Mon 4 Feb 2013
by Gay Degani
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Life is a crossword puzzle done in ink.No matter the effort, I still mess up. Thank goodness, I am not alone in this human flaw. I put in the “perfect” answer with confidence until I run out of squares. Why didn’t I count before I brandished my pen?
So I apply White-Out. Now I can’t read the numbers on the grid. I squint, I use my nail to scrape, dig in the basket on the breakfast table for the magnifying glass. I look at the numbers around the “unreadable” number and deduce. Oh yes it’s number 4 or 7 or 9, isn’t it? Why don’t I just take my time? Make sure everything fits before I go for it? Sometimes I just don’t. I want to “go.” The trick is once I decide to go and it doesn’t work, I have to “let go” and get on with it.
This is how I feel when I write, too, that organic unwieldy process. Get an idea and dive in, feet first, an adventure that could lead me just about anywhere. Let’s go. Bombs away. Then I realize I’ve gone on a tangent. I look around for the white out, but there isn’t any for this particular kind of puzzle. What I’ve got in front of me is a mess that doesn’t make much sense. I highlight those 1000 or so words and let my finger hover over the “Delete” key. But wait, I don’t tear up a crossword puzzle when I screw it up, do I? I reread, rethink, reconstruct and review. And that’s what needs to be done with the story too, but this is hard.
There are things I understand about the revision process after years of trying to learn to write well, but sometimes knowing something intellectually doesn’t always translate into using the tools you should. I’ve written articles, here in fact, about questioning the text, asking yourself what does your character want, what stands in her way, what does she do about it, and how is it resolved. But sometimes I cannot see through the jumble of words on the page. I can’t let go of what came out of my brain the first time. But I need to. This is important. I need to.
I need to push away from myself and search through my own writing as if I were someone else. And when those “other” eyes reveal that “the story doesn’t work,” “the story doesn’t satisfy,” “the character takes no action,” “there is no change,” “there is no meaning,” then I need to let go of the piece as it is and be willing to challenge the story in whatever way that joggles me into better understanding its structure, its characters, its emotion, its theme.
First, it’s hard because there are often many things I love about what I’ve just put on paper, a turn of phrase, a character who is funny, a scene that really seems to work, but taken as a whole? It has no meaning. Sometimes it is easy to get rid of the mess. That’s why they put trash cans on your computer screen, right? Second, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? The story I just whizzed through? My subconscious is more creative and original than the left-brained me, isn’t it? Third, there’s so much fun in that initial rush of words, I just wanna do that again. But I can’t let any of this stand in my way because the reality is first drafts aren’t perfect. I have to let go of that idea–and the idea that writing could be easy.
I have to realize that my mess-up isn’t a mess-up. It’s a search. It’s like filling in a word in a crossword puzzle that turns out to be wrong. Do I leave the incorrect answer there because it “fits?” It looks right? Am I really too lazy to change it? Does that help me to complete the puzzle or does it lead me astray? I know that I must let go of first words and first thoughts and use the tools of craft to help me work toward a piece of art.
For the week of February 3 through February 9, Flash Fiction Ch
ronicles is having its Fifth String-of-10 Contest—String-of-10 FIVE—for the best 250-word story written from a randomly selected string of ten words. GUIDELINES
STRING-OF-10 FIVE PROMPT:
I want to put a ding in the universe. –Steve Jobs
STRING-OF-10 FIVE GUEST JUDGE: KATHY FISH
I am pleased to announce that this year’s Guest Judge will be Kathy Fish. Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of three collections of stories: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women, (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, forthcoming from The Lit Pub.
Coming this month:
Flash Fiction Chronicles Series of Creating and Publishing Fiction Chapbooks From Bonnie ZoBell:
Victor David Giron at Curbside Splendor, February 7Tammy Lynne Stoner at Gertrude Press, February 21
Every Day Fiction’s Top Author Interview
Aliza Greenblatt will be interviewing Kevin McNeil whose story “The Merry Jester” was the top story for January at EDF.