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On Moving the Tuna



You wouldn’t have thought it would be so hard. The moderator of our writing group suggested, with that air of modest assurance that so becomes him, that I should separate Scene A (in which a ferret scatters tuna fish all over a carpet, with disproportionate results) from Scene B (in which the ferret compounds its alimentary offense with the eliminatory consequence and precipitates a crisis.) He was right: together, the scenes were almost repetitious; separated, they helped create a steadily mounting tension.  Scene A needed to move back in time.

It turned out to be a game of jackstraws. I re-dated the tuna scene. How to fill the now gaping void between it and Scene B? As luck would have it, I had a brief new scene already planned that was going to simplify the presentation of later events. It went into the breach. Out came a lot of now misplaced material, before and after. That demanded more of the new scene, to patch up the ragged bits. It became half a chapter. That suggested another move, to slim down a later scene, newly overloaded.

We’re talking three months, here, people! Three months of jury-rigging and jerry-building and tearing down and putting up again from scratch. I think the most painful part was having to re-insert huge chunks of the original text, when repeated efforts proved that they really had to go  somewhere. And of course, no person of sensibility can partially edit a text. Time spiraled down the plughole as I inserted commas and corrected diction.

By the time the tuna had settled down, I had been forced to outline that whole section of the book. To my amazement, three of the four subplots were now perfectly in order. (The last one looked like a dog’s lunch, but three out of four ain’t bad.) If I’d done that outline in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to move the tuna at all.

Then came enlightenment.  I have always been a devout pantser (i.e., I write by the seat of my pants.) The Exuberant Brethren of the Holy Pants believe that inspiration dies at the sight of an outline. Buddha3Only by letting the words flow directly from the Muse through the fingers to the keyboard can creation take place. Do not pass brain, do not collect $200. You can clean up any slight problems later. The Severe Order of the Sanctified Plot make up the whole plot in advance. They write it down. They make diagrams. They balance things. Then, scene by scene, they write the first, and practically final, draft. Or so they say. They clean up any slight problems later.

I won’t say I’m ready to join the Sacred Order. Instead, I’m going to copper my theological bets. Four of us Thursday Night Writers have reserved a virtual cabin at Camp NaNoWriMo, an online writing sprint in which we each promise to complete a “writing project” of our choice in the month of July. I’m going to outline a whole second adventure for my amateur sleuth, just to prove I can do it. Who knows? If I ever manage to sell this turkey, I may need a sequel.

Be ready to duck

We’ve been back in New Hampshire for a little over a week now. Last night was my first writing group meeting since December. And I actually jumped right back into the fray and submitted a revision of my “Jamie” story.

I suppose I could be accused of creating the fray when, following all of the insightful comments from my fellow writers, I took my copy of my story and tossed it into the air. Some might say I flung it across the room but no one can claim that it hit them. So much for saving my ranting and raving for the drive home…..

My husband was appalled when I told him what I had done. He feels that now no one will be honest with their comments in the future, fearful that they will provoke a similar reaction. Not my writing group. Not after five years of sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. (That’s my writing–everyone else’s is good to outstanding in my mind.)

I am hopeful that they are still happy to have me back after my winter away……I certainly am thankful to be back with my “muses”!

This morning I reviewed the written comments from two of the members of my group. It’s always eye-opening to see my writing through their eyes. Areas that are clear to me they find confusing. Why? It’s clear in my mind what I am trying to convey–but not so much on paper it appears. How would I ever identify those deficiencies without their assistance?  Once I’ve written multiple drafts of a story, it becomes harder and harder to recognize problem areas on my own. Reading it out loud helps–but after correcting any issues that jump out at that point, my writing always sounds pretty darn good. To me.

So thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your patience and support. And I suppose next time I submit you’ll be ready to duck.

Desire Isn’t Enough

Arizona hummingbird--my muse?

Arizona hummingbird-my muse?

I’ve moved from the bed of the dim, cozy casita to the patio adorned with blue sky and sunshine. Little birds chatter in the palo verde trees. The water fountain bubbling in the background competes with the wind chimes in the tree. Helicopters and Canada geese fly overhead while the thrum of a hummingbird draws my attention to the feeder. A ruby glitter signals this is a male. My muse, perhaps?

I have decided to read outside rather than write inside—the comfort of the bed was about to lure me to sleep at eleven in the morning. Or was it the pressure to write that caused my eyes to glaze over, my lids to droop? Yet here I am, outside, surprised to find pen and paper, rather than my Kindle, in hand. How is it that the distractions of a glorious winter morning in Arizona are allowing me to focus on my writing when I was convinced that I needed quiet and seclusion, and especially darkness, to get words, action, characters, plot, onto paper?

Excuses. I have plenty of them. The environment isn’t conducive to writing (see above), I have too many other things to do (aren’t I retired?), I don’t have the energy (it’s the medicine), my Words with Friends and Trivia Crack opponents are waiting for my next move (life or death situation to some).….you get the drift.

I can’t write on demand–the forces of the universe must be perfectly aligned before I can put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard,

I'm a winner!

I’m a winner!

with words leading to paragraphs to chapters to a book. A completed book. Yet I have won NaNoWriMo two times—a “complete” novel, 50,000 words written in the month of November! How do I reconcile this?

NaNoWriMo frees me. No inner critic sits on my shoulder or on the page. No time for self-doubt, perfection, or the fear of failure that normally trigger my procrastination. No concern over what my writing group will think. And then there’s that deadline. All I need for the other eleven months of the year is to find a way to replicate NaNoWriMo, to accept that my first draft will be a shitty first draft, and my creative juices will flow. Miraculously, I will become a published author. Though I have heard that it also takes hard work, writing every day, perseverance. Oh, and I can’t forget a dash of talent. Desire isn’t enough. And desire is all that I seem to be able to muster.

A few nights ago I was up until one in the morning reading a novel, anxious, as usual, to find out how it would end. Although it was my own 2014 NaNoWriMo submission, I had already forgotten. Now I remember how as midnight on November 30 approached those last few sentences seemingly leapt from the keyboard onto the page, surprising even me. Funny how that happens.



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