29 September 2011

Surprises in Editing

When I'm writing, I always listen to music. Sometimes I'll put the iPod (or iPhone) on shuffle and just see where the music takes me. Other times I'll make a choice and listen to one particular artist (to be honest, Josh Ritter and Iron & Wine get the most play time). The music helps keep things flowing, it gives my brain something to hold onto in the background to block out all those other things, other possible distractions. This need began in college and to this time I have a hard time listening to Mazzy Star or Portishead without thinking about writing major papers my senior year. I'm completely serious.

Sometimes the music will help draw me into an emotional place that suits the writing and other times it will draw me out of an emotional place that contradicts the work.

But either way, I find it incredibly difficult to write without music.

I thought the same would be true when it came to serious editing. I was wrong.

I sat down at the end of last week to begin editing in earnest the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. I had a great deal of work to do on it after November and I hadn't fleshed out the entire story arc until July (I had written out where the Point A to Point B, I just needed to expand). For August and most of September I have let it sit. I haven't read it, I haven't written more, I haven't touched it.

But lately, the characters have been hanging out more (not unlike Matthew Norman describes "the men upstairs" in his quite wonderful novel Domestic Violets). I've run into them while walking about town, they've wandered into my dreams, filled my thoughts, invaded my little world. I knew it was time to get back to work.

I sat down in my office this time instead of the library where I'll normally do my writing at home. I opened up my fancypants new writing software to utilize some of the character/places/research options, a highlighter, a pen, some liquid paper, and the printed copy of the 200+ manuscript I had labored over for so long. (It's always been an easier experience for me to edit pen to paper, especially on a first draft edit.)

Sitting down at my desk, the first thing I did was open up iTunes and began a shuffling playlist. Three paragraphs in, I had to turn it off. I couldn't concentrate. I required absolute silence.

Editing is a completely different beast, at least for me, than writing. I know that, but somehow I needed to be reminded. After 20 some pages, I started to see new things about my writing, things I've never noticed before. Apparently I have a tendency (especially in dialogue) to being with the word "so." Who knew?

I've gotten through the first 50 pages by now and it's shown me a great deal. I'm using this as an opportunity to clean up the text, really flesh out the character notes, identify any inconsistencies, look for any themes I didn't know were in there as I plowed through the first 50,000+ words in November.

One of my favorite things about editing? The time disappears in a different way than it does when you're writing. Hours vanished in the space it took to get through only a few pages.

Another really awesome thing were those times where I would write down something I wanted to see next (a line of dialogue, an observation) and then, when I actually got to the next line, I would discover the previous me had already put those exact same words down. That was incredibly cool.

My goal is to get through a major edit by the end of October and then take November to write something completely new.

It's going to be an exciting fall!

25 September 2011

Falling for Iron & Wine & Coffee & Cream & Will Grayson

I awoke today in the transition between dusk and dawn and could hear the wind rattling everything that would rattle. It was Fall knocking on Summer's door saying, "Sorry, I got caught up with an old friend and lost track of time, but I'm here now."

I fell asleep in the heat of a summer eve and woke to the cool, wet, windy emergence of fall.

I adore fall. It's my favorite of all the seasons (but I suspect I say that to all of them...) I love watching the trees catch fire. I love the crunchy sounds discarded leaves make beneath my feet as I stomp through city parks. I love the smells, the tastes.

This morning, after making a French Press Pot of Glorious Coffee, I have settled into my library with a Pandora station centered on the music of Iron & Wine. It's been a good time to reflect on the craziness of this whirlwind of a week that finally finished. It's been a good time to catch my breath, to practice my breathing.

Wednesday I went in to get a massage before work and the therapist noticed that I was not breathing into my chest, only my abdomen, so he did some work to open up and loosen my chest and showed me how to breathe again. At the end of the session I was light-headed from the increased oxygen. I've learned that when I have an increase in stress, I often forget to breathe and breathing, as we know,  is ever so important.

Thursday I met up with my husband and College Brother to grab some dinner and hang out. We ended up at Signal Station Pizza and enjoyed a lovely meal sitting outside. Afterwards we ended up going for a walk through St. John's. When we got to the bookstore I couldn't resist the allure and so we wandered in.

Despite spending too many hours in a bookstore already this week, it was too difficult not to want to peak in. It's always fun to see the same books you know and love in a different setting. It's almost like meeting up with a good friend when you weren't exactly expecting it. They look the same...and yet different. I wandered the aisles, looking at old flames and catching the eye of a few attractive new faces.

I wandered into the Young Adult section (which my brother pointed out contained the Captain Underpants series...) and was surprised to see the only John Green book they had was the one he wrote with David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I really did enjoy that book, but of all the John Green books available (like Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns) I was just surprised. I picked one up and noticed a flash of gold on the cover and discovered it was a "signed copy." "Well," I thought to myself, "Surely it's not signed by BOTH of them." I opened to the title page and found that indeed it WAS signed by both. "Well," I said, "Surely it's not a first edition." But it was and so I was left with no choice but to buy a book I already owned in digital form.

My husband just smiled and explained to my brother that this would be a "top shelf book." The top shelves of one of the bookcases in the library are reserved for the very rare books, including my increasing collection of signed editions.

Now the wind is picking up outside and I'm watching the red leaves shadow the sky on their way to the ground and I feel grateful to have this day and the next to read, write, listen to music, breathe. Good morning.

20 September 2011

Books, Books, Books...

It's another week, with another fantastic new book to read. This time it's Habibi by Craig Thompson. Blankets was the very first graphic novel I ever read and with it, my standards were set very high. I truly adore that book and it makes me cry every single time I read it. It's a brilliant story of first love and growing up. I could write pages upon pages about how wonderful I think this book is and while I've enjoyed his other works as well, they just haven't hit me in the gut the same way.

It's killing me though, seeing this book sitting on the table beside me and not being read.

The problem is, I'm about a third of the way through the debut novel by Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus, which has thus far lived up to all the buzz. I'm definitely engaged and since it's a borrowed book from work I really do need to finish it before I start another.

And then next Tuesday is another new release by another of my favorites...more to come on that one, I'm sure.

What a problem to be plagued by new works by brilliant and creative minds!

I think it's best I get back to this cup of coffee and my book so that when my husband has been roused from his peaceful slumber, the two of us might adventure out into this warm and sunny late summer/early fall day.

Be well, my literate friends. Enjoy a good book and take a deep breath.

17 September 2011

Elliot Smith, David Levithan, and Rainy Afternoons

As I've stated to a few people already, this past week kicked my ass and left a bruise. I honestly think it was with the best of intentions (tough love?), but I wasn't exactly ready to hit the ground running so fast after my week of vacation traveling. The momentum nearly propelled me head over heels.

This Saturday afternoon/evening left me with not quite enough time to attend a fantastic 4 year old's birthday party (Yoda birthday cake!), but just enough time to relax at home before my later evening festivities.

After picking up the plums that dropped in the backyard this afternoon (dog plum farts=The Worst!), I checked the mail and was delighted to find the book I had ordered had arrived. There is nothing quite the same kind of wonderful as possessing a new book you have been truly looking forward to.

It's no secret that I have both a reader's and a writer's crush on David Levithan. His newest contribution is titled Every You, Every Me and is a story told through words and through photos. It's a collaboration with a photographer friend, Jonathan Farmer. I decided the only proper thing to do, once the box was opened, was to sit down in the library with a cup of tea, some Elliot Smith in the background, and begin reading.

The perfect way to spend a cold and rainy Oregon evening.

As I suspected I would, I am rapidly falling in love with this book. In my first go I've already read a quarter of the book. It is different than any of his other projects, but then, that seems to be true for nearly everything he does.

I am inspired, engaged, and much more relaxed than I was an hour ago. Please excuse me now, I have a few more pages to sneak in before I leave again...

"You know one me. Just like I know one you. But you can't know every me. And I can't know every you." 

14 September 2011

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Mellby Hall, St. Olaf College
I've been a writer for as long as I can remember. I made up stories for all of my childhood and in the 4th grade I started to write some down. In 5th grade I "published" an entire series featuring the same characters for a school project. I have no idea what ended up happening to them, but I probably created about 12 of these books, bound with cardboard and wallpaper scraps. I think the teacher only required one for the assignment.

The most intense period of my writing life began (not particularly surprisingly) in college. I knew, from Day 1, that I wanted to be an English Major and I knew that I wanted to take as many writing classes as I possibly could. And I did. Both my junior and senior year I had to create independent study classes in order to fit even more in. It was a wonderful time, to be sure, but there is a part of me that really wishes I could go back and start again with the experience I've gained in the 13 years since graduation. Time has given me a lot more to write about and experience has taught me how to do it even better, fingers crossed. And what I wouldn't give to be surrounded by such a wonderful writing community again with classmates down the hall, professors in the cafe, random and inspiring conversations on the sidewalk.

Earlier this week I went back to visit St. Olaf. I walked halls of the English Department, saw an old professor or two, and was flooded with the memories of days long passed. It got me thinking about a few ideas that had been rattling 'round in my head in a new way, ideas about future writing projects and I'm left wanting to sort through boxes of old journals, letters, and memories, see how they've settled over the years. Maybe I'll find a short story or two that would be worth dusting off.

You know, there are only 47 more days until the next NaNoWriMo...