Sunday, November 11, 2018

The uncertainty of the first draft

Starting a new book is all steam and excitement, an idea pulsing with life. But I'm never sure, until I've written my way into it, whether it will really work. I have abandoned first drafts after a thousand words, two thousand, ten thousand. 

Usually by the time I hit ten thousand, I have a sense of whether this is going anywhere. If the story's getting deeper and more complex, if new subplots are opening up, if the characters are revealing more with every scene, then I may have something. But if the initial impulse has burned out, its promise dwindled, the characters never growing, no new conflicts arising naturally, then it's another scrap for the scrap box. Part of it may be quilted into another story eventually.

When a story does go, when it grows legs--or better yet, wings--there's a feeling of inevitability. Yet the first shovelful into the ground (to mix metaphors here) rarely tells me how rich the pocket of ore will be. I have to dig a while to test it.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Writing in disguise

This month at YA Outside the Lines, the topic was writing and disguises. My contribution is here. A sample: "The best writing I have done is when I’m honest."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Walls Between Us

Beth Kephart and William Sulit at Juncture Workshops have put together an anthology called The Walls Between Us, an exploration of how we live with walls of all sorts. I'm happy to have an essay called "The Wall of Fear" in it. I wrote it by asking: Why do we have walls in the first place? What do we like about them? What do we expect of them, and do they do what we expect? What problems have they brought that we didn't foresee?

I've read essays for years, but my first attempts at writing them came off preachy and stiff. Recently I've begun to treat them more as an opportunity to explore questions, and especially to use my own reading habits as jumping-off places to new territory. I've been happy to see the personal-essay form flourishing, since as a reader I can't get enough of them. My reading has shifted to a heavy emphasis on memoirs and personal essays, but I'm still reading widely: novels, history, books on spirituality.

I've long thought of reading and writing as ways to bridge the distance between people. I hope that's still true.

Monday, October 1, 2018

October musings

Some random thoughts for the day: 

I got behind in moderating comments on this blog, but I'm caught up now. Thanks for your patience!

I noticed that many of my recent posts have been about not being perfect and not pursuing perfection. This was something I worked on a lot in my 20s and now that I'm a few years older, I'm still working on it. I suppose it will be a lifelong project.

I've had another short piece accepted to an upcoming anthology. More on that in the near future.

Many people like to spend more time outdoors in the coolness of autumn, but I find myself retreating, cocooning, as the days shorten. Yet I still manage to get in some hikes. 

Overall, I'm craving slowness, meditation, time for thought. I have pared my schedule way back and wish I could pare it back even more, but there is that necessity to earn a living. 

2018 has been a challenging year, but it's drawing to a close. I find that at this time of year, each month passes more quickly than the last, and December is typically a blur.

May you spend this autumn doing things you love and find meaningful.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Embrace the imperfection

We've been sharing our most embarrassing childhood/teen moments all month at YA Outside the Lines. My contribution, which you can find here, relates a story from a middle-school award ceremony where I stepped on my own glory. A sample: "Sometimes you are going to be the one with the toilet paper on your shoe, or the button that pops open at the wrong moment, or the inconvenient fit of coughing. ... It’s really okay. Embrace the imperfection."

Sunday, September 23, 2018

On pressure, perfection, and the sharing of stories

I've been reading lots of nonfiction, and after a run of memoirs about giving birth, my main reaction is: Holy cow, are women staggering under the burden of high expectations in that department.

Society has always loved to judge mothers--for being too strict or not strict enough, for working outside the home or inside it, for holding their babies too much or not enough. But I have found expectations building up around pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding, have read heartbreaking stories of women turning themselves inside out to try to have the perfect pregnancy, the perfect natural birth, the perfect breastfeeding experience. And then to try to recover their pre-pregnancy bodies as quickly as possible.

Giving birth is a huge, life-changing experience. As with any other experience so profound (in both the physical and emotional sense), I would say: It's okay to get through it however you can. To accept help, support, medication, technology. To acknowledge that impossible standards are bad for us. I'm glad women are talking and thinking and writing about these issues.One of the biggest reasons I read memoir is for that sense of connection with people, that commentary on the world we all share.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Some positive thing

I had lunch with a friend earlier this week, and we talked about how difficult it is to make a difference in the world, how easy it is to give up in frustration. And yet we agreed we'd rather do something than nothing, even if it's only to be one small drop in an ocean.

Today I came across this passage:

"... we must simply do something ourselves, whatever we can, instead of being so overwhelmed by the bad news everywhere that we become passive. Act now to wrest some positive thing out of the chaos."
--May Sarton, At Eighty-Two

Sarton's words were written in 1993, but they seem evergreen.