Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For Once, It's Good to Be Short!

According to Ohio State University English Professor, Lee K. Abbott, "You'll need to write as much junk as you are tall before you'll ever produce something that somebody will want to read twice."

I'm 5'6" and shrinking. I've probably written twice my height in junk so perhaps my day is coming.

For more perspectives on the writing life, tune in to interviews with Professor Abbott and many other writers including Alice McDermott, Tim O'Brien, Michael Connelly, Jeanette Walls, Rick Moody and many more on The Kacey Kowars Show.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Long ago . . .

. . . when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it's called golf.

The memoir I'm writing about my father's last year is set in a golf cart. Dad spent a good portion of it swearing at himself when the little white ball didn't cooperate. Perhaps witchcraft would have been a better use of our time.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

It Ain't Over 'til It's Over

First, the good news. The semester's over. Aimee Liu, my Advisor in the Goddard College low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing, accepted the second draft of my second attempt at a short critical paper (my first attempt she rejected offhand). She also approved the eleven annotations I wrote on the (more than eleven) books I read. I'm allowed to go back to Port Townsend, WA for the next 8-day residency in February. In the meantime, I can relax - sort of.

This leads me to the bad news. The book's not done. And it looks like it's not going to be done for awhile.

I started writing this book during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2004 and hoped to complete it within 9 months. Those initial 50,000 words flowed so effortlessly. I had no doubt the rest of the book would follow in the same manner. But then came the gargantuan task of rereading, editing and expanding those original 50,000 words. Even NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in March 2005 didn't help.

So I did what every aspiring American writer would do. I took a class. Or rather, I took another class. In fact, I took two more classes before applying to graduate school. In these courses I learned about dramatic tension, pacing, dialogue, characterization, and plot. They showed me how to weave several stories together to make a book have more depth. They gave me a structure and support to help me pull together a complete first draft. And that's what I brought to the MFA program - in the words of Anne LaMott, "a shitty first draft."

From the folks at Goddard (and especially Aimee Liu), I've learned to go deeper and push myself harder. Aimee asked tough questions. "Why should we care?" and "Who are these people?" and "Why did you do what you did?" She poked, prodded and interrogated, not allowing me to gloss over anything. As a result, my second draft is much less "shitty" than before. But it's not done.

The moral of this story (for mustn't all stories have a moral?) is that a book has it's own time line. This is my first book and it will take all the time it takes. I've tried to move it along more quickly, but I can only write at the level where I am. Perhaps I'm lucky an editor isn't (yet) emailing me daily asking for the next draft. This way the book can mature as I do. And when it's done, it will be my best work - the best I can produce at the time.

Nita(read no line before its time)Sweeney
©Nita Sweeney, 2006, all rights reserved