Mothering The First Draft

If I wrote poetry, Mother’s Day would be a wonderful day to write a poem for my Mom, but I don’t. Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to share an early Mother’s Day thank you with my mom for inadvertently raising me to be a writer. As mom tells me, not everyone can sit down and write a novel.

For me it is all about the first draft. By trade I am an editor. I can turn any manuscript into something worthy of publication. But getting those first words down and turning them into a story, is where the challenge lies. Writing a first draft has a lot to do with letting go of rational thought, and inviting insanity. There is a desperation to create something out of nothing and as you do, it is not at all what it will be in the end. This seems like an insurmountable task, but it’s not. It’s the sticking with it that is the tough part.

So Mom.

First, let me lay the groundwork… my mom is not like other mothers. She swears a lot and she does not give a crap what other people think. She shopped at Target way before it was cool (and many big box  iterations prior to Target). She has never criticized my clothing, evaluated my appearance or ever tried to turn me into anyone besides exactly who I am. Where and when I grew up, these were very rare gifts from a mother.

I share my mother’s love of the emphatic curse word. My mother is notorious for SHITSHITSHIT. It is a three word combination, spoken as one word with three syllables, each rising in pitch. It is an impressive tool for expression.

As a teenager, my house was probably the only house on the block where you could speak freely, without fear of parental retribution. And we loved dialog! Some of my happiest memories growing up are sitting around the dining room table over dirty dishes, everyone debating, arguing, laughing and smoking cigarettes. These were golden days. Everything was discussed at my house, nothing was off limits. My mother was keeping it real before that was even a thing.

This week, my mother is doing a read through of my book. I was a little unnerved about her reading the first sex scene, complete with an extremely intimate oral interlude atop a kitchen counter. When she started reading, she texted me:

Mom:       It’s flowing great!
Me:           Tell me how it’s flowing after they are fucking.
(20 minutes pass)
Mom:       They have had sex. I found a tiny typo.

My misspelling of the word tongue would probably be more disturbing to her, than reading about the actual use of it.

I’ll take Mom’s life lessons right to the page. For the first draft, don’t over analyze it and don’t edit yourself too much. Don’t be afraid of words or ideas and, for God’s sake, don’t candy coat it. Just let it flow. Find your characters’ truths and write them. It is all really about truth isn’t it.  Even though it is fiction.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! XOX

The Breakfast Club Redux

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Last night, was the final meeting of my writing workshop.  These eight Wednesday sessions had a profound impact on my book and my perception of myself as a writer.  I need to borrow from John Hughes. I hope he would forgive me. The original tagline… “They only met once, but it changed their lives forever,”  needs to become…”We only met eight times, but it changed my life forever.”

In this workshop, fourteen writers submit twenty-five pages of manuscript, and two per week are reviewed.  We review memoir pieces with great reverence and kindness – that is a life we are talking about, after all. Fiction pieces are typically, mostly lovingly, but brutally torn to shreds. I have a fairly thick skin, and I drove home from my review, popped a Xanax and crawled into bed. I was absolutely done. Fortunately the Xanax did its job and I awoke eight hours later, ready to start again.

Internally I railed against their suggestions and comments. I couldn’t even process them for days. And who are these strangers judging my work? All I know is that like me, they write.  But who are the other writers in my workshop? I’ll tell you who they are.  I summed them up in five minutes.  They are Aging Beauty, ER Doc, Mom Attorney, Mr. Legal Battle, Vietnam Vet, Quiet with Freckles, The Reporter, The English Teacher, Lunatic Fringe, Still Waters Run Deep, Baltimore Bubbe, The Genius, and Christine (I can’t even classify her, fabulocity just oozes from Christine).  Ok that is only thirteen.  To be fair I did give myself a nickname. I am very definitely The Whore. I was the only writer who offered up a sex scene.  And that is daunting, too, let me tell you! So if the shoe fits…

Every week, I would read the work of two more writers and their stereotypes fell away, and were replaced by actual names and real live people with unbelievable stories. Some wrote fiction and others wrote memoir and every week I left workshop saying THESE PEOPLE ARE AMAZING.

I started the workshop because writing was isolating. Who can understand such laser sharp focus on something that does not exist, except another writer.  When I started eight weeks ago, I was some woman writing and I needed people. Now I am a writer, and I have people and I am grateful.

About a week after my review session, I edited in every single comment from my instructor and co-writers.  Literally every single one.  They were all on the mark.  My book is so much better for it.  So…

Dear Writers,

Thank you all.  You rocked my world and I will be forever in your debt. Getting to know you has enriched my life. In the immortal words of Simple Minds, Don’t You Forget About Me.

Sincerely,
-The Whore

 

On Writing THE END

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It’s over? Is it really and truly over? I started a few months ago, staring at a blank screen with a flashing little line. It pulsates, that little line. Write. Now. Write. Now. Write. Now.

And suddenly there is a place.
And the place is filled with people.
And the people are filled with stories.
And their world becomes my world and I like their world.
I like it a lot.

I like their secrets and their honesty. I like their selfishness and their caring. I like their fear and their courage. I like their pain. Oh I like their pain so very much.  And I love their passion. I also like their hair. They have really great hair.

And then it is done.

For my whole life, I thought of typing the words THE END as a leap across a finish line, with a ribbon across my chest and my arms raised in a V for victory.

But I’m not ready to say goodbye to these characters just yet. There are more stories to tell.

-THE BEGINNING-