Archive for September, 2012

When I quit my job to start freelancing, lo these many years ago, I was very serious about my work space.I had a little office, and I would trundle up there each morning with my patient brown dog and sit in my seat until I had made the requisite number of phone calls or written the necessary number of pages.  The room had sliding doors with a teensy balcony that overlooked the barn and horses. A cowbird would sit on the balcony and harangue me, and eventually I turned my desk to the wall so I would not be distracted.

An office came with this house, too, and although I turned my desk to the wall to avoid the view and focus on work, distractions managed to creep in.(See below.) I became adept at writing a few sentences, reading a story, then writing a few more.

Last year, my husband redid my office for my birthday. He painted it two gorgeous colors, found a beautiful wooden table, and set the whole room up. But now that both my children are in school, I find it hard to write there. My office is suddenly too quiet. Instead I sit at the kitchen table, overlooking the hummingbird feeder. I type a few lines, glance up the clock, type a few more. I pretend I’m telling a story, not writing a book. The new dog, not as patient as the old, is unhappy with this routine. He sits outside in the sun, watching the neighbors and waiting for the clock to show 3 p.m., the hour when distractions begin.


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Many of my writer friends appear to be in the middle of revising their manuscripts.  I can tell because they are making the noises I hear when I hurry past the waxing section of the salon.  To ease the sting, I thought I’d share how I revise these days.

First, go read this.  It is the most helpful revising strategy I have ever found — Elana Johnson is brilliant.  Her plan makes revising seem possible.  (Not painless, because no one is that brilliant, but possible.)

Back?  Okay.  So when I’ve finished a complete manuscript, I do what Elana suggests.  But I do mini-revisions every 100 pages or so.  I finish a 100 page section, send it off to my long-suffering and amazing beta reader, and while I’m waiting to hear from her, I go back 100 pages, revisit her comments on that section (much easier to do now that some time has passed) consult my own notes that I’ve scribbled off to the side, and whip that puppy into shape.  Around the time I’ve finished, beta reader extraordinaire will have sent back the newest segment.  I read through her comments, flag any that I need to keep in mind going forward, and stick the whole package in a deep, dark drawer to rest. (Or compost, depending how I’m feeling) until it’s that section’s turn for attention.  Then it’s off to write the newest section.

Sometimes a comment from my beta or an inspiration means going all the way back to the beginning.  For example, the manuscript I’m working on right now has several points of view, told in alternating chapters.  One character is not behaving, and I’ve just figured out why.  That means pulling out every chapter that’s told from her point of view and working on them together to make her voice more believable and her actions seamless.  (For stuff like this, I ‘m finally seeing the value of Scrivener.)

Revising in stages like this might not work for everyone, but I like feeling that my manuscript isn’t  an enormous mess when I type ‘the end’ — somehow chunking it as I go makes revising less intimidating.

How about you?  Do you revise in stages, at the end, or both?


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Ten years ago, I sat down in the house of a woman who had lost her son on September  eleventh.  She’d been out grocery shopping that day and hadn’t heard the news.  She came home to a message from her son, who worked in one of the towers.  “He told me a plane had hit the building, but that he was fine and not to worry,” she said. “He told me he loved me.” She paused.  “Would you like to hear it?”

She’d saved the message, of course.  She’d tried to call her son back that day, but he hadn’t answered. The message was on a digital machine, and I remember being glad, because it wouldn’t wear out. She could listen to it over and over and over again.

After I listened, she showed me her photo albums, pictures of her son as a little boy, as a handsome man. I stayed as long as I could, because I could see she wanted to talk about him, wanted to remember, wanted to pass those memories along to whoever would listen so that her son, who died, would come alive again in her words and in the minds of new people, people he’d never met.

I went home and I wrote my story. I never saw the woman again.  A few years ago, I looked up her name, and I found out she’d passed away. I saw what the obituary said, the disease it named, but it was wrong.  She died because her son did. 

I wish I’d seen her just one more time, so that I could tell her I think of her on beautiful fall days, when the  air is crisp and the sky a brilliant, heart-breaking blue, so beautiful you think that nothing bad could ever happen.  I think of her, and I remember her son, the one I never met.  He was funny and brave.  He was handsome, with dark hair and eyes, and he had a nice voice.  He loved dogs, and his mother.  I carry his memory with me, and now I share him with you. I think his mother would have liked that. 

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Audio books listened to:  Nine

Favorite: No Passengers Beyond This Point, by Gennifer Choldenko (Caveat: The Graveyard Book will always be my very favorite.  As my children grow, I find it more mournful, but each summer that we listen it’s like running into an old friend.)

Sharks sighted: None (Thank God!)

Boat rides taken: Two

Lobster rolls eaten: Five

Oysters consumed: Embarrassingly, too many to count.

Summer Song: Call Me Maybe (What can I say — blame the US Swim Team.)

Summer Wine:  Grangia, from the winemaker Elvio Tintero

Meltdowns by children: none

Meltdowns by mother: one

Blue moons witnessed: One

Emergency trips to the vet: One

Emergency trips to the dentist: Three

Number of teeth pulled: One

Chapters written: Let’s not talk about that, shall we?

Perfect sunsets watched from the beach: Three

Days I would love to have back so I could live them all over again: Every single one

How was your summer?

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