• Writing

    Back to School Means Back to Manuscript

    IMG_0189Labor Day marks not only a day for those who toil to make this industrious earth go ’round, but a time when I can get back to work. Either gardening or writing. In these last weeks, I’ve managed both, mostly small jobs in the mornings, writing in the afternoon. Of course, by writing I mean “revising.” I’m back to my novel, the one about the botanist who discovers a rare medicinal apple. He’s hired to propagate it but mysterious forces want to stop his project. I still like the premise. I still like the characters. And now, without little voices saying “Mommy, what fun thing are we doing today?” or “Watch!” or “I need a Band-aid,” I can slip back into the silence of my imagination.

    It’s amazing how this time revives my spirit. I was feeling worn out in August. When I wasn’t working, I was hosting guests. Thankfully not high maintenance ones. Still, I was wandering through museums and parks and the hollering Pike Place Market. I was mapping destinations, hanging up swimsuits, walking long distances in uncomfortable sandals. Figuring out which restaurants could seat seven people. I was vacuuming every other day so my cat-allergic relatives would breathe easier. I was finding spots for the extra knick knacks I was given. Breaking down boxes and throwing away wrapping paper. Rearranging furniture. Cooking like crazy. Barbecuing, playing badminton, setting up tents, fixing sprinklers, folding laundry, weeding, sitting in traffic, hurrying to feed the parking meter. Stress, stress, stress.

    Now the true vacation is living inside my story. Visualizing the world, hearing my characters speak. Making it all better. Realizing a character needs to go here before they can do this. Rewriting a section so that an incident happens in Chapter 3 instead of Chapter 8. I write notes to myself in the margins. And carry out my earlier margin commands. This is a time when I praise the public school system. It’s educating my children for me. They’re gone. Engaged and on course to learn math and writing and science. I’m on course to pursue my bliss again. I have no other responsibilities in these stretches of time than to open the door for the dogs. And as I read and type and erase and type again, time disappears until I hear my son outside, the slow roll of the gate opening, the gentle click of the kitchen door. It’s then that I realize I’m ready to take a break.

  • Writing

    My Meltdown While Revising

    Madeleine, My Cat and Co-editor of Revision
    Madeleine, My Cat and Co-editor of Revision

    I’m in the thick of revision now. I’m living inside the world I’ve created in my manuscript. I sit for hours on my comfy, corner chair with the blanket on my lap and Madeleine or “Maddie,” my cat, on my legs while I edit, hitting the delete button and inserting new words and phrases here and there. I mull over logic. Worry about melodrama. Make sure everyone has a motive, or a wound that propels their behavior. I read big chunks of text and realize, with a fallen heart, that they need to fit better into the overall plan of the story. Sometimes those big chunks get highlighted and moved to the Leftovers file. It’s harsh, and sometimes painful, but the result is much better for the story. I go on to other chapters that need my attention.

    After doing these sedentary but mind-sucking tasks, I read the rest of the novel. Two-thirds of it is still a mess. I go to my 25 Questions sheet, a handout I received in graduate school, that forces you to answer vital questions to your plot, setting, characters, emotional arc, etc. Some of the answers I gave in October when I was prepping to write the first draft make me wince. Then I put my face in both hands and rub it hard. I have to reset my clock, forgive myself and rewrite with those answers in mind — as best as I can. Will it ever be in presentable shape?

    I run my hands through my hair again and again, I take a deep breath. Sometimes two, or many during an entire half-hour. I meditate. I come to terms with the draft being a mess. After several deep breaths, I’m surfacing into logical thought again. I have ideas. Get to work, I think. I open my eyes. I set the computer on my lap. I type, I think, I’ve released it all. I’m on my way.