It's the end of a long day of revision. Most of the day I've felt like I was still on yesterday's walk, which means I was in a deep fog. Literally. A thick gray curtain had settled in over the neighborhood, and obscured vision so much that I was afraid I wouldn't be seen by approaching cars. We don't have sidewalks out our way, so I'm right on the edge of the road when I go. But I finally relented and decided to give it a try--and I'm sure glad I did. It turned out to be a great walk. I'm also glad I stuck with my hours in the chair today. For, you see, by the end of yesterday's walk, the sun was shining. By the end of today's work, progress on my WIP (I think) has been made.
And so I share a few quotes that helped me along the way:
"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."--E.L. Doctorow
"I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
"Are you prepared to keep writing when you sit down to write? One challenge is starting; but another is continuing." --Eric Maisel, Living the Writer's Life
Are you mesmerized by your writing? I don't mean so enthralled by your words that you can't imagine changing a single phrase--most writers recognize they have to be willing to scratch even the most beloved words if it means making a stronger, better piece--but mesmerized as in being so intent in the process that you can't pull yourself away. It's like you're caught up in a spell, in a zone, unaware of anything and everything around you, i.e. mesmerized. Sound familiar?
Eudora Welty, well-known twentieth century author, likened the writer's proclivity to mesmerization as being akin to traveling with a man like her father. I came across this connection in her autobiography, One Writer's Beginnings (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1984). Early in the book she described family trips taken when she was a child (she was born in 1909). She wrote:
"When we set out in our five-passenger Oakland touring car on our summer trip to Ohio and West Virginia to visit the two families, my mother was the navigator. She sat at the alert all the way at Daddy's side as he drove, correlating the AAA Blue Book and the speedometer, often with the baby on her lap... Riding behind my father I could see that the road had him by the shoulders, by the hair under his driving cap. It took my mother to make him stop. I inherited his nervous energy in the way I can't stop writing on a story. It makes me understand how Ohio had him around the heart, as West Virginia had my mother. Writers and travelers are mesmerized alike by knowing of their destinations."
Writers and travelers are mesmerized alike... I find this to be true. I have often said that it's as if I have a tiger by the tail (or maybe a tiger in the tank?) and can't let go until I reach a stopping point. Too many times the stopping point is well past a reasonable time, like a driver who won't allow for rest stops. Gotta' keep going while the thoughts are flowing, or the miles are passing--same thing. Don't stop or you'll lose momentum. We dread having to crank that momentum back up again.
It's okay to be mesmerized--if you live in the proverbial writer's tower and don't have other things to do. But being a writer for most of us is only part of our lives. We all have our own "other" pieces of the pie and desire to balance various loves, interests, and responsibilities in a meaningful way. Besides, being mesmerized carries the risk of stranding ourselves from the relationships that are most important to us.
So I ask, how do you break the spell, pull away--and temporarily put a halt to your latest writing trip when it's necessary? How do you map out the route to your writing destination while allowing for all the stops along the way?
We had the greatest time over this past weekend when we hit the road for a family get-away to Clifty Falls State Park in Indiana, about an hour and a half from where we live in Cincinnati. Once there, hubby and I, daughter, son-in-law, and little granddaughter had a memorable time...
...viewing waterfalls... ...hiking trails...
...drinking in the (Ohio) riverview... ...marveling over nature...
...and watching butterflies flitter along the trail.
There was much, much more--like tennis and swimming, swings, and picking dandelions. Mommy's story-reading time (in French, no less--this child is going to be multi-lingual!), and rides on Daddy's shoulders.
Oh, and the two feet game.
If you've never played this game before, here are the rules. Put an almost-two year old, dressed in lavender pjs with teddy bears on the front, on the bed between Grandma and Grandpa and see her raise both legs in the air. One of you cry, "Two feet!" and stick your legs in the air alongside of her. Hear the giggles. Lower legs, wait a second, then cry, "Two feet!" again--and all three of your raise your legs at the same time. Lower legs, pause, wait for her to chirp, "Two feet!" and start all over again. Repeat as often as necessary before you collapse with laughter.
I strongly recommend a weekend get-away with family--you'll come home with special memories, a refreshed outlook, and maybe even a writing inspiration or two.
Who knows. You might even discover a two feet get-away game of your own.
We started cleaning the basement last week, my hubby and I. Not a job I relish, but something that has been needed for a long time. We only made a dent. There's still lots to do. But at least we got started.
Have you ever noticed how much history is in a basement? For us it includes a myriad of canning jars and bunches of old glasses, including a set of Garfield cups our kids drank out of when little. There's the dented metal popcorn popper that I used in college oh, so many years ago--given to me by an aunt who had used it for years herself. Then there's my grandmother's rusty old mixer, a couple of frisbees and softballs, a hurricane lamp without a globe, and a bunch of pathetic baskets tossed in a corner.
Some stuff, as happens in any good sweep, will be thrown out. Some will be given away. And some, because we can't yet part with it, will find a new shelf on which to sit. And, hopefully, when all is said and done, the space will be in much better shape at the end of the process than when we first began.
Sweeping out the backstory in my manuscript is turning out to follow a similar pattern. I know it needs done. Boy, do I ever. Recently all kinds of red flags have been raised as I review some of the chapters. I also know that by addressing the problem, my work will be better in the end. But, man, what to keep? What to toss? What is necessary? What is clutter? What helps the story? What would cause my middle-grade reader to get bogged down and, with that, put the book down?
I'm grateful for the posts of others that have recently inspired me in this part of my book-writing journey, including here at Suite101 and at Wordplay.
For example, Camy Tang at Suite101 says, "The key to presenting backstory in a way that is interesting to a reader boils down to one piece of advice: Make the reader want to know the information."
So what information does my reader want? What stuff in my basement do I want? Hmmm, these are things to think about.
And so my sweep continues.
Just out of curiosity, what kinds of things are you in the process of sweeping out, writing or otherwise?
Is there a vocabulary word to describe a person who likes to read the dictionary?
And are there very many of us around?*
Yep, I confess--I sat down to read the dictionary the other day. I put a pause on my middle-grade manuscript revision to attempt an acrostic for a contest offered by Writing.com (here). "With a nod to the newest film adaptation of Lewis Carrolll's Alice in Wonderland," the contest site says, submissions must relate to the theme of wonder. Word count is limited to 250 words, and the deadline is April 30.
Wonder--a fun word in itself for jump-starting the imagination. So I chose a phrase to explore (no hints on my subject, sorry!) and began playing. Ideas flowed and I was on a roll--until I hit the seventh "initial" letter in my draft, the letter N. I kept stumbling on words like no, not, nothing, never--all very negative and hardly appropriate for an acrostic about wonder.
So I reached for the dictionary and began to read through the n's for inspiration. Before long, I made an interesting discovery. Did you know that a preponderance of words that start with n are...ummm...well... negative? For example: there's nag, narrowminded, nasty, naughty, nauseate, ne'er-do-well, neglect, nerd, nevermind, nitwit, and nulllify. My, what a bunch of downers.
Yet, as I read, I also found some deliciously entertaining new words: nidnod (to nod repeatedly), noctambulation (sleepwalking), noddle (the head), and noetic (of or having to do with the mind or intellect). I enjoyed the exercise so much that I repeatedly interrupted my hubby's quiet reading to share my findings--until he threatened to take my heavy tome away.
Thus my venture into reading the dictionary. The outcome? I actually got ideas for my acrostic piece!
So I ask, is reading the dictionary a strange thing to do--especially for a writer? Or is it normal? What other quirky habits do writers lay claim to? I'll be interested in your ideas.
*Dictionary readers are not alone. In fact, one man dedicated a year of his life to reading the Oxford English Dictionary--20 volumes, 21,730 pages, 59 million words--and lived to write a book about it! Read his story hereandhere.
Such a familiar word--except, maybe, in how it applies to writing. This is another thing I learned from Cook's How to Write with theSkill of a Master/Genius of a Child.
Cook suggests an exploration exercise: "Select a finished story--your own or somebody else's--and play the 'How Many Endings?' game with it. How many different ways could you end that story? Don't judge, analyze, or otherwise evaluate...just capture the ideas. When you think you can't think of any more endings, think of one more."
With reservations, I decided to try this with my children's historical fiction manuscript. At first my brain cramped. After all, I've written the book--how could I possibly approach the ending any differently? But I grabbed a notebook and pen, and forced myself to begin freewriting ideas.
I jotted down first one, two, then three variations--and immediately scratched them. No, I mumbled, I'll stay with what I already have, thank you very much. No sense in changing things this late in the game.
But the drill wasn't finished. Even though I was sure I couldn't come up with any more endings, the suggestion was to try to think of one more. So I stayed with the exercise just a bit longer...
That's when a neat little twist--not a major rewrite, mind you, but a burst of something extra--came to my mind. An idea that has potential to strengthen my story, give it a touch more depth. Wow.
"The master writer," Cook says, "brings this sort of childlike flexibility to her writing. She ignores limits and sees instead the possibilities in a scene, an image, a word...She tries new angles, new combinations, new points of view...Master writer and teacher Ellen Hunnicutt puts it this way: If you only write the story that is planned, you will miss the story that is revealed."
See what a little extra stretching will do? Why stop at the knees--reach for the toes!