Friday, October 13, 2017

Revealing just enough

One of my favorite parts of revision is balancing what I want to spell out explicitly with what I want the reader to figure out. How big are the bread crumbs I should leave, and how far apart can they be, for the reader to still be able to follow the trail?

Some things I only want to suggest, to hint at, to foreshadow. Some things I want the reader to have the thrill of discovering--or even of deciding. Yet I can't be too vague.

I'm doing such a revision now, deleting repetitions, trimming where I've over-explained, cutting back to make room for the reader. I'm also adding a few words where I realize I haven't been clear, have assumed too much. Seeking, the whole time, a perfect balance.

Friday, October 6, 2017

For love of reading

We've seen great upheavals in the world of publishing and bookselling in my lifetime, and especially in the last ten years. Reading has changed fundamentally, with so many of us doing so much of it on screens--reading texts, tweets and other social media posts, snippets of articles, all of it mixed with photos and videos. 

For me, there is still a fundamental pleasure in unplugging. In taking a print book on a train or plane, or in settling on my back porch with a magazine or a paperback. I do spend hours each day reading on screens. And then I indulge in my not-at-all-guilty pleasure: grabbing a book and sitting for an hour on the porch, stopping now and then to smell the pine needles, watch the play of light on leaves, listen to the birds or the cicadas. Then I plunge back into the book (its pages so blissfully free of pop-up ads and autoplay videos) and re-engage with the story. 

The ways in which we produce and transmit stories and compensate their authors have changed through the centuries. There may come a day when all my reading is done on the screen or by audio. And still at the heart of the experience will be the best part, the part that hasn't changed for most of human history, even as technology has changed: our love of story, our need to communicate.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The journey of a book

I just finished reading a nonfiction book by an author and naturalist who had once worked for an encyclopedia, answering research questions that readers sent in. Apparently this was an actual service encyclopedias provided once upon a time! It boggles my mind that they would have bothered. Now such things have all been swept away by the internet. 

Anyway, I enjoyed the book (Elephant Bones and Lonelyhearts, by Ronald Rood), which I'd acquired secondhand. And I enjoyed wondering about one of the book's previous owners, who had written her name on the flyleaf along with her town and the date November 16, 1977. I wondered whether the Vermont publisher that published the book is still in business (probably not, as far as I can tell).

With a little internet searching, I discovered that the author wrote many other books, appeared on PBS and NPR, and passed away in 2001. I was sad to hear that he's gone, but I marveled once more at how books bring us into contact with other lives, other worlds. This book published 40 years ago made its way to me, and opened a window onto some parts of the past I might not have known about otherwise. The author's words are still alive. We never know where our books may go.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pieces of the writing life

The popular conception of an author's life comprises two aspects, I think: pounding away at the keyboard creating, and making the bookstore/talk-show circuit to sell the book. Those are two parts to the writing life (although the latter is not likely to include talk shows for most authors, but may include visits to schools, libraries, book festivals, conferences, conventions, and so on). But there are many more. These are some of the hats writers wear:

Creative: the actual writing part; daydreaming and peripheral creative acts (such as drawing a map of your fictional world, or designing your cover if you self-publish, etc.); revising; attending classes and workshops focused on craft

Administrative/Professional: researching the business; querying agents and editors; tracking submissions; filing; writing correspondence; managing schedules; booking travel; maintaining supplies and equipment

Financial: tracking grants, royalties, expenses, taxes, and other monies

Marketing and Publicity: arranging and conducting author visits, interviews, etc.; ordering swag; maintaining an online presence

Social: maintaining ties with readers and other writers, live and/or online

Service: donating books or services; teaching; mentoring; using one's platform for outreach on good causes

Not every writer does every one of these things. But most writers find themselves spending much less time on writing and much more time on other activities than they ever would have believed when they scribbled their first stories, poems, essays. 

The upside to having so many pieces to this pie is that if one task seems like a nuisance, there are plenty of other tasks to look forward to--or procrastinate with. 

And at the center of it is the writing. It's home base, the core that's essential to all the rest.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

The story that won't die

Sometimes you have to give up on a project completely before the way to write it becomes clear. Sometimes it takes giving up on it repeatedly over a period of years. Sometimes after you've buried it for what you swear is the final time and gone skipping on your merry way, you are startled to find it dancing in your path, waving its zombie arms, crumbs of dirt falling from it. "Hey just had a GREAT idea for how you can tackle me from a different point of view / rewrite the ending / turn a subplot into the main plot!" it will say. And you sigh and follow it off to the keyboard, because what else do you have to do with the rest of your life?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blog salad

This post is going to be a sort of blog salad, a mix of interesting items picked up here and there:

Jen Doktorski writes of risk-taking, in water-skiing and the rest of life, at YA Outside the Lines. A sample: "The potential for disaster loomed as I sat on the edge of the dock and watched as my fellow water skiing neophytes toppled over while attempting to stand on their skis." Good for some laughs--and of course, a writing-related lesson!

Thanks to a tweet from @NathanBransford, I saw this article by Anjali Enjeti on pursuing book publication for more than a decade. I certainly agree with her on this: "... in the years I’ve tried to sell a manuscript, things seem to have gotten tougher." And this: "... I’m happy with the career I’ve built. Rejections still flood my inbox, but my smaller successes go a long way toward offsetting the disappointment. ... I decided to shift my priorities, to spend more time volunteering for social causes and political campaigns and less pursuing traditional book publishing. ... By recalibrating, I’ve regained a small amount of control in a process that has very little predictability." For those of us in this tough field, there's a lot to ponder in this article, about goals and dreams and reality and priorities. 

Many of us have struggled with clutter in our lives, with clearing out junk (physical, mental, and emotional) to make room for what's most important. But what is clutter, anyway? I like this phrase from Eve O. Schaub (from Year of No Clutter): "Things I neither want nor can part with." 

Finally, Melodye Shore writes of hope as an antidote for suffering. A sample: "Helen Keller once said, 'Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.'"

Monday, September 4, 2017

September Grace

It's been a time of well refilling, of silence, of listening and reading. Of following the news, of using my writing skills mainly to craft heartfelt messages for my elected representatives. Of taking walks and seeing old friends.

There's a snap to the air, and the mornings are dark again. I used to despair at this time of year, sensing the long cold tunnel of winter ahead. I've despaired less in recent years--but mostly because time passes so quickly now, and every autumn is shorter than the one before it. 

I never say good-bye to mellow August without regret--golden August, the most leisurely, reflective time of the year. But for now, the crickets are still singing, and the leaves haven't turned yet. September is a foreshadowing, a farewell, but also a grace period.