Change of Subject

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I’m sick of talking about being sick, at least for today (yes, I have a cold on top of the stupid stroke). So before I become one of those sick people who can ONLY talk about their sickness and NOTHING ELSE (@#*&^!!!!!), let’s change the subject for a little while. In fact, I want to change the subject back to what I used to blog about on this site: the writing life.

I’m in a literary mood. I even went out driving this morning and stopped by the bookstore, where I gazed at all the tomes again, touching their spines and sighing over all the reading I wish to do. I thought about buying more books but reined myself in–I have enough “to read” books in my stack! Okay, just one. I bought Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country. To go in that ginormous, growing stack. And a bunch of cards and postcards. Because a girl has GOT to keep up her correspondence.

I’ve been checking in on other blogs these days, pondering the craft of writing, brainstorming ideas. Elizabeth has touched upon the subject of revision over at Fluent. And Nova has written about morning writing vs. nighttime writing. All things of interest.

Revision is of interest to me, because so many writers in my circle make such a big secret of it. (So I laud Elizabeth on bringing this topic up). Is it because it’s an uncomfortable subject, is it because perhaps there are no rules to revision, is it because it’s the most vulnerable part of the writing process? More than one writer I know has insisted they “do not revise.” Chang-Rae Lee has even stated this fact in public–he writes a draft of his novel, shows it to his wife and editor and that’s it. If they recommend a revision, he just starts a whole new novel.

Other writers have told me they do not revise–and when I’ve asked them what it is they do–they’ve described the concept of salvaging to me: they just take what they like out of a story and make another story out of it. Or they just bluntly tell me they throw the story away if it’s not good enough. I have to say I do a lot of that myself, but I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t believe in revision as much as I don’t know how to approach revision.

When I’ve discussed this issue of “non-revision” to other established and/or “famous” writers, they’ve scoffed. “They’re lying!” they insist and hiss. “That is such bullsh*t!” howled another. Maybe the non-revision stance is a front? I don’t know. It’s interesting to see this debate about revision–if you never revise as a writer, are you just “fronting?” Or is that for real?

My MFA program is offering a revision workshop–of course, I’m on a leave of absence from school this semester and will be nowhere near that revision workshop. I wonder how it is going–I’ll have to email a friend and ask her if she’s learned anything new in there. Or is it just a workshop where people understand the pieces have been previously reviewed…and nothing else. I wonder what there is to really learn about revision or if it is just as private a process as “how one writes,” or “how to come up with good ideas.”

Speaking of “how one writes,” I mentioned Nova’s posting about when one writes. She is a morning writer (as am I). There are those who write almost solely at night, like Sylvia Plath. The odd thing is that I used to be a nighttime writer, feeling the incredible solitary feeling of night–night time with its pitch black background provided my brain with an intense focus that I do not have in the daytime.

I don’t know what made me switch over to morning writing–but morning writing feels light and clean, for lack of better words. And I like the energy that comes to me from a full night’s sleep, and the fact that I am using my first moments to write. I don’t write as long in the mornings as I used to at night…but I have similar outcomes (there is no change in quality or length). I wonder, however, like Nova, about the differences of writing at different times of day. What is it that I write about in the inky night that is hard to approach as light spreads soft wings in the morning?

Halfway through this post, I went on an impromtu lunch with a good friend. I find that the best way for me to remember to eat is to arrange a meal with other people, and I just happened to have some unforeseen extra time. As we drove through town to grab a slice of pizza, we talked about her novel writing progress (and of course, hot gossip).

She and I are two very different types of writers–she is prolific, I am not, for all that means and produces, for starters. Our styles are so different, that people assume we are not compatible at all. In fact, one of our MFA professors raised an eyebrow when she saw us walk into a room together our first year. “How could THOSE TWO BE FRIENDS?” she seemed to say, but without words. But we are–I think it’s important to examine issues from different and unique perspectives.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Change of Subject

  1. Yes, I have gotten this surprise too from being your friend, Jade, from people, and in fact from a professor in our program. Now I wonder if it was the same person.

    I think this tree must have crept into your subconscious because while we were talking after pizza, I was diverted, well my A.D.D. diverted me into looking at this tree that was in a nursery and we were in the middle of some serious conversation.

    We both paused for a minute, completely changing the subject, and started staring at the magnolia tree. I said, what a pretty tree. And I said, some day I want to have one in my garden. And you agreed that it was beautiful and said, ‘I have one in my backyard. It’s my favorite tree. Somehow, we both love this magnolia tree.’

    I am so enamoured by this tree. I can’t wait until February when it begins to bloom. I always feel hopeful when I look at it’s blossoms. Of course when I think of it, I think of it completely different than your picture. I envision of it as the whole tree in a frame, like a little person holding up flowers. So strange because I almost loaned you a book with this flower on the cover, but I realized I had given it away.

    Here we are completely different writers but we both love the same tree. Me: the sloppy, prolific blabbermouth, pounding out a manifesto and you: the tight, compact thoughtful writer, utilizing words like surgeon’s cuts, inking out your thoughts out into the night.

    PS. Can I borrow A Man Without a Country when you are threw with it? How are you liking Slaughterhouse-Five so far?

  2. dude! i finished Slaughter House Five and loved it (though I don’t remember much of it due to my weird insistence on reading it in the ER only to realize the next day after my stroke diagnosis that much of what I had read had gone into the ether).

    You are more than welcome to read A Man Without a Country NOW and then retrn it to me, since I’m not able to read much or read very fast at all.

    Interesting perspective on the tree–I too saw it as beautiful but for entirely different reasons (I noted its color and size and wondered what its scientific name was and what its relationship to the pink blossomed magnolia tree might be, and thought its juxtaposition in the garden and the way it reflected the winter light was remarkably perfect).

    p.s. thank you for reminding me about the magnolia tree. I had TOTALLY forgotten about it, and now you have saved it too from “going into the ether” of forgottenness…where so many of my thoughts and memories are sadly going these days. And as for the professor who found it entirely strikingly weird that we were friends: it’s the professor we talked about today at length.

  3. You remembered! The magnolia tree! Even though you had forgotten consciously, a part of you remembered. You took a picture of it. That’s great! I see this as a positive thing. The beginning of a healing.

  4. Interesting–I prefer writing in the early morning, but my life means I end up writing at night–at my tiredest, most burnt-out. Sometimes good stuff comes out anyway and I am amazed. But then the weekend comes and I am rested–what a difference.

    I revise the hell out of everything.

  5. About revision, it’s possible that they’re all telling the truth, that some people take a long time to carefully write a first draft while others write a sloppy draft, then revise, revise, revise. (That’s the way I write.) I would love to take a revision workshop, no matter what that entails! I find the revision process both exciting and extremely daunting. I could go on about it for some time …

  6. P.S. I also like to keep my original draft to compare after I revise because sometimes the original draft is better, or at least parts of it are better.

  7. w

    I’m so jealous that there’s a program that offers a revision workshop! I spoke to a writer yesterday who was lucky enough to get a job at an MFA program to do just thesis advising—and she gets to pick the student. How lucky for her, and for this student, who will get all of this writer’s attention.

    As for writing in the morning or at night, I wish I could get up early enough to write, but because I go to bed so late, and I’m such a sleep-hogger, I’m focused only on getting to work on time. So can I ask you morning writers: Do you go to bed early? Or have you trained yourself to not need as much sleep? How does the discipline get firmed up?

  8. I think people who “never revise” are really arrogant. Or lying. Or maybe they’re writers who just write for themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Although if they are able to pull it off and get their stuff published anyway, kudos to them.

    I’m saying this through a week of really, really hard but useful revisions.

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