I came of age during the late 90s grunge period. Flannel for the non-Seattle weather I was not experiencing in Miami and carb loading vegetarianism are my fondest memories. Rock stars were activists and monogamous. Teenage angst took on poetic proportions. I would hear trite lines like drugs are bad because plant life should not trump human life. Having fun as the world crumbled was selfish, evil almost. Any time you felt happy, you just had to think of starving children in Africa or the AIDS epidemic for it to pass. It was not the jolliest of times, but now the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. Now everyone attempts to live his or her lives for entertaining you.
There are those among us that live as if they could be contenders for the latest reality show. I understand the appeal of being unlucky in love or being put in zany situations as others look to you to be their manic pixie dream girl. The trouble is no human is as complicated or funny as they would like to believe. I have sat at dinner parties or just walked down the street overhearing rambling stories in which the speaker swears what went down was “hysterical”. Their listeners summoning a tight smile silently regretting the one time they mentioned (probably in passing) this person had said or did something funny. These people come across as bit players on Saturday Night Live looking for that break through moment when they will click with the live audience at home. Instead, it is so desperate it almost chafes your brain. Then there are people who are so clueless about being boring that they tell the same story again with emphasis and tap you at the important points as if you just didn’t interpret correctly. I used to just smile politely, now I either move or step back until the person gets the hint. I want to tell them that I am not that interested, but that would be almost un-American to confess someone is boring you. When did their life turn into a series of misadventures to entertain others and not their own creation?
We all gravitate away from the simple to add to our complexity, but it is fruitless. The external will not validate us somehow and give us the qualities we always wanted. I have been to enough of my acquaintances’ amateur comedy hours to know that being funny is an accident or a coping skill generated as a child to ward off bullies. To try to acquire it as an adult is not feasible; it comes across as unnatural and tense. I know humans just want to be liked and accepted. However, life is not an endless cocktail party. Say something of substance and be natural. This frantic pushing dilutes our worth.
I have been writing a book for what seems like half of my adult life. The hardest part has been revising just as other writers warned me. I doubted it at first, especially when struggling to master dialogue and tense symmetry. I have sent my book out twice and instead of a ticker tape parade, I received big fat no thank yous that varied from the apologetic to the terse. A bit crestfallen, I put my book Mermaid away periodically to live life and gather strength to work on it again. A few weeks ago, I started seriously researching and taking classes on writing. Having invested so much time in my work, I knew I had to push to save it. When the Miami Book Fair set up, I took a few classes. I was able to understand how I had been going so terribly wrong. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to share my revising list with you. Please comment and let me know if anything (or nothing) has been helpful. Have a wonderful time committing literary murder.
1. Kill overly descriptive adjectives.
I have a tendency to be overly descriptive with colors. In one draft I said emerald instead of green and coffee colored instead of brown. This says to the reader that you are trying too hard. Stick to basics in an almost Hemingway direction, there is no shame in being descriptive just try to keep it direct.
2. Laugh at yourself.
Your writing is a beautiful product of your creativity, but as you evolve, you may see how young you once were. I find myself rolling my eyes at my past mistakes like heavy-handed dialogue.
We will get better.
3. Cut continuous exposition.
There is a tendency in all of us budding writers to tell and not show. Your points will get cross through details not meandering prose about the setting or character. Sometimes a thought, physical motion or a spoken word is more powerful than five descriptive paragraphs. Cutting has been painful for me and I push myself to ask, “Does this really need to be here? Is this moving the story forward? Cheesy as it sounds the usual answer is no.
4. Condense to about 250 pages.
In my research this seems to be the magic number. Not sure why it is, but just putting it out here.
5. Highlight bits you absolutely love.
Just because you have to cut things does not mean they are gone forever. I keep a computer document open wherever I cut anything called, aptly enough, “cut bits”. If you really love a line or word, highlight it and keep it in the back of your mind. Not everything has to be tossed.
6. Watch tense.
This is one of my Achilles heel. I will switch tenses throughout a page. Therefore, to counteract this, I bring intense awareness and scan the page several times to fix errors. Sometimes being aware of your tendencies is enough to fix them.
7. Work on between 10-20 pages daily/nightly.
The average attention span is twenty minutes and I find that ten pages of heavy marking I want to just zone out. After I reach my mental anguish limit of editing, I walk the dog or look at Vogue or read the New York Times. You might want to push for more, but break it up throughout the day. Otherwise, you might actually resent your writing and feel oppressed. However, you know yourself best and if you are on a tear, ride it out.
8. Nothing wrong with said or ask.
Answered, responded, inquired, beseeched –all of these stand out as we have been accustomed to said and ask. Anything else sticks out and thereby adds unnecessary scrutiny to our word choice. The reader needs to be drawn into our words, not our word choice.
9. Consider cutting the parts without dialogue.
My paid editor is a playwright and she tells me to consider just having scenes of dialogue and action.
10. Write a post it with your theme.
As an English teacher, I direct my students to constantly seek evidence to substantiate the theme. If you do not know what your theme is, maybe sit down and decide upon one now. My theme is an independent girl can grow into a strong woman only if she is fearless.
11. Make notes to yourself in the margin.
I write notes as if I am speaking to myself. I do not count the spelling and I make them as detailed as possible.
12. Keep sentences simple.
I teach fancy grammar, but sometimes a period is equal to a semicolon.
13. Rearrange scenes.
When you are cutting exposition, it unpeels a layer for further action. If a scene is great but does not work in the new context, consider tweaking it and putting it into a new area. I did this twice in my twenty-page limit today and I love the new direction.
14. Circle overused or questionable words.
My trouble words are chaos, drink, blink strange and observe. I circle them and look at a thesaurus.
15. Cross out lightly.
Some words, scenes and characters are salvageable. No need to throw everything out. I once had a friend go through an existential crisis and throw most clothes out of her closet. A few weeks later, she realized she had to buy new clothes thus defeating the purpose of her whole escapade. We may need things later when they make more sense.
16. You cannot type and edit at the same time.
I print out my work as seen in the picture and mark by hand. A recent workshop teacher suggested to do that and I wrote out my last blog post in my notebook. I saw this at work when I scored my second editor’s pick at my other blog at Open Salon. I know the difference now between trying out thoughts and formalizing them through typing. I go through my hand written pages and highlight or make notes. I think this really makes all the difference in the world.
If anyone wants to talk about writing, my email is email@example.com.
Forgiveness is the modern equivalent of snake oil. Dazzled believers feel cured while skeptics are pushed to the back of the crowd. As social animals, we have to protect the group dynamic sometimes at the cost of the individual. In some cases, there is nothing left to do. All the shouting has been ignored and to save our sanity we are willing to try anything just to let the hurt go. We accept their apology in person or absentia and try to turn away. Their acts so damning that our forgiveness of them has shifted into resentment. Nothing has been solved and further additional negative feelings have been accumulated. Thus begins a cycle of resentment-forgiveness-resentment.
There is another less prescribed action that involves just letting feelings be and moving through them. It will be awkward at first. We have been socially trained that the person who does not accept the apology is almost as guilty as the transgressor. Most of this guilt has roots in religion. We seek the same salvation from a higher power that someone may be seeking from us. Humans continuously fail, yet redemption is always possible. Like second chances, mercy is the way salvation until one day it is not.
In my experience going down the rabbit hole of dark emotions gives one a magical protection. Not in the whatever doesn’t kill you make you stronger school of nonsense, but cohabitating with darkness adds a sense of stability to your emotional scheme when you can identify with more than five basic emotions. The endless merry go round chase for happiness has to stand still at some point and we have to be able to look around and really feel our lives with our available emotions.
I often wonder where all unexpressed emotions go. Purportedly they travel to parts of our bodies to manifest in chronic pains. Anything is possible, but these feelings are generally just under the surface looking for the right time to reappear and wreak havoc. We try to get rid of any emotional discomfort quickly because we are alarmed when we cannot smile. The real fear is allowing our negative emotions to have breathing room and become part of our lives. It would be a new direction for us Americans to admit anything other than hysterical happiness.
Our buried emotions could be placed next to our lighter ones and we could finally see simultaneous shades of happiness and anger. Think of how much happier our Thanksgiving dinners would be if no one were sick of denying his or her emotions. Requests for passing the gravy would not dissolve someone into tears or result in thrown turkey (true story). Coping is a far stronger action than denial through forgiveness. We need a chance to allow our emotions to evolve without a time limit and a toe tap from other people. There have not been any recorded instances of someone dying from being unforgiven or abstaining from forgiveness. Who know what may happen. Anger could turn into drive when taken down a notch. Sadness could induce empathy and anxiety could adjust into healthy caution. We owe it to ourselves to see forgiveness as an option, but not the only way.
I would like to think I have a pretty solid political background: interning for Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), reading the news, and having an older brother who from a young age tell me we were Republicans. My first election I proudly voted for Clinton in red state Alabama, but now realize I should have honored my swing state of Florida where my vote would have been more diversified. Nevertheless, I was hooked for a while. Then came Bush who just was not my cup of tea. I understand his supporters, but not a member of his fan club. With great regret, I did not vote with Bush vs Kerry. It was just too dismal.
Then came Obama and people finally started waking out of their political comas. I was taken back by his lack of experience and the fact his had never passed a law in his own state and still has not passed a budget. Yet, I get his allure. He revitalized the African-America vote and Youth vote. Romney, well, he did the same flip-flopping that Kerry did and that kills anyone. My favoritw joke is “A liberal, conservative, and moderate walk into a bar, do you know what the bartender says? Hi Mitt.”
All I wanted was for people to go and vote. I got this madness for it and waited in line for only 2.5 hours this year. A small price to pay for my freedom. Then something nasty snuck up on me Election Day. A person who I think is generally an okay person put something so inflammatory on her Facebook status that I had to respond. My views that I teach my students is that once you resort to name calling, you’ve lost ground you will never recover. She basically implied those that were voting for my candidate had special needs. I let her know there was another side to the coin.
I might as well have announced that I had shit for brains. Her response was tacky and then she did something that I perceive as ridiculous, she brought up Europe as point of reference. Europe you say? I spent the first years of my life in Germany and visit my brother quite frequently in London. My membership to the Tate is pending as we speak. She has never been to Europe and only started going to other countries in her thirties. It was like me saying what the elderly must feel or babies. I pointed this out and the fact that Europe’s economy isn’t doing very well. Apparently my sky miles and I were woefully misinformed. She knew Europe better because she did.
I was not amused by our exchange and rather disappointed. It was election night though and the Catholic in me had to get out the candles and say a quick prayer. Pleas, I asked, let the country win. Sure,I posted a few things on facebook and rallied behind my candidate. But when it came down to it, I watched the returns with my very oppositional neighbors. We had pizza and the dogs played. It was very nice and we made our comments openly about our respective candidates. At 9:30 I went home to have a moment to myself to either win or lose.
I won’t tell you which one I experienced that night because the aftermath has been harsh. Children are taunting others for their political beliefs which I am sure sound too much like their parents and some adults have been writing nasty stuff on facebook. The children are getting it from the adults which is not only a bad example to set, but a destructive one as well. Think about what we learned in kindergarten: Nobody likes a sore winner or loser. It will always be true and that is what we need to teach our children and each other.