I’ve been back home for just over a week.
So far, 2015 has been a bit of a whirlwind. You know this if you regularly read my blog, or follow me on Facebook, but I spent January and February at my mom’s place, helping ride the waves in the wake of my stepfather’s death, came back home for March, and then took off to Calgary until the end of May, capping it off with a few days in Winnipeg for the Writers’ Union of Canada’s AGM.
What’s this taught me? I adore my husband, I love my pets, this place we live in is both awesomely beautiful and achingly quiet, and I can write, once I settle myself, wherever I am.
In Calgary, I finished the second draft of a novel. And now that I’m home, I’m a wee bit afraid to touch it. I’ve been reading whatever I can find on revision – The Artful Edit, Stephen Koch’s A Guild to the Craft of Fiction – and have bounced back into another draft that I completed around this time last year, of a different novel. Both are worthy, I think. Both need to be finished. But I’m a person who, upon completing the heady journey through a story in the first place finds it really, really hard to sit back down and assess. What Eric Maisel says (in Fearless Creating):
The person who is to appraise knows that he’s about to be put in a subtle (or not so subtle) bad mood, that he’s about to don his “critic” hat, whose fit he hates, that he’s in danger of losing self-esteem and also in danger of defending himself against that loss by dong a dishonourable job of appraising, and that, as much as he desires and demands to know the bases of his judgements, he can only know them poorly at best.
He therefore sweats. This is not fun! Filled with anxiety, he avoids appraising or arrives in a panic. Unequal to the task, he does exactly what he’d hoped he wouldn’t do: he criticizes the work instead of evaluating it, he closes his eyes and blindly gives it his stamp of approval, he defends himself and examines the work through clouded glass. This is the anxious artist inappropriately judging.
What is an artist to do?
I already know the answer to that. Calm down. Breathe. Detach somewhat so you can see the thing as a reader would. Figure out your criteria. Don’t abuse yourself over the bad bits or over-praise yourself on the good parts. Love the thing, and read. Find the areas where you can improve. Cut that chapter, refine the other one. Figure out who this character – who seems to be all over the place – really is. As Jane Smiley says (13 Ways of Looking at the Novel): “You have made your commitment; now make the most of it.”
And this is a kind of homecoming, isn’t it? The continuity of that steady work. For me, the first draft is like a spontaneous, unplanned trip somewhere exciting and exotic. Revision is like returning home, unpacking, reliving all the memories, refining them in the stories that you choose to tell, that best represent the journey.
So, on to it. This morning I printed out the rewritten third section of novel #2 (I’m adverse to using my titles right now because I’m very pleased with them), and have already realized after reading through the first two sections which had been waiting on the floor of my office for over a year, that the last part is way too long. I’ll make a cup of tea and sit on the back deck and get to that.
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In other news, during my time in Winnipeg at the Writers’ Union (TWUC) AGM, I was elected to be the representative for Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
This will mean a deeper involvement for me with the many writers scattered throughout the boreal and prairie regions of the provinces, more travel to writerly events, and hopefully the promotion of a widening diversity amongst our members.
At the AGM, in a room overlooking the stately buildings of the Exchange District, we voted unanimously to “endorse the spirit and challenge of reconciliation emerging from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
What does this mean? Well, in part, TWUC’s curriculum task force will push for “increasing the space for Indigenous-authored stories in school curricula – including residential school stories, their context in the history of colonialism in Canada, and their lasting impact.”
This is important work, and I’m excited to be part of it.