Disintegrating stories, unlike buildings, have little heritage value

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Old structures intrigue me. I’m not really sure why, but I suspect it’s a bit of nostalgia that causes me to pause when I come across one, and wonder about its origins or history.

This one is the original log cabin built on our Cariboo property by my father with the help of a neighbouring trapper. I know its history. It’s one room that housed my parents and me during summer holidays and hunting excursions. It still stands, although I think packrats are the only residents now.

The old water wheel on the hill overlooking Fort Steele in BC’s Kootenay country always garners a glance as we drive by. Tourists are invited to “explore tomorrow today” in the heritage townsite that dates back to the mid-1800s.

And I love this old gate, even if it no longer serves anything beyond a decorative purpose. It’s picturesque, although nobody sees it anymore. It leads to an abandoned log home accessible only via a bridge that collapsed years ago.

Then there is this old chair. At one time it served as a desk chair in my parents’ home office. Eventually it found its way into our cabin, and resided there until it was replaced and relegated to the woodshed. Someone toted it down to the lakeshore where we occasionally sat to reflect on the view. When it became unsafe, my hubby took it apart, and a portion was salvaged to be wall art.

But this … this old hay shed caught my attention for a different reason. It’s not far from Monte Creek , a small rural community in south central  BC. I’ve driven past it innumerable times and am always surprised that it’s still in use. For what and why, I don’t know. Anything stored inside is destined to be just as affected by the weather as it would be outside. I’m not sure one could even call it picturesque. It’s simply old and worn out.

That roof reminds me of one of my stories – with a plot full of holes, holding together a shaky structure. I keep shoring it up because I hate to admit I’ve let it reach this stage.  Thinking of abandoning the hard-won words and letting them disintegrate into the ground like so much compost fills me with melancholy. I have so much time and effort invested in the writing. But I’m disillusioned if I believe it serves any legitimate purpose.

Then again, I suppose I learned things during its construction. And maybe the printout would make a good doorstop. I know one thing for sure: it will never have heritage value!

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What about your early, now-abandoned manuscripts? Did they serve a purpose? Did you learn anything from them?

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Time Changes Everything… in Life and Writing

An overused phrase says it all. Just like a new day, “I’m baaaaack!”

After two different vacation trips to two different lakes, spending time with two different groups of our family, I’m refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to get back into routine. Sort of. I’m not quite ready to rare yet. My brain is still in lake mode, savouring memories.

Daybreak on our lake. (I took this from the bedroom window and promptly went back to bed!)

This past week we trucked into our Cariboo cabin.  To get there we leave the main highway behind, then a secondary paved road, twenty-three kilometers of gravel logging road, several more kilometers of dirt road, before finally reaching the last few kilometers of the somewhat overgrown home stretch, where the guys (my husband, son and a grandson) had to cut out three downed trees with the chainsaw.

Old logging road.

The last leg of the road to our lakeside cabin.

Yes, this is part of our road.

For several days we lounged, read, ate lots, spent time in and on the lake, and still had time to build a much-needed storage shed. I also coerced DH to take a drive so I could photograph a favourite haunt… a derelict log building that has stood in the middle of our nowhere since before I began going there as a young child. (I refuse to specify exactly how long ago that was!)

I knew it would happen some day, but it was still a disappointment to discover the roof’s supporting log beam had finally collapsed.

Time brings changes… some good, some not. The inevitable disintegration of this wonderful old building hasn’t changed its beauty, only the way in which it is perceived. It can no longer serve its intended function.

It’s a lot like the effect of time and revision on a novel-in-progress. If you’re a novelist, think about how the perception of a manuscript’s early draft changes after we’ve left it and gone on to write something else. After only a short time, returning to it reveals a few weaknesses. Nothing that tweaking won’t fix, right? We’re convinced it still adequately conveys the shiny idea that originally inspired our creative hearts.

The longer we’re away from it, however, the more problems we notice. Leave it until after we’ve written three or four more novels and reading through it makes us blush. Our hearts begin to skitter in dismay as the amateur writing taunts us with its weaknesses. We cringe to realize others may have seen its meandering plot, common clichés, and one-dimensional characters. Our dreams for it come crashing down.

There’s a reason why established authors, editors and writing instructors suggest a first novel rarely sees publication. Its structure is often too unstable to withstand the major renovation it requires, but it takes time before we can perceive and accept that reality. Sometimes the best thing we can do is let it disappear into the ground, grieve its loss, smile a bit at the pleasure and experience its writing provided, and at the end of the day, move on.

Sunset on our lake

Do you agree with me, or not? What’s your experience? Was your first novel publishable, or, if you’re still writing it, do you believe it will be?

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Trying to make it perfect… or, revision frustration

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The perfect shot shouldn’t have been all that difficult. I followed the striking black and yellow Tiger Swallowtail butterfly around the yard, sneaking up with camera in hand whenever he fluttered within range and settled on a plant. But I barely had a chance to locate him in the viewfinder before he skittered away again… always a little too fast for me, even with my new zoom lens. I snapped more failed shots than I like to admit, until finally I gave up and traded the camera for a book.

A few minutes later movement yanked my attention from the page. There was the butterfly, flitting from blossom to blossom on a rhododendron bush almost within arm’s reach. Afraid to let him out of my sight, I grabbed the camera from the patio table and leaned over to capture the photo. He obliged me by remaining still long enough to capture my perfect shot… except, when I uploaded it onto the computer I discovered the exasperating truth – it wasn’t perfect at all. The photo was fine; this time it was the butterfly that was flawed.

 

So often my writing disappoints me in a similar way. I try for the perfect words, sometimes struggling until I fling myself out of the chair in frustration. It’s after a break when I’ve cleared my mind and returned to face the page with resignation that words surprise me. They slip effortlessly onto the page, and I finish the session with a glow of satisfaction. It’s finally perfect.

The glow lasts until the scrutiny of revision, or someone’s critique, when the flaws are discovered. It was almost right, but not quite. Not perfect after all.

It’s at that moment I’m tempted to discard the whole thing.  Perseverance is hard. When all the effort proves ineffective, persistence seems futile. In such moments I remember the butterflies.

The next day they were back, and one hovered over that same rhododendron. I watched as he floated lightly onto a blossom and stayed there, wings outstretched. He stayed while I stepped into my shoes, stayed while I found the camera, stayed when I opened the patio door and stayed as I cautiously approached. It was as if he were urging me not to give up but try again. I tried, and this time was rewarded.

Every successful writer I know says, “Never give up.”

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“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.
And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement
as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”
Romans 15:4 NLT
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New beginnings… or, please not another revision!

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Bridal Wreath Spirea in bud

Now that spring is officially underway, I think most of us are wishing for signs that winter is giving in and retreating. We all realize that where we live has a bearing on how soon we can expect to see buds bursting, but we’re more than ready for the return of springtime with its cycle of new beginnings. Then again, there are some beginnings I’d rather avoid.

Monday’s post was about a blogfest where we were to offer up the start of our novel for a critique that focused on showing voice. We posted the first 250 words and waited for our fellow bloggers to tear into them and pass judgment on the quality of the opening and its voice.

Brenda Drake is hosting this “Show Me the Voice” blogfest-cum-contest, and her instructions were to post it for critiques, then polish the excerpt until it shines, and submit it to be judged.

Have you any idea how many times I’ve revised that novel? I’d challenge you to throw out a number, but in truth I don’t think I remember exactly how many. Nevertheless, I tweaked those 250 words and, of course, found myself reading on to the end of the chapter. And, just like every other time I looked at it, I could see more possible changes. Oh, please… not another revision!

I’ve asked the question before, but still, there is that niggling uncertainty. When do you know it’s time to stop revising a manuscript?

I have a different novel in revision, and another new one in the works. I don’t want to begin revising this one again. In fact, I’ve sent the excerpt to Brenda, and I’m closing the file. I just can’t face it. So, unless someone can convince me otherwise, I’m off to work on my new story. ‘Bye now!

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Now What? Life After NaNoWriMo


Around the world red-eyed wrimos are looking at the numbers in awe and whispering, “I contributed words to that total.” Then they look down at their NaNo manuscript with despair and groan, “But it’s all crap!”

 

Yup, that’s the curse of taking part in NaNoWriMo. Participants worldwide wrote a total of 2,872,682,109 words in November but many of them will disappear in December with a stroke of the delete key as frantic revisions get underway. After all, we wouldn’t want anyone to peer over our shoulder and see the caliber of writing that we threw onto the page in our November 1,667-words-a-day sprint.

 

Mind you, some wrote novels just for the sake of saying they wrote a novel, regardless of its quality, and they’ve already put it aside, not caring to write again until next November. But for many of us there was always the intent to carry on after November 30th and revise and refine the nucleus of a worthwhile story. We’ll take time to reflect on it, and then we’ll go back to work and start chiseling away the rough stuff to find the gems within. That’s when the real work begins.

The NaNoWriMo website has a page with tips and tidbits on the post-NaNo experience, and there’s a forum called “December and Beyond” for those who want to continue sharing the journey known as NaNo afterlife.

 

Me? First I have to clean grungy bathrooms, search out coffee-stained clothes to launder, check back shelves in the fridge for furry green stuff, and generally try to catch up on all the chores that were ignored during November. Oh, yes, and maybe get some sleep and start some Christmas baking.

 

In between I’ll be back at the keyboard. I only wrote 33,286 words last month. I have a novel to finish.

What are you working on during December?

Plowing Through the Poop

It isn’t always this difficult. I’m talking about manuscript revision — the re-evaluation and rewriting of material that originally flowed effortlessly from brain to keyboard but now has to be picked apart and put back together again, bit by painful bit.

 

First drafts develop creatively from ideas given free rein on the page. Revisions happen after we’ve settled into our favourite chair to read through the finished product and come to the conclusion that it’s a whole lot of poop. In her book, “Bird by Bird“, Anne Lamott chooses to call it a “shitty first draft”. Poop or shit, it’s a mess. I think most authors admit that their initial creation requires some additional crafting before it’s ready to be launched into the public eye. Mine requires a lot!

 

Normally I enjoy the challenge of revisions, plowing through the mess to unearth the nuggets worth keeping and nurturing. It’s satisfying to reshape and refine a crude vessel into something better.

 

I’m almost finished what I thought would be the last revision of my current novel, but I’ve suddenly bogged down. I feel mired in mucky details and I’m tired of dealing with them. The feeling is familiar. It turns up along with my IC* every time I near the end of another novel.

 

“This really is poop, you know,” whispers the little voice. “It’s boring and nobody will ever want to read it. There’s the garbage can. Toss it in and forget it. You know you want to.”

 

Yes, I do. But I won’t.  I’ll slog on to the end of this final chapter so that when it’s really time to move on to something new I’ll know that I’ve given my best effort to clean up this current pile of poop!

 

 *Inner Critic