Wednesday Wonders: When to Call the Book Done

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The other day my son said, “You know you’ve got a LOT of books on writing on your bookshelf. Have you read all of those?”

Mostly, I told him. (He wasn’t particularly impressed — just astounded that I could stay focused for that long on reading books about putting words on paper.)

And he doesn’t even know about the courses I’ve taken and the blogs I’ve read.

Writing takes a lot of reading.

And, of course, it takes a lot of writing words.

In my online reading, Randy Ingermanson once explained to me that the average writer puts over a million words down before she or he becomes a published author.

The million words could be several different books or it could be the same book rewritten over and over again.

I don’t know how many words I’ve written. It’s hard to keep track.

My very first novel is at the back of my file drawer where it will stay. I think I drafted 50,000 words or so. My second short historical fiction set on Whidbey Island is now around 30,000 words. Here is where it gets tough to track, though. It was 50,000 then I cut it down to 40,000. Then I added some. Then I cut it to the bone at 20,000. I added again to 32,000.

I have a third historical fiction set in Tacoma with a word count around that size, too, including the cuts and additions and whatnots.

Those are the larger pieces that are easier to keep track of. I’ve written scads of shorter pieces, some published, many more not, and some even on this blog. I’ve grown fond of mathematics but not fond enough to actually add up all the single words I’ve written to see if I’ve gotten to a million words. I know publishing isn’t anything like that straight forward anyway.

(You wrote the millionth word! Now you are published! Not exactly.)

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I declared my my second short novel finished last week. Over the last five years I drafted and revised, took classes with it, had my critique group read and re-read it through and then section by section. I’ve had beta readers take a look at it and acted on all of the feedback I’ve received in one way or another.

I’m ready to stop cutting and adding. I’m ready to turn my attention to other things and let the million words add up on some other project.

At first I decided to consign it to the bottom of a drawer, tucked into a file next to the first one about the fairies and the the other worlds full of trees and magic.

Then I read this by Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor, one of the those books my son saw on the shelf:

“Work never sent out is very likely never completed. The author never has to stand by it, for better or for worse. It is never exposed to a stranger’s eye. It is never received with love, hate, indifference, or with interest. It has no audience, no public. As a result, the writer is never obliged to see it through a reader’s eye.”

Well, then.

I guess I’ll send those several thousand words out, roll with rejections, and get down word counts in revising my third novel.

I suppose I knew that all along from my music and drawing. Unless I share what I am doing, the art wilts in a corner. More often than not, I never make it at all if I know no one will ever see it.

May you know the joy of calling things finished even if that means you have to take a risk to get there-

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Wednesday Wonders: A CT Scan to Diagnose and Treat Stuck

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Stuck Ostrich

I am stuck. I have a deadline of May 19th to finish revising my novel and it won’t let me move forward.

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten side tracked with writing for the band I play with.

Maybe it’s because the day job has been especially demanding lately.

Maybe it’s because the cottonwood covering the air and earth with it’s gorgeous white balls of fluff causes my throat to close up and my voice to turn husky. (The husband likes the sound of it, but now it’s veering toward a whisper which I don’t think is all that cute.)

Maybe it’s because I got a rejection. (Good grief, I say to myself, one rejection should not stop you!)

One of my wise friends tells me to set the novel aside and come back to it later. I can’t even seem to do that.

So instead I am trying a technique I heard from Elizabeth Gilbert, that guru of creativity and giver of artistic permission slips.

I am running a reverse CT scan on myself. To do this, I slowly scan my consciousness to see if some glimmer of curiosity for my book still exists in the tomography of my creativity. (It’s a reverse scan because I am searching for goodness instead of the disease that the medical world tries to find.)

If you ask, I will let you know if I find any sparkles. I may not. It may be time to let this novel go and move forward.

I’ve got until the 19th to finish scanning.

In the meantime, here are the sparkles of wonder I found while keeping my eyes open in the everyday.

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A great day out with the boys at our favorite after-the-beach dinner spot The Spar. A restaurant with Duplos and chess sets can’t be beat. 

 

Of course, the flowers in my yard and on my walks sparkle. Even though spring is biting me in the nose, I adore it as much as ever.

 

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A clarinetist I am sorry I never got to meet. Dr. Michael Lovezzola’s daughter sent me this to go with the piece I wrote recently. I can feel how much she misses him in her photos.

May you find your sparkles,

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And one more…

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The long legs of my five-year-old when he tries to sit on my lap. His are the bruised legs on top. Mine are underneath with the mismatched socks. I think I’ve got two years before he outgrows me.

Wednesday Wonders: When Your Art is Worth Saving

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By Sydney Zylstra (retrieved from the attic in 2011)

“You know all those paintings your mother makes and then throws out?”

My sister and I nodded as my dad said this. We knew.

“Well, I pulled a few out of the garbage and stuck them up in the attic. Remember to get them out of there when I die so she doesn’t toss them.”

I understand why my mother wanted to throw those beautiful pastels away. It helped her feel free to make mistakes and go on to create more when she knew she didn’t have to keep or share what she created.

She probably felt something like Molly in this clip Jody Casella shared with me recently:

I also get why my dad didn’t want to let them go. He couldn’t see her mistakes. He only saw a picture worth saving — something he didn’t want in the trash even after he died.

I am drawn to that video of Molly and the memory of my dad stashing away my mom’s art. And I’m happy to say I no longer feel like dipping my manuscript in alcohol and setting it on fire over a gas burner. 

Instead, I keep this mantra by James Scott Bell posted near my computer screen:

“It can be fixed.”

That helps enormously when the mean voice in my head chatters on about all that is wrong even as I work to make it better.

And I’m glad Dad saved the pastels. A year or so after he died, my mom found them on my wall and stopped, looking them over for a slow minute.

I held my breath, praying I would not lose my treasures.

She surprised me by insisting they needed a coat of sealant to protect the surface. She then took them down and returned them to me, never suggesting that I throw them away.

Those canvases covered in flowers still hang in my hallway, reminding me to look at what’s worth keeping even when, at first, I might not think my characters have led me down the right path. 

May you know the joy of creating and the power of saving your work-

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Extra wonders:

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Seattle waterways before the Ballard Locks and the ship canal connected the lakes to the sound.

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My book and I loved this trip to see my Seattle family and visit the locks. So much to research for us here!

A recycled bit on the wonder series:

I love the way writing and other art forms open my eyes to the surprises around me in my everyday life. Many of these wonders will also be in my Instagram account since I discovered the joy of that program during an advent photo project.

I collect these surprises like little rocks in a kid’s pocket. I may use them in a story. I may not. Either way, life gets a little brighter when I take the time to notice.

Puzzle Patterns, Bells and Structure

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I often think of decoding grammar as piecing together a giant word filled jigsaw puzzle. A thousand pieces to put together on a kitchen table is really not so daunting compared to the complex ways English and other languages fit together, moving with our new ideas and needs for communication. The analogy somehow helps me get it together in my mind, especially when the puzzle feels as trying as this guy’s vase.

The other day I was talking to my class about parallel structure, that part of sentences where the pieces need to fit together. In parallel structure, the writer has a series of items that need to match or run parallel to one another. I wrote up a few examples to explain what I mean by this. Examples always work better for me in the puzzle of English than explanations.

With parallel structure in verb forms:

I like knitting, running, and looking at different art forms.

Without parallel structure in verb forms:

I like knitting, to run, and looking at different art forms.

With parallel structure in adverbs:

The great barn owl sat on the post regally, solemnly, and aloofly.

Without parallel structure using adverbs and a prepositional phrase (I think I’ve been guilty of this one):

The great barn owl sat on the post regally, solemnly, and with no interest in his onlookers.

With parallel structure in noun phrases:

The lady sat on a fence thinking about the ways she could get off the fence, the marvelous view she had while staying on the fence, and the horses who might let her stay for a few more minutes without demanding more grass.

Without parallel structure in noun phrases and an infinitive:

The lady sat on a fence thinking about the ways she could get off the fence, the marvelous view she had while staying on the fence, and to wish the horses might let her stay for a few more minutes without demanding more grass.

While I explained this, it occurred to me that another story I had just read by Miki Craighead would be the perfect example to help students understand the way parallel structure fits together. In my textbook there were several examples of patterns to show students to help them find the patterns of structure. The patterns were not very original and did not come with an interesting story. They looked something like this:

a, b, c, ?

10, 20, 30, ?

So I told them the story of Miki’s family bell system with its code for each of the children.

That pattern has a delightful story of children playing and a creative father who designed a sort of Morse code to call his kids in when needed. The pattern looked like this:

____ – , ____ – -, ____ – – -, ____ – – – -, ?

I sensed my students liked the bell system better than the overworked alphabet. And a neurologist I once listened to kept me spellbound for a 3 hour lecture by sprinkling stories into his lecture about Brain Rules. In any case, I am hoping Miki’s story lifted the grammar up a bit out of the drudgery for them.

The Week after NaNo

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In the days and now a week after NaNoWriMo, I’ve set the novel almost completely aside. I say almost because I’d be fibbing if I said it wasn’t on my mind. It lurks back there and pesters me with ideas about how it could be better. It also growls sometimes about how painful it will be in January when I sit to read through it. And sometimes it glows with the thought of how much I enjoy revising compared to the process of that first draft whenever I work on my shorter pieces.

I’ve got a plan for this month, though, to keep the novel in the box and using it’s ‘inside voice’ when it nags at me.  The plan goes something like this:

1. Find small projects to write that I can draft and finish in under a week. This is refreshing to say the least.

2. Revisit the submissions I have floating out there to see if they need sending to new homes or if I should put them in the ‘for practice’ file.

3. Draft writing goals for 2013.

4. Spend some time with Julia Cameron and her Artist’s Way again. I did this once many years ago and fell on my face. The book’s been nagging at me, however, through friends and other coincidences. So I’m back at the morning pages and not hating them. In fact, they are becoming a friend, those 3 pages. Go figure.

So far the plan is working. The novel is behaving itself while it waits for me to return, and I am enjoying the space between wild write-a-novel-in-a-month and revision.