Tag Archives: revision

Treat your writing like fine cheese….

gruyere

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best Gruyère cheese–the one earning the lofty “AOP” designation in Switzerland–merges both morning and evening milk.

The poet in me likes to think this means both the cow’s morning cheerfulness and her late afternoon pensiveness swirl into the same vat. It’s more likely that mixing last night’s milk into the morning batch gives a head start to the culturing process. The cheese is then aged five months up to a year, another step which lends Gruyère its trademark complexity–sweet, salty, and nutty.

William Trevor, one of my literary idols, was famous for penning a short story and putting it away for as much as six months before re-reading and revising. Now that takes discipline! It’s also a testament to his productivity. I’m sure he had so many pieces in various stages of production that it never bothered him to shelve something for a time.

Jane Austen is another writer known for her reflection. Pride and Prejudice took many years to write. And this delightful novel started out with the title of “First Impressions.” It was only after months of revision and consideration did she settle on the final name of the book that we all know and love so much today.

Both Trevor and Austen, although very different writers, made a name for themselves through complex characters and subtle humor, two elements that can only flourish with adequate rumination and revision.

The next time you finish a story, poem, or essay, try putting it away for a little while. At least give it a good night’s sleep. Fan those first flames of enthusiasm (morning milk) with a healthy dose of maturation (evening milk). I bet you’ll end up with a final product as nuanced and delicious as Gruyère! Bon Appétit!

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Fiction and Celebrity Sightings at CCCC

submission-class-photo.jpg

Dahlias, Courtesy of Ruth Moose

 

Yesterday, a group of fiction devotees met at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro to delve further into a favorite topic: flash!

We talked about revision and the necessity of tantalizing titles and edgy diction (special thanks to Arthur Plotnik, author of Spunk & Bite). Then we covered publication opportunities, including contests, which are great avenues for beginning fiction writers offering prize money…. plus publication!

And of course, back by popular demand, we made time for new writing sessions.

Drawing from a favorite prompt in The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell (“Aunt Dottie Catches the Hankerchief Tossed by Elvis from the Stage of the Sands in Vegas”), we imagined an interaction between a relative and a celebrity and wrote a story about it. From a beloved uncle meeting St. Peter in heaven to a girlfriend running into a famous rock star at Linens N’ Things while buying a toaster, our writers truly soared with this prompt.

So…next time you’re in line at Harris Teeter, and you think the woman in the big sunglasses behind you looks a little like Ann-Margret, don’t waste the moment asking for an autograph. Get out a pen and make notes for a flash fiction instead!

Many thanks to the attendees of all three flash fiction workshops this year (spring and fall). I hope you had as much fun as I did! And whatever you do, be sure and stay posted to this blog for news of future workshops on the exciting and evolving topic of flash fiction.

Join us on Saturday for Flash Fiction II!

desk.jpgFlash fiction is an exciting field, and for writers, there’s always something new to discover and learn. Fresh from a wonderful journey through the literary heart of our nation — the haunt of Melville and Twain, to name a couple of famous authors — I’m bursting with inspiration and ready to share.

During our first flash fiction workshop this fall at Central Carolina Community College, we settled down with pens and like Herman Melville (whose writing den is recreated here) we wrote to our hearts’ content. And now, we’re ready to polish and prepare our work to share with the world.
If your schedule permits, I hope to see you this Saturday, October 13, from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Pittsboro at Central Carolina Community College for Flash Fiction II: Revision and Submission for Publication. And I’ve got some great news! In preparing for the class, I discovered a long list of contests and publications seeking flash fiction — with deadlines by the end of the year!

I’m also sharing examples of cover letters from my own files that worked for me. In addition, I’ll  share my own blunders and “dont-do’s” that might save you from the kind of mistakes I made. I’d love to share these and more with you on Saturday, and as always, I welcome your own contributions.

Register today by calling at 919.545.8044 or through the CCCC website.

A Day of Flash Fiction ….

at Central Carolina Community College yesterday whizzed by so quickly that I couldn’t believe my eyes when the clock read 3:45….gulp!

sept22 class.jpgFrom a contemporary re-telling of a beloved fairy tale through text messages (yes!) to a memorandum from the Goddess of Chaos (hilarious!) and so much more, the contributions of all nine students simply took my breath away. And the emotions expressed struck every note on the xylophone, from laughter to tears.

What a good flash ought to do, according to Vanessa Gebbie, is to “catch you as you turn away, hold you, and when you’re finished reading, it should echo and resonate.” As the workshop leader, I can truly say that yesterday’s stories will remain with me for a very long time. It was truly an honor to be there.

We had planned to plow through six exercises but sadly, we ran out of time after the fifth. The good news is that everyone left with “homework,” so they can complete the final exercise on their own. And I’ll share it with you, just in case you want to give flash fiction a try. 🙂

Exercise 6. In the News. Choose an actual news headline and write a fictional story. (200-500 words). For example, “Chatham County Sheriff’s Office Uses Facebook to Catch Thief” or “Spring Hope Man Grows a Whopper of a Cantaloupe” (both are real examples from local news sources.)

Hint: To see how another writer probably did this, read “Local Woman Gets a Jolt,” a masterful short fiction by Jennifer Pieroni (published  in New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories, edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro).

Want more? It’s not too late! Join us on Saturday, October 13, for the next installment: Flash Fiction: Revision and Publication. Now that you’ve written your flashes, you’re ready to show them off! Bring a story of your own and learn how to revise, prepare and submit it for publication in online or print magazines, and how later to create a book-length collection and find publishers.

Easy Reading is Damn Hard Writing…

The title of this post came from American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, in what I’m sure was one of a random sequence of quotes from Mother WordPress meant to inspire us bloggers. The timing turned out to be serendipitous because these words magically appeared in the same week that I’m diving into the revision of Born Again, Dead Again.

As you can see from the flagged copy of my most recent version, much work still lies ahead. The good news is that childhood friend and muse Tonya (the orange tags) and fellow writer and colleague Melissa (yellow tags) have generously contributed their time and energy into a careful review of the book to-date. Another thanks goes to a more recent muse who kindly reviewed Julio’s Spanish for me (¡Hay Dios mio!). All of this feedback is balanced with the gentle counsel of my editor and friend, Judy Geary, whose belief in my work and these characters has been my compass throughout.

Back to Nathaniel’s words. It is indeed amazing how hard the writing process can be, even for those of us who adore it. I can’t tell you how many hours have been spent on a single paragraph, and the number of revisions that a single sentence has endured.

I will say that a recent ally has been an old article in Writer’s Digest (above) by James Scott Bell on the subject of revision. There are many gems in “The Geyser Approach to Revision,” but most notably the following: “In shaping your manuscript…embrace the ebb and flow of a revision process that maximizes both creative surges and quiet analysis.” As many of you know, I have always prided myself on the ability to separate my writer self from the critical reader. I insisted that this was necessary. However, I’m beginning to rethink this belief, thanks to Bell. He reminds us that during revision, you don’t have to deprive yourself of the creativity that inspired you to write in the first place.

Bell’s advice has been liberating and frankly, a bit joyous. Don’t be afraid to overwrite, he says, deepen those details, and draw upon the evocative power of music. These words have helped tremendously, especially when sifting through the comments my friends have so generously contributed. And to Tonya, Melissa, Judy and other friends, I will again concur with the words of Hawthorne. As he said of his own friend’s advice: “I care more for your good opinion than for that of a host of critics.”

Cheers!