Sometimes, when looking at the “New Books” section of the library, I get a little depressed. Not because everything is so terrible — quite the opposite. There are so many new books coming out, all the time, that I want to read. What gets me down is the realization I get, that, with a backlog list a hundred miles long, I will never be able to read everything I want.
With so many things I want to read, and a list that grows faster than I can burn through books, there’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. Giving up. Sometimes you start a book, you think you’re going to like it, but then, halfway through, or partway, or after the first paragraph, you realize, this thing is not for you. I feel weird, leaving things unfinished, so usually, unless I really hate the book, or I’m only a page or so in, I’ll slog through to the end, so say I completed the journey. But how much reading time does that take away from books that I could really love, or books that I’ve been meaning to read for years? What’s the point in spending all that time — and it is so much time — reading a book if you don’t love every moment of it, if in the end you regret your choice?
So I’m learning to give up on books. I might hate them, or I might just be unimpressed, if I’m not excited to drop on the couch and crack that spine, I don’t see why I should waste another moment.
Obvious exceptions: Books I’m reviewing, books I need to discuss with friends/coworkers, I’m stuck on a plane and I only brought one book somehow.
What do you do if you don’t like a book (you’re not required to read)? Do you soldier on? Or toss it aside? Do you have any exceptions?
I’ve gone back to my recently rehashed old manuscript again, after setting it aside for a few weeks to give me a break. One thing I’ve noticed: It’s really not that terrible anymore, which is nice. Another thing: There’s still a lot to cut.
On that last go through, I didn’t quite reach my goal of cutting 10,000 words (essentially a quarter of the book) and got to the end with ~8,000 words sliced out (it sounds like a lot, and it kind of is, but it wasn’t as hard as you’d think since most of those words were so, so bad). It was a big goal, but I was a little disappointed with my failure. But, luckily, now that I’m going back again, I’ve found sentences and phrases and single, weirdly placed words to ditch, and I managed to cut out ~200 words in the first three chapters. This leaves me hopeful that there are another 1,800 overripe sentences or misguided word placements I can extract.
Lesson learned here: you can always cut more.
In interesting (and flattering) news on my ramblings on the process of this whole thing, an earlier post on all the massive mistakes I noticed was picked up by Kath Temean and reposted on her blog, Writing & Illustrating. If you want to see it again, please go here, where you’ll also see a comparison of my old and new opening pages.
I recently finished reading Amy Falls Down, a novel about a writer that I really enjoyed. Now, for obvious reasons, I enjoy reading books with a writer as the main character; whether or not the character is a representation of the author it’s fun for me to get an insight into other writer’s brains. But do other people even care?
In the story I’m working on the main character’s magic comes from her ability to parse words and craft stories, so this is coming from someone who does it herself. For people who like to read, but are not writers, is it actually interesting to read about a writer’s life? I’d like to think it could be, in the same way I’m interested in stories about detectives and athletes and factory workers. These are lives that are so different from my own, and I love to see how they are lived and how they can relate back to my own. But, there does seem to be an inordinate numbers of writers in fiction (I just finished Flora and Ulysses, and the mother is a writer). Am I just noticing it because I’m a writer, too? Is it excessive, or self-indulgent, for writers to place more of their kind within fiction? Do Readers (with a capital “r”) enjoy it — do people who only read occasionally enjoy it — or is it annoying?
I don’t know why I’m thinking about it so much, but I’m interested in what other people have to say about it.
Because of a list of great books about introverts I found (forgot to bookmark it, can’t find it, darn) I took Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett out of the library recently. Amy Gallup is a 60-something writer living in California. She hasn’t written anything for 30 years, since her husband (her gay best friend) died, though she does teach a writing group. When the book opens, Amy has an interview coming up, but before that can happen she falls and gets a nasty whap on the head, resulting in a concussion and temporary memory loss. During one of those periods she gives the interview, and has no idea what she said, and later discovers that not only did she sound crazy, she managed to make herself popular again. Soon she’s going on the radio, making lecture tours, and, best of all, writing stories again.
While I sometimes wonder about writers writing about writers (next post) I really enjoyed this story. I just loved Amy, who was pretty curmudgeonly and no-nonsense, but in a wonderful kind of way. Her whole life attitude, where she sets herself up for failure, is something that I worry about with myself to a lesser extent, so I sympathized with Amy the whole way through. And Willett’s side characters, of which there are many, are pretty complicated, too, even the full-of-herself popular writer Jenny Marzen has buoyant attitude and a thick skin in the face of Amy’s super dry humor and even accidental insults.
There are two portions of the book I want to focus on here. First, at the end of the first chapter, when Amy falls down as she carries a potted pine tree:
All was not lost at this point, they said, but a fall was possible, and Amy, over-thinking as usual, realizing that in such a fall the pine might suffer irreparably, focused on cradling it in such a way that it would not suffer, as though she were sixteen years old and lithe and presented with a smorgasbord of landing-position selections, none of which would injure her in the slightest, whereas what she should have done was jettison the damn plant and save herself, but no, and then she had actually lost balance and was pitching forward, her legs and feet heroically striving to speed, and, seeing that all was lost, she began to twist around in order to land on her back, and then her bare left heel slammed down on a sprinkler head and she heard her ankle crunch, but felt nothing because within the time it would have taken for the pain message to arrive in her brain, she had knocked herself out on the birdbath.
The first thing you might notice is that this is all one single sentence. While I don’t believe Willet employs this technique anywhere else in the book, it works wonderfully at showing the fast, jumbled thoughts barreling through Amy’s head in the one or two seconds it actually takes to fall and knock yourself out. It just carries you along like a cart on a track, until you crash into the end along with Amy. Plus, it’s funny, much like the next bit I want to look at.
Willett has a lot of meaningful moments for Amy through the book, and some beautiful writing, but she manages to stave off seriousness with Amy’s bluntness, and Willett’s own sudden bursts of humor. In this bit, Amy has just given a speech at a conference, and the crowd is applauding right before the moderator goes to the audience — and the Internet — for questions for Amy and the other authors:
“They love you,” said Jenny Marzen.
“No,” said Amy, “they just love that I shut up and sat down.” Already she was picturing that silver morning train, the Chicago Limited, that wonderful three-day lie-down as her bed clicked and swayed past cities and farmland and through scrub and desert and mountain all the way back home to her dog and her house and her own life. She was done.
“And now,” said Tom Maudine, “let the tweets begin!”
“Goddamn it all to hell,” said Davy Goonan.
And then the chapter ends. I laughed out loud.
I open my freshly checked out library book and prop it flat on the table. A few pages in, a chocolate stain appears, like a light thumbprint smeared across the words. Disgusting, I should think, annoying that someone should be so careless.
But I’m too absorbed in the words. Absently I eat my brownie, flicking crumbs off the stain and away from the crease of binding and paper, giving the book a light cleansing shake before returning to the story, and my snack. I think I’ll like this book.
Let’s quit dwelling and whining for a moment and look at what’s going right.
Thanks to a new anime season, I’ve been getting a lot of episode reviews done lately. Even though I told myself I wouldn’t do it, I put my name down for two series, Wake Up, Girls! and Silver Spoon Season 2 (click the links for my most recent review). While Silver Spoon was a given since I reviewed the entire last season, Wake Up, Girls! caught my interest, and even though it’s not as good as the other show it’s been fun to analyze it each week.
I’ve also been getting some manga reviews done, though not as much. My most recent one is Pink by Kyoko Okazaki. This was an odd story, and I had a difficult time with the review. But, I think this might be the best one I’ve written recently, partly because I’ve been trying very hard to practice the art of Not Spoiling Anything when I write up reviews. I think I succeeded?
For writing-writing, I finished rehashing an old manuscript, and I’m letting it ferment for a little while before printing it out and doing some heavy edits (I’m also out of printer ink, so I gotta wait to get more of that, too). Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a few short stories, which range in doneness from fine tuning to a typo-ridden mess. One, a fantasy-ish story, I’ve sent out a couple times, and though it’s been rejected, I got a very encouraging personal rejection from a big fantasy magazine, which made me more happy than disappointed.
Also, my mad querying dash of the other day may have paid off. We’ll find out…
Today I had one of my crisis moments where the same paralyzing thought echoed through my head: What am I accomplishing, exactly?
Every project that I’m working on right now is at a point where I need to edit, and while that can make it easier — I just have to fix, I don’t have to create from nothing. But that’s also the problem. I don’t feel like I’m creating. And when I’m not creating, I have too much time to pause and wonder, why can’t I get things out there? Why can’t I look up more magazines, more agents, send out more letters and submissions? Why can’t I get noticed when I do do those things?
When I feel this way, it’s actually harder to get anything done. I feel it all the way out to the tips of my fingers, slowing me down. I forced my way through it. I completed a round of edits on a short story and an essay, and I sent out three (3!) query letters. A decent day. But the thought kept eating at me, devouring me from the inside: What am I doing?
I keep reminding myself of all my little personal pep talks, but when I get this feeling I can’t talk it away. I gotta let it ooze out on its own.
Maybe I should go to yoga more.
There’s a snow storm happening, and I’m pleased as punch. I love the insulating feeling of the snow all around, the guilt-free knowledge that I actually can’t go anywhere today (even though I probably wasn’t) and the free pass I feel I have to wrap my afghan around me like a poncho and read on the couch.
But unfortunately, as snowstorms do, this messes me up a little. Not in a terrible way — I’ve got a roof, food, as well as blankets and flashlights a plenty. No, my only issue is that I can’t go to my 9:00 am Wednesday Bikram Yoga class.
This is a non-issue, I’m totally aware. These classes are every day, several times. I can just go Thursday before work, easy-peasy. And I will. But it’s not my habit. For months, maybe a full year, I’ve been going to yoga Wednesday morning once a week, unless extra work or an absence from town prevented me. And I haven’t even skipped for more than an extra half a week in a long time since my body’s sort of become addicted to sweating buckets. I used to do either Wednesday or Thursday depending on my mood, but not since I started working Thursday afternoons. So basically, I’m used to doing yoga on this specific day, and changing it up almost makes me more uncomfortable than skipping an entire week.
I’m gonna bring this back to writing now, since that’s sort of what this blog is about. I mentioned in my last post that something that makes me feel unproductive is that I can generally only get real writing done in the morning. Over the past few years, writing in the morning has become a deeply ingrained habit. So, when something comes up that interrupts morning writing time, I kind of flail around and feel uncomfortable, like I had an important task but I missed my window. But maybe I didn’t miss my window, maybe it just moved to a different time, but because it wasn’t the time I told myself is right, I let it slide by again.
Habits are good for writing, and for yoga. It gets me used to doing something specific for a certain period of time, so even when I’m having a bad writing day (or a bad yoga day) I still sit down on the chair (mat) and write (sweat) it out, and come out feeling great. I just have to remind myself that sometimes, there are snow storms that won’t work around my habits, so if I don’t want to lose my momentum I have to step out of my comfort zone and get my stuff done in the time that’s granted me, even if it’s not ideal.
Sometimes I worry that I am not a productive writer. It’s not just what I have published, which is not as much as I’d like it to be (mainly my fault). But even in general I worry that I don’t do this enough.
Writing in the afternoon is pulling teeth, so to accomplish anything I need to work in the morning. If I’m busy in the A.M., my writing hours are basically lost. I could get up earlier, but I set my alarm for 6:00 am, and that’s already like trying to extract myself from warm maple syrup. Then I make the mistake (don’t compare, don’t compare) of comparing myself (damn) to other writers. More prolific writers. Writers who publish multiple(!) books a year, or maybe run their own YouTube channels.
But then, on a morning when I’m running particularly slow, I set to write part of a short story. And I write, and I write. And I realize I filled 6 pages before my brain curled up in a cramp. And they’re 6 pages that I like.
So maybe I do write enough. Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit. Maybe it’s all relative.
Or maybe I need to do that more often.
I mentioned earlier that my current main writing project is rehashing a novel I completed a few years ago. Thinking it was done 5 years ago, I sent the story out to a handful of agents and got a less-than-enthusiastic response. Tepid is even too strong of a word. “Practically nonexistant” probably best describes the replies I received.
Frustrated, and also feeling like I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing, I pushed this story aside, started work on the novel for whom I’m currently searching for a home, and enrolled in my MFA program. While I did use the first couple chapters of this old MS to get into my program, I haven’t touched it in years.
As things tend to do, this story haunted me, and when it came to be too much I copied the thing into Scrivener, opened split screen, and started retyping the story. I’m just about done with my initial go-through, and I am proud of what I’ve managed to cut and alter. But I am disappointed, and sometimes horrified, at what I dared to send out to agents even a few years ago. Some are big things I might not have noticed that time and a bit of schooling have helped me notice. Others…I don’t even know. Here are a few of the problems:
- Slow Plot. It takes a while for things to get truly interesting. Which is why most of my big cuts take place in the first third of the book. It’s no wonder I never got any personalized email responses, the agents probably slept through my sample pages.
- Whiny MC. I wanted my main character to have some realistic 11-year-old life issues, but I really overdid the last time and she turned into a real Debbie Downer. A bunch of that got cut, too.
- Distant MC. It took me two years of Lesley to figure out that this was my problem and how to fix it, so it’s no surprise that an old MS was practically disease-ridden with distance.
- Lengthy Conversations. I still gotta cut some of these down, even at my ending. It’s kind of a bummer when you realize you said the same thing three times in rapid succession.
- Passive voice. This thing is chock full of it, and it probably bleeds back into my distance issue.
- Overuse of words/descriptions. Everyone is snarling, like, constantly. And I think I used the word “just” about 4 million times.
- Typos. Oh my god! The typos I left in there! Forgotten quotations, misspelled words, inconsistent apostrophe use. Did I even proofread this thing before I sent it out? I can’t even remember now.
Really, this is a great case for giving yourself time and distance before you dive into edits. Hopefully I’ve learned enough now that I won’t have to wait it out for half a decade before going back to something. Also, get a bunch of critique partners to read it before you send it out, seriously.