece until it's forty pages long. I want to give every character a backstory. I want the reader to know exactly how these characters are knitted together. But I don't know how to knit. What the reader gets is a mess of yarn snaking from one minor character to another to another so that halfway through a piece, the narrative is lost. When I revise, I must be willing to risk cuts that hurt a little, to keep the whole narrative.


*And paying someone to read and comment on my work makes this process seem startlingly legitimate. Like, maybe I should get classy black and white headshots for the book jacket. Maybe.