Tag Archives: Christina Katz

Experience is an Action Word

In Christina Katz’s weekly e-zine, she continues her discussion on the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers.

This week’s quality is experience.

*****

Experience is an action word.

It’s a noun, yes. But, the word – and the meaning behind it – comes alive with action.

Last week, I experimented with a short story rewrite, deciding it not only needed a good trim but a rigorous reduction in extraneous verbiage.

I’ve rewritten passages before and added words here and there, but I’ve never attacked a whole story with the goal of cutting the word count in half. I needed help, so I turned to other writers. I posed a question here, and several people commented with great suggestions.

Over a course of several days, and several draft print-outs, I attempted to trim a 3500+ word story to just under 1200 words. Each time I considered a strikethrough, I leaned on the experience and words of those writers:

  • Cut the facts, keep the emotion.
  • Get rid of the passages that are better expressed elsewhere in the story.
  • Cut the beginning and introduce the conflict in the first sentence.
  • Take off the ending.
  • Follow your intuition.

The initial cuts were easy. I crossed out the ending without a problem, and I condensed the beginning two paragraphs into one concise sentence. My pen danced through unnecessary adjectives and random details. But after the third pass through the story, I still had well over 200 words left to cut.

Talk about killing your darlings…It pained me to think of losing even one more word, let alone a few hundred. Then, I read Jordan Rosenfeld’s recent post, at Make a Scene, about deep-cut revising, and trusted her when she said weeks later I wouldn’t even notice what I bumped from the story.

So, I cut whole scenes, gave one character the boot, and said farewell to descriptions that no reader would love as much as I loved them.

As I got closer to 1200 words, the skeleton of a story that remained read so choppy that I wondered if I cut too much. But, I weaved the story back together with careful precision – into a sensible plot – and ended just under the 1200 bar. I then sent the “new” story off to a few writing friends to see if it held together well. Comments were positive, and I was able to work in a few more suggested changes while staying under my word limit.

The experience I gained through this experiment was invaluable. I learned several things about my writing – I write on and on sometimes and plenty of what I say can be cut without losing the premise of a story.

This rewrite experiment also taught me that, while writing is a solitary act, I rarely do it alone. I ask around when I’m not sure how to begin a story or edit a story or end a story. And in listening to other writers’ suggestions – and their experience I find the courage to attempt new writing challenges myself.

Then, I celebrate my success when the story I just slashed still reads like a story and not like a ticker tape.

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Finding Balance – A Daily Task

In Christina Katz’s ezine, The Prosperous Writer, she writes on the 52 Qualities of just that – prosperous writers. This week, she focused on balance.

The word balance pops up everywhere these days — in posts (like this one from Allison Winn Scotch) about negotiating social networking around writing time and in essays (like Sayantani Dasgupta’s) about the plight of the mother-writer.

Balance, for me, equals writing longevity.

Sure, like many others, I juggle writing with parenthood, a day job, my marriage. Toss in time spent browsing Twitter, reading blogs, and thumbing through the pages of a good book. All of a sudden, I look up and see a cluster of balls suspended in the air, and I duck for cover.

In my eyes, juggling is organized chaos. Balance works more like a swinging pendulum.

At one end, I am stuck, not writing: there isn’t enough time, I don’t know what I want to say, I’ll never get published so what’s the point.

Sometimes the pendulum swings to the other end and drops me, head first, into writing. Like a maniac, stay up until the wee hours of the morning, punt on housework and sometimes dinner, ignore the phone because I am busy – writing.

At either end of the spectrum, I don’t function well. When I am not writing at all, I am miserable. When I am writing non-stop, I am self-indulgent and easily irritated when anyone or anything disrupts my flow. And, I am miserable.

What I have learned, is that balance is critical. Not only for my mental and emotional well-being, but for my writing career. If I am off balance, I am either on the verge of “quitting this whole business of writing” because I’ll never be good enough. Or, I am writing so hard that I am sucking the life out of my muse. Then I find myself on the verge of “quitting this whole business of writing” because I’ll never find the time I need to write well.

I love writing, and I need it. But, I also need times without writing to rejuvenate my creativity, to nurture the relationships with the people around me, and to remember what is important in life.

Finding that balance between life and writing is a daily pursuit.

Things that send the pendulum into high swing (and how I bring it back):

  1. Discouraging news about the publishing world or the writing life. I skim these articles or essays. Because, regardless of what’s happening in the publishing world, I love (and live) to write.
  2. Flat responses from friends or family when I talk about writing. Jody Hedlund wrote a great post about this the other day. Some people will just never understand the writing life. My best bet is to find safe people with whom to talk about writing, and plan coffee dates as often as possible.
  3. Forcing a story. Occasionally, I think I have to submit something to a particular place or literary magazine, because, well…they put a call out for submissions. I don’t want to miss my chance. But, that kind of motivation leads to manic writing — hovering over my laptop in a corner, looking like a feminized version of Mr. Hyde.

Things that keep the pendulum close to center:

  1. Posts from writers, like this one from Aimée Laine, that talk about keeping expectations and goals manageable. And, books like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, that suggest weekly artist’s dates: time away from your craft of choice (writing, painting, etc.) to rejuvenate, to refuel, and to return with fresh eyes and a fresh spirit.
  2. An email from an editor that says, Hey, we love your piece and we want to include it in our next issue. After reading that kind of email, I can take a break from writing and indulge in life’s goodness for a while. No, this doesn’t happen as often as I would like, but when it does, I definitely feel close to center.
  3. Trust in a Power greater than myself. Spirituality surrounds every writer. Whether you call it your muse, your genius, or God, something guides us. My job is to take the actions set in front of me: write when it’s time to write, play when it’s time to play, read when it’s time to read. I am not in charge of the results.

I am not in charge. Phew! If I remember that on a daily basis, balance is surprisingly easy to achieve.

What does balance look like to you?

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I am my own boss.

Christina Katz, at The Prosperous Writer, sends out a weekly e-zine in which she writes about the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers. This week’s topic is Accountability.

I don’t have an agent. No publisher is knocking at my door begging me to sign a contract for a book not yet complete (does that even happen in real life?). I don’t get paid to write –yet. So, what makes me accountable?

Why keep writing?

I spent years dreaming, thinking, saying out loud, “Some day I want to be a writer.” My mother believed in me. Not concerned if I could tackle story structure and character development, or if I could decipher theme and irony, she asked me to pen a story about her. If she were still living today, and reading this blog, she’d make me accountable. It’s hard to say no to your mother.

The day I signed up for my first writing class – no, strike that – the day I sent my first nonfiction piece to a legitimate literary magazine, I named myself a writer. Since then, I’ve had visions of quick success, flashes of failures, and heavy doses of reality. I wondered if I would ever be a serious writer. But, not once did I consider returning to the days of not writing.

Accountability keeps me engaged in what I love.

This blog makes me accountable. Every Wednesday, I write on the Word of the Day. No one pays me, and I happened to choose a day of the week when my time is always scrunched. Still, I post a flash fiction, a short essay, something.

Writing salons keep me accountable, and connected. If I’m too quiet in a group, someone sends an email, because – as writers – we know that silence can be a deadly.

And, oddly enough, Twitter makes me accountable. When I tweet that I #amwriting, I commit myself. I doubt all 109 of my followers are waiting, with bated breath, to read the end result of whatever it is I am #writing. But I’m a people-pleaser, and I can’t bear to think I might leave even one follower hanging.

Accountability.

Christina Katz is right when she says:

You understand that your success is contingent upon this ability to be dedicated to your work and you don’t shirk your deadlines or commitments or take them for granted.

What makes you accountable?
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