Revisions – First Drafts Need Help

Always give your writing a good revision or two (or three or more)Revisions Are the Rule

So I’ve been posting draft poems so far this year. As I admitted last week, they’re not very good. So this week I opted to write out my first draft on paper (see image) so that I could make revisions as I went. I purposefully did not erase text but rather crossed it out so that it was still discernible so that I could see my thought process.

It’s still not a great poem, but I think it’s better. Putting it down on paper made me think more about my word choices than if I had the unlimited virtual page in front of me.

I don’t know if that would work for me with longer pieces. The thought of writing a novel longhand makes me slightly ill. However, I could write out stories and scenes/chapters that were problematic so that I could see the work differently. It was also easier to isolate myself and eliminate distractions if I was working on paper.

Revisions Are Not Optional

Yes, that’s restating my original point, but I don’t want people to miss it. If you think you can write a perfect draft first time through, you’re wrong. If you think you can craft an acceptable draft the first time through, I’ll contend you’re still wrong.

Every piece of writing needs revisions.

Every piece of writing can be made better.

Your writing is not an exception to this.

Quick reminder if you missed the first week’s post:

  1. I’m using the Storymatic for writing prompts
  2. Posting new words on Mondays for people playing at home
  3. Previous week’s poem also posted on Monday
  4. At the beginning of the next month we’ll take a vote on which poem to revise for a small collection at the end of the year

My Prompt for Next Week

  • Liar
  • Person who should not be in charge
  • Vacation
  • Broken bone

My Poem from Last Week

Friendship blossoms
Between odd fellows
Divergent paths
One, a scholar
The other, a dropout
But the bond between
Grows strong

The scholar
Suffers
Jibes, taunts, ridicule, curses, pushes, threats
It’s almost too much to bear

The dropout
Understands
Empathy exists
But the words really aren’t there to console

A ceremony
With cap and gown
Only one attends
Continues on the scholar’s path

There are few options
For the dropout
Watches his friend leave
And puts his back into his labors

The bond between them not broken
But communication withers
Drops into the deep hibernation of winter

Years pass
Marked by more ceremonies for one
Children and wives for the other
Despite his success
The scholar struggles
Can’t outstrip the razor’s sting of memory

A knock
Not a phone call
When the hour is past polite conversation
The night is pleasant
They enjoy a walk in the night air

The words still aren’t there for the dropout
Made worse by lack of common interests
But the scholar sees
His friend is content and satisfied
In ways he can never be

Writing Poetry is Difficult – Week #3

2016 Writing Resolution Week #3

OK, it’s week three of my resolution to write a poem a week and so far so good! This might be the longest I’ve ever kept a resolution. While keeping my resolution hasn’t been too difficult so far, I’m not exactly writing stellar poems so far.

Since these are first drafts (what I think of as proto-drafts) they sort of tell a story and don’t necessarily evoke any sort of emotion. They’re serviceable, but they need work. The word choice isn’t necessarily great and the imagery is virtually non-existent.

The poems I published in Electric Velocipede always evoked something for me. I think of Shira Lipkin’s “Wool and Silk and Wood” from issue #15/16. That’s probably the perfect example of what I liked in a poem. The poem is no longer online, but you can find in The Best of Electric Velocipede that was published by Fairwood Press a year or so ago.

It’s More Difficult Than People Might Think

Poem writing is hard, very hard. Anyone can string words together, but to write a poem that means something? You’re going to have to put some effort into it. I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s somewhat of a risk to put out super-rough not-very-great poems on my website but I’m hoping to be able to show a sort of process of editing and revision over the course of the year.

Quick reminder if you missed the first week’s post:

  1. I’m using the Storymatic for writing prompts
  2. Posting new words on Mondays for people playing at home
  3. Previous week’s poem also posted on Monday
  4. At the end of the month we’ll take a vote on which poem to revise for a small collection at the end of the year

My Prompt for Next Week

Got it? Good. Here are this week’s words:

  • Scholar
  • Person who is bullied
  • Long walk with an old friend
  • Knock on the door at two in the morning

I really am choosing these at random. This one feels like a set up, but it’s not.

The Poem from Last Week

Here’s last week’s poem:

Normally he was the last person we’d invite to the taxidermist’s guild
Years of requests signed ‘The Guest’ had gone unanswered
A new member taken in by the strength of ‘The Guest’s’ resume
Replied that ‘The Guest’ could be a guest at the next banquet

The new member was a legacy showing promise
Many of the guild’s awards and grants are named after his mother
So we assumed that he knew about ‘The Guest’
Or at least would be able to see through the deceptive façade ‘The Guest’ built over the years

But, the legacy’s mother had passed on and so we’ll never know
What was learned and was is a mystery
Still, even an untrained eye should see the shoddy work
So much glue instead of the true art of taxidermy

And so the banquet’s night comes
Everyone waits on tenterhooks for ‘The Guest’ to arrive
The legacy now regrets his choice but there is nothing to be done about it
Perhaps it’s for the best

There is the hope that ‘The Guest’ once inside
Will decide it wasn’t worth the effort
To sit and listen to old arguments over where the bodies come from
Or what the best filler material is

I’m certain that ‘The Guest’ will find everything ever so entertaining
And long for a second visit and an eventual membership
Once you are a guest at the guild
Becoming a member gets easier and easier

Imagine the delight of the crowd when ‘The Guest’ arrives
Fresh taxidermy in hand like a bottle of wine
No one brings gifts to the banquets
Least of all a mounted trophy

But the horror of it; the enormity of it all
Is the necklace of the legacy’s mother
Glued to the neck of the preening swan ‘The Guest’ struggles to carry
So large in life and so very awkward in death

A family heirloom thought lost for decades
The legacy remembers ‘The Guest’ visiting the home
Trying to woo his widowed mother
Hoping to gain access to guild through marriage

The taxidermy is ugly
There is nothing sleek or beautiful about the swan
It looks roughed up; beaten and worn
Like an old chew toy left out in the rain

Before ‘The Guest’ could present the swan to the crowd
He was ushered outside
The legacy tore his mother’s necklace from the swan
And banished ‘The Guest’ from ever sitting foot in the guild

‘The Guest’ lived out his days yearning to be accepted
But not understanding how to belong

Poem Resolution Week Two

2016 Writing Resolution Week #2

Here we are. On week two of my resolution to write a poem a week and I’ve done it! Only 50 more to go! Quick reminder if you missed last week’s post:

  1. I’m using the Storymatic for writing prompts
  2. Posting new words on Mondays for people playing at home
  3. Previous week’s poem also posted on Monday
  4. At the end of the month we’ll take a vote on which poem to revise for a small collection at the end of the year

My Prompt for Next Week

Got it? Good. Here are this week’s words:

  • Guest
  • Taxidermist
  • Glue
  • Mother’s necklace

The Poem from Last Week

That thing almost writes itself! OK, here’s last week’s poem:

You never daydream that you’ll fail
It’s always sunshine and fluffy clouds
Things you’d never admit to anyone
The confidence portrayed in your imaginary life
Success is a foregone conclusion
Fame, even, is a known quantity

So when you take a leap for those dreams
Because someone says you have talent
An undeveloped cynicism would save you
But people wouldn’t bother to say things
If they weren’t true

You leave everything behind and hit the road
Singing everywhere you can
Believing you are a step or two away from stardom
When in reality you are moving in the opposite direction
You’ve been in a freefall since you dropped out

Then begins a series of disastrous episodes
While in a diner restroom the band abandons you to the check
To start something else with a new singer
Somehow you are convinced this is a chance at a new start
Despite no money or transportation
So you take a ride with a stranger
Which ends in predictable ways you never considered

Still you consider all motion to be forward
Feeling that your goal is just around the corner
Perhaps in the next town or tomorrow’s show
You never were a good student
But life is changing that for you

A new band never materializes
And open mic nights don’t pay the bills
The one thing you feel qualified to do that earns money
Is not something you want to keep doing
Without a diploma it’s hard to get work other places

More than a year has passed since you left
And you’re back where you started
Further behind than if you stayed
Tomorrow is the last day of school
Everyone you know is taking the first steps of a new adventure
And yours might as well be over

2016 Writing Resolution: One Poem Each Week

My New Year's resolution: The Storymatic

My 2016 Writing Resolution #1

In the past, I made your typical New Year’s resolution. You know: lose weight, eat better, exercise, get more sleep, etc. Most of the time I failed to keep said resolution. I feel like they consist of things I should be doing anyway and I often fail at them only to make the same resolutions again and again. This year I’m taking a different tack. My resolution is to write a poem each week in 2016.

I’ve already been writing a poem each week for about four weeks now, so it’s approaching habit but I want to sustain it for the course of the year. Now, do I have ideas for 52 poems? Not really. That’s where the Storymatic comes in to help me keep my resolution.

The Storymatic

Often billed as a party game, I’m using the Storymatic as a series of writing prompts. The box contains two sets of cards: gold cards, which set who the protagonist is; and copper cards (I think they’re yellow and orange, but hey…) that set the scene/setting. You draw two of each cards (I draw them with my eyes closed) and there’s your writing prompt.

I remove the cards from the box so I don’t draw them again. There are hundreds of each type of card. There are also wild cards, but I ignore those.

Also, you’re supposed to abide by the Two Laws of The Storymatic:

  1. Your main character must change from the beginning of the story to the end of the story.
  2. You cannot kill your main character.

I’m not necessarily following those as I write poems. I generally spend some time coming up with an opening line and then I write until I’ve covered all four cards and it feels like I’ve got a complete arc written.

My Prompt for Next Week

For example, these are this week’s cards (also in the photo):

  • Dropout
  • Singer
  • Bad Directions
  • Last day of school

The poems will be published on Monday along with my new words if you want to play along. This week got away from me so it’ll be just a few days from now. Yes, I’m already veering towards failing at this resolution. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve been doing the writing, just not writing this post. But since getting the post up on Monday is part of the resolution, I need to get on it better. Things should get on a more regular schedule after this week.

At the end of each month I’ll take a poll as to which poem you think I should revise. These poems are first drafts. They are not rough drafts, i.e., I have not done any revising or editing on them. You’re getting what I put down on the page as it comes to me.

The Prompt for Last Week

Last week’s words:

  • Person who refuses to fit in
  • Aging clown
  • Restaurant
  • Attacked by squirrels

The poem:

There was a time when we weren’t pariahs
When the young and old looked forward to seeing us
We were a star attraction
Crossed over to television
Could find work at the drop of a hat
That was the world I wanted

Fourteen-year-old runaway looking for excitement
Learning from some of the best
The artistry of the makeup
The creation of a persona
Becoming someone else and becoming free

We were something to behold
Holding audiences in thrall at every stop
Whether it was under the lights
Or when the lights were turned out
We found something everyone could enjoy
Men, women, whatever, we never turned anyone away

They took us to restaurants
Invited us into their homes
Asked us to perform at their schools
We knew it would bring people to the main show
So we happily said yes
As did our audience

For a long time life was beautiful
Then people couldn’t tear themselves away from their screens
They’d rather watch a video of a squirrel attack
Than watch a genius create
New worlds whole out of cloth
Open their minds to amazing experiences

The show is filled with motorcycles
Extreme sports
Dangerous animals
There’s no room for someone funny
No need to bring a smile to someone’s face
When you can shock them instead

My mentor encouraged me to look into parties
And haunted houses
Trade in on the scary angle
Practically begged me to try something new
Afraid my path would mirror his
End in death and disease

Changing who I am won’t avoid death
Changing won’t avoid disease
Becoming something new to make more money
Isn’t better if it makes me less happy
Struggling is part of life
I won’t change just to make things easier

My Belated Review of 2015

Ribbon Board filled with a Review of my 2015 Memories

2015 in Review

Every January I think about writing up a review of the previous year and I start to organize my thoughts. It quickly becomes March and then a review seems fruitless. I’m still later than I’d like to be—it being more than halfway through the month—but it’s still January so I think I’m good to go.

Part of why I’m inspired to do a review is that I keep a ribbon board above my desk. It keeps some things that are current/upcoming (there’s business cards for dentist, mechanic, insurance agent and the like) but mostly it’s where I slot things after they’re done.

It’s become a ritual I do every year right around New Year’s Eve. I empty out the ribbon board and review all the things I did throughout the year. Then I pack everything in a Ziploc bag and store it. The oldest one I have is from 2009 so I haven’t been doing this forever but we’re approaching ten years.

2015 Ribbon Board

If you look at the photo above you can see that it’s jam-packed with stuff (some might say loaded with shit, but let’s keep it clean). What’s on the board? Among other things:

  • Exploding Kittens packing slip
  • Expired passport
  • Movie ticket stubs
  • Theater ticket stubs
  • Business cards from writers, magazines, and restaurants
  • Post cards from writers, publishers, librarians, and more
  • A bunch of miscellaneous notes from my kids (including hand-made Valentine’s)
  • A paper cutout robot from my son
  • My door tag from the Wyrd Words writing retreat
  • Name badges from UW-Wisconsin Writers Institute, Wiscon 39, Southeast WI Festival of Books, WLA Conference

St. Louis

We took a family trip to St. Louis this past year. We try to go somewhere new for the kids. We aren’t traveling far though; previous years we went to Minneapolis and Chicago. The trip was fun. We saw the Arch of course and we also took in the zoo. We did not go to a Cardinals game which confused most of the people we met. We hit up the City Museum which is crazy. Think of an interactive House on the Rock. It was Fourth of July weekend so it was actually pretty quiet in St. Louis. This year we’re looking at going to Tucson to visit family which will be nice.

SFWA Bulletin

I see a few SFWA things there which reminds me that at this time last year I was the editor of the Bulletin. In a lot of ways, it was a great fit. In one very important way, however, it was not. I could not figure out a way to fit editing the Bulletin into my schedule with any consistency. This lead to delayed issues and extra stress on me. In the end we decided on some mutual deadlines that I was not able to keep. While there were a lot of good things about editing the Bulletin, it was a relief to hand the job over to someone else.

Library

If you don’t know, I work full time as a librarian. So in addition to librarianship taking up the majority of my day most of the year, there were some extra things from the year.

The literary council hosts an annual spelling bee and the library typically has a team. Since I help organize the team I don’t have to get up and spell. In addition to the formal spelling bee they also have a written spelling bee during the evening. I typically win this so I decided I wouldn’t enter this time. To my surprise, the words were all Scripps National Spelling Bee winning words from over the years, which meant they were words from the anthology I edited, Logorrhea, so I would have done even better than normal!

We also had an edible book contest where people ‘re-made’ books into cakes or fruit displays. I made “The Game of Scones” but did not fare well in the competition. All my material was too fresh so it collapsed.

Writing/Wyrd Words/NaNoWriMo

For the past 18 months or so I’ve been working on writing over editing. I’ve been using the magic spreadsheet for some time (although my attendance on the spreadsheet has been sporadic as of late) but I’m too easily derailed. Then I feel guilty for not writing. Which makes me not write. Which adds to the guilt. You see the circle.

This past summer I was fortunate enough to take part in the inaugural Wyrd Words writing retreat. It was amazing. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been but many of us weren’t. Still, there was a ton of great energy and great isolated conversation about writing that I left with a clear focus on my novel. I was all set to tackle a quick revision during NaNoWriMo.

Except the more I went through notes the more the novel needed to change. It lacked focus, characters lacked motivation, major ideas weren’t fleshed out. It wasn’t something I could quickly revise. So I took an old road trip partial manuscript I had and did that for NaNoWriMo.

It’s also unfinished.

But it’s something that I should be able to get a relatively fast first draft done. Then it can sit and wait for another day. Then I tackle my Wyrd Words novel.

Plus I’ve been writing poetry weekly since the middle of December, but you knew that already.

Movies

If you asked me, I’d tell you that I don’t go to the movie theater very often. However, that clearly wasn’t true last year. I had ticket stubs for fifteen movies. Fifteen! I also know there’s at least one movie I didn’t have the stub for so I went to at least sixteen movies in the theater last year. Yikes.

What did I see last year? Here they are chronologically:

Paddington, The Imitation Game (same day as Paddington), Chappie, It Follows, Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron, Mac Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, Minions, Ant-Man, Shaun the Sheep, Green InfernoThe Princess Bride, Goosebumps, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, and The Hateful Eight.

Can you tell which ones we saw as a family and which I went without kids?

Live Theater

This was a banner year for me for getting out of the house and into a theater of sorts. Most of the shows I saw were at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. We saw seven shows there this year, which is the most we’ve even seen at APT. The last two shows we saw in Milwaukee:

The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Streetcar Named Desire, An Illiad, Private Lives, Othello, Pride and Prejudice, The Game of Love and Chance, Wicked, and The Nutcracker Suite (ballet).