A Simple Laugh

A friend of mine was discouraged recently about a story she’s been working on for ten years. Partly because of the amount of time (she’s on the fourth revision), but mainly because another writer laughed at her when she heard how long this story has taken.

So many things come to mind.

First, one writer laughing at another over someone’s process. No wonder my friend was discouraged (she said she can’t get that laugh out of her mind). It’s never okay to laugh at the expense of another, but especially when it’s around something that is an intimate part of who a person is. So it hurts.

Second, who cares how long it takes to write something? Some of us are fast, and some of us (myself included) are slow. My friend said she didn’t understand how authors could pump out a book a year. I explained how someone writes a book, then sends it off to an editor, and during the long editing and revising process, they work on something new. Granted, that doesn’t speed my writing up any, but for most it does. By the time book one comes back from editing, book two might be ready to go off to the editor, so there’s a cascade effect. Added to that, some people have a lot of time to write.

badlands 3

How long to write a book? Sometimes as long as it takes to grow in the badlands

Third, and probably most important: we don’t write on our timeline. It comes down to how long that story needs to be inside. How long that story needs to take, to be told. Some need to be like that kettle of cold water on the back burner, slowly coming to a simmer. Some just boil away and pour out.

We write on the story’s time.

I’ve been working on my current one three years. Do I worry about that? Yes, from a marketing standpoint, where I realize I’m ‘away’ from readers too long. But I don’t worry about it from the writer’s standpoint, because this story is taking a lot of time. It’s something new for me so I’m learning as I go, which also adds time. Plus, like I said, I’m just a slow writer. I meander along the story’s path, enjoying the view.

badlands 4

Fourth, some stories die and we might take a long time to realize it. I asked my friend how close she was to the end of this revision. She said she only had a few pages to go. I asked her if other stories were teasing her, waiting to be told, and she said yes. She had several ideas, and when she talked about them, she lit up. You could see the excitement.

So we talked about those manuscripts all writers have, that live forever in a box somewhere. Ones that someday we might go back to and try to revive.

This is her first novel. We talked about how we learn from that first manuscript. How sometimes that first one might go on to become a book or it might not.

I think she left, encouraged to knock out those final few pages. I think about how free she will feel when she’s out from that burden of perceived pressure to finish something. I think about how excited she will be to jump in to something fresh and new. Maybe something not tainted by another’s laughter.

And I think how easily a single word, a single laugh, a single expression, can be so devastating. Because I know the person who laughed, and I know she did not do it to be mean. I know she would be upset with herself if she knew the impact that laugh had.

By the way, I’m so close to finishing my three-year project. I thought I’d written the last chapter but as I finished I knew it wasn’t right, that I’d gone in the wrong direction on that path. And that I’d forgotten to let some characters face their fears.

So I’ll be redoing those last few pages.

Hopefully it won’t take three years.

But if it does, hey, that’s okay.

bridal veil falls

And sometimes the story just pours.

Take Action

I got a scare a couple nights ago. I went into the hallway and saw a silhouette of someone standing outside the living room window. Before I had time to do much more than think ‘ART!!!!’, the front door opened.

And Art came in.

img_1989

He’d gone out to pet the cat.

He said later that he was lucky I hadn’t met him at the door with my rolling pin.

I was still hyperventilating.

He’s made me a beautiful French rolling pin from black walnut. It’s very heavy. The picture below doesn’t do it justice. The tapers are actually even on both ends and the color doesn’t come across as warm as it really is. And yes, that’s my bear, also made out of black walnut.

img_2738

Anyway, I was sharing the story with a good friend who is also a recently retired police officer. And he knows Art. So when he got done laughing, he told me this:

‘Action before reaction.’

It took me a minute because my brain immediately went to writing. But basically, don’t wait for something to happen so that your only option is reaction.

In other words, that rolling pin should have gone into action, should have been in my hand when the door opened. Instead of me standing there in my nightgown waiting to see what was coming through the opening door.

Thinking about those words today, I realized the same thing holds true in writing. Action before reaction, scene before sequel. You can’t have the character yell for her husband before she sees the tough guy at the window. You can’t have a character jump before the reader hears the door slam.

img_2124

 

And then there’s the way-too-common cliché along the lines of ‘Pulling my pants up, I ran for the door.’ Two forms of action with the nefarious ‘ing’ word thrown in for good measure. Have you ever tried running while pulling pants up?

I know that action/reaction is such a common tool that every writer out there knows about it or has had an editor shake her red pen at them because they reacted to her edit before they saw it. But even though we all know about it, we still too often fall into the trap.

That’s where revision helps, obviously.

But in real life there’s no revision. There’s no time to go back and erase something and rework it.

So. Action before reaction.

Keep that rolling pin handy.

Of course, I also have an antique lead-lined billy club.

And a thing that looks just like a beater’s bat from a quidditch match.

And a couple dogs.

copy of july '10 002

dscf1879

And lots of big rocks on the windowsills.

So next time the husband goes out unannounced to pet the cat on a dark night, I will have a choice of actions.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll just lock the door.

img_2102

If I Had A Photograph

Remember that Flock of Seagulls song? ‘If I had a photograph of you I wouldn’t spend my time just wishing…’

When I was young we bought a roll of film, took photos, and paid to have it developed. If you were lucky one or two turned out and the rest were tossed.

Then we spent money on photo albums. You’d peel back the thick plastic and carefully place your photo on the sticky cardboard and cover them back up with that plastic that froze in wrinkles for all eternity.

Then came digital, and how that changed everything. No more rolls of film unless you were a professional photographer or purist. No more development costs. The ability to delete all the embarrassingly bad photos.

And the ability to archive thousands and thousands of pictures on your computer, on the Cloud, even on your smart phone.

Until you accidentally delete all the photos you took from your trip overseas in July.

Until you remember that you didn’t back up the computer after downloading all those photos.

Until you realize that not only are all those photos gone, but also you’ve somehow lost the whole entire photo program on your computer.

Oops.

I’m reminding myself that things are just things. Photos are gone, but memories remain.

I am going to take the computer in to a repair expert though.

And if anything can be salvaged, I think I’ll print out photos and see if anyone still sells old sticky albums where pictures can be stuck safe for years.

Maybe.

Because all of this has also made me think about the people in California who lost their homes to the recent fires.

How quickly everything can be lost.

There is no backing up a whole house. There are no saving heirlooms and mementos to the Cloud. There is no shoving your child’s first report card onto a thumb drive, or the quilt your great-grandmother made. Emergency Services might bring you blankets, but it won’t be that quilt.

I’m thankful that all I’ve lost are some photos, and I ache for those who have lost everything, in so many ways.