Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.




Monday, May 31, 2010

Parenting: Win, Lose, Write.

I'm over at YourTango today, with a little piece about me, my husband, two small parenting battles, who won and who really benefited.
"When my husband and I hear a song on the radio and can't remember the artist, he's the first one online looking up the answer, then letting me know he's the one who got it right. Me, I'm usually content to wait out any disagreements, preferring to let him discover later on just how right I was..."

You can read the rest of the piece here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stuff my (Writing) Students Say, Part III

I hear some variation of this, again and again, usually when a class is working on revisions (translation: always) --

“I think I’ve been too married to my words -- once they were written down it felt wasteful not to use them.”

Anyone relate?

I think at various times all writers feel this way. After all, the words in the notebook or on the page or screen represent our investments in time and mental exertion. Whether we dash off fast first drafts, or laboriously craft a second (or 22nd) draft, what we have to show for it is just that – words. Is it any wonder why we cherish them so?

And yet – so often those words simply must go. We discover (sometimes with the help of an editor, writer friend or teacher) that they just don’t work, for a very specific reason, or for a thousand reasons.

And yet. We try our best to hold on to them. By the time we’ve written and read and reread them a few dozen times, those words, those dark marks on a light background, seem far more than mere arrangements of shapes and sounds. Suddenly, those words are it. The words – instead of the vision or the idea or the concept, theme, or STORY – become the piece, rather than serving the writer as she creates the piece.

But they don’t work.

And so they must go.

Where? Anywhere but in the piece where we at first thought they were such a perfect fit. A separate computer file folder marked “extra material”. A notebook you can label as “overflow” or even – think about it --“possibilities for future work.” One writer I know fills an empty dresser drawer with hard copies of any “good stuff” that’s had to be culled; he randomly tosses in the pages (some with only a few sentences on them), and every couple of months he sifts through in search of new (again) ideas. Another stockpiles it all in a fat three-ring binder, separated by tabs for various themes she returns to again and again in her work.

Don’t throw those words away, in any case. What writer alive can’t point to something edited out of one piece which one way or another led to another, perhaps even more important, piece of future work? If this hasn’t happened to you yet, maybe you’ve been a little too married to those not-quite-right original words. Divorce them please.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: May 21st Edition

Real Delia’s Wednesday tips post this week was all about generating ideas, in some not-so-usual ways.

►Wondering if it’s okay to use that image you found online? Getty Images has put up StockPhotoRights, an easy-to-navigate new site to help with that and other questions.

►Who didn’t love Betty White on SNL? Can a writer learn anything from White’s career longevity? This literary agent thinks so.

►Been invited to write a guest blog post? Or wondering if guest blogging might enhance your career and/or book marketing efforts? C.M. Mayo has tips, offered via – what else – a guest post over at Christina Baker Kline’s blog.

►Check out this interview over at HuffPo, with John McNally about his new novel After The Workshop, a satire set against the backdrop of the Iowa Writers Workshop.

►Have you read any of these seven online literary magazines, given a rave review by, of all sites, ModCloth? There were two on the list I hadn’t read checked out before

►And finally: rejection is hard, but these 50 famous rejections seem cruel, at least in retrospect.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Finish writing or shred? The pages we keep.

Today I'd like to point you over to Quest for Kindness, the new joint blog of Alicia Bessette and Matthew Quick, two New Jersey novelists married to one another. Every Tuesday they will answer a writer's questions, and in this week's post Matthew tackles a topic a little too close for comfort to my own (seemingly permanent) dilemma: What to do when you have several projects in mid-production, don't know which ones to tuck into and finish, and which to abandon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Missing a Writing Mentor: RIP Bill Glavin

When I learned last week that he had died, I had not seen Bill Glavin in about 26 years. I had tried- sort of – to see him about 10 years ago, but the colleague in the office next door to his told me I’d missed him by 20 minutes. I had his home number, but didn’t use it, figuring my one-time college magazine journalism professor would not want to swap tales with me when I had my husband and two young sons in tow. I was wrong of course, he would have, I know, welcomed the whole tribe because he was much more than a teacher – Bill Glavin was a mentor.

Three times I was privileged to sit in Bill’s classroom at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where for 37 years he taught in the magazine journalism department (part of that as department chair). It’s still sort of astounding to me that, nearly three decades since graduation, when I sit down to write and especially when I edit, so many of the most important aspects of craft at my fingertips were first learned in Bill’s classroom. It’s often his booming voice and incisive advice I hear in my head even now. Plus, he was riotously funny, a rare and wonderful commodity in any teacher.

Bill was still in his 30s, a relatively new face at Newhouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and, though he’d worked for more than a dozen years by then in newspaper and magazines, he was still closer in age to his students than most of the other faculty. This kept things interesting in the classroom, where Bill strove to recreate real-world journalism scenarios for the wannabe feature writers and magazine editors he taught. But he did so with a twist.

At the time a major country music fan, Bill once assigned us to fact check, restructure, line edit, copy edit, lay out, and write headlines and subheads for a disorganized piece about singer Willie Nelson. The Willie Nelson who was Bill’s idol.

He must have written the piece himself and then dismantled it, because even in its chopped up form, it was loaded with so much obscure information about the super star, that the fact-checking portion of the assignment alone sent many into paroxysms. It turned out the information was not so obscure, but buried under the more well-known prattle that was normally written about Nelson. In those pre-Internet days, however, that much fact-checking research meant dozens of hours, and not only in the library, but also in record shops (where we went, two or three at a time, to read every word on the backs of Nelson’s albums), and in one insane afternoon (resulting in a sobering bill), on the phone with assorted secretaries and one confused PR person in Nelson’s manager’s office. Ferreting out the easily confirmed facts from the less-easily-confirmed, and from the apparent untruths Bill had tossed in to challenge us, became a contest as much as an exercise in completeness.

Nelson was a singer I enjoyed but didn’t think much about and yet acing that assignment meant more to me than a lot of other more traditionally "important” college projects. In hindsight I can see that it was one of Bill’s gifts to not only teach the fundamentals of magazine writing and editing, but to mold students into the kind of curious, meticulous, insatiable, probing people who would not only be good at, but be happy, to work with words for the sake of shaping them into stories that in turn are gifts to readers.

Bill was honored as the Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence—Syracuse University’s highest teaching honor—the first year it was awarded. His office door was forever open, his schedule always flexible enough to handle any student’s urgent question, perceived dilemma, or half-baked idea, and it seems nothing changed since I was a student. He got excited any time a student landed a real-world magazine article assignment, and made himself available as a pre-submission editor, if that’s what the student wanted. When I was about to graduate, students were making the strange transition to computers and word processing, and I recall Bill attacking that with both eager curiosity and a curmudgeonly resistance which I always suspected was a bit of a show. No matter what was happening around Newhouse, in technology, or the media world, when you talked to Bill, it was always about helping students learn how to tell the story.

Later, when I was living in Syracuse training for the horse show circuit and working as a freelance writer, Bill briefly dated a friend of mine, and a group of us each weekend tried out one country music club after another, over the course of one particularly languid summer. To cap off that halcyon time, Bill scored tickets for us all see Nelson perform at the New York State Fair, and while I can’t remember how it transpired, we found ourselves, after the show, in Nelson’s trailer for 10 minutes, sharing a drink and listening to his stories. And while I never knew Bill deeply or for long, it was one of the few times in my life (pre-motherhood), when I was truly, completely, incomprehensibly happy watching someone else grabbing life.

After a few years of full time freelancing (and part time worrying if I’d clear enough for rent AND food that month), I took a more lucrative job in public relations in Manhattan. When I told Bill he sighed a little, but never chastised me for abandoning journalism or my writing goals, and ever the mentor, gave me this advice: Just remember, always find the real stories and tell them with art, honesty and grace. Not always an easy thing to do in PR, but his words stayed with me, even as our contact grew more sporadic and then pretty much ceased.

Twenty years later, when I did return to my writing roots to pursue an MFA in my 40s, I let Bill know and he wrote me the most effusive, supportive email, which of course I failed to print out and is now lost. In the low residency MFA program I attended, one is assigned to work with a single faculty member over the course of a semester, and that faculty member is called, officially, one’s mentor. Bill wasn’t officially my mentor, he was simply my professor, and then later, for a short time, my friend. But I like mentor. When someone taught you, guided you, cared about your life as well as your writing and your career, that’s a mentor, and even if you haven’t spoken to or seen that person in years, you miss him when he’s gone.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writing From the Home Front

I'm over at YourTango today, talking about the way I see certain parenting issues vs. the way my husband does:
"Why do I interpret my kids' diversity as a mandate to continually deconstruct and refashion my approach, while my husband strides confidently ahead, applying solution A to cause B?. . . I struggle not to blindly ascribe it to maternal instincts, just as I try not to credit tire-changing skills to the Y chromosome... I know my husband can out-parent me in several categories, and I'm more curious than upset when I notice the unequal ways we respond to our sons."
You can read the whole piece here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: May 14th Edition

► Over at Digital Book World, there is an excellent interview with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (a NY Times bestseller), about the ever-increasing value of social media to today’s writer, how she managed to engage thousands of readers several years ahead of her publication date, and tips for keeping all that outreach from making a writer unhappy.

►I've been lax in regularly relaying to my readers other writing blogs I’ve come across and think are worth the time, depending on your interests. Please do check out: Write it Sideways, Writer Unboxed, Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers (not just for fiction folks), and MamaWriters: Raising Kids, Writing Romance.

► The 10,000 Words blog has a list of helpful, (mostly) free web tools to solve various tech dilemmas, including resizing photos, embedding audio, and turning a spreadsheet into graphics.

► Pimp My Novel offers this insider’s explanation of what the various departments do within a major traditional publishing house.

►I admit it, I love the comma, so I’m grateful to Fog City Writer for pointing me to this vintage piece by Pico Iyer piece, in which he praises this humble piece of punctuation. I also love FCW’s sometimes cheeky Friday posts, too.

► Don’t forget, if you want to win a signed copy of the new novel Cars From a Marriage by Debra Galant (I interviewed here yesterday), please leave a comment on that post (NOT here). You have until May 20 to try your luck.

► And finally, what writer hasn’t, at some low point, appealed for divine intervention to get through the next chapter, page, sentence? Check out Jenny Rough’s A Writer’s Prayer. (I chimed in on the comments, too, with my own slightly less-reverent, highly pragmatic version).

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Author Interview: Debra Galant on her new novel, Cars From a Marriage

One of the voices I have enjoyed over the years in the Regional sections of the New York Times has been that of Debra Galant, who chronicled lesser-known aspects of the New Jersey suburbs experience in those pages in the mid- and late-1990s. That is, she was speaking about my backyard, and doing so with a wit and insight I admired. So it’s no surprise that Debra’s now an established novelist, nor that her third book, Cars From a Marriage, presents recognizable but intriguing suburban characters. What makes it unusual is that Debra filters their 20-year marriage through the lens of the couple’s vehicles. She recently answered some of my nosy questions about her book and her writing process.

Lisa Romeo: Your fiction, including this book, has been praised for its humor, wit, and also for your honest portrayals of men and women in modern marriages. Where do you think that ability to capture those authentic marriage moments in prose comes from?

Debra Galant: I'm not sure. I think the unflinching portrait of wives, as well as the humor, started when I did the Jersey column for the New York Times in the mid-1990's. I held myself, and members of my social class and gender, up to a pretty exacting mirror. As for the husbands, I believe I've gotten better at telling their side of the story with each successive book.


LR: In a guest post on novelist Christina Baker Kline’s blog just prior to the book’s official publication date, you wrote that the entire process of trying to make enough noise to ensure the success of your third novel was taking a toll on your enthusiasm to promote the book. Do you feel any differently now that you’ve had your book launch party and gotten some feedback from readers?

DG: A book launch party is a wonderful event, and I was happy that I opened this one to the public. I felt very fawned over. That won't get me on the bestseller list, but it did fill my heart. And I've gotten some terrific feedback from early readers. It does help put things in perspective.

LR: How, if at all, do you categorize your novels? Any other authors whose work you hope yours is lined up near on a reader’s bookshelf?

DG: I don't know about the label, but the authors I'd like to be grouped with would include Nick Hornby, David Lodge, Elinor Lipman, Cathleen Schine, Diane Johnson and Edith Wharton.

LR: What are the cars from your own marriage, and what do you think that list means?

DG: Currently? There's my husband's VW Rabbit (a peppy little car with press plates that he drives into the city), a dented old minivan (currently assigned to the 17-year-old driver in our house) and a RAV4 I got from my sister when she got my Dad's BMW. In the fall, I get my Dad's Audi and the minivan finally goes! Which may remind you a bit of the way that Ivy and Ellis keep getting cars from Ivy's father.

LR: In the book, Ivy is a New Jersey stay-at-home mom, with a driving phobia, a transplanted Southern bell and daughter of a car salesman. Her husband, a former stand- up comic who’s now a PR executive with a mortgage, two kids, and a Buick LeSabre. Does any of that reflect situations and relationships you see around your own suburban New Jersey town?

DG: I see the driving phobias all the time. Mortgages with two kids are pretty standard. The LeSabre I made up.

LR: Living in suburban New Jersey myself, I have trouble even imagining how much a fear of driving would severely limit my own life, and my family’s. How much of giving Ivy that burden was a plot necessity, and how much did it grow out of her character? I guess in a way what I’m asking is what comes first for you, plot or character?

DG: In this case, the character definitely came first. I spent many years afraid to drive on highways. It's a crippling fear, and makes living in New Jersey very complicated. The plot grew out of this.

LR: I understand the inspiration for Cars From a Marriage grew out of a conflict with your husband over accepting a hand-me-down car from your Dad, and that you knew, all at once, that telling the story of a marriage through the couple’s cars, was a solid premise for a novel. Can you explain how you went about structuring the book?

DG: I don't remember how I decided on the alternating first-person, but I do remember tacking index cards onto a bulletin board in my studio at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, pacing the Ellis and Ivy chapters, and hanging various subplots on real world events. It's a pretty simple structure, but it helped me deal with the complication of the story taking place over 20 years. Fear and Yoga took place over one week and Rattled took place in a period of about two months.

LR: You’ve mentioned that you enjoyed writing the chapters from the husband’s point of view much more than you thought you would. Can you describe what that was like for you?

DG: Writing in first person definitely helped. I have to "hear" a character in my mind, particularly a character who's quite different from myself. Once I started hearing Ellis's voice, as a narrator, he came into being. If I'd been writing in third person, it would have happened with the dialogue. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Ellis's bravado and his guilt. He resents his wife, yet loves her deeply. That makes him interesting.

LR: I believe you wrote a sizeable chunk of all of your novels at an artist colony. What do you think works for you about that kind of setting? Do you find you make big breakthroughs there, or is it more about having a concentrated block of uninterrupted time? Or something else?

DG: It's all about the uninterrupted time. Which makes it sounds less significant that it really is. In real life, you're always being tugged one way or another. Being at an artist colony is like being on a honeymoon with your art. Nobody dares interrupt you unless it's really important.

LR: Any upcoming readings and other events lined up?

DG: A reading at New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville on Friday, May 14 at 5:30 pm, a signing at Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore Sunday, May 16 from 1 to 3 pm and a talk at Newark Public Library's annual donor reception on Tuesday June 22 at 5:30 pm. I'll be on WBGO Journal (88.3 FM in Newark) on Friday May 21 at 7:30 pm. I am also working out details on an event at NovelTeas in Red Bank NJ in mid-July to coincide with a big car show.

LR: Does your day job running Baristanet, one of the first and still most highly regarded hyper-local news sites, contribute to your novel writing in any way?

DG: Baristanet contains the kernels of hundreds of novels, for me or somebody. But mostly it serves to atomize my attention span.

LR: Do you have another novel in progress?

DG: I started one last fall, but it's been dormant. I have another idea I'll probably take up once the book promotion has wound down.

Note from Lisa: We are giving away a signed copy of Cars From a Marriage. Simply leave a comment and be sure there is a way for me to contact you via email to get your U.S. postal address, if you win. Comment up until midnight May 20 to enter the random drawing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stuff My (Writing) Students Say, Part II

Here's one I heard last year and it has stayed with me.

“I've found by doing the writing exercises and assignments (instead of just writing what I FEEL like writing) that what I NEED to write isn't necessarily what I WANT to write. That’s great and awful at the same time.”

Indeed.

If I collected a quarter each time I “found myself” writing what I need to write instead of either what I want to write, or what I initially set out to write -- well I could visit all the Laundromats within 10 miles on a busy Saturday morning and treat every customer to a free wash cycle.

Once, I set out – in response to a prompt -- to write about why I thought my sister would have been very happy as a nun, and before I knew it, I was writing about the crises that erupted for me when she left for college just as I started kindergarten.

Not long ago, I sat down to revise an essay I “sold” two years ago to a magazine which folded before the piece ran. I thought it needed just a bit of tweaking before sending it out again. Today, I no longer feel the need to say most of what was in it…but on page 4, something jumped out at me, and I started writing about that.

I’m also in the middle of another narrative nonfiction piece, which began life when a section of it seemed to sort of appear on the screen in front of me one day when I sat down to hammer out the bones of another piece entirely. Huh.

I’m not sure I believe that writing impulses come from some mysterious place, or that any mystical thing happens between the brain and what emerges from the fingertips onto the page or screen. But clearly there must be something else going on, in some undetectable area of the creative psyche, which asserts itself when necessary. Maybe that’s one reason I’m such a fan of writing prompts and writing exercises. Some of my best work started there, and where it came from and why I wrote about it, in many cases, I still don’t know. That's okay.

The first installment of this new series ran last week.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Online Creative Nonfiction Class Begins 5/17

Come on, get some writing done before the kids finish school, before the summer lazies get you, before another month goes by.

My next ONLINE Memoir & Personal Essay 4x4 Class starts Monday, May 17. This session covers Writing Scenes, Using Humor, the Narrative Line, and Revising (and liking it).

It's affordable ($145), convenient (write & participate according to your own schedule), personalized (plenty of direct, private feedback), flexible (adjust assignments to your work-in-progress), interactive (private group discussions & online home), and in-depth (no quickie solutions).

And yes, I will be adjusting deadlines and spacing out the reading to accommodate the Memorial Day weekend. More info is here. Or, email me. Blog readers save $5.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Writer, Wean Thyself

I’m old enough to remember when the arrival of the postal mail, and the ring of the telephone, brought a writer all the good or bad news of the day. The postal mail delivered all of the rejections, and most of the acceptances. Occasionally the phone rang with an acceptance, often in the form of an actual editor at the other end, wanting to firm up details of an assignment, asking about rights, suggesting edits, offering a new (unsolicited) assignment, or even – yes, this really used to happen – just wanting to connect “in person”.

In those days, many factors, including substitute mail carriers, a too-small mailbox, and awful weather, messed with a writer’s confidence in that postal lifeline, and so one rented a post office box. Likewise, a dependable answering machine was required.

I’m not waxing nostalgic. I do have a point.


I had a post office box for 17 years, and somewhere during the first year or so I realized it was detrimental to my state of mind if I made the “post office run” early in the day. If the number of “Sorry, no,” “We’ll pass,” and “Not for us” missives outnumbered the quantity of “Yes, please send,” “We’d like to run this,” and “Are first rights still available?” notes, I’d notice a definite decline in my desire to dive back into the work once I got back home from the post office – a trip of oh, about, three minutes.


The phone, on the other hand, I always answered – on the second ring, at most. It was almost always good news -- except for the time a magazine editor in California called to say that in an office move, my article and photos had gone missing and could I please get him copies the next day? This involved two trips to the photo lab, a visit to the library to use the copy machine, and crossing my fingers as I handed the package across the desk at a newfangled company called Federal Express (see, I told you I’m old).


Fast forward. Email brings it all, all at once, right onto my desk, all day long – rejections, edit suggestions, acceptances, requests for photos or a bio, editorial decisions that require more copy, less copy, delays, and “our magazine has folded” announcements. Oh sure, the phone rings sometimes, but chances are it’s an assistant wanting to know the whereabouts of the signed contract.


Avoiding the email inbox for the bulk of the writing day gets harder all the time; don’t respond to email quickly and you’re a slacker, out of touch and who knows, maybe out of the solar system. Respond too quickly and you’re over-anxious and probably not busy enough.


Lately I’m thinking that having all the news, all the time, scrolling past my eyes all day – the one-line rejections, even the “good” rejections in which editors say nice things before saying no, the notes from writer friends who have accomplished something great for which I’m happy but also a little jealous – is not particularly productive and sometimes leaves me with that feeling I used to have on that three-minute walk back to my house after the post-office runs of yore.


Now that we have an additional computer in the house (four people, four computers, but who’s counting), I’ve been trying for the past two weeks to keep the (slow, old) computer on my desk in my upstairs office off-line most of the day, and the (new, fast) one downstairs near the kitchen, online. On a good day, this cuts my email-checking behavior down to equal the number of coffee and healthy snack runs. On a bad day, when it seems perfectly logical to me that marinating the chicken, unloading the dishwasher, searching for the hidden dark chocolate, or finishing the Times crossword puzzle will be hugely beneficial to whatever it is that’s going wrong – well, on those days, everyone probably hears back from me faster.


By the way, the FedEx package arrived in California on time. The editor called on the phone to tell me so.

P.S. I do LOVE email, sending copy electronically, this blog, connecting with other writers via social networking, teaching online and all of that. Truly. But I do miss the telephone, however, and have been known, once in a while, to actually call people on it. I love to hear the shock in their voices.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: May 7th Edition

► A new place to find long form journalism on the web.

►I get caught up reading memoirs, fiction and essay collections, and I forget sometimes how much I love a great reported nonfiction book. Then I read something as stunning as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, and I remember. Highly recommended.

► More crappy freelancer contract news, and one writer who had enough.

► Here’s one way to make your book a best seller. Just buy a lot. A whole lot. And send them to unsuspecting strangers. Huh, why didn’t we all think of that a lot sooner?

►Mired in the submissions/rejections / why-bother bog? Judith Kitchen’s essay/list/tips over at Brevity will surely help. For example:

4. It’s normal to be a bit disappointed, especially if you are confident that what you sent is absolutely the best you can do and does have merit; but if you find yourself obsessed with the process, then pull back and wait, because creating the work is so much more fun than publishing it;
5. You can’t know how true #4 is until you are published and you discover that it does not change your life"
And in another section, this:
"I submitted work 17 times to The Georgia Review before any was accepted. This makes me think that often we stop too soon, just when an editor is finally getting used to the voice or the style, just before an editor is sure that you have staying power"

►Finally, ever open the instructions for some electronic item, encounter something like, “under slide big bolt red turn turn”? Perhaps it’s Chinglish. Don’t have time to read about it? The quickie slide show.

► And one more. As I’ve mentioned before, writers are not always so nice to one another. And some of the greatest writers of all time publicly dissed their fellow writers. Read it and cringe.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stuff My (Writing) Students Say, Part I

Will it always take me this long?

For someone who didn’t think she would ever teach writing, I am continually amazed how much I actually love doing so. Sometimes I am stopped in my tracks by something a writer in a class asks or observes. I thought I’d share some of these gems with my blog readers, along with my take on the issue.

One writer, commenting on the draft-revision-rewrite project she just completed, asked:
“Will it always take me this long?”

Yes. And, no.

Yes, because even though the more you write and consciously work on your craft, the better a writer you will become, the flip side is that the more demanding you will become of yourself as a writer. So completing a well-crafted piece will take you longer, but maybe not in actual time at the keyboard (although I doubt it). You will be aware of the need and value of pre-writing, and spend more time doing it. Before you actually put the first word on paper or screen, you will know that you probably need to spend time, both consciously and purposely, and unconsciously and randomly, with the idea “marinating”.

Once you begin writing, you will then also understand a lot more about the power and importance of successive drafts, revision and rewriting; so you will spend more time than before on those parts of the writing process. You will build in time for letting a piece rest between drafts or rewrites. You will come to expect more of yourself and be less easily satisfied with the words you put together. You will think about things which perhaps before you didn't consider, perhaps characterization, dialogue, structure, tone, rhythm. Which means you will agonize and sometimes second guess yourself (and perhaps “waste” some time that way).

You will know that reading is critical and you will build time in, to read the books or shorter pieces you believe are essential to your current piece of work. You will know that excellent pieces of writing don’t simply happen, are never first drafts (and might be 4th, 14th or 40th drafts), and even when you are tempted to rush something through, you will not allow yourself to do so any longer (except in extreme cases of unreasonable deadlines and/or cash flow crises; and then you will be upset with yourself afterward).

All of that takes time. Sometimes a long time.

But then again, no, it won’t always take you so long.

The more you write and consciously work on your craft, the better a writer you will become, and so you will develop a far more nuanced understanding of your own particular creative process. You’ll know, for example, if you tend to be more successful (and less stressed) when you allot more time for say, pre-writing, or at the first draft edit stage, or in deciding on structure. When necessary, you’ll know at which points in the process you can move faster (and maybe that the speed energizes your work).

You will know a lot more about what you are doing, based on feedback from instructors and/or editors, an agent, publisher or readers. You will have taken the time to educate yourself, read more widely, perhaps taken the submission plunge (and emerged unscathed, or maybe only a little bit scarred) and so now you probably know what category of writers you wish to emulate and what you need to do to get there, and you no longer waste (as much) time wandering off in unsatisfying literary directions.

As you move along as a writer, you also do learn a few shortcuts, or perhaps I should say, you figure out what works for you consistently, on the page, and see how those skills, techniques and craft methods can play out to your advantage across various pieces, genres, or forms. You will develop an understanding of what kinds of material you are personally capable of “churning out” when need by, and what you simply must slow down about, no matter what.

Finally, writing will have become so habitualized that you will be able to increase your “inventory” at a steadier pace. If you are very lucky, instead of one day agonizing over how long something took to write, you will instead lament that it was such a great experience writing it, you wish it hadn’t ended so soon.

Except of course on days when you type “the end” or hit send and think, “Thank goodness! I never, ever want to work on that piece ever again.” Until you reread it later, or an editor sends it back with “suggestions,” and you find yourself – yes – spending even more time on it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Another online home for my writing

From the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion:

Motherhood and marriage at midlife – navigating the miserable and the marvelous – will be the subjects of my bi-weekly essays over at Your Tango’s new Love, Mom blog. My first piece looks at how fervently my husband yearned for fatherhood, while I was initially reluctant about motherhood. It begins like this:

“Other women had it. Even my husband had it: the desire to spawn. It's true: my husband wanted kids more than I did. Wanted them in the way it seemed other (normal?) women did, with a longing, a yearning, a confidence that parenthood was vital to adult life. Me? I figured we'd have a pretty good life either with children or without.
Then, I experienced three years of infertility, which made getting pregnant its own goal. I wanted it to work, which of course isn't the same as wanting to be a mother.
Still, a husband's heart's desire is something strong.”

You can read the rest here. I’ll be there every other Monday. Hope you’ll check in from time to time.