The Bloodletting Process

Have you been through the editing process?copyedits-by-Danica-Page
Have you opened a manuscript and wondered how the editor managed to kill an entire family of puppies on your work electronically?
Have you gone through the edits and thought, “What the hell was wrong with that sentence? It makes perfect sense!” and then struggled with whether or not to argue the point, or to hold out for the bigger stuff you want to argue about?
I’m the person you get to argue with.
I’m the one that goes through with the electronic red pen and carves up your beautiful word pizza with a hatchet.
But, I’m also a writer. I’m doing a doctorate in creative writing, in fact. So I’ve been through the editing process. I understand that sinking feeling in your stomach when you see the crushed tomatoes and wonder what the hell ever made you think you could write in the first place. That working at McDonald’s would be more rewarding and far less painful for your ego.
There’s a definite tension between editing and writing. It’s something I struggle with in my dissertation work. My natural tendency, after nearly a decade as an editor, is to edit as I go. This disrupts the flow. It cages the creativity and makes the story flat, the characters dismal, the plot muddy.
Writing means flowing. It means letting go and allowing yourself to write really terrible stuff until you find the diamond waiting in the middle of the mire. It means getting the story out, from beginning to end. Then, once you’re there, you can go back and start working through the story, finding gaps, fleshing, cutting, moving, etc.
Being an editor means I am always ultra-aware of nuance, of structure and character. I see the story in my head. I close my eyes and picture the manuscript and consider where restructuring might take place, where things need to be fleshed out or cut. I consider whether that moment that happens on page 72 needs to happen on page 3, or page 80. Clearly, this doesn’t help when I’m in the process of writing my own novel. Letting go, getting messy, allowing the words to fall where they may, is part of getting the novel written. The nitty-gritty stuff should come after the fun-creative stuff. But I just can’t seem to let go. I’m working on it. I had no idea I was such a word-control freak.
Being a writer means I’m aware of what it is to be edited. That it can be painful, and soul crushing. So when I edit I try to take that into account and explain as best I can why things have been changed, or why they need to change, or be cut, or fleshed out, or moved. I’ve always said that when an author finishes a novel, it’s like giving birth. And I’m the midwife. When you’ve pushed out that big lump of beautiful mess, I take it from you. I clean it, smack its ass, make it scream, and give it back to you. It’s still your baby, just clean and screaming.
It’s worth it. The tension between editing and writing, the feeling of having your stomach scooped out with a sharp spoon when you get your edits, the ecstasy of seeing your cover and the sublime feeling of holding your book in your hand. It’s all worth the birthing ritual and bloodletting.
Really.

Queer Integration and Writing

At a recent panel discussion I led, the topic was LGBTQ integration and writing. puzzle-pieces

A vague topic, certainly.

For the purposes of the panel, the question was: should queer fiction be integrated into mainstream fiction? Should it be separate, or should we always have an identifier that makes it separate? Does having a separate shelf in the book store ghettoize queer writing? Hell, what is queer writing? Is it queer content, or queer author? Must one have the other?

That’s where the conversation started. Other questions that came up: Do you consider yourself a queer writer, or a writer who happens to be queer? If we are fighting for equality, why should we need a separate category? Would it be better if fiction with queer content was integrated on the bookshelves among all other works, so that everyone just picked up a book and read whatever, regardless of sexuality/identification?

Does the author of the work matter? Can a non-queer writer write queer fiction (believably)? One audience member’s response was that it made him uncomfortable only when a non-marginalized person felt they were perfectly qualified to write a non-marginalized experience, because he felt they couldn’t fully understand what it is to live that experience. Another writer said it’s our job to write experiences other than our own, as creators of other worlds. That we shouldn’t allow the worry about ‘getting it wrong’ keep us from attempting to write characters from experiences other than our own.

Some readers said they don’t consider the author at all, some said the author was important because they bring an element of themselves to the story.

The panel was only 40 minutes, and it was a massive question with tons of offshoot questions. It was fast paced, vocal, and intelligent, with plenty of laughter too. So excellent.

Today’s question:

What do you think about some of the questions raised? Does the author of a book matter to you (particularly with regard to sexuality or gender)? Or is the story paramount? Should we keep a category of LGBTQ on the shelves, or would it be better to simply be among all the other books?

Book: Helen of Troy by Margaret George

Song: Even if We Try by Night Beds

Complex Communicators

Humans. how-u-are-feeling

We’re complex creatures. If we did, in fact, evolve, then we also managed to evolve extraordinarily complicated areas of communication and emotion.

But in this case, evolution may not have made things better.

Emotions are difficult to contain, to parse, to understand, to relate. They are mutable, transferable, irreconcilable. And there isn’t a moment when you aren’t experiencing some combination of them. They can drive you around the bend, getting stuck in an endless and ever-growing loop, and they can make you feel invincible. But rarely do you and another person experience the same emotions at the same time, which leads to…

communication.

Communicating emotions is difficult. Putting into words a feeling, an intuition, a sense of something, a gut instinct, is beyond hard sometimes. Not always. But often.

But communication in general is complex. How often does someone you know give you a back-handed compliment? “I liked your hair long, but this is okay too.” “You should smile more often, you wouldn’t look so serious.” “I always thought you were the smart one, but you’re the pretty one.”

It seems that for some people it is hard to say something positive when they speak. They simply must give an opinion that suggests you are not enough. I don’t know if this is because they don’t feel like enough, or if they truly feel that they’re simply telling you the truth, or if they feel like they’re helping you in some way. But it always leaves you feeling less-than. Kind of like that pair of underwear that looked great in the store but manage to wedge themselves uncomfortably in your colon.

When emotions are involved, it can be hard to reassure someone else, to lift them up and make them feel good, particularly when you’re feeling low yourself. It can be hard to move beyond your own emotions in order to give someone a simple, uplifting comment. But you know what? You should. Because by lifting others, we get a rise ourselves. It’s part of karmic energy exchange, and the more you relate gently and positively toward the world, the more it does the same for you.

That may be easier said than done. After all, we’re complex creatures with complex ways of interacting.

Today’s question:

How do you relate emotions? Are you an exploder? Are you an advice-giver? Or are you an uplifter? What communication style do you prefer? Are there emotions you find particularly difficult to relate or deal with?

Song: You Were Afraid by Night Beds

Book: Helen of Troy by Margaret George

 

That Bastard Inner Critic

There’s a saying, something about being your own worst critic.

As a rule, I don’t let anyone read my writing. I don’t have beta readers. I don’t ask for feedback or comments.

I write it. I read it. I touch it up. I send it in.

And, generally, I don’t read it once it has come out in an anthology.

Now, I’m an editor. That’s what I do for a living, aside from teach writing. I know how important feedback can be. I know the comments from a beta reader can be invaluable, and another set of eyes can catch mistakes you didn’t see.

But no.

I was asked today why that is, by someone who is more than willing to beta read for me. (Note: if you’re not sure, a beta reader is someone who critiques a piece of writing for you. They offer constructive feedback about things that might not be working for your story). And of course I needed to ponder it.

When I was young, I wasn’t so different. I would submit my work to competitions, but I wouldn’t share it with friends. And many years later, I called my ex to say I was upset I’d gotten a B on a writing assignment. Her response? “Well, you’re a B writer. You’ll never be an A writer.”

This is the first time I’ve thought of that conversation in years. But I think it had a profound effect on me. And now, in the midst of my PhD where I have yet to hear anything good about my writing in the two years I’ve been at it, I’ve become extremely unsure about my writing. Frankly, I’m so convinced it’s crap that I’m finding it difficult to write at all. But years ago I promised myself that I would get at least one short story published a year, and that means I have to write at least a few, so that I keep my writing and creativity going.

This year I’ve got at least two scheduled, which is nice. No one has read them, of course, other than the people I submitted them to.

Newsflash: I’m really, really sensitive.

No, really. I am.

And the thought of people I know, people I respect, people whose opinion matters, telling me my writing is shite, is devastating. The faceless masses don’t frighten me, because I don’t know them. They’re entitled to their opinions, and they most likely will never tell me what they think of my story anyway.

Today’s Question: How are you at taking criticism? About your writing, or anything else? Do you have certain people who read for you, or are you happy to share it all over the place?

On the Go

I’ve had this blog for just over five years now, and I’ve hit a slump. There are only so GettingThere.T3.Trains.window-photomany times I can talk about how busy and stressed I am.

But, well…

Actually, because I’m constantly under the gun, and I know how crazy this year will be, I’ve been working on getting organized. Like, I’ve done a yearly calendar so I can see the whole year planned out. I’m pretty much booked up through October, and it’s only January, so that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for things to just drop in. But at least I’ve got a plan, of sorts.

Also, I’ve been asked to run a writing retreat in Florence, Italy in June. Which of course is something crazy-exciting and much looked forward to.

So, so far the travel for the year looks like this:

Feel free to sign up for the retreats–the May retreat is sold out, but there’s still room in Florence and Spain in Oct.

I began this blog with the idea of talking about writing. But I haven’t done a whole lot of that. So I’ll be posting a bit more on the writing front. Anything you’d be particularly interested in?

Tomorrow I’m off to Belgium for a long weekend away. I love travelling (obviously) and I’ve never been. I’m also taking the Eurostar, and I LOVE taking the train. There’s something so old-world sweet about it.

So, I’ll post a bit about Belgium, and I’ll see you when I get back.

Song: Takin’ Back my Love by Enrique Iglesias

Book: The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

 

 

 

Talking Selfie

So, I watched this film that did a kind of project on selfies. (Selfie: a picture a person 035takes of themselves in whatever location they happen to be in, in order to share it with others via social media sites). You can watch the project, done with mothers and daughters, here.

One of the ideas of the project is that the advent of selfies is allowing women, specifically, to redefine beauty. That they can take pictures of themselves out doing, enjoying, being, without concern about whether or not they’re ‘attractive enough’. They can share their experiences and just be themselves.

The other idea is that their mothers are passing down their own insecurities, which in turn are making their daughters insecure. (One mother says, “why are you making the fish face?” when the girl simply looks at the camera. I hope she saw that when they watched it back.)

So I thought about it. Yes, with the advent of the easy camera phone, I’ve taken a few selfies to share when I’ve been in places that I felt were interesting. It’s not different from handing someone a camera and asking them to take a picture, really. It’s just that you choose the angle and light you want to be seen in. So yes, there’s an element of control involved.

And it’s true, I’m not always concerned with how round or spotty my face looks. I’m sharing, and I’m seeing other people share, and it turns out that flawless skin and razor sharp cheekbones really aren’t as common as zits and frizzy hair.

So in that sense, there may be something to the project’s aims. (My issue is that beauty is defined by looks in general, and that females need to define beauty at all to be accepted, but I appreciate the general ideal of what they’re trying to do).

And the thing about mothers passing their crap on to their daughters? Well, yeah. Clearly. Parents give us stuff that their parents gave them, and most of the time they’re not even aware of it. Because, of course, most parents wouldn’t willingly pass baggage on to their children. And watching the video, you’ll see the mothers doing exactly that: passing on the message that there’s always something more to be done, something ‘better’ the girls could be.

For me, I think that’s where the selfie has been most beneficial. My self esteem is not exactly high. If you’ve been reading long enough, you know that I typically see myself as the offspring of an Ewok and Medusa. But being able to take a quick picture, mostly unposed and in the moment, has allowed me to see that even without make-up, without my hair done or the ‘right’ smile on my face, I’m not horrific. Some days, I even think I’m all right. That’s actually a big step, folks. And seeing other people doing and realizing the same thing actually is powerful.

The next wave of feminism may be about the genuine acceptance of ourselves as unique individuals who are all attractive in our own ways. It may be about redefining beauty on a large scale using social media and cyber communication in general. It may be about showing one another, unabashedly, that there is no shame in not looking like air brushed/photo-shopped pictures.

Perhaps that is the most exciting possibility of social media: we can use it for more than telling people about our burnt meal attempts or the drunken debauchery of your night on the town. We can use it for change.

Really. Share the important stuff. Read the stuff other people post. Think about it. Digest it. Spread the stuff worth spreading.

Today’s question: How do you feel about social media? How do you feel about selfies and how do you feel about self esteem?

The Reason

A story about difference: globes (1)

I went to university at 18. I got sick, I got with a woman twenty years older than me, I left her, I moved back home.

I got a job working in social care, of sorts.

I worked with children with emotional/mental health issues. Kids who had been written off, kids who lived in one of the poorest sections of the California desert. Kids from ages 6-17, who had been diagnosed with things like borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, socio and psycho pathologies.

Some of these children were bussed to a special school, surrounded by barbed wire, far from any possible society, in the middle of an empty cat litter box known as the Mojave Desert. This special school was their last chance, because they’d been kicked out of every school in the county.

At this school, I worked with them on social skills, explaining things like why it’s not okay to release your anger by burning things down, or causing someone else physical harm, or abusing animals. That kind of thing.

We did a project where I brought in loads and loads of travel magazines and each child did a collage of places they’d like to see and things they’d like to experience. Then we talked about ways to make that happen. The point was to get them thinking beyond the barbed wire walls of their education and the broken down homes they slept in. I wanted them to understand there were other possibilities.

I left that job after a year and a half. It just became too difficult.

My mom lived in that area with her partner and their three children. One day a girlfriend of one of the kids was standing in the hall, looking at my picture. She asked if it was me, and my mom confirmed.

The girl said, “She did this project with us, where we cut out pictures of places we wanted to go. She told us we could get out, if we made a plan and followed through.  That we didn’t have to stay in that place. Because she told me that, I’m going to University next semester.”

One.

That may be the only life I ever effect that way. But one may be enough.

That is why I started Global Words, my social enterprise business. Because of the power of words, the power of getting someone to believe in themselves through writing and creativity.

The business runs in two parts:

1. Writing retreats, workshops, editing services, teaching. This is the money side of the business. Working with aspiring writers at every level, online and in person.

2. The profits from the money side get reinvested into the community. I work with LGBTQ youth/elderly, with children in low income areas and with women in crisis, on their writing. They learn to tell their stories and they gain experience in expressing themselves in writing. They develop community through writing.

This year I am leading writing retreats in Spain and Florence. I’ve got some really great editing clients. And that means I can do things like the LGBTQ Memoir project coming up in February, where I get ‘older’ people in the community to do some memoir writing, with the end result of having that work published in an anthology.

When I am stressed, when I think I’ve bitten off far, far too much and I begin to get that breathing-through-tar feeling, I step back and think: I’m so damn lucky. I do what I love every day and get to work with creative, inspiring and fascinating people who want to tell stories. Sometimes their own story, sometimes stories that are fiction. I get to work with words every single day.

Grateful. Yup, that’s me.

Today’s question: Was there a special moment that made you think you could make a difference, or a moment when someone made a difference in your life?

Song: Missing by Everything But the Girl

Book: The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

The Big 500.

I knew it was coming. feature-74-inc500_38

I kept preparing. I kept running through possible topics that was worthy of the 500 mark. Big topics, lively, funny, poignant.

Nothing. Zilch. I got so bogged down in saying something worthy, I found I had nothing to say. Add to that the bronchitis I came down with on boxing day and have yet to get rid of, and well, the word blockage became something like a bowel obstructed by a bowling ball.

So, as always happens when I get stuck, I’ll do a list:

1. 500 blogs may not seem like a lot for people who blog every day, or who even blog consistently. For me, it feels significant.

2. On this blog I’ve discussed gender, labels, writing, growth, ideas, illness, travel, other people’s blogs, paying attention, and the nature of publishing. Among other things.

3. Perhaps that’s why only a few of you brave souls have hung on–the ponderous and often illogical nature of this blog does not appeal to those who need structure from their cybersphere.

4. I am so grateful for those of you who continue to read. Who comment, share your thoughts, write your own blogs, and just make writing in general a process that is enlightening, fun, and interactive. And to those who lurk in the background, thank you, as well, for stopping by my playground.

5. I have begun a process of buckling down to work smarter, because I can not continue on in the way I’ve been working. We’ll see how it works out. I have given up caffeine, wheat, dairy, meat and sugar. And my migraines are definitively, inescapably, less because of it.

6. The growth I’ve had in the time I’ve been doing this blog is exceptional. I have been devastatingly ill, I have hit rock bottom and clawed my way back. I have broken both elbows, I have spent years in therapy. I have learned what love is. And what unconditional means.

7. I have been to States several times, Cyprus, Venice, Tenerife, Greece, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Spain and in two weeks, Belgium. I have travelled through the Netherlands, Iceland, Sweden and France. I learned enough Italian and Greek to get by while we were there.

8. I have started my own business. I teach writing, I teach editing, I learn, learn, learn. I’ve led conferences, book festivals, panels. I am becoming…something. I have yet to figure out what.

9. I have started my PhD. I have published several short stories. I am still learning to write. And the more I learn, the less I know. It’s a good place to be, most times. But not always. Some days trying to write is like trying to scratch out hieroglyphics in tar.

10. And I continue on. Editing, teaching, writing, learning, laughing, loving, growing. Balance remains elusive. Love remains solid. Life is good. Really, really good.

  • My most popular page, by far, is that on Story and Character Arcs. These are useful for plotting your novels. I think the other writing pages might have something to offer too…
  • The most popular search term is still lesbian armpit hair, followed closely by story arc, lesbian fiction, and my name.

Thank you, readers. A writer needs readers, and without readers, a blog can be a woeful place indeed. I hope that you’ll continue to read, to share your thoughts, to invite me and other readers into your writing worlds, and help grow the beautiful blogosphere we all play in.

Happy 500. Here’s to another 500.

Song: Te Busque by Nelly Furtado

Book: The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves

Marriage: Romantic, or Outdated Concept?

What, exactly, is marriage? r8

It’s a question that came up a lot in 2012-2013. I mean, it has come up a lot before that too, but over the past two years there’s been a lot of rhetoric around the issue of same-sex marriage as countries deal with it on a legal level. The answer isn’t as simple as folks once considered it.

According to Wiki: As of 19 August 2013, fifteen countries (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay) and several sub-national jurisdictions (parts of Mexico and the United States) allow same-sex couples to marry. A law has been passed by the United Kingdom, effective in England and Wales, which will be fully in force on 29 March 2014.

and:

As of January 2014, eighteen states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized same-sex marriage, although the Illinois law will not become effective until June 1, 2014.

So, what is it? Is it a ‘sacred commitment’? What if  you’re not religious? Is it just a legal commitment? What if marriage didn’t exist? Would you be any less committed to the person you’re with? As an LGBTQ person, do you feel strongly about being able to get married legally, or is it a heterocentric tradition that doesn’t apply to you? Does marriage imply ownership? Historically, marriage was about creating alliances that were good for the family, and a way to make certain that offspring ‘belonged’ to a certain man/family. It was about strategy, and power, and money. Romantic marriage, or marrying for love, is a modern concept, very twentieth century. What if you’re in a non-standard relationship, like a Poly one? Do you believe in monogamy, in forever? Is there a ‘special’ someone for every person?

Your thoughts?

Book: Women’s Writing in America (Short Stories)

Song: Crawling Back to You by Daughtry

2014

2013. It’s over. 2014

But not.

Because, really, a new calendar year gives us the mental push for a new start, delineating the amount of time from one point to another, but, what it doesn’t do, is fully relieve us of the baggage we may have accumulated over the course of the year. Hopefully, we’ve managed to drop enough baggage off during the year to balance out the baggage we’ve picked up.

The key, as far as I can tell, is to decide how best to move forward into the calendar year. How to plan and consider what you want to be and do, and how to accomplish such.

I drew up a list a few days ago of things I have planned in 2014–things scheduled and agreed to and calendared and planned and committed to. Teaching, events, conferences, book stuff, writing things.

It is two pages long and goes through October.

It does not include anything that might pop up, or new clients, or extra trips, or time with friends, etc. This impending sense of panic is likely why I’m a procrastinator rather than a planner…

In 2013, I: taught an editing course, attended the Nottingham Festival of Words, appeared on various panels, presented papers at four conferences and attended several others, passed project approval, got some writing done, finished my business course, started my business, did the BSB UK festival, did the Manchester conference, was published in two anthologies, spent two weeks in Spain, spent two weeks in Greece, taught a writing course, worked with teenagers, edited a handful of manuscripts, edited articles, edited chapters. I went for various tests, I hung out with friends.

It was a good, good year, overflowing with opportunity and growth.

The coming year includes: trips to Belgium, Spain, New York, Washington and California. Teaching at least three writing workshops, two writers retreats, phd transfer/serious writing, anthology submissions, work with kids, editing, editing, editing, and a host of events, plus likely conferences.

Though I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to manage the mountain ahead, I can’t complain about the abundance of scrumptious that has landed in my lap. I will hold onto grateful as best I can, especially when it feels like said mountain may begin to collapse on top of me.

Thank you. Each and every reader who still comes by and reads, each one who comments and each one who doesn’t: the blogoshphere is only as strong as the people who form this fantastic network of ideas and conversations, and I value your input and thoughts.

Happy 2014.

Today’s Question: What do you have planned for 2014? Are you a resolution person? How can you go about bettering yourself (in whatever way works for you) this year?