I’m reading backwards this week.
I’ve discovered that starting with the last line and reading a manuscript backwards, line by line, is a great way to do a final proof.
Seeing each sentence clearly all on its own makes it possible to spot all kinds of typos and grammatical errors your unconscious mind would otherwise gloss right over. It brings back memories of 5th grade English and sentence dissection (which I loved).
And reading the story in reverse also shines a spotlight on my own weird habits.
It was obvious that I get in ruts – writing sentence after sentence with an introductory clause or exclamation. Embarassing. And then switching to simple sentences one after another in a staccato line, before several pages of compound sentences connected by ‘but,’ obviously my favorite conjunction.
Adverbs rear their ugly heads like the voles in my sweet potato patch. Obviously, something must be done. If only it were as easy in the garden.
And then there’s my odd use of a goofy word repeatedly- one that didn’t stand out in the feverish forward read, but in reverse sticks out like the Valentine’s balloon caught in the leafless trees outside my window. Authors should only be able to use words like, squeezed, bleary-eyed, ominous, fresh, and surprised once per manuscript. Oh, and chuckled. I use that WAY too much.
I’m even growing annoyed with my characters. Why do they drink so much wine? Is it really necessary for them to sigh so often? They really aren’t so funny in reverse.
Picking apart my manuscript this way makes me feel exposed. What the hell am I doing? I suck at this. How did I EVER get published?
And as the corrections pile up, I think, my editor is going to wring my neck. I should have found this stuff long ago.
And then I doubt myself – is that truly a run-on sentence? Modern authors seem to take great leeway when it comes to run-ons. The definition has gotten muddled in my mind. What’s accepted these days? What’s still hand-smack worthy?
And how many times can I start a sentence with And and get away with it?
My 8th grade son had a grammar test today and listening to him reciting the parts of speech he had to memorize made me nostalgic.
He said, “I hate this stuff. I can’t remember it.”
I said, “Gosh, I wish I’d paid more attention to grammar when I was your age.”
“Why?” he asked. “It’s not like you’re ever gonna use this stuff.”
I love the concept of choosing your own word. I don’t know where this phenomenon originated. It’s probably not important, although I do like to give credit where credit is due, so suffice it to say – it wasn’t my idea. I’m just stealing it. Copying is the sincerest form of flattery, I always say.
Churches are into picking your word, but this isn’t a religious thing for me. It is spiritual, though. I may be turning 50 this year, but I am certainly not finished growing up. I’m still polishing the edges, working on the bad habits and trying to let go of crappy stuff like resentment, jealousy, and judgment.
I think the moment any of us stop trying to be better people, is the moment we become old.
And I never intend to be old.
So, this year’s word (drumroll please…..) is Give.
(Last year’s word was blessed, and wow, was I ever.)
I picked give because I’ve gotten so much. I’ve been so very blessed. In order to keep balance, I’ve decided I need to give more or my plate will crack under the stress of so many blessings.
But what could I give?
I can’t give money. I don’t have any to spare since I have a kid in college and two headed that way and three cars with WAY too many miles on them. Add to that three horses who I couldn’t give away if I tried. (Basically I have three too many of everything.)
Since I couldn’t give money, I decided I could give my expertise. While my expertise is quite relative at best, offering it will mean giving more time (of which I have very little to spare, poor busy me). Still, I volunteered to teach a few free workshops on creative writing, and am looking for more opportunities to teach, coach, or help other writers.
That seemed pretty measly, so I thought more about it and decided that what I can most give are the intangibles - encouragement, patience, honesty, and love. Yup, it’s sounding kind of religious, but again, it’s not. It’s human. I can give more of my humanity.
So I’ve begun reaching out more. Instead of reading another writer’s post or article and thinking, “Wow, that’s really good, I wish I’d thought of that,” and simmering away on my jealousy stew, I’ve begun commenting, liking, and sharing.
When I finish reading a book, I’m following up on that reading by reviewing, and even contacting other writers to say- wow, you’re awesome. (since most of us work for pennies, I know the compliments are priceless.) I’m working up the nerve to invite a few to guest blog for me (already slipping up on the giving and trying to get something…)
Instead of trolling the internet looking for what I can get, I’m looking for what I can give.
I’m giving other writers a few minutes of my attention to read their blogs and comment.
Instead of simply clicking the follow button on twitter, I’m taking the time to scroll through a twitter feed and look for real connections.
The Liebster Award landed in my lap, and that was a perfect way to pay it forward.
I’m hitting the “like” button much more now and surrendering my lurking status.
At home, in terms of giving, I’m trying to be quieter. When it comes to me, that’s truly a form of giving. I’m not nagging or directing as much. I’m letting the kids go a little feral because they’re old enough to have earned that right. I’m not sharing all my inner rants with my patient hubby. I’m even turning his t-shirts right-side out instead of simply folding them that way.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways I can give this year. It’s February so I’ve only had this powerful word for about six weeks. I’m hoping it will guide me all year long. The adventure is just beginning.
What’s your word?
This summer while scraping the bottom of the barrel on Netflix, my husband and I stumbled upon a quirky movie about a writer. I can’t remember much of the plot or the name of the movie. (This happens frequently; stories and titles rarely stick with me. I think my brain is too full of them. Embarrassing problem to have as a writer.)
This forgotten movie opens with a writer musing that being a writer is like being a boxer. You have to put all your talent out there in the ring all alone for everyone to see.
I agree about the putting yourself out there, exposed. It does feel like that sometimes. But beyond that the analogy fails for me. Taking this analogy another step would mean beating up another writer or being beaten up by readers. Basically, being beaten up by somebody. I’m not a boxer. I don’t watch violent movies or read thrillers. I'm pretty much a pacifist.
Giving credence to this analogy would mean that when we get in the ring, one writer’s success could only come at the expense of another. And as much as that can sometimes feel like the case- it isn't.
Maybe a better analogy would be the Initiative & Confidence courses of my youth at summer camp. We ALL had to get over that wall. And then we ALL had to work together to make it along the tight rope, the monkey bars, the wiggling logs and plenty of other exercises designed to threaten and then build your confidence. The entire course involved working together through what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles (at least to those of us less coordinated and less confident participants).
Maybe that analogy is lacking, too. But we writers LOVE our analogies, so we’ll go with that one instead.
Writers need each other. We’re the only ones who ‘get it.’ We know all too well, the sting of so many rejections. We understand how you can love being a writer and hate writing at the same time. We know how brave you have to be to write well – the risk, the gut-honest truths, the embarrassing habits, the painful memories. We know that vulnerability is not optional and you really do have to kill your darlings.
I remember standing at the bottom of THE WALL on the I&C course one summer when I was about thirteen. I was cripplingly self-conscious, convinced I was fat and weak and terrified at the idea of my campmates having to haul my big, pathetic butt over that wall. I contemplated every kind of escape, wishing I knew how to throw up on cue since my stomach was in knots and my face was beet red. In the end I had to trust my teammates to help me over that wall. I had to let them see my weakness, expose my fear. No other way over that wall. Same for writers. Until we can share our weakness and stop trying to be something we are not, our writing has no authenticity.
Wow, that analogy went much further than I thought it would. I could continue to write about how the writers who have made it over the wall need to look back and haul the rest of us up, but maybe that’s a little desperate. Maybe.
Writing is mostly a solitary sport, but publishing is a team event. I’m in the midst of rewriting a novel I love, having taken my hits, put an icepack on my black eye, and gotten back to work.
It’s the process. So maybe writing is like boxing. Now I’m back to training and polishing and getting better, so the next time I toss my manuscript in the ring, it’ll be a winner. But it's also like those I&C courses, too, because I know I'm not really alone. The best thing I can do for my writing it trust the advice of other writers, trust my reader with my honesty, and trust my heart to share my story.