Does rewriting ever end?

I am not sure I know any writers who live for editing and revising their work. It’s not that there isn’t a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained by polishing a scene or a section of dialogue, but it is a tedious process filled with a lot of rewriting and moving things around and slashing what you once thought were brilliant moments. You might, as I am doing with my current writing project, end up taking a completely different approach and focus to the general story. This makes for a good deal of extra work, which I hope will be worthwhile in the end. (I will say this: I’m quite pleased with my thesis at the moment.)

cersei screams internally

How I usually feel about the revision process.

One of the textbooks for my thesis course is Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. I highly recommend this book! It’s a great resource, and it’s easy to absorb. In the mini-section “when am I finished rewriting?”, Mosley says:

Never. The novel never attains the level of perfection. No matter how much you rewrite and rewrite again, you will still find places in the book that don’t do exactly what you want. You will feel that some characters are hazy, and plot connections unsure. There’s a subplot that will seem to get lost and a fairly important character that will change but not as much as you might have wished.

This is true for writers in all forms. Books are not pristine mathematical equations. They are representative of humanity and are therefore flawed.

“So when will I know to stop rewriting?” you ask.

When you see the problems but, no matter how hard you try, you can’t improve on what you have. That’s it. You find yourself reading through the book for the twenty-fifth time, and as you see problems, you try to fix them, but the attempt only makes things worse….Then you know you’re finished.

Congratulations. You have a novel. This one is good. The next one will be better.

So there you have it.

For someone like me who is an admitted perfectionist, I felt so much relief reading this passage. Writing, like life, does not need to be perfect. Isn’t that great?

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First Drafts and More from Neil Gaiman

The following short video includes some of Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on writing, especially on the importance of writing in order to become a writer. He also touches on reading, first drafts, and more. The audio is from a Nerdist podcast, but the video was put together by YouTuber Brandon Farley.

How do you go about writing?

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Narrator and Narrative

I know what you’re thinking… Two blog posts within 24 hours. What could this mean?! (#doublerainbow)

I think I’ve hit a long awaited writing episode where all I want to do is write. Additionally, my thesis course has been inspiring me, and that makes me want to post here as well. I have two related items to share here. The first is about narrator, and the second is about narrative.

This last week in my class, we were looking at POV and narration, so our professor gave us a link to Steve Almond’s article “Once Upon a Time, There was a Person Who Said, ‘Once Upon a Time’ | The New York Times” (The New York Times Magazine, January 2013). I won’t do Almond the injustice of trying to summarize his article, but do go read it. I felt that it was especially poignant in light of the chaotic world events of this last week.

In turn, this article made me think of Chimamanda Ndozi Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk called “The Danger of the Single Story | TED.com.” I rewatch Adichie’s talk every other month or so and never tire of listening to her wisdom and experience. I will embed the video below in case you don’t want to click through to the link.

I hope you enjoy these two perspectives on narrator and narrative. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Why Writers’ Search Histories are Odd

I’m working on my thesis right now, and since I am majorly revising a prior draft, I have been including many more details and fleshing the story out as I go. As a direct result of this slowed down process, I have been doing a lot of research. Tonight, I have searched for and learned more about the following things:

  • morphological traits of predatory fish
  • fish eyes (and octopus and shark eyes)
  • color names of opal variations
  • how long it takes for blood to dry or congeal outside of the human body
    • This search resulted in subsequent searches about rigor mortis, which led to further discovery of “lividity” and an understanding of what congealed blood inside the body looks and feels like. (Apparently, it’s like red currant jelly?)
  • how far a “league” is
  • how far the human eye can perceive a candle flame
    • Fun fact: a league is about 5.5 km, and a human eye can see a candle flame at about the same distance because any further away would drop the flame below the horizon due to the curvature of the earth.

Themoreyouknow

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why writers’ search histories are odd.

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Reading in 2015

On a whim, I decided to undertake a reading challenge for 2015. It only makes sense to do it because sometimes I get caught up in other narratives (ah, Netflix, my sweetest downfall…I loved you first. I loved you first…) and honestly forget how much I enjoy reading. There’s something magical about the written word, and it’s quite a different experience to watching a story visually unfold.

reading challenge

This is what I’m aiming for this year…

Just as I had a really good reason to tune out the world in favor of Doctor Who (reboot) marathons, I also had a really good reason to pick up this reading challenge. Writers need to read: it’s as simple as that. Need. Not should, ought to, probably would be better off if they did, but need to read. So when I stumbled across a reading challenge, I decided, “Why not?” and committed to reading 50 books in a year. For someone who reads slowly, this is no small commitment, so I’m trying to balance my more serious reading with lighter fare.

I’m trying to plan my reading according to my “to read” list on Goodreads to see if I can hack away at it a bit–a Sisyphean task since I only keep adding new ones to the list. Ah well. Currently, I’m one book ahead of my reading schedule, although I was several books up earlier this year. Then life caught up and Doctor Who became my companion. (Heh.)

Without further ado, the list of books I’ve read so far this year:

  • Description and Setting by Ron Rozelle
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Arcanum 101 by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
  • Unenchanted by Chanda Hahn
  • Fairest by Chanda Hahn
  • Fable by Chanda Hahn
  • Reign by Chanda Hahn (These four were a YA series that I ate up.)
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (SO good!)
  • The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (breathtaking)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (highly recommend)
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth (This was a fun romp, but not as much substance as I’d hoped for in the end.)
  • Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith
  • What was Lost: a Christian Journey through Miscarriage by Elise Erikson Barrett*
  • The Taming of the Chew by Denise Lamothe (ok)
  • Everblue by Brenda Pandos (like a mermaid version of Twilight…DO NOT recommend)

So this is where I’m at so far in the challenge. I’ve read a decent chunk of YA lit, but I’ve also read several good nonfiction books and dabbled in the classics. I only regret a few books on this list, so that’s not so bad, eh?

Until next time!

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*If you or someone you know has suffered a miscarriage or other pregnancy loss, I highly recommend this book.

Mimicry as Inspiration

I’ve been leading a creative writing club for high schoolers, which started at the beginning of October. Originally, I wanted to have us start off the year with a bang with NaNoWriMo via the Young Writers Program, but these students are all second language English learners, so that was a bit too overwhelming of a start. (Poor planning on me…)

I proposed we start with something simpler, and they all eagerly agreed. Therefore, I introduced them to Billy Collins’ “Litany.” When I was in college, one of my professors told us to mimic this poem as a means to improving our writing–mimicking can improve sentence structure and syntax–and I decided to borrow from said professor by having these students do the same. All in all, I really enjoyed what they came up with and would love to share their poems, but I am pretty sure that is not a great idea. Instead, with apologies to Billy Collins, mine follows:

You are the cherries and the pie,
the black coffee and the white mug.
You are the frost on the windowpane
and the flame of a candle.
You are the gentle crunch of snow underfoot
and the final glow of sunset.

However, you are not the bite of winter,
the icicles on the gutter,
or the frozen pond.
And you are certainly not a night storm.
There is just no way that you are a night storm.

It is possible that you are the pumpkins on the porch,
maybe even the last leaves of autumn,
but you are not even close
to being the trick-or-treaters at the door.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the witch’s cauldron
nor the ghouls haunting the graveyard.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the copper kettle on the stove.

I also happen to be the afghan on the sofa,
the dough rising on the kitchen counter
and the garlands of onions in the pantry.

I am also the last morning star
and the first hint of sunrise.
But don’t worry, I’m not the cherries and the pie.
You are still the cherries and the pie.
You will always be the cherries and the pie,
not to mention the black coffee and–somehow–the white mug.

Poetry by Pablo Nerudo

I stumbled across this poem for the first time and want to share it. I’m sure it isn’t new for many people, but it was one of those poems that sort of knocked the wind out of me, leaving me breathless.

And it was at that age… Poetry arrived

in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where

it came from, from winter or a river.

I don’t know how or when,

no, they were not voices, they were not

words, nor silence,

but from a street I was summoned,

from the branches of night,

abruptly from the others,

among violent fires

or returning alone,

there I was without a face

and it touched me.

 

I did not know what to say, my mouth

had no way

with names,

my eyes were blind,

and something started in my soul,

fever or forgotten wings,

and I made my own way,

deciphering

that fire,

and I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure

nonsense,

pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens

unfastened

and open,

planets,

palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,

riddled

with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

 

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry

void,

likeness, image of

mystery,

felt myself a pure part

of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.

 

-Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid

Sunday Links for Better Writing

Last Sunday, I mentioned The Writing Cafe in my Sunday Links post, and I thought that probably this Sunday, I should follow that up with more links to similar content. After all, the point of my own blog is to explore my voice and share it with you. Why should I keep all of this great information to myself?

image via People of Color in European Art History

In my pursuit of bettering my writing, I have started following multiple blogs that focus on aspects of history, society, and more. One of those blogs is called People of Color in European Art History (or Medieval POC). The author explains one of the reasons for the blog’s creation thusly: “The ubiquity in modern media to display a fictitiously all-white Europe is often thoughtlessly and inaccurately justified by claims of “historical accuracy”; this blog is here to emphasize the modern racism that retroactively erases gigantic swaths of truth and beauty” (Medieval POC). This blog is incredibly thorough, very informative, and an excellent reminder that we should be critiquing modern media and not passively consuming it.

So how does the above blog push my writing to improve? For starters, it is a very important reminder for historical writing. Not everyone who was noble was white and not every person who was a slave or servant in some capacity was a person of color. It also reminds readers not to use “historic accuracy” as an illogical justification for exclusion of POC from their writing. To go beyond this, it reminds me to include diversity within my own cast of characters. When I was in junior high/high school, nearly every single character I created was white. I can remember one Latino and one African American in the midst of all of my writing, and frankly, that’s not good enough. That is terrible representation and a huge lack of diversity.

I should add that I am still working to improve this in my own writing. I should also add a caution here for white writers who want to include diversity in their stories: do not rely on stereotypes. If you really don’t know anything about a different perspective, do your research. Don’t be a lazy writer. Ask questions and find a diverse writing group to give you invaluable critique. Listen to your writing group. Don’t know where to start? Go here!

image via Two Nerdy History Girls

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this blog before, but you should also consider looking at Two Nerdy History Girls. They tend to write about history from the 1700s to the early 1900s as they both write historical romance novels. (Note: I’ve never read either of their various books, but I really enjoy their blog!) Period fashions and customs make frequent appearances. They also discuss historical recreations.

Reading and writing go hand in hand. In fact, when I was taking the courses for my TESL certification, I took two classes together, one for teaching reading and the other for teaching writing. The two skills are intricately linked. “If you don’t have time to read,” Stephen King says, “you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

I have been so busy lately, that I have not read much for pleasure. This means that my writing has fallen off as I have felt frequently uninspired. I am still constantly adding books to my “to read” list over on Goodreads, but I’ve been lax about actually reading them. That said, I am still always on the lookout for different books, and this is a great place to find a diverse number of titles.

I think one of the best ways to improve your writing and give it some depth is to simply open your ears and humbly shut your mouth. Listen to a variety of voices (even if you disagree with them), read from a variety of authors. Go outside of your comfort zone and expand your worldview.

As I close, I want to share Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of the Single Story.” It’s a wonderful discussion and well worth the watch!

As always, please share similar links in the comments below!

The Return of Sunday Links

It’s been a very long time since I last posted Sunday Links, so here are a bunch of links to things I found on the intertubes that made me laugh, think, and otherwise engage in the world around me. Enjoy!

I like a good food/recipe blog as much as the next person. I also really enjoy summer fruit. This post by Butter, with a side of Bread has a compilation post of summer fruity recipes. Check them out here!

OK Go has a great music video–of course!–for their song “The Writing’s On the Wall.” You should definitely watch it. 🙂

I love cats, and I wish that our apartment was large enough to accommodate more things for our two felines. Things like this creative kitty home made out of sturdy shelving!

When you’re writing, do you ever have questions about how to create a believable character? Maybe you’re writing about someone who has a completely different background than you, and you have no idea what it would be like to be an alien robot queen from Alpha Centauri. Or maybe you want to make sure you have accurate relationship dynamics or you want to avoid tropes in fiction or…whatever. Over on Tumblr, you can follow The Writing Cafe and get access to a ton of information on pretty much anything and everything that has to do with writing.

“We don’t see things as they are,we see them as we are.” Anaïs Nin

I came across that^ quote, which resonated with me.

Share your own finds from the week in the comments below!