Revising, revisiting, rewriting

The comment from my professor and the chair of my dissertation committee, scrawled at the bottom of a section titled “Baking Banana Bread,” and barely legible said:

“I think this section needs to do more.”

But WHAT? I wanted to scream.

Instead, I pondered, I mulled, I percolated, I discussed with friends.  Did I need this section at all? Was it repeating something I’d already expressed in the section on making Mom’s Chicken Divan?  Could I make it say something different?

Could I, should I “kill my darlings?”

The hardest part of revising is knowing when to let it go, and knowing when to keep pushing through, moving blocks of text around, re-writing, adding and removing words, deepening and broadening the ideas.  And of course, knowing when it’s done.

But is it ever done?  Over burgers and beer the other night with my friend Samantha Tetangco we spent a good amount of time talking about  The Dissertation.  Sam finished hers last year; this year she’s been teaching English at UNM.  She is still working on what was her dissertation, and is now her novel-in-progress.  She’s working on it diligently.

We talked about a panel we’d both attended at the 2010 AWP conference:  a group of writers talking about AFTER the MFA. It was eye-opening.  They’d all spent a few more more years revising their work before getting their books published.

A few more years? I thought then.  I’ve already been working on this damn book since 2005.  It was discouraging.

But now, as I think about the most immediate deadline in my future–  the dissertation defense–it is encouraging to think that my dissertation does not need to  be ready to run to a publisher or an agent.  Sure, I want my dissertation to be the best it can be. Yes, I want to present good work to my committee.  Of course I will spend hours each day preparing for my defense (which means writing).  But it doesn’t have to be perfect.

What I do need to work on is making sure that I don’t quit after the dissertation, that I find a way, even if like Sam I only write an hour a day, to keep moving forward, keep pushing, revising, revisiting, rewriting until I’ve made something I could take to a publisher or an agent….  at which point he or she will probably want me to revise and rewrite once again, maybe twice.

It always comes back to this:  that writing is a lot like life, we’re always revising. If not, we might as well give up all together.

 

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Rejections: Badges of Honor

Every time I receive a rejection from a literary journal I tell myself  “It’s a badge of honor. ”  Sometimes I even do a happy dance and shout out a little whoot whoot, you know, as if it were something to celebrate.  And in a way it really is.  When my work is rejected, that means I have submitted my work; I’ve tried to get it out there in the world.  For someone who in the past spent a lot of time not just not doing, but not even trying, it’s important for me to give myself credit for trying.

I tell myself that rejection is not personal, it may just be the editor or slush pile reader has a different aesthetic than I do.

When I worked at Blue Mesa Review (as managing editor one semester, and often as a volunteer reader of slush, currently as web editor which reminds me I have some work to do on the site) we rejected a lot of good work.  Sometimes a piece just didn’t get enough “yes” votes to make it to the discussion round.  Sometimes a good piece would make it to discussion and it wouldn’t have enough support to make it into print.  Sometimes a piece was too long, or too short, or not deep enough or too experimental, and even if we loved the prose style and the character and setting maybe the character didn’t change enough.  Sometimes the piece just didn’t fit in with what we’d already selected.  It’s hard to say, it’s like some secret algorithm that no one can decipher.

I tell myself a lot of things that are cliche:

  • That I should pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again
  • If at first I don’t succeed I must try try again
  • Rejection is the opportunity to start over
  • Success come to those who persist
  • It’s like the lottery, I gotta play to win

 

I remind myself that many other authors have been rejected many times, relishing tales of now famous writers and the rejections they received– writers like Stephen King,  William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Ursula LeGuin, Gertrude Stein, to name a few.  I remember a reading by Elizabeth Gilbert; she said it was not her job to pre-reject herself, she figured that  someone at the New Yorker was paid to do the rejecting.  It’s not that I celebrate the failure of others, it’s that it encourages to me to know that rejection didn’t  mean failure, it didn’t mean their writing wasn’t/isn’t good.  And maybe the same is true for me.

I know all this when I send out my work. I understand that it’s part of the deal, it’s what I signed up for when I decided to call myself writer.  And still, sometimes it stings to get a rejection.

But when all is said and done, what I cling to is the knowledge that:

I write for myself first, because even if sometimes I cry or grumble or get angry when I write, I enjoy it, I need it.

What I have to say is important.

 

17 Shades of Blue

Over on Judy Reeves’ blog she’s blogging 20 Ways to Make It Better.  The “homework” she assigned for #7 (Be specific): Write 17 shades of blue, give me nine kinds of cake. Describe something “beautiful.”

So here we go…

Blue:

1. Levi Strauss standard denim blue / faded denim blue / acid wash blue

2. Cornflower blue

3. Sky blue

4. Sapphire blue

5. Turquoise blue

6. Glacier blue

7. Tiffany blue

8. Aqua blue

9. Blue-green or Green-blue (are they different?)

10. Blueberry blue (it’s almost a purple with a gray blush)

11. Cobalt blue

12. Ocean at midnight blue

13. Navy blue

14. Playroom blue

15. Crystal blue

16. Icy blue (same as glacier?)

17. the sparkly blue of my Granddad’s eyes (Grandma used to say all the girls called him “dreamboat”)

18. Wedgewood blue

I stalled at number 12 and began walking around my house looking for blue.

I don’t have a lot of blue things in my house.

It’s too cold to go outside to take a look…

And if you’re looking for a color, a good website to check out is the Pantone.com, the source for all things color.

 

Cake:

1. Chocolate cake

2. Pound cake

3. Lemon poppyseed cake

4. Angel food cake

5. Bundt cake

6. Pineapple upside-down cake

7. Fruitcake

8. Carrot cake

9. Shortcake with strawberries on top

Now I want to go eat cake.

 

Something beautiful:

So many beautiful things to choose from:  my cat Cleo’s eyes–pupils ringed in sapphire blue, broken green glass from a beer bottle softened by ocean sand, the January moon rising over the Sandia mountains at twilight…  I may have to think about this more.

Thanks Judy!

 

 

 

How did it get to be 2012 already?

Anyone who has followed my blog (both of you) may have noticed that I’ve not posted anything since–gasp!– July!  The good news is that I’ve been focused on other writing endeavors, most importantly The Dissertation– the book that I am writing that will get me the M.F.A. in creative writing for which I came to New Mexico.  Now that the end is in sight–I’ll be defending this semester, late March or early April–I’m wondering (and everyone is asking),

What next?

And it scares me.

 

I hate that question mostly because I don’t have an answer.

 

When I left San Diego to attend graduate school I envisioned completing  my degree, and returning: to Southern California, to my marketing job, to my friends, to my family, to my life.  But when I lost my job in February, everything changed including my well-crafted plan to return to California and pick up where I left off.

Instead, I’m at a place where I have to figure out what’s next.

First, if I want to teach college level English, I’m at a disadvantage because (1) I don’t have any real, front-of-the-classroom teaching experience, (2) Funding cuts to institutions of higher education mean fewer jobs, or part time jobs with no health insurance benefits (3) For a tenure track position teaching creative writing I’d need a book published (or on contract).   It’s not that think these are insurmountable obstacles, but I’m a realist.  If this is what I want to do, I need to find ways around those obstacles.

I’ve thought about finding a job.  Jobs are much more plentiful in San Diego, especially if I want to go back into online media and marketing.

I’ve thought about freelancing: consulting businesses on creating and managing online presence. The benefit would be that if I can build up a good revenue stream, I could take that “job” with me wherever I go.

I’ve thought about editing, and manuscript consulting.

I’ve thought about getting my book published, about getting a grant for some of the creative / community projects I want to do. I’ve thought about my next book, and the one after that….   and writing proposals to get those paid for up front.

I’ve thought about running off to Hawaii.

I’ve thought about applying for fellowships and residencies and other opportunities for freshly minted writers with MFA degrees.

But mostly, right now, I’m thinking about finishing my MFA degree:  it’s number 1 on my list of goals for 2012.  Other goals on my list include:

Listen..  to others, and most importantly, to myself (this is more of an intention than a goal, as goals need to be measurable).

Write… 1 blog post per month and work 5 hours per day on my book (“writing” time includes planning, reading, revising, submitting and researching).

Submit…  craft 4 “chapters” of my book into stand-alone essays, send out to a minimum of 48 literary journals (that’s only four per month).

Create…  a multi-media essay of one of my short essays.

Yoga… twice a week.

Develop…  a plan for what’s next.

I know I’ll be ok.

I know I’ll land on my feet.

I just don’t know where.