Digging for Words

One writer's quest to bring the past to life through imagination

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Another Maplewood Patch Article

Check out my latest on Maplewood Patch: OK, Let’s Talk About Those Deer.

The South Mountain Reservation Deer Hunt

The South Mountain Reservation Deer Hunt




Sometimes hope is an elusive prospect in the face of the daunting task of writing. The work can seem a chore, endless, lonely, unforgiving, even pointless when one considers the perhaps bigger chore of finding a publisher and an audience.

Those hours spent, those days and weeks soon grow into years of trying again and again, knowing the effort might lead to nothing, sensing that everything you write isn’t good enough, that it will never be good enough, that maybe you should reconsider your passions, if not your career choice. It’s very hard to swallow even for the most stubbornly determined among us.

So I take great delight in sharing this very brief but lovely essay by Junot Diaz, Becoming a Writer. (I know we had an interview with him earlier this session, but I can’t help myself.) His authorial heartbreak and astounding breakthrough are powerful antidotes for that feeling of frustration.
There is always hope
Writing sometimes is not about how much you can take as it is about who you really are. If you are a writer in your soul, then you must go on writing, despite all counter-indications. Every rejection, every challenging critique, every soggy tissue and ream of paper you throw out with the recycling, are just pebbles (Yes, pebbles, I know, I know!). They are the rubble upon which a stronger foundation will be built for the monumental work – short or long, published or unpublished – that you put forth. It is as strong as the pyramids because it bears your sweat and blood and bones.

Writing is unrequited love. Writing is being jilted and still having the courage to return to the altar. Writing is also the intimate wonder of cuddling an infant and examining it delicately to make sure that it is absolutely perfect in every minute detail.

So on this week before Thanksgiving, I wish each of you hope. And I thank all of you who have shared this journey with me. Having this precious circle in which to soothe grief and nurture joy makes every drop of sweat worthwhile.

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The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School Short Story Contest

In the past few years, The Writers Circle has been honored to see several of its writers win or place in the annual South Orange-Maplewood Adult School Short Story Contest. Our first winner was Ross Minichiello back in 2007: and Mary Mann placed second last spring. 2009’s winner was Jim McHugh who is in our circle now. Though he wrote his winning story before he joined us, we’re fascinated by the new work he shares with us each week.

So here’s your chance to make it happen again. Details on the contest are below. I encourage everyone to enter. And since we have some time before the submission deadline, feel free to bring your work into the group to get it ready.

The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School is accepting short stories to be honored at Celebrity Readings, the school’s annual literary showcase featuring theater actors performing selections of short fiction. The winning story will be published in Matters Magazine.

The deadline for submissions is Feb. 5, 2010.

The contest is open to any adult (18 or older). Manuscripts must be submitted by email only to schoolinfo AT somadultschool.org. One entry per person. Entries must be 4,000 words or fewer, double spaced. Your name, address and phone number must appear at top of the first page. Place your name at the top of each subsequent page. Type exact word count at the top of manuscript.

The first-prize winner will receive $200 and will be honored on Monday, March 22 at Celebrity Readings.

Good luck, everyone!

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101 Ways to Write a Novel

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever, there’s no right way to write a book. I had it comfirmed for me many years ago with my oft’ repeated story of my dear friend Stephanie Cowell (whose new novel, Claude and Camille about Claude Monet, is coming out in April 2010). Years ago before either of us was published, I sat amazed listening to her tell how she put together her first novel by laying all the scenes on her bed and putting them in order!

Mark Twain worked in bed!

Mark Twain worked in bed!

I could never, ever do anything like that. I’m a chronological writer. I start at the beginning and I write to the end. I’ve tried it other ways, but there are always so many threads that I’m trying to hold on to that the moment I turn in another direction, I lose half of them and everything gets tangled. It’s frustrating, but I’ve always been a plodding, meticulous person. I suppose this is part of my curse – or my blessing.

In this terrific article from the Wall Street Journal (thanks, Stuart), How to Write a Great Novel, my personal observations are played out on a grand scale with the many different methods of some of today’s greatest writers.

Aside from the grandiose title (If anyone can really explain how to write a great novel, or even a mediocre one, please let me know!), it is a terrific collection of the true randomness and idiosyncrasy of this strange thing called writing that we do. Each author has his or her own process that does the trick. It’s up to each of us to figure out what works for us, too.

As I read this piece, I found myself thinking of many of the writers in our circle. Birgit, you’ve got to try Dan Chaon’s color-coded index cards. It’s a brilliant way to keep track of all your characters and story-lines. Stephanie, you take a drive; Hilary Mantel takes a shower (me, too!). Pam, I love how Dan Chaon (again) starts by simply jotting down imagery. Maybe you will find your plot in the same random way.

Some of us are morning writers; some are 2:00 in the morning writers. Some use voice-recognition software; some write by hand. I particularly appreciate how many of these successful authors admit to throwing out hundreds of pages or sometimes whole books. It happens. Take my word for it. We all shed a pool of tears and move on. But it’s part of the process, as unavoidable as the blank page.

So, if you haven’t found your method yet, here are a bunch of new approaches to try. Meanwhile, I’m sitting pretty this evening having finished a large section of revision (more like a complete overhaul, but one never knows what one must do until one reads one’s own work from beginning to end.)

Now, I’m off to the shower for some Hilary Mantel-style inspiration!

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Let’s Get Some Writing Done

Given my chaotic schedule these last few weeks, I’m relying on the wisdom of some good friends in the extended network of writers in our area to fill you will some hope and guidance to move forward with your writing.

From my friend Christina Baker Kline’s blog, here are Thirteen Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Done from Gretchen Rubin who blogs at The Happiness Project.

They’re good tips that I’m using myself. I particularly like #2: “Remember that if you have even just fifteen minutes, you can get something done!”

Let’s all keep that in mind when life tries to suck every minute from us like sweat in the desert. I’m headed for my fifteen minutes now. How about you?