Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: editing

What Being an Editor Taught Anna Pitoniak About Writing

Anna Pitoniak on the Inside Tricks of the Trade

writing-3

“I’m an editor at Random House, but for the last several years I’ve been writing around the edges of my day job: mornings, nights, weekends, wherever I can grab the free time. I began my first novel (which is publishing today) while I was working as an editor, and I credit my job with giving me the courage, and the tools, to tackle writing a book. The truth is that spending one’s life reading good writing—not just reading it, but thinking about what makes it so good—is the best way to teach one’s self how to do it. For some people, this might mean enrolling in an MFA program. For me, I was lucky enough to learn by observing the other editors around me, and working on manuscripts as they went from rough drafts to finished books. It was the best writing education I could have received.”

LitHub

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.26.35 PM

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.

21 Poem Hacks

Brilliant, succint poem editing, discussed here:

Poem Hacks

The Consecution of Gordon Lish

IMG_3538

early sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton

Here’s what I think, FB. You need no other short fiction or novel counsel other than that delivered in the collected wisdom of Douglas Glover and (sorry, Tess) the did-he-go-too-far Gordon Lish. As ably presented here by Jason Lucarelli.  Do I think Lish went too far, in particular with Carver’s work?  Yes, without question, as is easily apparent by comparing, as Tess Gallagher asks us, “A Small Good Thing” in its two forms.  But does that obviate the benefit of the work he did? Certainly it does not.

The Consecution of Gordon Lish

Here’s a new interview (Dec 2015)  from the Guardian by Christian Lorentzen with Lish:

Gordon Lish: ‘Had I not revised Carver, would he be paid the attention given him? Baloney!’

%d bloggers like this: