Tag Archives: writing process

Happy birthday, dear novel

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.

IMG_20170331_115318442

(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.

Onward!

Healing writing practice at YS Library (Jan. 15)

img_0675

I’m thrilled to again offer a healing writing practice as part of the Winter Wellness series at the Greene County Library. This event is free and open to the public (21 years and older), but the librarians are asking people to register. (And we need to honor the librarians, for they are part of saving the world.) Last year, we had a great turnout—25 people or so!

Join me as we practice writing together using helpful prompts to discover and know ourselves. We’ll unmask and disarm the inner critic, and I might sneak in some drawing, too. It’s great way to start the new year!

When: Sunday, January 15, 2-4pm

Where: Greene County Public Library, 415 Xenia Ave, Yellow Springs, OH 45387

To registration, go here, or call the library at 937-352-4003.

 

Short story accepted!

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story “Curb Day” was accepted for Shadows and Tall Trees 7, forthcoming from Undertow Publications. It’s particularly exciting to me because, as I blogged here, in writing this piece, I adapted a process from Lynda Barry‘s process…and it was such fun to dig through compost from last spring’s embryonic essay about junk week and turn it into a story. I’m grateful to Michael Kelly at Undertow for accepting the results. Shadows and Tall Trees 7 will be available in March 2017.

writing from typing, typing from writing, etc.

img_0186

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!)

A useful process from Lynda Barry

img_0183

Writing the Unthinkable, Omega Institute, 2016

Since attending WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with Lynda Barry at Omega Institute in July, I’ve used a process Lynda (aka Professor Andretti) described for writing her amazing novel, Cruddy. I adapted the steps a bit to write a short story. My process was:

DRAFT 1: Write the first draft by hand—not with ink and brush (as she when drafting Cruddy), but with a black Flair. Using lined paper, I double-spaced lines. (This is important: skip a line in the composition book, as if your hand is double-spacing).

(I started this story from a very messy prompt/embryo I did last spring about taking stuff to the curb for junk day. We have this junk week thing in our town every year, where you can take just about anything to the curb and either another resident will harvest it or the trash collectors will take it. The essay was what I started with, literally writing the words I had typed up onto the paper, longhand, but veered from the essay totally so it ended up as fiction. Really, I’m dealing with some of my (internal) baggage in this essay-turned-story and so using this ‘junk’ was both cathartic and creative.)

DRAFT 2: Re-copy draft 1 by hand without taking anything out (!) but slowing down and adding things where needed. (This is really important: you must copy everything you wrote in the first draft. You can add as much as you like, but you are not removing anything. When I tried it, it began to feel like I was not cutting myself to shards, but instead just acknowledging that some of the junk—every word!—had a reason to be there, at this stage. Doing this worked against the constant self-critique I usually feel when writing. I wasn’t finding flaws and rooting them out, I was just re-copying words in slow, deliberate shapes with a pen. In fact, as Professor Andretti recommended, when my brain started to go faster than my hand, I deliberately

s l   o   w   e   d                        d   o   w   n

and focussed on making the shapes with my pen on the paper.)

DRAFT 3: Type up. On a typewriter. Professor Andretti used an actual typewriter for Cruddy, because you can only go forward (pretty much) on a typewriter whereas on a keyboard and screen you can go both ways (this ‘just keep moving forward’ idea is an extension of steps 1 and 2 above, i.e. not cutting down but building up, keeping momentum going.) I did this step on word processor because my typewriter needs a new ribbon—but before I used the word processor, I turned off the (judgmental!) automatic spell/grammar check as you type feature. If you try nothing else from my post, try this. It’s totally liberating! I knew I’d eventually do a manual spell check, so I just didn’t worry about it at this point. And I am maybe never turning that sucker back on. Like double-spacing my handwriting, excusing The Judge allows more oxygen in the room of my writing, lets me breathe. Ah! Doesn’t that feel better? Yes.)

DRAFT 4: Here is where Professor Andretti would finally type it up on a computer. Once I had the draft on the computer (see step 3), I did a spell check, and then printed it. It still needed work and I took things out and added things, etc., but a lot of what came through in the process was evocative and strong writing. What came through most of all was the character’s voice. I believe that using this technique allowed her enough oxygen to tell her story.

It was a great and illuminating process. It felt good instead of pressured. (It was actually much more fun than usual writing.)

I’m happy to have spent those several weeks using some of the techniques I learned from Professor Andretti…and living in the not knowing/not fiction/not non-fiction/what the hell is an image/”search for underpants, eee*” zone…and I got a story out of it!

* This is a reference to a song Lynda Barry would sing in the morning at our workshop. I much prefer her/our version to the South Park version—we all sang along with her—but if you want to hear the song, go here.

To learn more about Lynda Barry, go to her Tumblr page.

Lynda Barry, Omega Institute workshop (scratching the surface)

IMG_0214.jpg

(words by someone else, drawing by me)

I can’t yet write deeply/fully about my experience at Lynda Barry’s WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE Omega Institute workshop last week, because it’s all still coalescing, and it’s summertime, and I just don’t have the mind space word space right now.  But I wrote a message to my former students and couple colleagues, because the message does scratch the surface (cliche, I know) in telling about how it was to be in the room with LB. More, more deeply, when I can.

***

Hi, all,

I’m just back from an amazing workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where I spent the week along with 70 others working with Lynda Barry.  Some of you know her work, maybe some of you don’t…but I wanted to pass these links along in case they are of interest to you.
If you like her vibe and work, I recommend the workshop very highly. It got me moving in the creative flow, writing and drawing and working really hard, and also unlocked a lot of stuck ideas I had about making art and what it’s all about.

(Or, in shorthand: Lynda Barry rocks! And so can you!)

She’s very generous about her teaching.  She considers her work open-sourced, and wants anyone and everyone to have access to it.  Her book that contains the most teaching stuff in it is Syllabus, but it has as much for the maker of art as the teacher.  (Okay, by now you know how I feel about Lynda Barry’s work.)
Here’s her TED talk, a good, longish introduction to her work:
And here’s a link about her work as it pertains to ACADEMIC WRITING as well…

***

Love, Rebecca

Winnowing stage directions (trusting the reader)

IMG_9821Often, new writers use extraneous stage directions and phrases that aren’t needed to show characters action. (So do I.) The reason, I think, is similar to my last post: First, the writer needs to see it all happening, in detail. Once that vision is established, however, it’s great to trust the reader to and winnow what’s possibly bloating the sentences.  Here’s an example from my novel:

FIRST VERSION: (I had to figure out where the character was going, and sort of lay it all out, with too much stage business describing what’s happening.)

She stumbled through the fire pit and into the hotel, quietly as she could, and went straight toward the stairs, but was stopped by Mr. Suspenders’ voice from the direction of the kitchen, where there was a light. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

PARED DOWN: (Once I realized I could see it, I pared down.)

She stumbled into the hotel, quietly as possible, and went toward the stairs, but Mr. Suspenders called from the kitchen. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

 

Strata (of a sentence, of a novel)

IMG_0082

subject to change…

I just had that feeling again: Final tweaks to my carnival novel, paper manuscript having been read aloud by me, inked notes having slashed many paragraphs, sentences, and words, now typing it up…

…this novel’s first of its nine lives was so overwritten, so many adjectives…I piled them on until the pile slid down into a word-hoarder’s jumble and hid the story…

…but the feeling I just had, again, slashing, slaying, comes back to TRUSTING THE READER…but also remembering that as writer, first, I had to KNOW (that the goggles were cloudy and tight, the straps were safe, there was “so much wind and motion”)…

…I had to see it & know it before I could show it…

…a very satisfying feeling, knowing now what I don’t need to say on page…

…there must be a word for that feeling…the first-knowing-then-trusting-before-being able-to-do-the-showing…

(to be continued…)

I used to think I could never reach a self-imposed goal…

IMG_9625

Progress…

…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.)

Life-changing magic of tidying up

IMG_9026

This is how we do it…

The life-changing magic of tidying up (a manuscript):

  1. Hold in your hand any paragraph, page, or chapter that no longer serves.
  2. Thank it for its service.
  3. Cut and paste it into a fragments file (because you never know).
  4. Move on with the story.