Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: advice

Once again, spring, with the kanzen cherry blossom

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photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015

Labyrinth

I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.

I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend from my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.

One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror.  And repeat.  I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.

I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.

Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.

A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food.  People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs.  These spices of experience.  Fragments of mercy.

I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.

It is yours.

“So You’ve Sexually Harassed Or Abused Someone: What Now?”

Ijeoma Oluo, writing at The Establishment, offers guidance to men (and womxn) who have harassed or abused someone. It’s advice I wish two of my exes would read and take to heart. How to be honourable, folks.

So You’ve Sexually Harassed or Abused Someone: What Now?

Contrast. Give it to your characters

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton unknown date

We all know many writers who are also visual artists.

Yonder at Ploughshares, Annie Weatherwax confirms that many of the tools in their belts are the same no matter which art they are practicing.

I found myself wishing this article was much longer, and I hope Annie Weatherwax wishes so too and writes more about this.

Best One-Sentence Advice You’ve Ever Gotten on Writing?

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Over at Lit Reactor, Christopher Schultz has compiled some great one-liners of advice from well-known authors in this article here.

Fail Better

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Zadie Smith on the art of a writer’s failure

Fail Better

Bear Bergman–and yes, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day

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I rarely post anything that’s personal, but all day I had this column by the wise and clear and sensical writer Bear Bergman up on my “to-read” list, and I finally read it, and it seems to hit so many nails on so many heads that I thought you might want to read this “Dear Bear” column too, since rarely is there a time in relationships when incomes are exactly on par. Which may mean you think of these contentious matters, too.

And because it’s coming up Valentine’s Day, a day where we can all try to learn to love better.

Bear Bergman on Bitch Media

 

 

Daily Word Counts of Famous Authors

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pastel: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2015

How many words, how many days a week, and how inflexibly?

The Adequate Writer: Writing a Romance

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photograph:  Clematis, Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2015

It’s a good feeling to finish up a second draft of a novel–even a romance novel.

Novel draft, check.  Lilacs on the table. Check. Candlelit dinner. Perfect view of Seattle’s Space Needle. Check. Scintillating company.  Check.

Realizing that I dropped the dog out of the book by the first third, so it is wandering around an island by itself for perpetuity? That’s why I call myself the adequate writer.

Hectoring: Yes, I Am

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, acrylic, 2014

Right now: You people who are walking around with functional bodies, I want you to take off your clothes in front of a mirror and pat yourself all over, and as you go, say, “Mind, you work,” “eyes, you work,” “ears, you work,” “breasts, you work,” “hips, you work,” “knees, you work.” Etc.  And then the rest is up to you.

Stephen King, who knows a few things

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from

The Writer’s Handbook 1988 by Sylvia K. (Ed) Burack

“IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully

1. Be talented
This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? I can hear someone shouting, and here we are, ready to get into a discussion right up there with “what is the meaning of life?” for weighty pronouncements and total uselessness. For the purposes of the beginning writer, talent may as well be defined as eventual success – publication and money. If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented. Now some of you are really hollering. Some of you are calling me one crass money-fixated creep. And some of you are calling me bad names. Are you calling Harold Robbins talented? someone in one of the Great English Departments of America is screeching. V.C. Andrews? Theodore Dreiser? Or what about you, you dyslexic moron?

Nonsense. Worse than nonsense, off the subject. We’re not talking about good or bad here. I’m interested in telling you how to get your stuff published, not in critical judgments of who’s good or bad. As a rule the critical judgments come after the check’s been spent, anyway. I have my own opinions, but most times I keep them to myself. People who are published steadily and are paid for what they are writing may be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating. Ergo, they are talented. The biggest part of writing successfully is being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer is one who doesn’t get paid. If you’re not talented, you won’t succeed. And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit. When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand pinks, it’s time you tried painting or computer programming. Further, almost every aspiring writer knows when he is getting warmer – you start getting little jotted notes on your rejection slips, or personal letters . . . maybe a commiserating phone call. It’s lonely out there in the cold, but there are encouraging voices … unless there is nothing in your words which warrants encouragement. I think you owe it to yourself to skip as much of the self-illusion as possible. If your eyes are open, you’ll know which way to go … or when to turn back.

2. Be neat
Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you’ve marked up your manuscript a lot, do another draft.

3. Be self-critical
If you haven’t marked up your manuscript a lot, you did a lazy job. Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.

4. Remove every extraneous word
You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets
Only a dimwit would send a story about giant vampire bats surrounding a high school to McCall’s. Only a dimwit would send a tender story about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas Eve to Playboy … but people do it all the time. I’m not exaggerating; I have seen such stories in the slush piles of the actual magazines. If you write a good story, why send it out in an ignorant fashion? Would you send your kid out in a snowstorm dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top? If you like science fiction, read the magazines. If you want to write confession stories, read the magazines. And so on. It isn’t just a matter of knowing what’s right for the present story; you can begin to catch on, after awhile, to overall rhythms, editorial likes and dislikes, a magazine’s entire slant. Sometimes your reading can influence the next story, and create a sale.

7. Write to entertain
Does this mean you can’t write “serious fiction”? It does not. Somewhere along the line pernicious critics have invested the American reading and writing public with the idea that entertaining fiction and serious ideas do not overlap. This would have surprised Charles Dickens, not to mention Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Bernard Malamud, and hundreds of others. But your serious ideas must always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”
The answer needn’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time for a new project or a new career.

9. How to evaluate criticism
Show your piece to a number of people – ten, let us say. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the same thing about some facet of your story – a plot twist that doesn’t work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen other possibles – change that facet. It doesn’t matter if you really liked that twist of that character; if a lot of people are telling you something is wrong with you piece, it is. If seven or eight of them are hitting on that same thing, I’d still suggest changing it. But if everyone – or even most everyone – is criticizing something different, you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. Observe all rules for proper submission
Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that.

11. An agent? Forget it. For now
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories around yourself. If you’ve done a novel, send around query letters to publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King’s First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don’t need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal … and if you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good agents.

12. If it’s bad, kill it
When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law.

That’s everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you a pleasant day and sign off.

My ten minutes are up.” –Stephen King

For more advice from Stephen King, check out his Reading List for Writers.

The wise Richard Bausch

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On Writing by Richard Bausch

“You are not putting life on the page; you’re making fiction, which has more to do with itself than it will ever really have to do with life. You are working with the illusion of life–the same as a painter is working with the illusion of light, and that life he portrays. Life is messy and often terrifyingly random and nuanced beyond our powers of perception–you are creating life shaped, ordered, governed by the demands of story. So you learn your way through it and cut anything that doesn’t contribute to the story and to the concerns of the story. In doing so, if you are faithful enough, and lucky, too, you suggest the fullness of the very life we lead.”

Speaking Bluntly

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Sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2014, acrylic on paper

Two letters from Colette, who was born on this day in 1873, to her friend Marguerite Moreno.:

Paris Review

The Adequate Writer: The non-advice of how I write

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 sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

How I write?  (Do not what I do unless it’s fruitful for you.  This is non-advice gleaned over years of living with my idiosyncratic brain, and will not apply to everyone.)

I start with set but limited intentions.  A story, I say to self, 3000 words, go.  An essay, I say to self, longread, go.

I write scattershot.  I slam a metaphorical hammer into a metaphorical mirror-brain for all those pretty glittering silvers, that  debris-field.  I’ve got 26 letters: slurpy, corkscrewed, percussive, hot-bladed, shivery.  My job is to shape “bs” and “q”s and “es” and “rrrrrs” into sensical passages.  Get letters to tinkle out, fall into nothing sharp at first, messes of lines like snortable black coke, every edge ruffled and bleeding into the next.  Use them to compose some uneven, sloppy sentences and paragraphs while my eyes pretty much roll back in my head waiting to see if there’s a topic there, any topic there, a sentence, a phrase with energy, a sliver of glass that could cut someone, cut me, something to begin with.  If I sit in one place long enough–an hour, two hours–it’ll arrive.

I see my brain as a bullet shooter, inexhaustible.  Something that keeps language recycling, always good for a new burst.  It just needs the cue, and the cue seems to be that one good phrase or sentence.

Like Hemingway said in answer to what is the hardest thing about writing: Getting the words right.

I get rid of the pre-writing, the casting about, the baloney.  Those couple of hours’ work.  Snap.  Gone.  New writers think they need to recycle these.  I might be able to use this in a poem, they say.  Or writing teachers tell them to.  Thinking that way makes you small and hoarding, in my opinion, where writing needs to be expansive to make itself known.  What I know after many years of doing this is that, barring my incapacity, there are always new words; if I accessed them to write one piece, they’ll be there for the next.  So I toss those bad paragraphs out.

At this point, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next.  Really.  Story, 1500 words, has to be done today.  I’d kinda like to write about weaver birds and the plight of songbirds in the Mediterranean.  So this was the line I kept:  My mama a woolly mammoth, hairy-legged, 100 feet tall and broad as a shack.  What I had there I liked.  I knew my character is a kid and that her mom was scary, so that gave me context.  I could even see that woman’s legs.

So I said, Surprise me, little line.  Take me along, little line.  Tell me where you wanna go. After that, it was like grabbing someone’s hand.  Where to?

More pre-writing and as I went, I tossed, I honed, I worked hard with each sentence and paragraph–is this one pulling its weight here?  Any extra words?  I ask all those questions writing teachers are forever telling you not to ask, all the editorial questions:  am I repeating words other than for affect, what motifs am I running, here, does this make sense, what does it sound like, feel like, look like, taste like around the protagonist?  That editing that’s supposed to come second draft, third draft, fourth, I do it as I go, rewrite sometimes 7 times, sometimes 20 times.  Over and over till it sounds ok and suggests the next thing.  I think that’s how I learn the story.  I think getting the words right drags me forward to where the story is heading.

When I was writing my short story “Smiley” I was thinking, Why the hell is that character collecting bird nests?

I trust my noggin.  I really trust my noggin, so I just try to get out of its way.

And also I was thinking, because that particular story felt so transgressive and dangerous to me, You can’t write that.  Oh, for god’s sake, you really can’t write that.  When I found out what that kid was going to do with that nest he found, I was as shocked as anyone else.

Also, I do a lot of chasing down obscure research questions like What is an owl’s favourite tree to perch in, go.  I could not write my stories without google because the anwers I get to the questions I ask shape where that story goes, change the plot, define what the story will become.

It is chaotic and messy, my head, and in it, not a thing is linear.  It’s looping and tangential and writes itself in curves.  The best writing advice is probably, always, Work with what you’ve got. 

The Adequate Writer: Writing 101

Here are some tips for folks who are getting pieces together to submit (to the antho I’m editing or elsewhere).

1.  Write like a motherfucker.  Full out.  Don’t stop.  A good way to do this is to not allow your pen off the page, or your fingers off the keyboard.

2.  Wait.  Two days, minimum.  A week.

3.  Start editing.

EDITING:

1.  Announce your topic right off the bat.  You don’t need to be shy because the reader is eager to be situated.  You can be blunt:  This story is about a girl whose mother doesn’t love her.  There are 10,000 subtle ways to do this, too, but however you do it, do it.

2.  Get specific.

3.  Use your senses.  What does your narrator (even if that is you) see, smell, taste, hear, feel, touch?  Is there a pebble by his feet?  Are the leaves streaming down off a nearby tree?  Does it smell like cinammon?  If you want readers to be there with you, you need to tell them this stuff.

4.  Look at each paragraph.  Are they tight and organized there at the beginning, or are they flabby?  Lots and lots of people do something called “pre-writing.”  Novelists find the intro to their novels five chapters in and toss out the first four.  Short story writers find them a third of the way in and chop that preamble.  Did you just write a bunch of paragraphs before you really got down to business?  Cut them.  (You won’t die, trust me.)  Cut them mercilessly.

5.  Look at each sentence you’ve written.  How can you make it shorter?  What words are not pulling their weight?  If you drop, say, the first four words, could the sentence be stronger for it?  Or the last four?  Or four in the middle?  Chop your sentences back.  Get used to looking for the good parts in a sentence.  Keep those parts, toss the rest.

The thing is, your brain is an always-running font.  You don’t have to save what you cut, because your brain will generate something new.  Toss liberally.

6.  Use active tenses.  John was jumping.  WRONG.  John jumped.  RIGHT.

7.  Look for academic language (buzzwords like intersectionality, cisgender), clichés and jargon and cut them.  Yes, this means you cannot use the word “authentic.”  Apply this rule:  You cannot use any terms you heard in therapy or university; it’s all flab with little communicative value.  Your job with creative writing is to think of a fresh and unique way to say what you want to say.

8.  I wasn’t kidding.  Really.  Go through sentence by sentence and think up a new way to say what you just said.  This is all about re-inventing the world, folks.

9.  Kill the adverbs.  (We’re assholes, we editors.  We hate adverbs.)  Pretend you are a spy and your job is to rout out adverbs.  Start with your own writing, then do us a favour and get rid of them in the whole world.

10.  Invent some imagery (metaphor/simile).  We use either the same or connected imagery through a piece.  Through a short story.  Through a whole novel, even.  It is one of our super secretive ways to create connections that the reader doesn’t notice.  You need imagery because imagery is an individual author’s interpretation of the world.  Similes.  Metaphors.

11.  Kill the adjectives.  (Yup, we’re really demanding assholes.)

12.  Stick to “he said, they said, she said” to indicate speech.  “Don’t look at me like that,”  young svelte Becky chortled gleefully.  WRONG.  “Don’t look at me like that,” Becky said.  RIGHT.

13.  Strive for clear, clean, icy, sharp.  Could your writing knife somebody?

14.  Can you go home now?  Well, not quite.

The piece as a whole has to make cohesive sense.  The beginning starts somewhere and marches towards an end.  The piece still has to hang together as a logical whole.  There are things called narrative arcs. Here is a simple explanation: Arcs

15.  There.  You probably got rid of 50% of your text, or more.  Pat yourself on the back.  That is supposed to happen.  That means you’re doing it right.

16.  Yay, you.

Somebody’s going to be thinking, “What does she mean?”  They’re going to be thinking that calm and reflective writing, writing that could rub somebody’s back is real writing, too, not just sharp and edgy stuff.  I’m going to agree with you, whole-heartedly, because none of what I was just talking to you about has to do with style.  You will have your own style.  You are allowed to kill your reader with beauty as well as daggers.  Good sentences come in a thousand varieties.  Some are hard and jabby.  Some are long and windy.  Some are one-worded.  Some are mockers.  Some are like old driftwood, full of holes and craziness.  Some are blasé.  Some melt the reader like microwaved butter.  Some are like bullets.   Some are squishy like cream cheese.  Some are sticky like toffee.  Some are popcorn.  Some are so soft they creep by on baby feet.

Whatever use sentences are put to, though, whatever mood you create, you still need to care that each individual sentence is pulling its (considerable) weight.  And that they’re pulling in a piece that makes sense and carries a reader through it.  Readers have a choice of a gazillion cnf pieces, poems, short stories.  Why should they read yours?  Because you did the work.

17.  One more thing.  Rules are made to be broken.

 

Good submission advice

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Image by Jane Eaton Hamilton (after Modigliani) 2103

I always feel like a dom giving submission advice, but anyway, here goes, by Becky Tuch, the founding editor of The Review Review.  Good words to heed, for me as much as you:

How to Submit

The Adequate Writer: On Editing

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I just finished a travel essay, The Blind Warthog, about a trip I took to Namibia.  The essay grew too big for its britches, fast, and broke off into the possiblity of multiple essays, even a book of essays if I include other countries.  I pushed and pulled and snarled and snarked and moaned and groaned, tried this, tried that, and eventually, over days, a 2000 word piece strung itself together because writing is, at its essence, allusive, and the secret to getting the first draft is just staying put and getting any words on the page.  I didn’t ball those up, all those wrong words, and toss them.  I hung tight with them because one wrong word suggested another wrong word eventually suggested another right word in that freeway pile-up way words have if you let them have their heads.

Eventually, that gave me a schematic from which to go forward, a hint of a piece.  A friend offered an ear so that I could identify the flaws while reading aloud, always, for me, a productive process (because the embarrassment of having my mistakes seen by someone else highlights them for me).  A little too much this.  Not enough that.  Stylistic blunders.  Bits that got dropped in but not expanded.  Bits that need to be moved out.

Back to the hopper it went.  Squash this this way.  Squash that that way.  Tinker this, tinker that.  Absorb central metaphors; working?

Leave some time.

Rinse and repeat.

At that end of all that, I had a first final draft of just over 3000 words.  This is the one that’s good enough to submit.  This is the draft that’s like a small goat proinging through a meadow; all joy and exuberance.

But here is where the best person in my world comes in:  My editor.

I’ve had hundreds of these folks, and working with each is different than was the last, but working with each is also, always, deeply satisfying.  All those things that were suggested in your piece but didn’t make it to fruition because you were busy with nuts and bolts?  She will find them.  She will ask you to enhance them.  The things that kinda sorta worked but really didn’t?  She will ask you to turf them.

DO WHATEVER SHE ASKS is my rather-strongly-held opinion.  If you don’t trust her, keep a copy of your piece as it stood before the changes.  But make the changes she suggests with an open heart.  And here’s why:  Your editor is engaging your work with fresh eyes in a way that you have not and can not, and because of her suggestions, so will you.  It will open your work up.  You will learn things.  Your piece will very likely get much better.

You can see it as criticism.  You can see it as plundering.   You can see it as mean.

But trust me when I say if you participate, your work will come alive (and if it doesn’t, you still have that original to fall back on).  Understand that you and your editor share a goal:  to make the piece the best it can be.

Here’s how I see it:

An expert’s got her fingertips on my work–for free.  If she doesn’t pull her punches–please, editors, give me a hard edit–luckier still, the luckiest author alive.

I can’t wait.

Writing Advice: First Read-Throughs

Make your first read an out loud read to yourself.  You’ll hear things you won’t in a silent go-through.

But what comes next?

Read to someone else.

The first time a new writer shares a piece, whether she’s handed over pages or a link or read her work aloud, her ears flare red and her heart thumps.  Every mistake (mistakes she was probably unaware of just seconds earlier)–a laboured image, an accidentally repeated word–feels as painful as a twisted arm.  Now her friend/lover/editor/agent knows what she suspected all along–she is bad, so bad that she should get aversion therapy, shocks every time she tries to slip envelopes into a post box or tries to hit “send” on Submittable.

What once was finished has grown fangs, turned and bitten her.

I used to drive my ex around the twist.  “What do you want from me?” she’d plead when I finished reading a new piece, and I was puzzled, too; what did I want?  Something, urgently, but what?  It was only over time that I discovered that I didn’t really need her reaction.  What I needed was just to hear myself reading the piece with someone else’s attuned (long-suffering) ear in the room, because this second set of ears became, by its alchemy of distancing, critiquing ears for me.  Then I could go back and rework.

And rework.  And rework.

Before critiquing and edits.

 

Dinner

JEHsketch

Jane Eaton Hamilton, sketch, 2014

Cooking in Montreal, eggplant à la Kathleen Winter, and not very successfully: something she did with mustard?  But the dish, cooking, looks like whale skin over blubber, so contemplations in her new book “Boundless,” about her sojourn through the Northwest Passage, come to mind, floating on my mental northern sea beside her watercolours (and the Franklin ship, just located). I want to read it.

As I write, neighbours on every side of me here near rue de Charlevoix are fighting.  Above, on both sides, and below, and then at distant spots as well.

I’ve just finished reading “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews, which I admired and towards the end, loved.

Artistically, it has been a significant month in Montreal.  I have been too ill most of the time to venture out very far, so of the city, I’ve seen nothing, and I’ve regretted in particular not finding guinea pigs on whom to practice my French.  Yet as far as authorial productivity goes, I honestly couldn’t be more pleased if gourmet meals had fallen out of my fingertips.  I don’t even know how it happened, since when I’m running along at full tilt (something I haven’t been able to do in more than a decade), I can only complete a story every month, but these last weeks I’ve written two essays and seven short fictions.

Several of the stories are CBC-contest length, so just 1500 words, but others are on the short-end of full length.  The essays were about traveling alone and my father’s suicide.  In the stories, my protagonists have ranged from a teenager involved in rural Connecticut in the 1920’s ivory trade, to a refugee teen in northern Thailand itching to get papers so she can emigrate,  to poorly-married lesbians on vacation in Tanzania,  to a woman whose mother, owner of a Quebec doll hospital, has just died, to a funambulist in love with a storm chaser in Missouri, to a broken-hearted woman at a Quebec cottage for a weekend, to parents of a two-year-old girl thought to have drowned.  Only one of these isn’t finished (though “finished” in a writer’s hands means something quite different than in, say, an accountant’s hands).  As well, today I will round the corner on 19,000 edited words of my silly romance novel, as well.  It doesn’t escape my notice that having to edit this book has provoked the stories–a sort of retaliatory pleasure since in short fiction I can leap and somersault and trampoline through language in a way that just isn’t possible for me in novels.

I am in head over heels in love with short fiction.  Always.  All ways.

I’ve taught myself now to work completely on the computer.  Since my first computer, in the 80s, I’ve printed drafts, edited long-hand, then laboriously input changes, but the last few years I’ve been able to managed editing on-screen.  Thus the entire process has become a pleasure.  I would not really even be able anymore to delineate drafts because they are always morphing here, morphing there.  And anyway, I write over them.   

I’ve thought numerous times that I could not write stories–recent stories–without the web.  Pre-web, the research simply wasn’t available fast enough. For the story about the Thai refugee, I needed to know things like which was the stickiest cut fruit and what was the local name for meth.  For the story about the storm chaser, I had to research tornados and circus aerialists.  For the story from the 1920s, I needed historical data as well as information about the ivory trade. 

And for me the process is akin to writing in a storm, or maybe in the eye of a storm since I am always completely calm, and I don’t know where the tornado is moving, sentence to sentence, I’m just chasing it.  I don’t plan a story.  I don’t have a clue about it before I sit down and write a line, which I trust to lead to another line, and that one, another.  Eventually there will appear a line that has energy which I can work from, and the pre-writing will go, and the story begin.

I need so many esoteric facts I couldn’t foresee.  In paragraph one, I don’t know what I’ll need in paragraph two, and without the successful research for paragraph two, paragraph three wouldn’t even be suggested.   The story quickly changes direction in surprising ways, so if I couldn’t get to the information instantly, the stories would collapse like a house of cards. One research solution directs the story to another research necessity–the details become the fulcrum around which the characters spin.

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