Erin Blakemore's Blog, page 6

January 24, 2012

Mmm. Layers.


There are two types of revisers: the reluctant and the thrilled. Maybe it's the former-school-newspaper-copyeditor in me, or the short drafter in me, but I love revision. At last! Drafting is done (ha) and I can make the damn thing a bit better, or at least I hope.


But revision isn't as straightforward as it might seem. It's a layered process, one with lots of nuance and fluidity. The layers I can think of are:



Flow
Story
Voice
Time
Tense
Facts
Focus
Pace
Look
Ease of Reading
Grammar/Spelling
Fun

I'm sure there are hundreds of other layers, if you look for them. But these are the common threads I look for in revision. I try to consider the piece from a reader's standpoint. What comes before/after? Is the voice accessible or (woe!) dry and academic? Has the piece caved in to the wall o'text mentality or is it sparse and flimsy? Does it clog my throat when I read it out loud? Am I falling asleep with boredom?


As I get into revision, I always start with an assessment of what I've written. Usually this consists of me scratching my head and feeling mystified at my word choices and decisions, but then I get down to business and do a paragraph-by-paragraph summary, just a few words to describe each paragraph. Just going through that exercise usually immediately reveals big holes, things begging to be rearranged, things that can go now. It also, strangely, reassures me a bit. Okay, I have a slight idea of what I'm doing, or at least what I'm doing wrong.


I am pretty brutal about cutting, but every once in a while there's a turn of phrase I find particularly brilliant and can't bear to let go. This tends to be a warning sign of tunnel vision. Rather than forsake it completely, I force myself to experiment: What if I cut it out and put it in another document of dead darlings? Would it improve things or detract from them? Nine times out of ten it languishes in that file forever as I find I can live without it.


My last gasp is always what I call "the fun pass." My insecurity tends to show up in wordy academic tendencies that make every sentence into a parenthetical disaster, so I go through one last time and get honest with myself. Is this fun to read? Really?


Since the revision process is a multi-layered one, there's no right or wrong way. This is maddening and heartening at once.


How about you? Are you a reviser? What's your favorite revision trick?


 

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Published on January 24, 2012 07:37 • 47 views

January 23, 2012

My drafts are tangled and confused!


So, you've given yourself permission. You've made the space. Now it's time to draft.


I will be frank: this is my least favorite part of writing. I feel like that makes me a freak (do you sense a theme here?) since writers are, you know, supposed to enjoy writing? And I do enjoy writing, but much more the fixing part than the vomiting out raw material part. Because that's what drafting is for me.


I will be frank once more: though the thought of an outline gives me the chills, I really work better with one. Usually I try to draft too early and the first draft turns into a truncated, Frankenstein-like thing with lots of brackets and indicators of things to add. When I was writing The Heroine's Bookshelf I would outline each chapter in five lines or less. It helped me know where to go when I got lost (and wow, did I get lost).


Drafting is terrifying to a control freak like me. It all looks so disgusting! It's weird and doesn't get anywhere near where I'd like it to go! But beneath all that grossness is a big leap, a sense of "here goes nothing, I am just going to show up and go through this crazy process" that always leads to serendipitous and good things. Drafting is where I really get in touch with my gnarly, confused subconscious, and my best drafts are totally unfamiliar to me once they've been written. It's like creating a ball of tangled yarn. It's disgusting and weird. I promise. And then it's over and I can do what I do way better…editing.


How about you? Do you enjoy drafting?


 

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Published on January 23, 2012 12:21 • 43 views

January 22, 2012

Last year, my book was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. I was invited to a reading in downtown Denver. When I got there, I felt so overwhelmed and confused—surely, I thought, a mistake has been made. I'm not supposed to be here. These people are artists, and I'm…me. Art talk was thick and heavy. People were talking about inspiration and muses and visions and their identities as experimental poets, or flash fiction writers.


And then there was me, a person who wrote my book in stolen moments at the mall, for chrissakes,, who went to an arts high school but has never considered myself to be an artist. I was at a total loss. I may even have gone into the bathroom and texted a friend something along the lines of "omg these people are all artists omg they will all discover that I'm here by mistake omg can I please leave now?" I'll leave it to the phone records to tell.


What role does permission play in your writing?


It struck me that my problem might be one of permission. See, I've always been insecure about taking up too much space, physically and emotionally. Writing a book is a pretty dramatic statement on space, isn't it? And pressing for its publication is a very public way of saying "Move over. I have some ideas to share, people." I spent many years writing to escape my life. I did it surreptitiously and in secret. So coming clean with my identity as a writer meant I needed to find a sense of permission for both the act of writing and the even bigger act of going public with my words.


We've all seen examples of great writing that occurs without permission. Passed notes in high school. Secret diaries of people undergoing the most horrific experiences. Without permission, my writing remains trivial and small.


The word "permission" sounds weird, now that I'm using it. It means someone needs to grant it. Over the years, I have learned that only I can grant myself permission to enjoy my work (or not to enjoy it), to struggle, to experiment, to step out into the world as a writer. When I get caught up in envy, comparison, and other fear-based habits, I'm telling myself I don't have permission to try it anyway, to struggle and to learn. In those (frequent) moments of weakness, I have to wrest permission from my own petty, clenched fists. I have to give myself permission to write as myself, sloppy, undisciplined at times, fear-driven, ridiculous. I'm the only person who can grant that to myself.


What can I say—every writer I know struggles with a sense of their worth as a person. And every great writer I know gives themselves permission to be themselves, to sit at the table and to do it anyway.


A few weeks after the reading, my book won the Colorado Book Award for the Nonfiction-General category. And I stood up on stage, bewildered and still feeling like a mistake had been made, but marveling that space was being made for me. The presenters moved aside, gave me the mic. The room quieted and people leaned forward to hear my words on my book and my experiences. And I gave myself permission to stand there and speak.


What about you? What role does permission play in your writing?

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Published on January 22, 2012 09:38 • 75 views

January 21, 2012

Writing might seem abstract, but more often than not I think of it in terms of space. This works on a physical level—Where do I write? Is there room for it on my desk?—and on a metaphorical level as well. Making space for my writing is one of the great challenges of my life, and one of the biggest indicators of its success.


Making space for writing: The final frontier.


When I first started freelancing, writing felt like an interim afterthought. It took up the space that was available during my workaday life, filling in the cracks. I quit the day job eventually, and the challenge became a space war between creative and professional writing. Then I started my marketing and brand strategy business, and in the early days of our partnership, my business partner and I had some long and intense conversations about where my writing fit in to the mix. My business partner is infinitely patient with me and knew/knows that writing is one of my top priorities in life despite my business goals, and we pledged early on to figure out how to make room for writing in our business. This was put to the test when I got my book deal in 2009. First I had to write the book, then make room for promotion, small-scale touring, etc. Just knowing there is room for writing in my job makes it easier to do, but that doesn't mean it's not a challenge. For example, the last three months have been extremely intense on the work front, and writing has to be turned into a priority to combat those sweeping pressures.


Then there's the emotional space I need for writing. I have noticed that emotional strain and family issues occupy the same space my brain partitions for creative endeavors. Similarly, when I'm chewing on a bigger project (as I am now), writing seems to cordon off about 1/4 of my mental space. It's absolutely necessary that my brain have that room to turn the same thoughts over and over and over again. This is hardly convenient, but I've learned it's the way things have to be.


My actual writing space embodies a lot of those tensions. I write at a dinette set from the '60s that has been reclaimed and repurposed as my workspace. It sits in the kitchen and is basically in the middle of my life space. I bounce between this desk, a couch at the mall, and various coffee shops and libraries when I'm writing, and the takeaway for me is that writing still sits somewhere between my professional and personal life. Hopefully I'll continue to give it the space it needs to flourish.


What about you? What kind of space does writing take up in your life, and how do you make room for writing?

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Published on January 21, 2012 11:32 • 59 views

January 20, 2012

Yeah. I write short.


Writer confession time: I write short. Woefully short.


Maybe it's the years spent writing articles as a freelancer, working to deadline, cutting my own writing down, but in recent years I have picked up a bad habit. Where I used to cut millions of words as a fresh writer, I now find it challenging to get to my word count. It's even worse when I'm in a real rhythm—when I was writing The Heroine's Bookshelf, my chapters were all of roughly equal length, and I'd find that I'd slow to a stall right at the appropriate word count, whether I knew how long the chapter was or not and whether the narrative portion was done or not. 


I have to wonder if this is part of my sad habit of writing the bare minimum. See, I love the process of editing with a real passion, but drafting gives me the heebie jeebies. It's just so messy, so uncertain. It's the literary equivalent of standing on a street corner naked. The wind whips. People are staring and laughing. It's awkward.


Instead of trying to break myself of the habit, I've instead tried to give myself permission to write the bare minimum. I can begin the process of revision with very little, but there's got to be something to fashion into something else. Hence, my first drafts are quite short and inevitably expand over later drafts. I write the bare minimum, then let the minimum grow into something more complete.


I feel kind of strange admitting this. There's a part of me that feels that "real writers" have endless wells of inspiration and words, that they struggle not to exceed their minimum word count by 50 million words, that nothing can stop the unfettered flow of brilliance from their pens. Next to this impossible ideal, my bare-minimum reality seems small and pitiful. Will you see this and dismiss me as a hack? I comfort myself with the thought that the reality that works for me is usually better than the insecure fantasy of what a "real writer" can accomplish. Usually.


How about you? Do you write long or short?

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Published on January 20, 2012 07:46 • 39 views

January 19, 2012

Reading is integral to writing.


It should come as no surprise that reading is a huge part of my writing process.  I'm a compulsive reader, so any word that comes around my eyes will get read at some point.  What surprises me is the breadth of work that helps me through my own writing.  I tend to approach nonfiction like fiction and vice-versa.


Though some complain that reading like a writer is exhausting or depressing, I find it particularly pleasurable.  What's the voice?  How is the story told?  What details catch the writer's attention and which are jettisoned?  What about subject matter…what brings the author closer to the story?  What does the actual page look like?  Are the sentences dense or curt or do they vary?  I try to let myself get swept up in the story, but once I'm done, I look back on the experience and try to glean some broader lessons. 


My day job is marketing and brand strategy, and it brings a lot of nontraditional reading material my way.  I inhale everything from long-form investigative journalism to tweets about Britney Spears's boobs.  Both help me look at words and information in a different way.  Add in some biographies and a few Georgette Heyer novels and you're just about right. 


I can't imagine wanting to write without my ongoing reading habit, nor can I imagine being the writer I am/becoming without reading widely and curiously.  For some reason, I'm not worried about other voices imbuing themselves in my writing.  I really can't afford to miss a thing. 


What about you?  How does reading fit into your writing process? 

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Published on January 19, 2012 15:28 • 37 views

January 18, 2012

Sometimes, ideas just need to percolate.


I'm deep in writing mode lately, which means that I slip off the radar socially.  The social media strategist and marketer in me is cringing, believe me. I don't know about you, but the real work of writing occurs under the surface for the most part, as things are thought through and sorted out. That's no excuse, however, for falling out of touch with you. So I'm giving myself a challenge: post ten new blogs over the next ten days.  Just to shake things up a bit, I'm going to be focusing on my own writing process (as opposed to that of my literary heroines). 


Today's topic?  Ideas


I think there's a myth that writers wake up in the morning, float over to the desk, look out the window on the glistening springtime or pastoral view, and are visited by a gentle muse who bestows a Good Idea.  "Ah," they say, stroking their chins appreciatively.  "That's it!"  Then they begin to write in a whirl of inspired bliss. 


Maybe that's how other writers do it, but my experience is way messier and infinitely more frustrating.  Here's my process:  Get one idea that kind of stinks.  Go down the path of research, thought, planning, figuring it out.  Realize it's total crap.  Get new idea.  This one seems downright brilliant.  Tell someone about it—they blanch and stammer something polite but unenthusiastic.  Suffer from crisis of confidence and abandon idea. 


Et cetera. 


This process is repeated multiple times, with fits and starts.  Sometimes it takes a long freaking time (Only this month have I become confident enough about an idea for a new nonfiction project…yes, almost two years since my first book appeared.  Sorry, Harper.). Sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes I desperately need the input of my partner, my business partner, or a few trusted writing buddies.  Sometimes I have a sense that if I tell another human being, it will be jinxed forever and will surely fail. For me, the important part is to remain open to the right idea.  Nothing is perfect, but good thoughts sometimes take time to percolate.  I try to read widely, talk to new people, eavesdrop on conversations, give myself long walks and time for random, unstructured thought.  Given all of those inputs, ideas usually come. 


Before I go public with an idea, I always ask myself several questions.  What's the idea? Is it really unique? How? More importantly, what can I bring to the idea that nobody else can?  Is this something I'm willing to talk about all day, lose sleep over, and devote at least a quarter of my working brain capacity to for the near future? 


If the answer is yes, I freak out.  Oh, God.  Here we go again.  And that's the place I'm in right now.  Here we go again…


What about you? Where do you find your ideas? 


 

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Published on January 18, 2012 11:00 • 20 views

Sometimes, ideas just need to percolate.


I'm deep in writing mode lately, which means that I slip off the radar socially.  The social media strategist and marketer in me is cringing, believe me. I don't know about you, but the real work of writing occurs under the surface for the most part, as things are thought through and sorted out. That's no excuse, however, for falling out of touch with you. So I'm giving myself a challenge: post ten new blogs over the next ten days.  Just to shake things up a bit, I'm going to be focusing on my own writing process (as opposed to that of my literary heroines). 


Today's topic?  Ideas


I think there's a myth that writers wake up in the morning, float over to the desk, look out the window on the glistening springtime or pastoral view, and are visited by a gentle muse who bestows a Good Idea.  "Ah," they say, stroking their chins appreciatively.  "That's it!"  Then they begin to write in a whirl of inspired bliss. 


Maybe that's how other writers do it, but my experience is way messier and infinitely more frustrating.  Here's my process:  Get one idea that kind of stinks.  Go down the path of research, thought, planning, figuring it out.  Realize it's total crap.  Get new idea.  This one seems downright brilliant.  Tell someone about it—they blanch and stammer something polite but unenthusiastic.  Suffer from crisis of confidence and abandon idea. 


Et cetera. 


This process is repeated multiple times, with fits and starts.  Sometimes it takes a long freaking time (Only this month have I become confident enough about an idea for a new nonfiction project…yes, almost two years since my first book appeared.  Sorry, Harper.). Sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes I desperately need the input of my partner, my business partner, or a few trusted writing buddies.  Sometimes I have a sense that if I tell another human being, it will be jinxed forever and will surely fail. For me, the important part is to remain open to the right idea.  Nothing is perfect, but good thoughts sometimes take time to percolate.  I try to read widely, talk to new people, eavesdrop on conversations, give myself long walks and time for random, unstructured thought.  Given all of those inputs, ideas usually come. 


Before I go public with an idea, I always ask myself several questions.  What's the idea? Is it really unique? How? More importantly, what can I bring to the idea that nobody else can?  Is this something I'm willing to talk about all day, lose sleep over, and devote at least a quarter of my working brain capacity to for the near future? 


If the answer is yes, I freak out.  Oh, God.  Here we go again.  And that's the place I'm in right now.  Here we go again…


What about you? Where do you find your ideas? 


 

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Published on January 18, 2012 11:00 • 23 views

January 2, 2012

I (and John Singer Sargent) wish you a happy literary new year!


Happy 2012! A few business items: I'm happy to announce that Laura has won the Pride and Prejudice note cards, while Kate won Dust Tracks on a Road.


If you're interested in my literary new year's resolutions (and a giveaway of The Heroine's Bookshelf), you should head over to The Literate Housewife, who is currently featuring me on her blog.


And now, before I plunge into book proposal writing for the new year, is a little treat for you. I spoke to Diane Burrowes in Harper's academic marketing department to learn a bit more about Harper's involvement with Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Zora Neale Hurston estate.



EB: How did HP end up publishing Zora books?


DB: Originally published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God met significant commercial success. Somewhat forgotten after her death, Zora Neale Hurston was rediscovered by a number of black authors in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and reintroduced to a greater readership by Alice Walker in her 1972 essay "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," written for Ms. magazine. Long out of print, the book was reissued after a petition was circulated at the Modern Language Association Convention in 1975, and nearly three decades later Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a seminal novel of American fiction. J. B. Lippincott & Co published Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Their Eyes Were Watching God came to HarperCollins Publishers when Harper & Row merged with Lippincott in the 1970s.



EB: What's the most rewarding/challenging part of working with a classic?



DB: It's rewarding to work on a timeless classic. To learn of people constantly discovering books and learning of new readers' reactions to the books are hugely gratifying. It's also been wonderful to work with Zora's heirs on the ongoing campaign to promote her work.



EB: Any facts that surprised you as you embarked on this?



DB: Discovering Zora's own life is one of the fascinating things about working on her books.



EB: Why should readers still think of Zora's work as relevant?



DB: Her books are the story of a woman discovering herself and her own abilities. They go across color and gender lines and are really about a person discovering his or her inner worth and own selfhood.



Thanks for weighing in, Diane! Dear readers…what's on your literary list for 2012?

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Published on January 02, 2012 07:44 • 47 views

December 15, 2011

Happy birthday, Jane!


Birthdays are a big deal…even more so when you're turning 236, like the inimitable Jane Austen. I'm excited to participate in Austen's Birthday Soiree today along with dozens of other Janeites worldwide…and to be giving away a copy of Potter-style Pride and Prejudice notecards to one lucky commenter! 


I've done lots of book events over the past few months, and the issue keeps coming up. Why is Jane Austen so revered and so relevant 236 years after her birth?


The answer is probably one that will annoy academics and occupy writers for centuries to come. In celebration of her birthday, I'll tell you why I find Miss Austen so refreshing, two centuries on. Y


ou see, the more I appreciate her body of work, the more I realize that it's not Austen's love stories that interest me. It's the sense of inner amusement with which the author approaches all of society. Nobody found other people as ridiculous and as gently amusing as Jane, and even today in a world without the marriage market, the fumbling country-dance or the Empire waist, there's something to be relished in passages that poke at all we once held dear.  Things haven't changed so much in the many years since Jane Austen helped invent the modern novel, and what better birthday present could you wish for than the gift of timelessness?


Why do you find Jane Austen relevant today (or not)? Comment below and you could win a set of Potter-style Pride and Prejudice notecards!  The contest will close next Friday, December 24, and is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.


Don't forget to visit the other Austen's Birthday Soiree participants, listed below, for your chance to win even more Austenesque gifts.  Thanks to Maria Grazia of My Jane Austen Book Club and  Katherine Cox of November's Autumn for organizing.


Participants in Austen's Birthday Soiree



Sharon Lathan
Blog: Sharon Lathan
Giveaway: one copy of Miss Darcy Falls in Love
Emily Snyder
Blog: O! Beauty Unattempted
Giveaway: one copy of Letters of Love & Deception 
Laurel Ann Nattress
Blog: Austenprose
Giveaway: one signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It
C. Allyn Pierson
Blog: SemiTrue Stories
Giveaway: one copy of Mr. Darcy Little Sister (open internationally)
Cindy Jones
Blog: First Draft
Giveaway: one signed copy of My Jane Austen Summer and a package of Lily Berry's Pink Rose Tea by Bingley's, Ltd.
Farida Mestek
Blog: Regency stories set against the backdrop of Regency England
Giveaway: one copy of I was Jane Austen Best Friend, by Cora Harrison
Marilyn Brant
Blog: Brant Flakes
Giveaway: A canvas ACCORDING TO JANE tote bag and a pair of A SUMMER IN EUROPE luggage tags
Prue Batten
Blog: Mesmered's Blog
Giveaway: one copy of Georgiana Darcy's Diary: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice continued, Anna Elliott
Erin Blakemore
Blog:  The Heroine's Bookshelf
Giveaway: Pride and Prejudice notecards, by Potter Style
Blog: vvb32 reads
Giveaway: Jane Austen's Little Instruction Book (Charming Petites), by Jane Austen, edited by Sophia Bedford-Pierce, illustrated by Mullen & Katz, introduction by Barbara Paulding
Karen Doornebos
Blog: The Fiction vs. Reality Smackdown
Giveaway: 2 Jane Austen candles and 2 signed copies of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy plus drink coasters and tea!
Regina Jeffers
Blog: ReginaJeffers's Blog
Giveaway: one signed copy of Christmas at Pemberley
Alyssa Goodnight
Blog: Alyssa Goodnight   
Giveaway: one Jane Austen Action figure
Deb Barnum
Blog: Jane Austen in Vermont
Giveaway: 2012 calendars from the Wisconsin JASNA Region
Laura Hile, Susan Kaye, Pamela Aidan, and Barbara Cornthwaite
Blog: Jane Started It!
Giveaway: one copy of Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honour, by Pamela Aidan; one set of Frederick Wentworth, Captain (Books 1 and 2), by Susan Kaye; two copies of Mercy's Embrace: So Rough a Course (Book 1), by Laura Hile; one copy of George Kinghtley, Gentleman (Books 1 and 2), by Barbara Cornthwaite
Juliet Archer
Blog: Choc Lit Authors' Corner
Giveaway: one copy each of Persuade Me and The Importance of Being Emma
Jane Greensmith
Blog: Reading, Writing, Working, Playing
Giveaway: one copy each of Intimations of Austen, and Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Illustrated)
Jenny Allworthy
Blog: The Jane Austen Film Club 
Giveaway: a copy of Northanger Abbey DVD starring Felicity Jones and JJ Feild (The winner will choose region 1 or 2 DVD)
Sitio Jane Austen
Blog: El Salón de Té de Jane
Giveaway:  one copy of the Spanish edition of Sense and Sensibility and one copy of  DVD package with adaptations of Jane Austen. (It's only zone 2, but it's in Spanish and English ), and one copy of BBC's Emma with Romola Garai (Blue-ray)
Kaitlin Saunders
Blog: Kaitlin Saunders
Giveaway: one copy of A Modern Day Persuasion
Becky Rhodehouse
Blog: One Literature Nut
Giveaway: selection of Austenesque Reads
Patrice Sarath
Blog: Patrice Sarath
Giveaway: one copy of The Unexpected Miss Bennet
Adriana Zardini
Site: Jane Austen Brasil
Giveaway: DVD – Sense and Sensibility (1995) – English / Portuguese subtitles
Jane Odiwe
Blog: Jane Austen Sequels 
Giveaway: one mug with one of Jane Odiwe's illustrations and one copy of Mr. Darcy's Secret
Courtney Webb
Blog: Stiletto Storytime
Giveaway: one copy of Noble Satyr by Lucinda Brant (Regency Romance)
Jennifer Becton
Blog: Jennifer W. Becton
Giveaway: one copy of the eBook of the Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection, which contains Charlotte Collins, "Maria Lucas," and Caroline Bingley. Open internationally.
Vera Nazarian
Blog: Urban Girl Takes Vermont
Giveaway: a copy of Vera Nazarian's gift hardcover edition of her inspirational calendar and diary, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Abigail Reynolds
Blog: Pemberley Variations
Giveaway: one signed copy of Mr. Darcy's Undoing
Blog: AustenAuthors
Giveaway: one copy of Georgette Heyer's Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester
Katherine Cox
Blog: November's Autumn
Giveaway: one $10 B&N Gift-card (US only)
Maria Grazia
Blog: My Jane Austen Book Club
Giveaway: A selection of Austenesque reads
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Published on December 15, 2011 23:00 • 33 views