Writing is Hard

Snoopy

Writing is really, really hard. I think this is how you can tell if someone is a writer. If someone tells you that writing is easy, they are probably not a writer. It’s easy to make letters appear on a page. But it’s hard to refine them. And it’s really hard to erase them altogether. But every writer, at some point, has done this. Even though it was hard.

I was once a revision hater, too. I didn’t necessarily think everything I wrote was perfect, but I liked most of it too much to think of editing as anything more than revision – spelling, grammar, syntax. I might have gone back and added quite a bit to my longer stories, but I never went back and changed what was already written. In college I was blessed with the ability to get As without trying too hard. I almost never even proofread my papers, much less revised them. Turns out, this was just as much a curse.

Revision is critical to the writing process. I have always believed this on some level, but not practiced it enough to benefit in any way. The hard part for me is the visualization: here is this rough, lumpy thing that I poured hours and heartbeats into, and now I need to rewrite it, spending more and more hours, and at the end most of those words will be sacrificed so that the pulse becomes stronger.

But how do you make that happen? My strategy so far is to put in the hours. Start at the beginning and literally write it again. Don’t “revise.” Rewrite. At least, that’s the only way I seem to be able to make noticeable, beneficial changes.

Do you have a different strategy I should try?  Or any advice in general on the subject of that process – the writing – that comes after the first draft?

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Procrastination Problems

Pro

College taught me, as it teaches every student, to be a skilled procrastinator. Test? Read over your notes and quizzes during the empty class period before. Project? Late night Wal-Mart run and acrylic paint brushes in the RA office during the preceding shift. Eight page paper? Start at 11 PM and write til dawn. Sleep for a few hours, roll up and head to class to turn it in.

As I began working on projects that I come up with and enforce myself for my master’s, I somehow tricked myself into thinking that those days were behind me. Frenzy? Overrated! Panic? Left behind! Everything looked up from the beginning, when I started my first packet before even getting home from residency and worked on my writing predictably enough throughout the weeks. I had both books read (required reading, but I picked them out!) and my packet finished nearly a week before my deadline. All that was left were a few short, critical essays. We call these SCEs in the Spalding world, and they are tiny foes, only 2-4 pages each, on the subject of your choosing, based out of the books that you chose to read.

Yet here I am, days later, and still no SCEs on my hard drive. Did I deceive myself by believing they would be easy? Do I really have to go back to the days yore and stay up writing them the day before I must put them in the mail to my mentor?

No. I will write them today!

But first I’ll procrastinate by writing this blog.

P.S. – Has anyone tried out Camp NaNoWriMo? You can set your own word count goal, and you can write whatever you want, including nonfiction. The next session starts July 1st… anyone want to share a cabin with me? There are 50% off coupons for Scrivener waiting on the other side!

Re-immersion

Reading List

Getting back into the swing of things after any kind of trip or absence is always hard. Getting back into the balancing act of life, while adding another brick – writing 35-50 pages every 3.5 weeks – is especially difficult. When the trip you’ve returned from was entirely focused on writing, inspiration, and empowerment, it is super depressing to realize that the farther you get into your five-hour drive home, the more things you wanted to bring back with you are left behind. And when you go at once into a gathering of people with nothing in common to where you just were… you get the picture. By the time Wednesday rolls around, empowerment has said goodbye, inspiration is riding into the sunset, and the writing muse has her arms crossed and a frown on her face, like, “Well? Weren’t you supposed to be progressing by leaps and bounds? Shouldn’t you have twenty good pages written by now instead of just the seven crappy ones you wrote before you even got home?”

Yes, Muse. You’re right. But are you surprised?

In the meantime, even just this little bit of writing about writing is enough to get some juices flowing. The bigger problem is that as soon as they begin to rush it’s time to put the pen/laptop/phone down and go to work. Luckily, I work in a library… so researching these 35-50 pages of nonfiction is pretty easy.

If you’re reading this and you’re a writer, what’s the easy part for you? What’s the hard part and how do you handle it?

When Writers Gather

My first MFA Residency experience has been one of absolute joy and a profound sense of belonging which I don’t know that I’ve experienced more than a few times in my life. I am living and working and eating among 125+ others who are seeking the same thing I seek. Doing the same thing I do. Striving for the same thing for which I strive. Whatever the genre, the age, education, number of publications, we are all artists, working to improve, to perhaps some day perfect, our art.

Although it is only halfway through, I can already say with certainty that this has been the most rewarding experience of my creative life. Workshop every day. Lectures on craft and on elements of writing that inspire me to go out and live the way a writer should! Readings by faculty members who are brilliant. Purchasing faculty books and not knowing which one to read first. If a heaven for writers exists, this week must a peek around the corner, a tiny window, a door knocker.

Needless to say, the creativity is so pervasive one can feel it in the air, a physical energy, a presence that follows down sidewalks, into buildings, up stairs. If writers could feel this energy all the time, surly they would get a lot more work done. There is a love here, for words and for what we can convey and create and imagine while using them. There is a camaraderie and a respect in everyone for everyone else, everyone knowing that we have come here, together, from the corners of a vast country to seek out and strive for the very same things.

I walk a few blocks in the morning, two fiction writers behind me discussing the difficulty they have presenting round antagonists, the opposite of their beloved protagonist heroes.

I pass a group lunching beneath an umbrellaed cafe table, one reading poetry aloud to the other, who listens with interest and respect.

I seek a place to sit, be still, and ponder.

I feel incredibly blessed to be here, and relish that while much has happened, much is still to come.

A taste, for you, of what has transpired here, is this Sonata No.3, “Moon,” composed by Jeremy Beck – an excerpt of which I saw performed live on Sunday. Enjoy! And may you be inspired.

Embarking

The Workbooks are read, the assignments finished, the schedule set.

As I prepare to leave for my very first MFA residency on Friday, I am mostly excited. In just two days, I’ll be travelling back to Kentucky to stay at the Louisville Brown Hotel with dozens of other writers who fall on various places along the line between “just like me” and “polar opposite.” For ten whole days, my life will be devoted solely to writing, to the craft and the art of it, to doing whatever it takes to be the best I can be, and encouraging others to do the same.

I am more than a little nervous, as well. Some of these others are far more “writer” than me. Whether because they are older, because they are better, or because they have a published book, the imaginary faces of the people I will meet loom with intimidating smiles and firm handshakes.

I am also grateful. The best decision I’ve ever made for my writing was to marry Caleb, someone who not only accepts the fact that writing is what I want to do, but supports me in pursuing this degree, rejoices with me when new opportunities arise, and celebrates with me over acceptance letters. (More on these soon!) Writing is a lonely business, but so much less so living with someone who wants the same goals for me that I have set. And this week, less so immersed in a community of others who have those very same goals for themselves.

More than anything I am determined to make the most of this amazing opportunity! As confusing as things can sometimes be working online, when one sentence skimmed instead of read could mean you miss a VERY important piece of information that you didn’t know about soon before something needs to be completed, I know this program will be the boost I need to re-develop the writing habit, and to think of writing as a daily habit for a lifetime, rather than a monthly assignment for a class.

So here’s to new experiences, honed skills, and excellent wordsmithing. Spalding, here I come!
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Country Manor Adventures

Nancy Drew Mystery Series

Last week Caleb and I had the fun task of house sitting for some friends of ours while they were away on a medical mission trip. Their house is lovely, and living above ground again made it even sadder that spring was not yet here. Each day we looked out of as many windows as we could ever hope to have at a (usually sunny!) garden and fields to go walking in – but the temperature was still nippy enough to keep me mostly inside.

We did venture out one day and head up to the town of Niles, MI. (We went to see Noah, but you can ask Caleb about that one.) There’s a little secondhand and antique bookshop in the downtown area that I love, called A. Casperson Books. It’s one of the few really magical bookshops left to be found anymore, and we make a point of stopping in whenever we’re in Niles for a movie or anything. Books line the shelves, walls, floors – every nook and cranny – so there is always something exciting to find.

Not everyone knows that for several years now I have been collecting the old Nancy Drew books. They have blue board covers with orange titles and silhouettes of one of my favorite childhood companions printed on the front cover. I have several of them now, but they can be pretty hard to find (in the antique/rare book world, they are considered “scarce.”) A. Casperson’s is special because the first time I went the owner had two of these books with intact dust jackets on display – it is immensely harder to find these books with dust jackets than without. I’ve found more, at least of the orange titles, reliably on every visit to the shop.

Last week, however, I was blown away by how many of these books were on a shelf behind the checkout desk. There were more than a dozen without dust jackets, and three with them – many more than I’ve ever before seen in one place. The other difficult thing with these old books is that there are so many different editions, some with only minor changes, that it can be really difficult to tell whether or not a book is a first edition (the very scarce). On this trip, however, I finally found my first first edition – and it is a copy of the first book in the series, too! Now if only it had a dust jacket… 🙂 I left a happy camper.

We had a great week in the house of many windows, and because were dog-sitting, too, I got some quality canine snuggles in. The availability of natural light from windows that provide great views of the countryside was a great aid for me with the writing I needed to do (that and the awesome-if-nerdy event of finding my first first edition). My first residency for the MFA program I’m in is at the end of May, and this week was the deadline for turning in our first writing sample to be discussed in workshop at the residency. I sent mine of today – not without a bit of fear and trembling.

In the meantime, the temperatures are rising! Soon I’ll be suggesting you go enjoy a good book – first edition or not – out of doors.