The Swampy Middle

Two NaNoWriMos ago, I generated the first draft of a story. I was so impressed with myself and the complexity of my story. It was the best thing I’d ever written. Now, after more than a year of fighting with the revision, I’m not sure I’ve made it structurally any better, but the quality of writing in the chapters I have edited is much, much, better.

In general, I’m stuck. Something sucks and I don’t know how to massage the text into a workable piece of art. Forcing myself to work on the book ends on Facebook or Netflix. I’ve complained to my closest confidants, receiving little sympathy in return because we all know writing is hard and perseverance is the key to finishing that book. “Butt in chair” should be the only advice required, but it hasn’t broken through my block.

My search for resolution, for answers, turned to educational resources. The first idea that resonated with me and it took a couple weeks to understand it, came from the DIY MFA author. She was discussing writer’s voice. She stated that she doesn’t revise sections, but rewrites them when incorporating her changes. In doing this, you avoid editing your voice out of the writing.

Take what you wrote before, set it aside, and start again with a blank page.

In the story “Martian Strain” that I’d published in Voices From the Dark anthology, I now feel confident that I edited all voice out of that horror story. It’s got horror and suspense, but the “voice”, the words I string together uniquely in a way no one else would, became something flat. Publishing the story was worth the experience toward learning the process, but should it have been published? I don’t know.

My current novel, the one I can’t quite make myself edit, doesn’t have the over edited voice problem yet. I’ve been revising and making things cleaner, but still not clean enough to send out for feedback. The want of feedback might be my second problem, however. Lately, I’ve been asking questions of other writers and finding that I already know the answers. All the words I’ve been rearranging, polishing and crafting have been so that I could send it to someone else for answers. Writers need input from others to improve and grow, but the kind of answers I’m looking for are really the meat of what it is to craft a novel.

Writers need input from others to improve and grow, but the kind of answers I’m looking for are really the meat of what it is to craft a novel. It’s my job to provide those answers and I’ve been fighting with myself.

Until I talked to my mother. She is not a writer, nor has it ever been her passion. She cut through all of my whinings with a clarity only a parent can provide.

“Rewrite it. Stop revising and editing. It’s all in your head. You already know the story. The words might come out different, but it will be better.”

And she’s right.  I’ve been stuck in the Swampy Middle for too long with this story, trying to fix it, trying to make the words better.

When I put the DIY MFA author’s advice together with my mother’s, it’s so straightforward. I know the middle doesn’t work. I know something needs to change, but massaging the text hasn’t been bringing forward the ideas. The blank page spurs my imagination better than a framework of existing words. The fix is in the creativity. The beginning isn’t horrible, the end is usable, but the Swampy Middle is like a giant game of connect the dots. Right now, I have a collection of dots that don’t form a usable picture, so by setting them aside, I open up my options to take my three-legged dog and turn it into a stallion.

I’ll keep working on my purple prose problem.

Upcoming Shakespeare Reader’s Theatre events (February 26 and March 19)

The works of William Shakespeare are beautifully written but many aren’t aware of how much fun they are to read and to act. The Writing Journey, the writing group associated with the Naperville region of National Novel Writing Month, has scheduled two sessions:

Folks can come out to read-through (no memorization required!) one of Shakespeare’s plays. Everyone old enough to read Shakespeare is welcome to join us–everyone present will have at least some part in the work (and maybe two or three parts 😉 ). No experience or preparation is needed though it can be helpful to watch some of the free performances of the plays beforehand (As you like it; Midsummer Night’s Dream) . For more information, see writingjourney.org/events

What do you need to bring? A book or e-book (many are available online or free) of the Shakespeare play we will be performing. If you have a tablet or e-book reader, this works very well. The library also has many Shakespeare books that can be checked out.

What should you expect? Reading Shakespeare and acting out scenes is a lot of fun (and sometimes funny). This is a great way to spend an afternoon stretching your boundaries a little and making new friends. Recharge your creative batteries by trying something that Joss Whedon does with his friends.

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Human: an anthology exploring what it means

Human is an anthology of short stories and poems exploring the human condition, social mores and normative behaviors.

What does it mean to be Human? Scientists, psychologists, theologians and others have asked this question since the beginning. In this anthology, The Writing Journey offers a collection of creative reflections on the ever-changing prism we call the human experience.  What are the edges of being human? These stories and poems plumb those boundaries, some with the lightness of ironic humor and some with the heavy despair of reality.  Enjoy these writers as they explore the many facets of love, family, friendship, growing up, growing old, death and dying, our fears, our needs, our alienations, and our aspirations.  Or can we define human at the edges of our relationships between and among species, humans and technology?

The Writing Journey is publishing online this collection of flash fiction stories and poems, edited by Tim Yao, Mary O’Brien Glatz and Melinda Borucki and featuring stories and poems by Tanasha MartinArah KoMary O’Brien GlatzTodd HoganElaine FisherTim YaoKeshia Nowden, Melinda BoruckiAna KoulourisEd Pongklub, and Stephanie Ewing. An e-book form of the anthology will be made available this spring.