Years ago when I first began to pursue writing as a possible career, I read an article about honing the craft of writing while improving one's technique. The author, an editor, spoke quite disdainfully of the habits which "bog down" a manuscript. Today, I have read a second article which reiterated her advise.
The 2009 edition of the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market contained an article entitled "Trimming the Deadweight in Your Manuscript." Now, as the writer--I.J. Schecter--began by creating his own word in combining "dead" and "weight," I was already prepared to ignore everything he or she had to say. Unfortunately, the same four reminders from nearly three decades earlier jumped forth to slap me in the face:
1. Minimizing the usage of adverbs and adjectives (ouch!)
2. Eradicating entire "unnecessary" sentences (oooh!)
3. Identifying and avoiding repetitive stylistic tendencies (arrrgh!)
4. Maintaining consistency in the tempo, pace, or rhythm of your voice
5. Captivating your audience and keeping its attention by keeping your work lean and consistent, i.e. free of any "superfluous descriptions" and/or "accidental wake-ups."
None of these concepts are new. I have read similar articles, even written them myself for my occasional writer's workshops. This does not mean that I necessarily like them. As a lover of "classic" literature, I miss the languid descriptions which drew me inexorably into the mood or the setting of a story. Even as I have given this advice, I have wondered how much of this need to eliminate and eradicate comes from our ever-growing reliance--even dependence--on the more rapid pace of television, video games, and internet. Am I the only one who finds it difficult to follow those modern "action" or "drama" offerings which swoop and zoom from person-to-person, idea-to-idea so quickly that I find myself never actually identifying, sympathizing, or getting to in any way know the characters or settings? Do I alone find those books, television shows, movies, and magazine articles which take the time to draw me in, to capture my imagination, to urge me to think (even pick up a dictionary) more engaging?
I don't know.
Trimming things down to the bare minimum.
Today, I am struggling with that concept.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I often find myself returning to the "From the Editor" page of the 2009 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. There, Alice Pope (the Managing Editor) writes: "Often when I finish a great novel, I'm a tad exhausted from the journey. The characters enchant, plots rivet, settings envelop me, and I'm always amazed at what the author has achieved. The ability and drive to write a novel is one of those things that I really admire but don't ever imagine myself taking on, kind of like running a marathon...."
She later goes on to include a line by author Helen Schulman: "You never write books by giving up.You write them by going the distance, again and again. You really need to be a long-distance runner."
I, myself, have always been a sprinter. These words, therefore, are a necessary reminder for me. They also provide encouragement...and even a bit of motivation. Perhaps I shall never writer "a great novel"; yet, this reminder of both what such a work would require as well as its impact on the reader encourages me to keep striving towards that end, rather I ever reach the goal or not.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
It takes very little to bring the luminiferous quality of faith into someone's day: faith in goodness; faith in the underlying goodness of man kind; faith that the sun will return after days of darkness and drizzle; that inspiration--though lost--can again be located; that the course of one's life, even as circumstances alter it, can drift towards new hope, peace, and the renewal of one's spirit. Pretty lofty notions for a Tuesday afternoon, huh? Today began with a great deal of pain. There are many "unknowns" to chronic anemia as well as g6pd and MDS. Every illness, every disease results from the body's attempt to rectify some internal flaw or problem; thus, unless one has an idea what it is that set off the series of rectifications or symptoms from which the "illness" resulted, there is not a great deal that can be done to "cure" it (i.e. assist the body in curing itself...without killing itself). One of the great unexplained mysteries in my case is why my body, when at its most red-blood-cell deficient, insists (upon other odd and inexplicable malfunctions) upon draining calcium and protein from my right leg. I won't go into the numerous theories by numerous medical professionals from numerous fields. I will only say this: The end result is a whooole lot of pain. (So much so, I would gnaw the sucker off if I could stand the taste of it!) In any event, pain came, rain came, work needed to be done, sleep had been elusive after yesterday's rant, yet our intrepid grammarian was determined not to let these small worries daunt her. Having made up my mind to move, I planned to get to work, surfing the internet as I clicked away at my daily research. Though it was not until ten that I could convince myself to get out of bed, once I had, I worked at the apartment for a while (still sans electricity, heat, and hot water) then headed out for the library. This being one of the few nights on which I volunteer, I made up my mind to push through the rather...excruciating...mind numbing...nasty...nasty pain in order to get a bit of research done (for my move as well as my writing projects) while simultaneously positioning myself to head out to the soup kitchen (only one door down) later on.
First of all, the number of encouraging messages regarding my decision to move were staggering. I had voiced an impulsive, rather implausible plan of action...and been met with warmth and support. As I read through the e-mails and Facebook messages, I recalled that "prodigious talent" remark from my best friend. I found myself actually accessing notes on that very topic and organizing them into some semblance of order. It was a process which not only reawakened my interest in the project (a "young adult" manuscript--O Mother! My Father..."-- which examines the dysfunctional rather unhealthy marriage between two people as seen through the eyes of their teenage daughter) itself but proved cathartic in dealing with the rage (directed at the relative who escapades have made my life a nightmare and who shall remain nameless but will be hereafter known as either KWH or my family's Dub-Yah) which contributed greatly to the decision to "get out of Dodge" (along with that slight complication of going unpaid!)
While in the library, I met all the familiar faces of the staff members, many of whom rarely fail to inquire as to the progress of my children, encourage me in my long hours huddled over the computer, ask about my health. or simply stop and chat. Those small, random offerings of unaffected kindness were invaluable in helping me plow through the discomfort (no, pain) and other emotional "stuff" in order to do what needed to be done. Not only did one of the security guards take the time to cheer me on; yet, as I was away from my book-covered station, the second noticed (via the surveillance cameras) suspicious-looking individuals circling the desk. Noting that although I had taken my computer, bag, and mobile phone with me to the ladies room my umbrella and adapter had been left behind (and after I had been away from the table for more than the usual five-to-ten minutes) the darling made a point of retrieving the items and locking them in his office. When I returned, noticing the same suspicious couple in passing before coming upon my notably less-cluttered table, I rushed to the check-out desk to tell of my dilemma (philsophically thinking Ha,ha, are they in for a shock! That charger is on its last legs anyway!) I was told, "See Jose!"
And, when I rushed back to the table to grab the computer and bag (which I had very unwisely left behind in my haste to catch the departing couple) three other patrons called out to let me know "the security guard" had walked off with my umbrella.
Apparently, he saw them, ascertained that they seemed a little too interested in my collection of books and notes, and stepped in immediately. "You can't be too safe, honey." He said. How comforting that the "honey" was actually a welcoming, sincerely affectionate term of kindness...and felt as such!
"We take care of our people!" one librarian told me five minutes later with a smile.
There is goodness in the world, even amidst the chaos.
To what better topic to devote a few hundred of my thousand words that that?
Monday, May 4, 2009
Alright. It's official. The time has come to leave New Haven once and for all. For the third time in less than two months (not to mention about the tenth time this year, bearing in mind that it is only May, ya'll) one of my beloved clients has decided the time to renegotiate an agreement is after my work has been satisfactorily completed and is in his (or her) hot little hands! Life in Connecticut has not exactly been stress-free without these frustrations; nevertheless, between health issues, insane family members, political chaos, non-existent community , and socio-economic dynamics which make life nightmarish for all but the most devoted (or the most charmed) the ability, the opportunity to actually--like-- write is nonexistent. More and more have I noted the difficulty in identifying with my characters, remaining focused on my plots, or even keeping track of story lines. Dialog--my long time foe--eludes me completely. Moreover, the constant worries and distractions, I now accept despite past obstinacy, leave me in a mindset of wanting nothing less at the end (or the beginning of the day) than to bang out one-thousand words. I find myself walking into fascinating settings without even the most niggling desire to whip out paper and pen (unheard of!) Note taking has dwindled to nil, as have daily contributions to journals, "sketch" books, and my daily impressions. Mostly, though, I have noted a change in my entire attitude towards my craft, viewing writing as a job--even a chore--rather than the love it once was. Why? Because of arrogant, insensitive so-and-sos who, even as they enhance their own livelihoods as a result of my "talent", consistently minimize not only its worth but the time, the effort, the heart, the thought, and the discipline it takes. I woke up Saturday morning glowering at my journal. The lovely, navy blue, exquisitely bound, leather journal with its lovely, high-quality, gold embossed pages, and beautiful rendition of an old-fashioned quill pen, a single cadet blue cursive "u" stretched out in a bold flourish behind it (a gift from my daughter Dauriauna from February 9th of last year to ease the sting of the second "anniversary" of my mother's death) sat firmly shut on my coffee table--an over-stretched rubber band keeping both Mickey Mouse and Wite-Out Correction pen conveniently accessible--causing no harm to me or anyone else; yet, as it lay there, I detested it as though it might be worst enemy. Why? Because the last entry committed to it had been on Easter morning; because were I to take up the pen I would have nothing positive to add; because the mere thought of entering all my frustrations and aspirations--yet again--proved utterly exhausting; because I did not want to rant and rage on paper about the latest paycheck to go MIA... Because... Because I hated even the thought of writing another, single word. I had too many projects to complete in an atmosphere in no way conducive to creative thought. To put aside the activities of the day in order to delve into myself and my impressions--in order to lay open emotion, sensation, and thought--grows increasingly more difficult. To visit any of my "prized" personal projects requires reaching a "place," a state unreachable from my current physical location--a place I despise, in which no part of me finds fulfillment, security, comfort or peace, even if I am able to (fortunately) maintain the same within myself despite the surrounding environment. I was feeling overwhelmed, the sensation of hopelessness, of actually drowning actually suffocating the creative impulses within me. (It did not help that the last e-mail--or "missive," as he calls them--from my dearest friend in the whole wide world consisted of a single line which read: "All well and good, but when are you going to put this prodigious writing talent to work: ie, the story of your father's family?")
In essence: It's time to get out of here, people!
This admitted, I decided the time had come to take action; thus, this week will be spent putting out "feelers" in an effort to make a fresh start. While the children are safely ensconced in their respective schools feels like the best time to pack and bag and get away fast. Already, my friends from both high school and college have been supportive, rather than listing for me all the reasons why I--even in all my stubbornness-- cannot make this happen. It's time to move on. It truly is. So, Here goes nothin'!