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Getting Back Into My Pages

Today I jumped back into the beginning of my novel. I should say, for those of you who follow the blog, that I’ve actually not been working on my fiction since I got back from the New York Summer Writer’s Institute at Skidmore about a month ago.

It was such an intense experience, that afterward I felt like I had to set the story aside for a while. That was compounded by working on some paid work, and polishing up the pitch for my non-fiction book (which my agent is taking out to publishers after Labor Day). So it was just finally today that I pulled the novel back out for some tinkering.

One of the things I really had time to explore at Skidmore was the idea that I needed to push back the introduction of one of my characters. I kind of knew I needed to, but it’s so much work that I put it off, and as I’ve learned, nothing makes a tough writing challenging easier than ignoring it for a month (insert sarcastic laugh here).

I’m finding it really hard to get back to. I totally understand how people get halfway through a novel and never finish. I’m halfway through the second draft and I’m jumping back to rewrite the first half again. Rookie mistake or vital adjustment to process in the name of understanding my story better?

As I often find myself saying, I just don’t know, but I’m going to keep writing until I figure it out.

You Are Not Your URL

I was talking with a friend last week about good resources for writers. I directed her toward my usual go-to sites, like Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and for those of us looking to submit shorter works for publication: NewPages.com.

She in turn introduced me to a few writer websites that are pretty awesome. My favorites right now are “Sage Said So,” the site for Sage Cohen, and Rosetta Thurman’s self titled website. I like to look at these two sites side by side. Sage is a poet with an impressive publication list, and Rosetta is a blogger writing about social change. I’m fascinated by how their websites seem to totally match their personas.

At the New York Summer Writer’s Institute I met a young man who engages in none of this kind of self promotion. He’s not even on Facebook. While I admire that sort of literary homesteading, I personally hope to give myself every advantage in growing my career as a writer, and so I need a kick ass site. Every time I look at Sage and Rosetta’s sites I get to thinking.

Is it time to revamp my site? What kind of site design says “April Dávila”? Right about then I hear a Brad-Pitt-In-Fight-Club like voice in my head laughing and saying something along the lines of “you are not your URL.”

Still, I can’t help but click over to my site and think about what colors would better represent me, what fonts would more adequately help people know who I am. Silly? Yes. A necessary part of being a creative individual in the modern age? Also yes.

Overflowing Shelves

Yesterday I cleaned off my bedside table of all the books that have stacked up there over the last six months. I usually finish books in bed, late at night, and more often than not, I’m not ready for sleep. I want the next book. So I took some time to collect the books from around the house (the ones I haven’t yet read, but want to) and stack them up so that I can just reach for the next one without even thinking about it.

It got me thinking about book shelves. We have one in the kitchen, two in the guest room /my office, one downstairs in the hallway, two in the bed room – one on my side, one on my guy’s. We even have a book shelf in the garage that is overflowing onto the small table beside it.

So I have recently made a policy of not keeping books unless I love them so much that I can’t stand to part with them, or they are signed by the author, but what to do with all the books that I’m done with?

It seems I need to get more serious about finding homes for books that I no longer feel the need to keep. I guess I could donate them to a library, or a school or something. Anyone out there have any great ideas on this front. Or hey, maybe you want one? Check out the bio page on my website for a list of everything I’ve read in the last couple years. If something grabs you, let me know – these babies just need a good home.

In Defense of Unnecessary Words

Have you ever read a book that was so well written that you were sick of it by the time you were half way through it?

As I mentioned in my post last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about style lately. Strunk and White, Zinsser, even Elmore Leonard all talk about trimming prose down to what’s essential, but personally I feel that when writers take this advice too seriously they end up with prose that is so freaking dense that it hurts my head to read it, and I usually put the book down before I get to the end.

This isn’t to say I think a writer should get wordy just for the sake of filling the page (unless of course you’re getting paid by the word, in which case, go crazy), but as a reader I like to get a few extra words every now and then.

For instance, here’s a Steinbeck quote I posted last November:

“A large red drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the dusk.”

He could have said “The sun set and darkness crept over the land.” It gets the basic idea across without all those “unnecessary” words, but oh, the dripping, and that torn cloud like a bloody rag. Not only are these beautiful descriptions, but they also set a tone for the story (“Grapes of Wrath”). Would this book have withstood the test of time if he’d gone for the simple statement of the sun setting? I think not.

That said, I’ve also put down books because of endless adverb abuse or descriptions that fill pages without telling me anything about what’s going on. It’s a fine line to walk, so I get why instructors often tell us to cut the superfluous words, but I’d like to say here, because I can, that maybe, once in a while, illustrative verbiage is the spice that makes literature so delicious.

On Style

I feel like Lewis and Clark would have felt if they had not kept a journal, but rather tried to remember everything to write it down once they got home.

But of all the adventures that have kept me busy (and away from my blog – sorry) over the last month, the one I am most excited to tell you about is the New York Summer Writer’s Institute.

For two weeks I wrote, read, listened to others read, critiqued work and took in feedback from my fellow writers. It was the first time that I ever immersed myself in my writing so completely, and it has left me a little stunned.

While there is much to say about the experience, and I intend to talk a lot about it in the coming weeks, the thing I’ve been ruminating the most on is style. My instructor at the Institute was Rick Moody. He wrote The Ice Storm, Garden State, Right Livelihoods, and his new book The Four Fingers of Death just came out (I am half way through my autographed copy and loving it).

He has a very clean, direct style that is different from some of the writers I’ve studied with. I tend to lean toward more languid, flowery writing, with digressions of visceral descriptions. That’s the writing I usually love to read, and so it’s the style I tend to emulate. Rick pushed me to consider a different kind of style, to trim everything that isn’t absolutely necessary and whittle down my writing to the barest of shiny white bones.

What’s more, he told me to take his advice with a grain of salt. He very earnestly said that no matter who I try to imitate in my writing, I will always be me, and so the best thing I can possibly do is just keep writing and let my own style develop. What great advice.

So I’m back at the keyboard, typing away once more. Please accept my apologies for my recent absence, and rest assured, now that life is returning to normal, I will be back to my regular routine of Monday morning blogging.