October 30, 2012

Editing as self-knowledge (or how many times can you use thrall in a novel?)

I am not one of those people who dislike being editedAs long as the editor knows what she's doing (and yes, I am still shuddering from memories of enforced peer-editing sessions in high school and even university....ugh), it's an essential part of the process.  Problems that have persisted for months can be prodded and untangled due to an editor's ability to get to the root of the problem.  It's not that writers can't edit their own work (we spend at least half of our writing time doing this, if not more), but at a certain point, I feel like I've taken a text as far as I can, and nothing short of time (to acquire fresh eyes) or another person's point of view can help me.

It's actually a really joyous process to have someone clear-sightedly pinpoint the problems in your text and help you find a way to fix them.  It is a privilege and a relief to have someone enter into that kind of relationship with what you've created.  That being said, editing leaves you totally exposed, and it is really humbling to have all your mistakes pointed out.  But humility is a good thing.  

It's also really informative.  It turns out I have some vocabulary quirks, most of which I hadn't noticed before:

I use for as a conjunction a lot.

I overuse the word clad.  (But it's so succinct!)

I tread on the razor’s edge of overuse when it comes to hearken, conjure, thrall, and foray.  (Good thing I’m not writing about, I don't know... Victorian magicians or something.  Then I’d really be in trouble.)

It’s an interesting question (er, to a writer): how many times do you think you can use the word foray in a 437-page novel?  I had three but cut one after my editor suggested it was a very noticeable sort of word.  (Really?  Okay.)  Then again, I lost sleep over my own two thralls, which I ended up leaving in.  I think part of me was so enamoured with those particular sentences (sometimes a bad sign) I worried everyone else would notice --- but I don’t think they will.

What are your personal danger words, writers?  Or words that make you raise an eyebrow when you see them in someone else's book?  I know that I have a hate-on for most highly specific medical terms unless they appear in a hospital context.

October 25, 2012

IFOA envy

If you’re a writer who lives in Montreal, you may, like me, very occasionally suffer from jealous bouts of Toronto-publishing-world envy.  So much of the book industry is located there, not to mention so many amazing writers, and during fall festival season, it’s hard not to feel a little left out of things here in Quebec.  Sure, we have brioches and joie de vivre and, you know, bagels, but we are low  on high-profile English-language literary events.  Never mind the Giller, which at least I can watch online, it’s IFOA that really gets under my skin and turns it green.  I would be so excited to go hear Zadie Smith read, or Michael Chabon, or any of a dozen amazing Canadian writers I’ve seen listed on the bill.  (Amazing photos like this one from Teri V. – blogged about here – don’t help!  Love both the fandom and the post.)

Luckily, Emily M. Keeler’s posts at Hazlitt almost make me feel like I was there.  And some photos up here at Quill & Quire from the opening night party also furnish some good voyeurism.

It’s not all bad, of course.  I’m sure if I was in Toronto right now, it would be much, much harder to finish editing my novel.  Plus I’d be agonizing about which events to go to and which to miss.  I might even waste time getting stressed out about the fact that my pointy black kitten heels are coming apart at the seams, or about my chronic inability to make small talk while simultaneously holding a canapé.

But tonight is the Anansi party, which I’m sad to be missing.  When Anansi came to town for Rawi Hage’s launch earlier this month, I claimed (and I think I stand by this) that it was the best literary event I’d ever attended in this city.  A certain amount of champagne-induced hyperbole might have been involved in this statement, but I stand by it remaining in the top five, for sure.  Rawi Hage asked a few friends to read selections of their choice from Carnival, which struck me as utterly brilliant -- it added variety and kept things moving.  This was followed by a transporting musical interlude on an lute-like instrument that was new to me (can anyone who was in attendance enlighten me?), plenty of sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres, and (clearly the best part) a zillion of my favourite people in attendance.   Not the least of whom was my editor (and Rawi's), who, bless her, gave me a much-needed six-day extension.

Which reminds me what I’ll be doing tonight instead of attending the Anansi party.  I think it was Aristotle who said, Write now, party later, dudes.

A photo from the Anansi event in Mtl, taken by DD

October 24, 2012

the worst part of writing

In a job interview the other day, I was asked what annoys me the most about writing.  (I think I had already made some punctuation lamentations, so the interviewer got specific: “Not what annoys you about other people’s writing – just the writing process itself.  What’s the worst part?”)

I started out talking about how I’m a slow writer.  Sure, there are tons of drafts and revisions, but it seems like most of the time, this has to do with finding my way out of plot snarls.  (Note: do not return to the next novel draft without a plan.)  For the most part, when a sentence finally comes out, it is more or less the way that it’s going to be – even if it takes a few iterations in the moment.  “So that’s the worst part,” I said.  I described the process of sitting in front of the computer for hours, trying to bring forth that one sentence, which isn’t just a matter of phrasing, but trying to articulate a thought that starts out as a vague intuition or a half-thought…something that won’t crystallize until the words are there.  The endless, solitary process of painstakingly feeling your way in the dark towards some kind of revelation and that aha! moment of getting it right.

“No wait,” I said.  “Actually, that’s the best part, too.”  

October 23, 2012

secrets of highly successful people

Some of the freelancing I’m doing consists of personalizing some rather dry bio profiles of several very impressive people. 

Although I’ve been a little intimidated about the conversations (I wouldn’t say I’m overawed by position in general, but it’s safe to say that I don’t interact with a lot of CEOs on a daily basis), I’ve actually been enjoying them more than I would have guessed.

Successful individuals tend to have great people skills – so it’s not surprising that most of them were patient, congenial, curious, and passionate.  But I was also interested to note that most have also had at least two or three very different kinds of careers, as well as a lot of professional training along the way.  Many of these individuals have also spent time teaching in their area of interest(s) at one point or another.

Also, curiously, all of them have cited snowshoeing as among their favourite outdoor activities.  Now, is this just a wholesome, non-elitist winter sport self-consciously selected to humanize an extraordinary individual  in the eyes of a general Canadian audience?  Or will my prospects in life improve once the snow falls and I can get out there on snowshoes again? 

To summarize, here is what I have gleamed from my conversations with some very successful Montrealers:

Secrets of highly successful people
  • Be who you want to be
  • Follow your interests, both inside and outside of work
  •  Get involved in those areas
  • Connect with like-minded individuals
  • Have a good, hard work ethic
  • Enjoy snowshoeing

October 18, 2012

Whedon, Mantel, and Neil Young - together at last

Well, together in a blog post, anyway.  This is just another one of these tabs-open-in-my-browser posts: all the articles I've been enjoying and  meaning to blog about.

Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips - Anyone who knows me (and let's be frank, that's most of you!) knows of my abiding love of Buffy and all things Joss.   These tips are tailored for screenplays, but the basic principles are relevant.  (And anyway, who among us fiction writers doesn't have a secret ambition to try writing a screenplay someday?  Or, say, a secret ambition that flits across our dollar-sign eyeballs after a screening of a particular dismal rom-com...?)

An essay about prizes by Hilary Mantel - Hilary Mantel just won the Man Booker again, for Bring Up the Bodies, her sequel to Wolf Hall, which won the Booker in 2009.   This is a piece from 2010.   I've heard some pretty strong endorsements of Wolf Hall (er, as if the Booker isn't enough), but I have my own weird and foolish hang-ups about historical novels and a kdisinclination for Tudor England in particular, so I haven't picked it up yet.  But I love Mantel's voice in this essay -- now I'm interested in tracking down a copy of her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost.  

and lastly, a review of Neil Young's memoir, which creates a portrait of the artist as a non-reader.

October 12, 2012


I've been thinking lots of blog posts (and emails), if that counts, but there has been no time to write them -- too much editing, other writing, etc, plus, oh, you know, life.  

But it's wonderful to come home on a Friday night and get into comfy clothes and catch up on the internet a little.  One of the very best things is reading up on the Things We Like over at Rose-Coloured.  This collective, amorphous We likes a lot of things (so very close to 1000 now!), and they're pretty much all wonderful.  I recommend going to take a look.  

I know I ought to be working right now (deadline...looming...gulp), but there is a frozen pizza just out of the oven, and the magical PVR full of movies is beckoning...and it's only 7:40!  Grant me absolution, internubs.*

Refined Friday night palate

*shiny new pet name? 

observations on knitting

Observed this last week:

Knitting is an excellent accompaniment to somebody else’s piano lesson. 

Knitting is a less successful accompaniment to a movie with subtitles.


I am an English-style knitter and all future attempts to try to speed-knit Continental-style should be abandoned before they begin.