Sunday, October 31, 2010

What were you supposed to be

Seems appropriate for this to be a Halloween post. Or is it? I realized last night at a party (if you knew me, you'd be shocked) how little I knew about the event. I know it comes from Hallow's Eve, and it happens at night, so I guess the real time to have done this would've been last night, among all the ghouls and goblins and such. Or maybe it's like Christmas and there's an eve, then an actual day. I digress.

It turns out the blood wasn't real. I opened the file from the editor and actually guffawed at all the red and spiraled back to a time when I was small and when sitting in a desk my feet didn't touch the floor (again, if you knew me, you'd be shocked). But then, I took a closer look, allowed to me by a healthy amount of rejection and criticism over the years, and realized a few things. 1) Microsoft Word track changes randomly picked red; when I made my own changes later they were in blue, and when I re-opened the file the editor's changes were in blue and mine were magenta. 2) A majority of the feedback was positive, and all of it was constructive. I learned a lot about the things I do in longer writings that are not so helpful. Moving modifiers and clauses around ended up creating easier understanding for some of my sentences, and all it took was different, trained eyes thoroughly inspecting my many pages. And finally 3) the editor thought it was good. Some of the comments had nothing to do with grammar or pacing or sense, they were simply compliments.

I had ten days to read through it, make my own changes and send it back. I did it in two, spending so many hours on the first day trying to get ahead so I could slack off this weekend that I found myself in a completely different place. I was hungry for the kind of feedback I was getting, the kind that I wasn't getting and shouldn't have expected from my friends, perhaps even the writing group. I realized that there just might be a difference between writers who edit and editors who write. The editor informed me that she would be going over my changes this weekend and if everything worked out, would be sending it on to the copy editor who would be in charge of the next step of the process, and that whatever the case, she would be informing me of what was going on and what to expect. Now I understand what some of the major differences between self-publishing are and going with a publisher, even a smaller one.

And I never had to step a foot into a court room. My lawyer, provided to me by the insurance company, put on her most frightening mask and scared the plaintiff's lawyer into convincing his clients to take the settlement. I was extremely happy, first because I wouldn't have to testify (my lawyer shared with me the fact that I tend to give too much information when speaking) and second because my attorney was for me and not against me. Over this  whole past several weeks, she is probably the scariest thing I came across, and she was smiling and laughing whenever we interacted.

Otherwise, the year creeps on. I fear that at least one of my resolutions is going to fall unaccomplished. I think I've also decided to take the GRE, and see what the test thinks of my chances in graduate school. A new job would be in order, otherwise. Or maybe regardless. I changed my status on facebook to "Perhaps next year maybe I will probably have a costume." I'm thinking I'll go as the future. Scary, right? I know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aspersions as hallow's eve shadows

Timeliness is one of those things they teach us in school, but not really. There are penalties for being late after a certain age, and maybe someone will sit us down and explain in brief the importance of being on time. But there's no homework or essays or discussions about it. They just tell us, and some of us listen. In college, all of us at least once skip out on a professor who wasn't on time themselves. I got the edits of the novel back later than when I was initially told, but the editor was gracious about being late, and I reciprocated, because I've been late on at least a hundred occasions so far in my life. I got them today, and they came with a stipulation to have my feedback back to her in ten days (contractual stipulation).

It's been some time between passing this work along (ie, reading it over that last time) and now, so I can't be completely sure how long it would take to read through it, much less fine-tooth the thing with all sorts of dangling bits of someone else's commentary sticking out of various places. But I do know that this should be a very busy next ten days (having got the email in the morning while at the library doing research, I also did not drive home and begin working, but stayed out, had lunch at a bar, even stopped for a milkshake during a leisurely drive home). I can't really be sure what's come over me. Perhaps it's (over)confidence or some other strange malaise. I did give up on making plans for the weekend, but I don't exactly know what Microsoft track changes is (this was even mentioned earlier and I didn't take the initiative to figure out what it was and how it worked before I'd need to use it).

I guess this is one of those "do as we say..." moments. The dust may clear in just over a week with this phase of the process having been a breeze. I'm not ruling that out (I might even be banking on it). But for once I have a legitimate reason for my random hiatuses. For the next week at least, I will (should) be legitimately busy. Hurray?

And in no way could all of this be a way to mask the simple dread of reading the serious edits of something I've written, of finally getting to know what an editor of the profession thinks about the things that I do when I put ink to paper.

I'm not scared at all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rich today, but with metaphor

A few weeks ago, I made a mistake that cost me. It was maybe the first great piece of advice I ever received about writing: get it all down before you realize it stinks. My mentor, as you might imagine, is a bit of a cynic. And while I always believed him, I found out that he was right. I had a story that I was pretty excited about going. I might have mentioned also that it was not without its problems. But I was working. And then I stopped, because I realized it stunk. It's the first time in a long time that that's happened, and something of mine imploded, sort of like one of those whimpering cakes that fail to rise, or more appropriately, rise and then sort of flatten, dejected. It was a cornerstone of my very early years in story telling that I'd spin off yarns that were not endless so much as leading to a frayed edge that bespoke of the greater tapestry being woefully incomplete.

However, last week I went out with a friend from the writer's group to a Borders of all places, committed to do some writing. I did not try to revivify the corpse of the story that I just mentioned, though. I took a step forward and worked on something else. It was an interesting experience, typing away at a laptop with my ear plugs in, doing my best impression of a quiet, unknown artist "in the zone." And it's true, there were points where I forgot about how uncomfortable the chair was, or the conversation of the people the next table over, the smell of the coffee, the distracting movements of passers-by. I was there with my friend for some hours, and there were long spans where I was just tunneling through the white space of the page with only my fingers. It was interesting, though I did come away a bit exhausted. Typically, I write in my room with the lights off, the door closed, and no sound about me save for my computer's preternaturally loud cooling fans. I peck-peck-peck away and emerge some hours later with no one the wiser as to what I was doing, not unlike a prisoner mining in secret, one teaspoon of freedom at a time. So I guess you could call writing among someone else's writing a change of pace.

Although I cannot say that I'll make it a regular thing, it was a nice experience. In the past, I've actually forced myself to type in situations where I normally wouldn't, sort of as a test, almost just to prove that I could do it. This experience was less painful, and probably more rewarding. I got 4500 words drafted and the story is complete enough for me to begin chipping away at it, or layering where needed. I hope to use a new schedule to make regular advances in my short story writing, and the beginnings of the novel which I swore (secretly) to myself that I'd have have submitted by Thanksgiving (that, too, is a lie. While I didn't have an exact date, I was a bit surprised that I hadn't done any writing at all, and it being mid October). It was a bit surreal when I re-re-realized that the only progress that would be made on my writing would be affected by the progress I created with my own hands.

As a bit of a sidebar, I peeked into the chatter that is constantly flitting to and fro on the groups I belong to at those publishers. Some writer posted some sort of a monologue about her tenacity, citing some large, double-digit amount of books she has writing, waiting to be published, and shaking her fist at all the agents that passed up on the potential millions her work would yield. I was given pause, because of course I'm at a bit of a crossroads myself, making palpable forward progress very slowly and not steadily at all. I'm very confident, but that ambition was shaken considerably when I thought about being someone who had become that embittered. It was a bit like watching an old buck die in the forest, but not from predators or hunters, but age, like he had been running around lost his whole life and finally, time became too heavy a rider. I do feel a bit of pride, and joy, that I'm able to commit to taking steps forward despite that possible, and horrible, future. But it's a very quiet, very small elation.