(Serious word nerds, keep reading. The rest of you, go do something productive or take a nap.)
Final combing through of my novel, in hopes it will emerge between portable covers sooner than later.
Meanwhile, there’s a file on my computer called “overused words checklist.” It includes words I use too frequently, & passive or lazy phrases to comb for, such as “very” or “and then.” I consult this oracle when I’m nearing the end of the process. Search/replace/omit (or keep, if they seem to need to be there).
Selected statistics that impress at least me:
- Just 1 occurrence of the word “tendril.” Because that word is at the top of my list—I used to use is excessively in a previous novel—and it’s apparently my thumbprint.
- “Very”: Pared down from 30 to 6 “very”s, all of them falling within characters’ dialogue, sounding better left there.
- “Thought”: pared down from 48 to 19. And zero “thought about”s. !!
- “Felt”: down from 38 to 8. (And some signify the fabric.)
- “Little”: Oy vey! From 64 down to 41. (In case you ever read this novel: I’m sorry. I did what I could do.)
- “Seem” (and its variants): 54, down to 14! Some of which are parts of other words.
- “Sigh”/ed: Bonus points for only having 8 occurrences to start with! Hell, I could leave them all in there. But why not pare down. Except I had to add 2 more. Still, 10 of 79,000 words is not that bad. (She sighed.)
page of my novel, under construction
Whenever I’m staring at something like this mess, there’s an urge to whine (and brag?). Both.
The writing process. The glamour.
Ninety more pages like this, single-spaced.
The tired eyes.
This page isn’t even the worst of it!
But I know if I just take the time, nip and tuck, and keep moving onward, the novel will emerge stronger for it.
Where I worked today. (Head cup by Beth Holyoke)
I finished typing up the Bewildering Whatever-it-is begun at Omega with Nick Flynn (and mentioned here). I don’t know what it is or will be. I keep thinking of it as a coil of DNA for a memoir. It’s about 13,000 words. There will be more words as I uncoil and discover itself.
Last night, I dreamt an agent said there’s a lack of confident storytelling in my novel. (When I woke, and did today’s letter to the inner critic, I asked the critic what she does while I sleep.) I don’t think it’s true that there’s a lack of confident storytelling in my novel. Laughed it off.
Within a few hours, I got a kind rejection from an agent who has some very big name clients. (Another agent at her agency, whom I had approached to represent me, had been complimentary about the novel, and on her own initiative, forwarded the manuscript to this big-name agent thinking it might be more her style.) The big-name agent got back to me quickly, and was also complimentary about the novel, said, “It’s full of mystery and atmosphere, poetry, even.” But said she doesn’t think she could sell it. I understand it’s a business. I’m grateful for the kind words about my writing. I trust someday I will find an agent or press who will say YES, and take a risk on my work.
May it be sooner than later.
Today, I feel like I gave birth to a 13- or 16-year-old (depending on when you consider the moment of literary conception) because I finished my novel. Finished as in finished; it’s packed and ready to go out into the world for the first time…evicted from living merely in my mind, where it had loving and helpful visitors, including a marvelous muse, editor, and doula (my husband, Robert Wexler) but where the novel has lived too long.
(fragment from the original idea, 2001)
My original note for the concept (a tornado girl loses her memory and can see the memories of others) is dated 2001. The first page of the handwritten draft is dated 2004.
So however you count, it’s been a long time.
I’m grateful to the novel’s loving and helpful visitors. I’m exhausted and pleased and a little shocked to be vacated by its presence.
I don’t recall writing this, but apparently I did:
If a person could climb up a ladder to the sky, and look down at the Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, the person would see a sort of living beast, its spine the Tower of Misfortune, its arms the tents, its legs the rides, wheels, gears, its blood the wine and food and excrement that flowed through the bodies of carnies and guests, the air in the beast’s lungs breathed by the humans who worked and wandered inside the cave of the beast’s body. Its head the hotel, its mouth and ass the doorway into and out of its corrugated skin of wonder.
Day 2 at Omega (how to make faces)
After writing the short story I blogged about here, I tried another Lynda Barry-inspired approach. Looking at a problematic paragraph in my almost-finished novel (a reader had noticed some point of view shifts and was pulled out of the story), rather than my usual method (just working on the paragraph by pruning where I could, or cutting it, or moving it) I thought I’d try handwriting it (double-spacing with extra lines like Lynda Barry had us do) to see what would happen. When I felt like speeding up, I slowed down the making of shapes and focused on the curves of the cursive. By doing that, I was able to get outside the oppressive overmind that usually does this level of editing in my work, and realized where the shifts happened in the paragraph, what I needed to omit. The white space between lines was crucial. Turns out the second part of the problematic paragraph is maybe a better fit for my “new” novel (which I have barely started) but at any rate, it was a great procedure! I don’t think I would have noticed, had I not used this approach, with the slow handwriting, and the extra spaces in between lines. (In WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE at Omega, Lynda Barry said that sometimes all you need is some white space.) Then I retyped the newly cleaved passages from the handwriting, and pasted the parts I was keeping back into their respective novel files.
Retyping was important: though many of the sentences had not changed much, it felt like changing the linens. It refreshed the writing.
So cool! In this back and forth between handwriting and typing and handwriting, I’ve met a sort of wall of water where there are two separate worlds, but this process is a portal between them. And it goes both ways! Freaking magical.
(Thank you, Professor Andretti!)
…But today I reached page 200 of a final flea-combing through my novel! I love this process: Reading aloud, carefully, slowly enough, making necessary changes, nothing is sacred…all performed within a short-ish (for me) timeframe so the arc of the thing is fresh in my mind. One day ahead of schedule! Now: Can I read 130 more pages between today and tomorrow afternoon? Hmm…
This summer, I will start looking for a publisher. (Even as a volunteer, I love my job.)
This is how we do it…
The life-changing magic of tidying up (a manuscript):
- Hold in your hand any paragraph, page, or chapter that no longer serves.
- Thank it for its service.
- Cut and paste it into a fragments file (because you never know).
- Move on with the story.
Writer with a stink bug (Antioch College Olive Kettering Library)
This week I set the goal of finishing a solid revision of my novel. Thanks to the wise and generous writers who read and gave feedback on this round (Kristin Walrod, Melissa Tinker, and Robert Wexler), and the stink bug who showed up for the final lap, I made it.
Now to celebrate!
Our manuscripts, flirting…
My husband Robert printed out the beginning of his novel for me to read. I printed the end of my novel for him to read. Loving this man, this work, this symmetry…