Sunday, November 30, 2008

dream team

This may be my last post for a couple of weeks -- I'm collecting 50+ papers on Tuesday, each an average of 6 pages, and then on Friday I'm collecting 50+ portfolios. I need to read and grade all of this in approximately a week to nine days.

Oy vey.

Maybe I'll try to scrounge up a guest blogger.

In the meantime, I'll leave you w/ this: if you could have a dream team of trusted counselors, living or dead, real or imagined, who would be on your council? In what capacity would you seek their services?
On my short list (and in no particular order):
  • Fred Rogers
  • Jim Henson
  • Jed Bartlet
  • Nora Ephron
  • Jerry and Esther Hicks/Abraham
  • Aaron Sorkin
  • my Aunt Louise
  • my grandfather on my mother's side
  • MEB
  • John Taylor

I have more, but I'll not bore you. Some of these are creative consultants. Some of them nurture the inner child. Some of them just have plain good energy. Some are practical.

Why not tap into such energy? As writers, are we not seeking inspiration in any form? Why not ask them to guide us, give us ideas, introduce us to people we need to know? Consider it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

the question: balance. the answer: intention + plan

I think I may have the answer to the question of balance (i.e., how does one balance a writing career with the demands of a second career, family, etc.). Some may see this as a far-fetched answer, or the inconvenient answer, but allow me to think out loud.

I wonder if the issue isn't one of balance as much as it is choice. In other words, we're choosing to juggle these things in the air, but have never given any one enough attention for any sustained amount of time; or, we're so busy listening to our self-programmed thoughts (which are probably based on faulty premises and the criticisms of others) that we've never made a clear decision backed up with a plan.

I mean, think about it. How many of us want to be full-time writers but, rather than make the decision: I am going to be a full-time writer, one that can sustain a prosperous living from it, and follow that up with a plan of how to make that happen, instead, we say: I want to be a full-time writer, but I can't make a living from it. And it's too hard to get published. And I'm probably not talented enough. And I couldn't afford to live on my own if I was. And what would my friends and family say if I gave up my nice, stable job in order to do so? What about my health insurance?
And so on.

Not to say that some of these aren't legitimate concerns. But we're approaching them in terms of problems rather than solutions. We're putting our attention on the I can't rather than the I can. We're disminishing the issue as impossible rather than make a plan of action that is entirely possible.

If we want to be a writer and a ... (fill in the blank as many times as you need), have we ever made that decision in a way that really defines precisely what we want? Set an intention? In other words: I intend to be a published fiction author in addition to my full-time teaching position. I will balance this by devoting no more than 40 hours per week to my teaching, and write for two hours every night. Those two hours per night may also be devoted to querying agents, submitting to journals, etc. Or, we could plan to work 20 hours in one job and 20 hours in writing.

The point is, we get to decide!
Get the point?

I think often times we're too afraid to make the choice we really want because of our fears of being ridiculed, of failure, of insecurity, etc. We've not found balance because we've not become present to what we really want. We're going about our cluttered lives unconsciously. We let the voices (disguised as reason) talk us out of it, tell us our intentions are silly, not feesible, impossible, far-fetched, etc. when really we're just out of alignment with said intentions.

I'm not saying I've got this mastered. But I think it's time I get clear about what I really want and follow up with a plan of action (that means turning off the tv, too). I think all things are possible when we align ourselves with our intentions.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

as we read someone else's story, we write our own.

Yesterday I took part in what has become a tradition. The Tuesday class before Thanksgiving break is typically not well-attended. I still require students to show up, and I make it a light day. I also share a piece of writing with them -- mine, to be exact. It's a piece I wrote six years ago called "Tofurkey." It was published in the 2003 volume of UMass Dartmouth's literary journal Temper, and it's about my 2001 Thanksgiving in which the vegetarians in my family finally outnumbered the meat-eaters.

I read this piece for its timeliness, of course, and because it was my first attempt at writing humor (and occasionally some students laugh). But year after year, the highlight of the piece is not my descriptions of tofurkey (frightful) or my then-five-yr-old nephew's reaction to seeing the real turkey sitting fully cooked on the table (he ate peanut butter and jelly that day). No, it's the description of my family traditions from another time and life. A time when there used to be thirty of us, and the table extended from the dining room into the living room. A time when my parents were still married, and we all still lived in the same county. A time when the only vegetarian was my mom. Year after year, the students resonate with this part of the essay, but they don't respond to my family descriptions -- rather, they immediately begin sharing their own family traditions and Thanksgiving stories and mishaps. They tell their own stories. The late Donald Murray would be proud, for, as he used to say, "when we read someone else's story, we write our own."

The essay also seems to be one of the things that sticks with them after they leave my class. I've had students, years later, ask me if I've eaten any tofurkey lately. I don't know if that speaks to my writing abilities, or the uniqueness of the subject, or the fact that it was one of the rare times I gave them a bonus point just for showing up to class. Nevertheless, it gives me a good feeling as a writer to know that I've touched a reader in some form.

I only read the essay once a year, and usually, as I read, I think of all the ways I might tweak it. But this year, interestingly enough, as I read, I read. It was as if there was a second reader beyond the one attached to my voice, thinking, damn, this is a really good essay! And I don't mean that to sound conceited; but for some reason the piece got to me this time. And not just the humor of it. I actually felt myself starting to choke up when I came to the part about my family as I read to my first class. There was something deeper than the story, my story. I'm not sure what it was, but I was suddenly in awe for having written it, as if to say, where did this come from?

There are two films I must watch on Thanksgiving Day, in addition to the Macy's parade and the Cowboys game: one is Miracle on 34th Street (the classic black and white one, not the god-awful remake or the horribly tinted color version... thank you, Ted Turner); the other is Home for the Holidays, with Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey, Jr., and an outstanding cast. Both have fallen into the categories of pure tradition and nostalgia. I first saw Home in the movie theater-- twice-- with my friend Autumn; we were blowing off studying for finals. We continued to recite lines from that movie years later. Home is about the dysfunction of a family at Thanksgiving. Not very cheerful, you might say, but there is something profound about the protagonist, Claudia, as witness of all that happens to and around her. It is what we as writers -- in particular, memoirists -- need to be. And the ending will take you back to your own home movies, or thinking about those perfect moments from your life, the ones that last for 15 seconds but stay with you for an eternity. Ditto for Miracle. I tear up at both every single time.

As we read someone else's stories, we write our own. As we pass on our traditions, we inspire new ones. It's the secret to immortality.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

the nearest book

This was originally posted by some guy on Facebook. It's a fun little game. Feel free to copy and paste on your own blogs or Facebook pages.

  1. Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
  2. Turn to page 56.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post that sentence along with these instructions on your blog (or post to your Facebook wall in a note).
  5. Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Here's mine, from Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck:
"They never really change," people often said (back in those days) about babies.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"my guest tonight..."

I've been having fanstasies of appearing on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to promote my novel. Of course, I am a fabulous guest. I have plenty to say. I tell the story about the time I encountered Jon Stewart in the Sag Harbor drugstore and, in suck-up fashion, recommend that Stephen Colbert would make a good Devin in the movie version of Faking It. I make the usual jokes about the book itself: No, it's not autobiographical. No, I did no formal researh of male escorts. No, I don't really hate my mother.

With my luck, I'd be interviewed for one of the mock news pieces -- and, in the process, I'd be severely mocked.

Ah well. Maybe I'll just try to get tickets to a taping when I go home for the holidays (or will they be on hiatus then?) and put my guest fantasies to rest. (Or should I send a book to Oprah instead?)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

on self-publishing: a message from the converted

With each day that passes, the ambivalence I had had regarding self-publishing is becoming a distant memory. My advice to those who want to self-publish but are afraid of the stigma that accompanies it: Don't be afraid. And don't listen to those who tell you not to because of said stigma. Times are a changin'.

That is not to say that there aren't any crappy books that have been self-published. But there are a lot of crappy books that have been traditionally published, too. As my twin brother says, there's a market for *everything.* Rise above it.

The keys to self-publishing are commitment and planning. Make the decision and stick with it. Don't waffle back and forth, and don't let others talk you out of it. Some people may tell you it's hard. Some agents may tell you that the traditional publishing world and/or literature departments in universities across the country have a disdain for it. Some booksellers may tell you that they never stock self-published books. All of the above *might* be true.

What they don't tell you is that there is such a thing as viral marketing, i.e. marking via word-of-mouth that is used to promote and sell everything to music to movies to medicine. Heck, why do you think Barack Obama's campaign was so successful? Technology gives us a quicker and easier access to a market than ever before. Podcasts, Facebook, blogs, etc. connects us to many at once.

Of course, I'm not saying anything that you probably don't already know. You're a smart bunch.

If you are committed to self-publishing, then go all the way. Don't skimp. Make every aspect of your book as professional as possible. Proofread and edit it w/in an inch of its life. Get feedback.
And when you're finally ready to sell, don't just sell your book out of the backseat of your car. Make contacts. Network yourself professionally (no stalking!). Get a Myspace or Facebook page. Get your own website. Join a Meetup. Make the book as accessible as possible. Arrange to do a reading. But plan these things. Assess how much time and/or money you can invest into promoting yourself. Be thoughtful in your approach. Set goals and timelines.

I can probably do a better job of all of the above than I am now. But I am certain I'm on the right track, and that feels *really* good.

I'm not telling you to abandon traditional publishing. I'll likely go back to querying agents when my current fiction manuscript is ready (and that likely won't be until next spring). But it's so encouraging to know that there are more options than ever before (and really, don't we writers need all the encouragement we can get?), all w/in our reach.

Take 'em! Go for it!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Introducing FAKING IT

Faking It has finally arrived! Go to my Storefront to order your copy!!!

I am sooo excited that this day has come. It's even a little scary. I mean, I finally did it! And for all my ups and downs, ambivalence and reassurance, I'm happy that I've taken this step.

My hope is that you'll buy it, you'll tell your friends to buy it, and that you'll like it.

Thanks for stickin' with me!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

the elements of memoir

I enjoyed today's QRB panel on memoir writing. It's a genre I've taught, but from a rhetorical point of view. Interestingly enough, as the panelist spoke, I found myself jotting notes not about her insight or advice, but ideas for how to improve my own narratives in my nonfiction book. Inspiration struck. There was something else I was reminded of, although it wasn't something that was said today: in a memoir, the writer acts as both an observant and a participant of the event he/she is writing about, and the reader needs to be the same.

I have some ideas about what I'd like to attend to in my narratives -- I don't know that I would classify them as "memoir," but they are stories that need to encompass more of memoir's elements. These include:
  • establishing a better sense of place.
  • doing just a tiny bit of research (tiny, at least, for my purpose and audience) to get a sense of historical context. (My concern is getting too far off the track of the lesson of the story, and turning such context into "info dump".)
  • as of right now, the voice of the narrative has a "going-through-the-motions" feel to it. I want to be more mindful of the narrator as observer and participant.

I'd also like to share something that Stacey, as panel moderator, shared w/ the audience, in regards to process (and revision, I'd say) in his novel-writing, and I think it serves creative nonfiction as well. (Please correct me if I've misprepresented you in any way, Stacey.) At the end of each chapter, he takes inventory of several elements:

  • character POV
  • where is the protag? (and/or supporting characters)
  • how are they feeling?
  • what do they want (internal, external)?
  • how are they going to get it?

After the event, I got to say hello w/ some attendees that I haven't seen in awhile, and got to unveil my newly printed novel. The exitement on their faces, and their compliments and congratulations were all very validating and contagious. I think I am finally ready to take the last step: the ISBN. It's time.

There's something really wonderful about being a part of a community. This Write2Publish group is quite gratifying. To all my readers (many of whom are part of this same community), I'm glad to know you and belong. And to those readers who haven't found their community yet, seek them out. They will benefit your writing -- and you -- in more ways than you know.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I wrote the book I wanted to read

Today I lost track of how many hours I spent revising the introduction to my book, but I like what I came out with. And because I kept in mind that I wrote the book I wanted to read, I got out of my own way and wrote without trying too hard, without worrying about what others would think, without worrying about whether it was good or not.

I also realize that I need to stop kavetching when it's not going well. Calling attention to the negative, keeping those thoughts alive and active, only attracts more of them. Begone!!

Writers are such goofy people, yes? I say that lovingly, of course. :)

I considered moving on to another chapter, but I think I'm gonna just enjoy this little bit of momentum and move on to other pleasant things. Low volume, high content. Why stuff yourself with the whole cake when one slice is so satisfying?

Friday, November 14, 2008


After much back-and-forth w/ Lulu, my new test copy has arrived, and it looks pretty good.
Thing is, I'm not sure "pretty good" is good enough.
I want professional grade. I want this book to be taken seriously.

It could be me in perfectionist mode, or it could be that I have legitmate concerns. I'm just not sure. I'm going to show it to some people this weekend and see what they think, and if I'm satisfied w/ what they say, I'm going to go ahead and purchase an ISBN and make it available to the public. If not, it might be worth it to wait a bit longer--even after the holidays--and get it as close to perfect as possible.

I have learned so much about this process and made several mistakes, which, in the end, are successes since I can apply them to the next project (the corrections, not the mistakes!). And I believe more than ever that this is the next wave of publishing and, if done carefully and thoughtfully, can yield just as much success as traditional publishing.

As for my nonfiction manuscript, well, I think it's time for me to ask for an extention on it. I don't think my publishers know that this is a very young manuscript -- I began writing it in May -- and such things can't be rushed. I had thought that because it was a relatively short book that I could complete it quickly, but revision is slow and meticulous, and I live by the saying: "Do you want it done fast, or do you want it done right?". There are three weeks left of the semester, and they're going to require my physical and mental energy. I'm just not going to be able to attend to this manuscript the way it needs to be attended to.

This morning, my novel-writing partner asked how the writing was going. I replied, "It's going very well in my head." Right now, that's good enough. Thoughts are the keys to manifestation. If I can't get the physical writing done, I'm going to keep composing in my head, seeing it as a finished manuscript, see it as something that I already know and am able to complete, see myself working on it w/out fear or resistance. That much I can do and believe in.

Monday, November 10, 2008


One of the downsides of teaching students about writing is that teachers sometimes fall into the very traps they help their students emerge from. Consider it an exercise in the Law of Attraction. By attending to so many problems in student writing (despite my attempts to turn their attention to their strengths), those same problems show up in my own writing. If I come across a lot of wordiness in student drafts, my own drafts start to suffer from wordiness. If the student writing veers off the track, so does my own prose. And so on.

It seems that just about every possible weakness is showing up in this manuscript, the biggest of which is an overinflated audience awareness. I'm thinking too much about them. I'm overexplaining. I've overanticipating objections. I'm answering questions that aren't likely to be asked. My prose is veering too far off the topic. It lacks suspense or depth. It's plain uninteresting. The lessons I'm trying to teach lack substance and evidence.

It needs so much revision. It needs so much attention, so much tender loving care.

I tend to write well when I'm reading writing that really inspires, or reading styles I admire. I have a self-help book beside my bed to inspire content, but stylistically it's a bust. Other than that, it's been almost all student writing for the last month or more. How in the world am I going to be able to devote my time and attention when the next four weeks are going to be spent trying to help students write well-developed academic papers(no doubt riddled w/ problems during their drafting stages)? At least I can co-miserate w/ them. Right now I feel like a fish out of water. I feel like a sucky writer, like I can't do it at all and the manuscript is a pile of shit. I have visions of it being published and getting deserved horrid reviews. Right now I'm wondering how I ever taught memoir when my own stink on ice. So much for Yes I can. No, I can't.

I worked for ninety minutes on four pages and it still sucks.

How am I ever going to get it done? What made me think I could write a book like this in the first place? Could it be that somewhere deep down I never thought it would actually get published? The kicker is that I used to pride myself as a nonfiction writer. It's predominantly what I teach (in the context of academic argument, of course. Maybe that's the friggin' problem). but man, I can't tell you how much I miss my fiction right about now.

I think I'm ready to start praying. There must be a patron saint for writers. I suppose St. Jude also works: patron saint of the hopeless and those in despair.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday lazy Sunday

I'm longing to go back to my May productivity. The sun and warmth and foliage certainly give me the mood aspect, but the demands of school take over my time and energy. I may just be making excuses, but I prefer to look forward to the day when I'm complaining that my time is consumed by writing. If only I could be in the classroom w/out all the prepwork and grading. It's the one-on-one interaction I thrive on. It's the conversation I love.

Meanwhile, I spent most of today riveted by the special Newsweek edition that basically told the entire story of the McCain-Obama (and Clinton) campaigns from start to finish. I don't know how much of it was accurate-- I mean, I rarely trust the corporately-owned media, and I noticed that Newsweek has moved a little to the left. But it was a great story for story's sake. It was like reading a West Wing drama, but w/out Aaron Sorkin's wit or characters as likable. It was fascinating, though, and I just couldn't tear myself away from it. And even though it took away from my writing time, I always think reading time is time well spent. I'm a thinker as much as I'm a writer, and sometimes it's just instinctive to know when it's time to start physically writing. Other times it's massive fright. I'm actually looking forward to turning to my manuscript just as soon as I finish this post. (Now that the Patriots game is over, I can focus...)

Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Yes I can!

I went to Caribou Coffee at 9:30 this morning and didn't leave until approximately four hours (and the first draft of the book's introduction) later. It'll need work, of course, but I felt good about what I had written, and it came fairly easy to me--it should have, given how long I've been thinking about it. I actually wound up borrowing from my "riding the wave" post, being that the introduction was all about shifts in consciousness. I suppose the time had finally come to write about it because the shift had actually happened.

Maybe I don't suck after all.

I just hope I can keep the momentum going, not to mention the discipline. It's a lot easier when I don't have papers to grade, when I'm not having trouble sleeping, when my car is in working order, when I have a chance to crack jokes w/ my twin brother, and when I tell myself to quit stalling and write, dammit.

And seriously, the affirmation helped.
Yes I can.
I am.
And I will.
Because I love being a writer.

Friday, November 7, 2008

fears of failure

My optimism for my manuscript went out the window when my twin brother sent the rest of his feedback to me and I saw the overall tonnage of work ahead of me. I'm scared of it. Really, I am. I'm scared of the amount of work that needs to be done. I'm scared that I don't know what I'm talking about, that I'm really a fraud regarding the subject I'm writing about. I'm scared that I'll finish it and it'll suck to high hell and won't even sell to my family and close friends.

Fear is a sucky emotion.

I've got to get a grip. I've got a choice, here. I've got a choice to practice what I preach, or give in to the fear and thus fulfill my fears of losing credibility. I've got to outpsyche myself and get back on the stick and remind myself that the only thing standing in my way at this point is me and my damn irrational fears.

The irony is that more than ever, I think the message of my book is quite timely. And yet, it's that very realization that upped the ante even more, and makes me that much more frightened of falling on my face. But of course, if I keep it up, I'll jip myself out of that possibility as much as the possiblity for monumental success.

Maybe I should start saying Yes I can! Yes I can! Yes I can! I heard that that phrase is available for use now that the election is over...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

riding the wave

This will probably be the last time (for a long time to come) that I use this blog as a forum to forego conversations about writing and voice my political views; however, something moved me so much that I couldn't even sleep, and I needed to express myself. I'd like to tell you what I witnessed, and why it has moved me so.

As I write these words, it is 4:45am, and my heart is full by what I have witnessed as the clock turned into morning. I wasn't living on Long Island in 2001, but, like so many of you, I watched in horor as the towers in my beloved birthplace came tumbling down. I had spent that day dreading and preparing myself for the likely news that one of my oldest, dearest friends, along w/ her husband, who worked in the building next door to the WTC, had not survived. I am still overcome by emotion when I recall the subject line of the email I received from her that evening: We're ok. I wept for joy, yet also wept for all those who would continue to wait for such an email and never receive it.

The images from New York in the days that followed were those of people of all races, creeds, and colors walking in a daze, clinging to each other in grief. Strangers who had never given their neighbors a second glance embraced each other and wept. It was a time of startling presence, of unity, of oneness in the midst of that grief.

Late last night, I watched images of crowds gathered in the streets of Times Square, Harlem, and all over the city -- one would think it was New Year's Eve at first glance, only there were no bouts of drunken displays -- and I saw people of all races, creeds, and colors, strangers, embracing each other, some of them weeping. Only this time, they were weeping for joy. And, just like seven years ago, the crowds had not only gathered in New York City, but in Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and all over the country. Tonight and this morning, the world celebrated with us.

What I saw was not only celebration of an election -- I witnessed something far more powerful. Last night/this morning, something inside of us that had been torn open seven years ago healed. I can't explain how or why I believe and feel this, but I did and do. And I can't tell you how much we needed to heal.

For those readers who voted for Senator McCain and are feeling disappointed, I hope you will ride the wave of this vibration of love, peace, and healing that has taken to the streets, and be open to whatever it brings in the following months and years. And to President-Elect Obama, I hope you, too, ride this wave, and let it guide you to a presidency of peace -- peace on terror, peace on poverty, peace on drugs, peace on AIDS, peace on earth.

To my readers, thank you for allowing me to use my blog as a forum to voice my feelings at this hour. Perhaps this was actually the right forum -- one can argue that I witnessed a moment of kairos.

And now, back to all things writing (and sleeping, eventually).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

nano nano?

It's November, which means it's time for NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo. For those unfamiliar w/ the words or think I've got peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth (metaphorically speaking, since I'm typing the words), let me translate. The first stands for National Novel Writing Month. The second is National Blog Posting Month. In the case of the first, the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. The second is to do a post every day (I assume -- I've actually never done it before!).

My last NaNoWriMo was in 2006-- it was my second consecutive year. And I "won," too--I did the 50K (with a couple hundred to spare) and produced the first draft of what eventually became Ordinary World, the sequel to Faking It. The year before that, I didn't fare as well--made it to about 35,000 words, and that manuscript is still sitting in a drawer. It's not that I didn't like the concept (actually, I love it -- it was my homage to Richard Russo's Straight Man), and I've tried several times to revive it since then, but I just can't seem to get the action going on it, not to mention that I would probably be sued for libel if I did because the characters are based on real people, and I think it's a little too obvious (then again, maybe I'm the only one who knows). Still, I hope one day I can actually finish it.

There were some really fun things about doing it. The first was the challenge and the competitive spirit of it to actually finish, like running the New York or Boston Marathon (had to get both of my homes in there!). There's also a sense of community, even though you write on your own. You can post your pages and daily word counts, and there are support groups and forums and such things. A good friend of mine used to send me a daily cartoon. And some days I really got into what I was writing and enjoyed myself. And when my students got wind of it, they started asking me about my word counts each day. I think they were both fascinated and bewildered by the process -- who writes 1700 words a day for fun???

So why not do it again?
Given my current schedule and the fact that I'm already working on a book, I plain don't have time to try NaNoWriMo, or even NaBloPoMo. But in the case of the former, even if I did, I wouldn't do it anyway. Why? Because for me, it causes me to write really crappy. Like my students who get so hung up on the page requirement (which is why I stress, "4 pages is a guideline"), I get so obsessive w/ the word count that I write passive, wordy, very poorly constructed sentences and useless descriptions. Ordinary World turned out pretty good by the final draft, but man, the stylistic clean-up I had to do... it also seemed to take longer to iron out some of the plot and character problems in revision because I had plowed through them when I got stuck, in the interest of making the word count goal. And then, on top of that, the stylistic crap got in the way. I concluded that it was more trouble than it was worth, and decided not to go for a hat trick NaNoWriMo.

As for NaBloPoMo, I suppose I could take a crack at it (I've already got two!). As Mit wrote (and thanks, Mit, for the inspiration for this post, btw!), it helps to form some kind of discipline about writing/posting every day, and I suppose it's a great way to either establish or maintain a readership because you do this as part of a community. But, I'd be worried about posting meaningless bits of writing just so I can say I posted *something* (not like I've never done that before, on this or my private blog). Besides, I already have too many distractions from getting my book done. I can see myself using this as one more.

Given my poor turnout of posts last month, and given the aspirations to better market my upcoming books anyway, I've been considering reinventing Kairos Calling to include a wider audience (like moving it to my website, removing the Purple Panda pseudonym, and coming all the way out, haha) and to maintain a momentum of writing regularly, even when I'm slammin' busy. We'll see.

In the meantime, for all you bloggers and novels writers up for the challenge, Go for it, and have fun!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

a new hope

No, I don't mean Barack Obama. I'm talking about my book, thanks to additional feedback from my wombmate. I sent him the rest of the manuscript, and he's been replying one chapter at a time. Tonight, however, he called me and we chatted for at least an hour (if not longer) about it. It's the talking that's made the difference for me. I've hardly talked about this book--especially in terms of content-- w/ anyone, and I've been needing to. Badly. I didn't realize how badly until tonight.

For the first time, I voiced what's been really troubling me about this book, and why it's been so difficult to write (or break through the writer's block): I'm trying way too hard.

He noticed it, too. I didn't even flinch when he told me that my narrative sections were "weak." And most of the criticisms were the typical things I respond to when I'm reading someone's nonfiction prose: too much telling, not enough showing; expounding on unnecessary details while bypassing the necessary ones; and losing one's own authority w/in the body of both the narratives and the lessons. And it's not that I hadn't noticed them myself. I'd been aware of them all along. And yet, I couldn't revise my way out of it. I had no idea how to fix it. I couldn't see past what was on the page.

But he could. So we talked about it. We talked about the writing. We talked about the genres of narrative and memoir and spiritual/inspirational books (even tossed in a little science fiction, too). We talked about the subject matter, and a little bit about metaphysics. We talked about the reader. We talked about rhetorical situation and the appeals (although we never used those terms). I tried jotting a few things down as we talked, trying not to forget the gems. And I got off the phone feeling so optimistic about the project, wanting to get back to work now that I finally had a new, clearer vision. I think I finally know where to go w/ it, how to approach it, how and when to think of my reader, and when to not think of her, too.

I think he may have singlehandedly saved this book from becoming bird cage liners.

My twin brother and I are obviously not identical--physically, we're opposites: he's tall, I'm short; he's got brown eyes, I've got blue; his hair is straight, mine's curly (well, naturally, anyway); he's right-handed, I'm left-handed; he's smart, I'm beautiful... ok, I'm smart too... ;) Actually, I think we're more like complements. We used to call ourselves the Yin and Yang twins (one time we even showed up to a dinner party w/ him dressed in all black and me in all white, unplanned!). He's more on the pessimistic side, while I'm the eternal optimist. His writing is much more elegant, literary prose, while mine is more "popular," and when it comes to drawing, he's much better at cartoon, or caricature, while I'm better at portraits. What I love so much about this kinship (in regards to writing) is the respect we have for each other as writers as well as readers. He has the ability to see writing in literary form, while I see it in rhetorical form. Thus, when we respond to each other's writing, we exchange these perspectives that result in a more balanced piece once it's finished. What a wonderful gift for us to give each other!!

Besides, he's funny as hell, which is the icing on the cake. And he laughs at my jokes, too.

Obviously, I'm pleased when people tell me how much they like my writing. But when my twin brother tells me it's good, then I know I have arrived. Ultimately, it is his approval, his enjoyment, his laughter that I aim for, despite the fact that we have such different styles. I don't know if he aims for these things from me (if he does, for some reason I don't think he aims quite as high), but I know he values my feedback. It's just as good a feeling when he compliments the quality of my feedback.

So tonight I will go to bed, using the extra hour to process his written comments and everything we talked about. And then tomorrow I'm gonna write. I look forward to it.