Wednesday, June 29, 2011

when reading is writing

Some of you know that this past week my writers block returned. I did the usual things -- tried to psych myself and write through it, read other people's writing instead, complained on Twitter, curled up on the floor in a fetal position.... (just kidding about that last one) before once again taking the advice I give to many writers in a similar position. I printed out the 80+ pages of the writing I've done this past month as-is (single space to save paper, although I regret not giving myself more margin space for annotations), headed for the coffeeshop, and began to read.

Maybe it was the iced vanilla chai that had mellowed me out (that particular brand always takes me back to my old hangout in Massachusetts), but once again I was pleasantly surprised (not to mention relieved) to find that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, it was a first draft in need of direction and description, with gaping holes in the timeline and telling rather than showing. But it wasn't bad. Heck, I even laughed out loud a few times (in a good way). It's always a great feeling for me to write something funny enough to make someone laugh, but perhaps it's even better when that someone is me.

I got through half the pages in three hours, making lots of notes and corrections, yet not crossing out entire blocks of text (although I suspect that will come towards the end). The realization that my novel isn't sucking is sometimes the very thing that snaps me out of my writers block. And even if it doesn't, I feel better about taking that physical writing time off and allowing the mental composing to take over again, sitting with the characters a little more, the whole lot of us hanging out in the coffeeshop of my imagination and chillin' out on iced vanilla chais. It certainly beats complaining on Twitter.

Sometimes reading is writing. It's such an important part of the process. Whether you read as you go along, following that day's writing, or wait until you're 30,000 words in, or until you've got the entire first draft of the manuscript done, the act of reading your manuscript (either with the eyes of an intended reader or one who knows these characters intimately) allows you to see both the little things and the bigger picture with more clarity. The revision process happens as you subconsciously ask (and answer) questions about meaning, order, arrangement, imagery, voice, behavior, setting, audience, purpose, style, and so much more. You find direction. You find little nuggets of gold, or keys to portals of brilliance. And sometimes you even make yourself laugh for all the right reasons.

And on a different note...

It figures--just as I was getting back into the groove of posting regularly on my blog, I got the Linknews that I'd been accepted and invited to the Southampton Writers Conference on the east end of Long Island. Yep, I'm due north yet again! I've been wanting to attend this conference for years, ever since my mom started cutting out the full-page ads in the Sag Harbor Express and mailing them to me. And every year I'd gaze at the ad, reading the list of that year's participants (ranging from Alan Alda to the late Frank McCourt) and lament that I could barely afford to set foot on the campus.

However, I decided to put it on my 2011 to-do list, and lo and behold, the opportunity (not to mention the financing) came through. I was afraid to make the commitment at first, coming up with all kinds of excuses. But something inside me knew that I would regret not going far more than any of the so-called inconveniences I was contriving to feed my fears.

I'll be on the Island for almost the entire month of July, and I imagine most of my time and energy will be devoted to the writing sessions, instruction, networking, keynote speakers, etc. (plus, I need to go to the beach again). I would love to share my experiences with you, but be prepared for yet another blog hiatus. My apologies for abandoning you yet again, and my thanks to those who faithfully await my return.


Anonymous said...

Just bring me some sand and ocean water in a jar and I will forgive you!

Have a great, productive time!


Elspeth Antonelli said...

There is no better discovery than the one that your writing isn't quite as stinky as you thought. Good for you on making yourself laugh - it's always a good sign.

Elisa said...

Pam, I'll do my best!

Beth, it's just as fun when *you* make me laugh, too!

Mr. DesBarres said...

Congratulations1 But please keep us "blogged-in" even if they are just snippets! You have captured us in your web!

Mr. DesBarres said...

Congratulations! But please keep us "blogged-in" even if they are just snippets as you have us captured in your web!

Anne R. Allen said...

Hope you're having a fantastic time. A whole month!

Anyway, if you have internet access and can read this, I thought you might like to know I gave you a shout-out on my blog of July 10. It's a rebuttal of the WSJ article claiming that without big corporate publishing, we'll all be buried in a pile of dreck, because readers are too stupid to know what we want to read.

So glad writers like you have proved this guy wrong.

Elisa said...

Anne, I've finally had a chance to check in here today (I've had little blocks of internet access all week). Thanks so much for the shout-out. I'm going to check out your blog now, and can hopefully bang out another post for here in the meantime before the ocean lures me back. :)