Whenever I speak about writing and inevitably mention revision, people roll their eyes. Even experienced writers. Even published writers. A few years ago I pitched my book about revision to a series of editors at the Associated Writing Program’s conference; each and every one laughed at me.
Revision is dreaded, universally. Even those like myself who thrive in revision understand the sentiment. Change is hard. Changing the way we see our creations and then changing the creations themselves is especially challenging. But it’s even worse than that. To change the way we see our creations, we ourselves have to change. We have to willingly step away, shift positions and perspective, and look again. Ugh! (more…)
I can’t tell you how many times writers hand me a stack of pages and ask, “Is it any good?”
I’ve stopped answering this question. Sure, some writing is better than others. Sure, I have strong opinions about what makes a good story. But I’ve become increasingly wary of writers’ need to ask this question and my ability to answer it.
When a work-in-progress is deemed “good” by a reader, what purpose does this serve? All artists—all humans—want and need external affirmation; to continue hard work, we need our efforts affirmed and the essence of our endeavors recognized. (more…)
First thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.
I’m steeped in stories.
When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”
Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? (more…)
Maybe because my dining room table is plastered with paper dolls, cat toys are scattered across the living room, and Gwyn is almost constantly pulling at my sleeve begging me to play with her, but play has been much on my mind lately. Or maybe I’m thinking about it because I’m wrapping up my book about revision and realizing that the gist of 200 pages and six years of work is don’t forget to play.
Play is anything done spontaneously for its own sake—according to Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play. Kids are pros. Artists are those who preserve this basic childhood capacity into adulthood. Artists are also ambassadors for play; by actually doing it, we witness to our communities and audiences that this basic human inclination is valuable. (more…)
After allowing my novel to rest for half a year, I launched back in to make some major changes. I restructured the first hundred pages, shifted the personality of the main character, and changed her reasons for making a pivotal decision. As I revised, I experienced the complicated joy of being fully immersed in a project. The sensation is one of absolute concentration—I move into the cosmos of the book and see nothing beyond its boundaries—coexisting with absolute rebellion. I squirm, I want to get a glass of water, and then ice, then a coaster. I need to clip my toenails. When these powerful, contrary forces rise up, I know I’m in the heat of writing.
This discomfort reminds me of meditation, how part of me is drawn into the vast oblivion of silence and another part fights mightily to maintain the dignity of selfhood. (more…)