Contribute Your Little Infuriations

LB-WALKING-225x300A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called Life’s Little Infuriations. I’m working on another one now.

How about submitting your nagging annoyances in a comment here so I can include them in the post?

I know you’ve got them. One might be that your carefully-crafted, open-face sandwich always falls on the floor with the filling face down. Another could be my bugging you all the time to leave a comment—which, not to put to fine a point on it, most of you ignore.

I probably should offer some inducement, say a prize for the best, to get you to contribute your infuriations, but I’m dreaming up a contest for my other site (Stylish Ole Woman), and that’s enough contest creating. Anyway, it’s possible you’ll find that just getting your irritations off your chest and out to the public are reward enough.

Edgeworthia Bush, Smithsonian Garden,  March 2014

Edgeworthia Bush, Smithsonian Garden, March 2014

I doubt if the laws of physics will stop adversely acting on your sandwiches, but perhaps people who are guilty of some sins and slights will read your complaints and change their behavior.

Please tweet and post on Facebook to help me spread the word. Thanks.

While I wait to receive your infuriations, I’ll be working on my next post: Keeping Your Journal Private Might Be Easier Than You Think.

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A Writer Needs Money, a Room, and . . . ?

Virginia Woolf said, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she’s to write fiction.” I’d say one needs an income and peace and quiet to write anything creative.

Corner of my living room

Corner of my living room

But do we scribblers also need Masters of Fine Arts in Writing degrees? Do they give writers an edge?

I was struck to see that nearly a third of the contributors to the nourishing anthology, Why We Write, held MFAs. The book’s subtitle is 20 Acclaimed Authors Discuss How They Do What They Do. How some of them do it is with the help of an MFA.

Granted, Isabel Allende has no college education. Super-successful mystery writer Sue Grafton has the same undergraduate degree that I have: a BA in English Literature. No MFA for either of us. But her father was a writer. That doesn’t guarantee talent, but at least growing up she was exposed to writing as a viable career. So maybe writers need money, a room, an MFA, or parental example.

Last spring, when MFA graduating students at a university near my home read from their work, my husband and I attended the event. Through their program, these writers had gotten the technical know-how that they could weave through or pile atop their natural talent and persistence. (It’s easier to persist with an instructor or mentor at your back, guiding you so that your fragile craft of a story doesn’t zigzag hopelessly on the vast ocean of literary traps.)

In the darkened auditorium, I listened longingly to these students who’d achieved the kind of writing it had taken me pretty much my entire adult life to cobble together on my own.

Those of us without MFAs must put in the necessary autodidactic decades of practice to figure out the techniques by ourselves, or as in my case, with the help of undergraduate and intermittent, but valuable, community based writing courses.

Curious to know if an MFA would have been helpful to my career, I checked the actual courses that comprise the degree.

Rutgers University MFA Program Courses
Personal Essay . . . Techniques for writing autobiographical prose and memoir; strategies for transforming personal material. (This is my genre. Boy, could I have used this help!)
Suspense . . . No matter what the genre, literature relies on certain techniques to manipulate reader interest. This course will examine how authors build suspense and maintain it throughout a narrative. (Don’t all writers need this?)
Memoir . . . This course looks at both recently published and classic memoirs to determine what makes memoir exciting, intriguing, and universally relevant. (Maybe my two memoirs wouldn’t have needed so much rewriting had I written them after taking such a course.)
Truth and Lies: Autobiographical Fiction and Fictional Autobiography . . . A look at the controversy about “telling the truth” in memoir, and the complexities of using autobiographical material in fiction. (Half of all self-taught memoir writers probably have nightmares featuring libel suit court appearances.)

Each student also takes a “closely supervised sustained project in nonfiction and other genres.” (Here’s where the writer’s shepherded away from the literary shoals.)

Writing really well can be grindingly difficult for both grad-school trained and self-taught writers, but I suspect the former don’t flounder as much as the latter. They lose less time giving serious consideration to ideas that later emerge as ridiculous. “Leave out every third word of my narrative? Why not?”

As each MFA student stood at the spotlighted lectern last spring, I imagined them starting with that itch to express that all writers know. After they wrote their story, poem, essay or memoir, they knew they wouldn’t be exposed before an audience, naked and vulnerable. An expert had helped them polish their pieces, and taught them when to follow convention and when to boldly flout it, would have made suggestions and conferred their imprimatur, giving the student writer a sense of their work’s quality, its readiness.

When I was young, I considered my writing perfect and was terrified a graduate writing program might alter my flawless prose. So, I developed the habit of working through writing problems with help from books and listening to interviews with authors broadcast on radio or TV.

Perhaps there’s some unique value in hardscrabble success, though I’m not sure what it is. I got my writing done, have had much of it published, even won some accolades. But, it would have all come easier and, I suspect, sooner had I an MFA.

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Good Works – Guest Post by Margy Rydzynski

Margy Rydzynski and I are neighborhood friends and colleagues. We’ve worked together in the past, and coming up in the fall, we’ll be piggybacking on a couple of blogging courses. (They’ll be listed on both my web site and hers as soon as we have the links. They are low cost, and represent only a short time commitment. I heartily recommend that you sign up for them, if you’ve been thinking about starting a blog to further your creative or business activities, want to use yours as a soapbox, or just want to keep your family and friends informed of your doings.)

Margy is also quite a fine writer, with an unusual take on things, as you’ll see on her blog and in her post below.
– Lynette

MargyPictureI like my boss. Maybe it’s because I only see her sixteen hours a week, or maybe because she’s the pastor of a quaint, little New England church just a 10-minute walk from my house. She’s a pastor who practices what she preaches, and her message (peace, economic justice, community, service) strongly resonates with me as well.

Here’s the irony: I’m not a believer.

I grew up Catholic and went as far as my Confirmation. I’ve got the “Spirit of holy fear in God’s presence,” except that I don’t. I’m a “soldier of Christ,” if you can believe that (which I can’t). I parted ways with religion not long after that. It just stopped making sense.

Then one day my husband forwarded a job description from that above-mentioned little church (Protestant, not Catholic) and I grudgingly agreed to look into it. They were looking for an office administrator (boring) and hoped the candidate might have good computer and social media skills (maybe not boring?). They also wanted someone who was comfortable working with diverse members of the community (ooh, interesting!). Tech skills? Social media? Community? It sounded better and better.

I submitted my resume and got a call a few days later. Would I be willing to come in for an interview with their Staff-Parish Relations Committee? Oh great, I thought. I get the third-degree from a whole committee. Did I really want to do this? Oddly enough, yes. On the appointed date I arrived at the church dressed in my Sunday best and took a seat on a short wooden pew outside of the pastor’s office. I noticed a sticker on her door that said she was another liberal for peace. Nice touch. I was already in a good mood. Now I was in an even better mood.

And the interview? No worries. After a decade running my own business, I’m used to schmoozing. I laughed, I joked and felt comfortable talking openly about my experiences and our mutual expectations. Did I realize it was only 16 hours a week? Did I know there would be no health insurance benefit? Wouldn’t I get bored?

Did they realize that my first priority was my business? Did they care that I wasn’t religious? Did they understand that a certain amount of predictability was really nice in the insecure world in which I lived? A week later, they offered me the job. I thought about it, then accepted.

So, here I am, working part-time for a pretty little New England church 10 minutes from home. I like the place. They walk the talk here and they do it in a way that doesn’t give me migraines. Service, justice, peace – those are worthy goals and worth the work.

And I’ve made a deal with religion: it leaves me alone and in return I do my absolute best job in its house. It’s coexistence at its best and, so far, the deal is working.
______________

Margy Rydzynski is a social media consultant, teacher and writer. She is also the founder of Arlington Entrepreneurs, a business social networking website for businesses in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Margy is an avid blogger and manages a number of social networks and other online forums. She also loves to write fiction and is particularly fond of both the mystery and fantasy genres.

You can visit Margy, and even ask her questions through her website.

Got something to say about your jobs, past or present? Get in touch by leaving a comment. (YOur email address should show up privately when you do.) The subject of work is about to become a regular feature of this blog.

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A New Kind of Journal

HATE CLOUDSMy friend called to tell me her poised, polished, polite husband was filled with hatred.

I couldn’t imagine it. “What does he hate?” I asked.

“Our van. He says it makes him seem like a suburban father of six.”

Apparently all that was missing was the golden retriever bounding up its rear lift gate.

“He says that after he works out, he hides in the gym till no one’s looking, then races to the car, ducks in, and drives away.”

We’ve all got these little hatreds. One of mine is the use of the seasons as verbs.

“This is the lake we used to summer beside,” or “We always wintered in Vale.” (What about the other seasons? Does anyone “Spring” or “Fall” anywhere?) It sounds pretentious to me, but it’s probably just petty jealousy. I’ve gone on short vacations in winter and in summer, but never managed to “winter” or “summer” anywhere since the summers I spent with my grandparents in Florida, when I was a kid.

I hate when politicians talk about all that families deserve. What about the singles piled up in tiny apartments with a couple of roommates and barely a cubby to call their own? Or older people, whose families have forgotten them? Don’t they need or deserve anything?

More of my hatreds? The voices in nature preserves echoing off rock formations and scaring away the birds and other wildlife as they holler into cell phones. Don’t we flee to such places to avoid those voices?

Chirp-Chirp
In the journaling class I lead, we’ve given energetic consideration to the question of whether personal journal entries should adhere to the upbeat (chirp-chirp) model, or be treated as safe places to vent. I come down on the side of releasing frustrations on the page. Where else can we safely spew out our petty irritations and long-standing resentments?

And then . . .

A different friend told me that when her daughter returned from an overseas trip to an orderly country, the noise and seeming chaos of her home country, the US of A, grated. I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard her antidote to the stress her reentry had ignited.

The Hate Journal
She went out and bought blank notebooks that became her hate journals. (If hate’s too strong a term for you, try “complaint” journal, or it could be your “Where I Whine” journal.)

A hate journal bears no resemblance to a hate crime. In the former, no one gets hurt. In fact, the venting might even prevent law-abiding individuals from committing a crime.

Fine, Fine, Fine
In the 18th century, idle members of the upper classes cultivated melancholy. It gave them something to sigh about on their perambulations around their country estates. But nowadays, we are expected to be unrelentingly “fine.” Unlike the 18th century melancholics, our age has no tolerance for a good, old-fashioned funk, or for anyone who admits to feeling just plain “low.”

Among my friends and myself, any complaint we utter is quickly followed by assuring our listeners that, at least it’s not as bad as losing a leg, or being paralyzed as a result of an auto accident—equivalents of the “knock on wood” reaction. I think we fear that complaining about the minor crap we experience will bring on the big stuff from the universe.

“Oh, you think that’s bad? Try this!”

And lo, everyone will blame us for the plague of locusts that descends.

But, we can fuss away privately in our hate journals, and no one will be the wiser.

More of my petty hatreds can be found in Life’s Little “Infuriations” and More of Life’s Little Infuriations.

Feel free to share yours in a comment.

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The Interview, Part 1

I hated the company.

I was working at the company of my dreams. Unfortunately, my dreams had misled me. I hated the company. A lot of the employees did, so we were always feverishly exchanging job leads, exchanging tiny notices torn from the classifieds, and hunching over telephones to engage in whispered calls.

Finally, a small local company that published newsletters contacted me. They wanted an interview.

I was elated—except that I had the flu. My boss wouldn’t let me stay home. At the end of each day she’d say, “You have to come in tomorrow. I need you to write this or edit that. This report has to get out.”

Each night at home I’d lie flat on my back, still wearing my hat and scarf, my boots dangling from my feet over the edge of the bed. One morning, my husband Joe had to bundle me into my coat, propel me to the car, and drive me through a foot of new wet snow to the office park where I worked. Seated in front of my computer, I was terribly hot. I drank a lot of water. But at nine o’clock, my boss found me prostrate on the sofa in the company’s professionally decorated reception area.

She had stood over me, pencils protruding wildly from her hair, and declared, “I’ll get you some temporary help. All you have to do is supervise them.”

“I can’t,” I grunted.

“Then go home.”

“I can’t.”

When I came to, Joe was easing my feet into my boots and murmuring that he would bring the car right up to the door. I was to lie there and wait for him to come back inside and get me.

I was too ill to interview.

I had told the newsletter people I was too ill to interview, but they had been insistent. That should have been enough to convince me I didn’t want a job there. Hell, I already worked for an inconsiderate company. Now this newsletter company wanted me to interview, even though the receptionist I had spoken to there had several times murmured, “You sound terrible.”

Still lightheaded and shaky two days after my collapse at work, I donned a wool Neiman Marcus dress I had bought at a consignment shop. I can’t imagine what I found to wear on my feet to walk through the dingy snow that was barricading the curbs in the center of town.

Please continue reading The Interview, Part 2.

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The Interview, Part 2

The interviewers materialized.

At the newsletter company, four employees materialized into the open space of what had obviously been a factory devoted to light manufacturing at some time in the past. The three women wore wrinkled corduroy slacks, flannel shirts, and clogs. The man was dressed the same, except that he was wearing battered shoes with thick soles.

In a closed conference room the four told me what a wonderful place this was to work. They were like a family; several of them lived together. They did their shopping at the food co-op; did I know it?

Not only did I know it, I was a member!

They breathed sighs of friendship. What kind of writing did I do now? What were my editing responsibilities? they wanted to know.

My mouth answered; my head swam. Perspiration stealthily beaded my forehead. I was too sick to interview. And whose idea had it been for me to wear wool?

I thought, “I gotta get out of here.”

I said, “I hope we can talk again, since I’m not at my best today.”

“You’re doing great,” they chimed.

They faded before me. I could hear them, but I could barely make out what they were saying. I wasn’t sure what I was saying. It was as if we were speaking beneath the surface of the sea. Someone got me some water, and we all smiled.

One of them wondered aloud why I had had to work while I was ill. I replied that my boss had needed my help with an important project. (I felt it couldn’t hurt to seem indispensable.) They were looking at me benevolently, speaking slowly, and being very polite. I became suspicious, aware that the line between what I was thinking and what I had actually verbalized had blurred hopelessly. Had I absurdly used the word “crazy” in describing with my boss?

I dutifully admired the sample newsletters they showed me. But, I said, the contents seemed technically daunting, involving as they did tank hatches and tonnage, pipes and pressure valves, and hose handling derricks.

They assured me that I could learn it all, and gaily implied I would soon love it as much as they did. But even through my flu-induced fog, I knew the subject would bore me to stupefaction.

My interviewers were loath to let me go. Had I been entertaining them with hilariously unguarded revelations? I brought matters to a close by rising to my feet, leaning a hand on the table as I thanked them, and dragging my coat from the back of my chair with as much dignity as I could muster.

I never minded that I didn’t hear from the company again. But I’ve always wondered what on earth I said in that interview.
_____________

I’m planning to run a series on working. If you’ve got a weird interview story, share it in a comment. Or, hit me up if you’d like to guest post about interviewing or working.

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In Need of a Neat Conclusion?

PINK SWEATER
An editor remarked that after sticking with a memoir for 300 pages, he felt he was owed a tidy resolution at the end. I understand his feelings. I even sympathize with them.

But I don’t agree.

Do readers earn the right to a snug, reassuring wrap up to a memoir? Must the narrative of a segment of a life (which is what a memoir is) unfailingly end neatly? And even if it seems to, neither we, nor the narrator, can know for example, if the recovering addict falls off the wagon the very day we sigh with satisfaction over the end of an addiction memoir.

Regarding novels, British author Lee Rourke quotes Viktor Shklovsky, who said [a novel] has no ending . . . “because finishing a novel would mean knowing the future.”

I’m not doctrinaire about endings. I’ve always reserved the right to attach my own preferred ending to narrative works of art. (In my mind, Bambi’s mother is alive and thriving. So is the extraordinary Sean Connery’s flamboyant character in The Untouchables. Oh, he gets all shot up while an operatic aria soars through his apartment; but he’s patched up sufficiently to happily join in the slick scene on the train station steps. He might even kick the guy in the white suit over the parapet, after Ness shoots that villain at the very end.)

Now, that’s a resolution.

But wait . . .
Memoir’s different. Neither the reader nor the writer is allowed to make up the ending. Memoir’s current conventions demand that there must be issues/questions/conundrums and they must, absolutely must, be resolved. The unknown must become known, the unfathomable miraculously fathomed. That probably explains why, on concluding of a couple of memoirs, I’ve felt the ending was forced, and even false.

Dulcinea Norton Smith holds that readers want memoir threads “finished off neatly.” Well, I want the events in my life to finish off neatly. But that’s not how it goes, and memoirists can’t just slap a satisfying ending on their manuscript, all tied up like a sizzling roast just out of Martha Stewart’s oven.

Is that even desirable?

Sometimes the protagonist’s goal hasn’t been fully achieved. The fights with the mother, say, are temporarily stilled, but no one believes for a moment that they are over for good.

Jerry Waxler suggests the author ask what conclusions can be drawn from the experiences in her less-than-perfectly-resolved story. Maybe what the writer has learned along the way will be something readers can use in their own lives.

Yet, I don’t consider it the memoirist’s job to educate readers, nor overtly teach them how to live. I feel our job is to allow readers to share our journeys as we muddle—with some success and many failures—through our lives, as they do through theirs.

When I was a technical documentation writer, my coworker and friend, Bob used to kid that we should tell our customers: “Figure it out for yourselves; we did.”

Why shouldn’t readers wrestle with ambiguities and endure dead ends as the author does? Maybe what we memoirists teach readers, if anything, is that much of the struggle in life winds up inconclusively.

Probably this is just rationalizing. If I can’t offer readers anything short of a pat ending, I’ll have to shelve the memoir I’ve spent a tough four years writing, until a certain thread is tidily knotted. But the end might never knit itself into a nice, symmetrical garment. So, I guess my question is: if the narrator is trying to gain something in a memoir, is it unfair to readers to publish the book before all is achieved? Isn’t the journey worth something?

When I put that question to friends, one said, “Life doesn’t offer tidy endings; it’s immature to expect that.” Another said she actually enjoys open-ended endings. “I like it when months later, while standing at the sink or getting into my car, I find myself pondering possible outcomes of the story.”

Was I ever glad to hear that, because just last week it seemed certain that the end of my story, and therefore my memoir, had arrived, the treasure achieved. But then I learned that no, it hadn’t quite yet.

Again, speaking about fiction, Lee Rourke wrote that he is uncomfortable with the desire for narratives to reach closure. He distrusts books that force “chaos towards order and natural events to act unnaturally.” I feel that applies to memoir as well.

Mine was a search for more than just a material object. It was a quest to come to grips with my family’s destructive dynamics, which cascaded from generation to generation. So, I want to say to readers: “Maybe some of the tangible item is still missing, but Baby, this is still a damn good story.”

What do you think? Should I wait until all has been gained before publishing my memoir?

Further Reading
How to End a Memoir

Memoir Lessons: Buddies, Endings, and Beyond

Endless Fascination: In Praise of Novels Without Neat Conclusions

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Are Literary Agents Outmoded? Should They Be? Part 1

Disclaimer: My one contact with a literary agent about my own work was pleasant and professional. My opinions below are based on agent blogs I read online.

The ferociously fast rise of self-publishing has significantly reduced writers’ dependence on agents—the first line of publishing gatekeepers. A good thing, too.

Self-Pubbing’s Not All That’s Undermining Agent Influence
Perhaps acknowledging the extreme difficulty of writers securing agents to represent their manuscripts, several well-known publishing brands have instituted unagented submission periods: Harper Voyage, a division of HarperCollins, offered writers two agent-free weeks in October 2012. Avalon; Avon Impulse; and ChocLit accept submissions directly from authors. Most of these houses publish romance; some indicate an interest in mainstream and mystery manuscripts, as well.

And those writers who keep a sharp eye on Twitter are rewarded with tweets notifying them of other publishers who accept unagented work.

Yet, agents seem cling to the belief that they remain critical to the realization of writers’ publishing dreams. Though their careers are dangling by a thread, many continue to act as if they are central to the publishing process and that writers should be happy to kiss their rings for the privilege of their attention.

I’m ready to select Agent and hit Delete.

Agents Are So-o-o Busy

Writers aren’t?

At least agents get salaries and benefits to be busy. Most writers don’t. We find the time, outside of our jobs, our writing, and the regular responsibilities of life, to submit our work. But many agents apparently are too busy to even generate click-of-a-button auto-responses to our queries. So even when we follow their onerous submission rules, it’s unlikely we’ll get a response for our trouble.

Given the complaints of many agents about their workloads, they might be happy to see authors publishing their work without them. After all, if the tweets and blog posts of some agents with large online audiences are to be believed, these literary professionals are responsible for so many tasks that securing new writers is at the bottom of their list of workaday priorities. So, they’re forced do most, if not all, of their manuscript reading and evaluations at night and on weekends. How sharp is their judgment after a long week of work?

As author Lynda M. Martin blogged to agents, “[As] the self-appointed guardians of the castle . . . you complain you can’t handle the traffic.”

Is this a workable business model?

“[T]hey simply don’t have time to read all the books they’d like to read, even the ones from writers who sound like they might be talented,” writes, Michael Bourne, in his balanced article, “A Right Fit”: Navigating the World of Literary Agents. “So, agents work with people they know, and friends of people they know.

“If that sounds like I’m saying, ‘It’s all about who you know,’ that’s because that is exactly what I’m saying.’ ”

The trash-talking agents whose blogs and tweets I’m referring to are quick to tell writers in snarky, schoolmarmy tones, that they don’t have time for queries or mss that don’t conform exactly to their agency’s strict standards (which, by the way, vary from agency to agency). Small author oversights are punished with manuscript exile.

Martin notes in her well thought out post, Are You Looking For A Literary Agent? Want To Vent a Little? that writers have to go a-begging to agents, following each one’s particular submission whims. She calls querying, “most humbling,” and quotes one agent: “[P]art of our process is to see how well you take instruction.” Talk about school-marmy!

Who would tolerate their busy doctor or mechanic or insurance underwriter dissing them like they were pond scum? After all, writers are agents’ clients; it’s our 15% they live on.

I spent decades as a manager and director in for- and nonprofit organizations. Know what? In each, I encountered customers who misunderstood or deliberately flouted rules and guidelines. Was I allowed to be snippy towards them? Hell, no.

I hope you’ll continue with Part 2 of this post.

Resource: Ask the Agent: Rejections and Rude Agents . . . What to Do?

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Are Literary Agents Outmoded? Should They Be? Part 2

KNOWING WHAT THEY LIKE
Why accept this rudeness from a class of employee, who might have few skills to evaluate mss, except that they “know what they like.”

Which brings me to another satisfying blog rant: What Literary Agents Can Learn from Girl Scouts. Published author, Mike Wells, quotes a girl scout. “I was the Number One seller of Girl Scout Cookies in our troop three years in a row, and I don’t even like Girl Scout cookies.”

A number of writers who, despite the nasty responses they received from agents, have gone on to fame and fortune, have shared some of the rejections they received. Kathryn Shockett was told by one agent who rejected her enormously successful book, The Help, “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” Really?

Paul Harding, whose novel, Tinkers, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, says agents “would lecture me about the pace of life today. It was, ‘Where are the car chases? Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book.’ ”

I suspect it was the agent who didn’t want to read it.

Do these oracles of literature, who treat their art of choosing books worthy of publication as if it were a science, ever lose their jobs for passing on subsequent major literary prize winners or best sellers?

Lemmings
In some of these posts in which agents roundly slam unpublished writers, all the self-described aspiring writers who comment agree with the agent; not one asks why the agent is growling at her market. Since when did straight talk equal demeaning talk?

This “I’m scared o’ you” mentality makes sense. Some agent blogs I’ve seen warn that a writer who publicly criticizes their profession will be subject to the literary equivalent of “You’ll never work in this town again.”

Do agents wield that much power? Should they?

Clearly agents are frustrated, both by their workloads and the chaos in the entire publishing industry. (Again, writers aren’t?) I’m just not sure why writers are the targets of their angst.

New Roles for Agents?
Since writers are no longer utterly dependent on rude, highhanded agents, nor have to expose themselves to the soul-crushing language of people who are supposed to love literature and appreciate those who create it, what roles are left for agents now?

Perhaps they could help despised authors price and promote their work; choose the best self-publishing routes and outlets; negotiate deals and contracts; consult on book design and formatting.

Oh, and lose the attitude.

My husband Joe (and neighbor in background) underscoring my fierceness

My husband Joe (and neighbor in background) underscoring my fierceness

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When the Editor Is Edited

It’s Done . . . Isn’t It?
Anyone who listened to my laments during my years of searching for my mother’s money, then supported me while I moaned my way through writing about the experience, knows how agonizing I considered the process of putting it down on paper.

I’m glad my writing of My Mother’s Money is over. I couldn’t stomach the prospect of looking at the old diaries and the purple folders threatening to topple off the hip high file cabinets in my study; or the successive electronic drafts going back to 2008; or the reams of handwritten notes and exhortations on bright pink legal-size paper wedged under the printer that sits between two windows I stared through at the spruce tree that’s practically within touching distance. While working on the book, I often wanted to swing out of my second floor windows into that tree for shelter and sustenance.

Done and Done
In June, 2012, I was done.

But only for the time being…

Since I’m a creative writing instructor and an editor myself, I knew “done” wasn’t the accurate word for my manuscript. It was simply done for the time being. I didn’t doubt it was a riveting story. But I knew some sections were flawed, and I’d run out of the necessary steam to continue tweaking them. The manuscript had become a mish-mash in my mind.

I could already hear the feedback that would be coming:
“This chapter would work better if it came before that one.”
“There’s too much backstory here; sprinkle it throughout the manuscript.”
And, one I’d already heard that I adamantly disagreed with: “You can’t start a memoir the way you’ve started yours.”

So imagine my delight when my friends and my husband’s family actually clamored for more chapters after they read the opening ones. Or my joy when my writer friend told me, “Truly, truly, the only problem I have with your memoir is how fascinating it is. The writing is silken and balanced.”

But It’s Got Its Flaws . . .
So I put out a call to my Twitter friends and my fellow serious scribblers in Chicks Who Write, and names of editors started coming in.

I spent weeks interviewing editors and talking to their clients. Besides wanting someone experienced in editing memoir, I want someone simpatico—not with me, but with the circumstances of my story. I edit my own writing clients best when their stories resonate with me. I don’t have to have experienced the exact situations myself (in most cases—like the murder mystery I just edited—I wouldn’t want to!), but I’ve been fortunate that each of the client manuscripts I’ve edited spoke to me personally.

That’s what I looked for in an editor—someone with the obvious technical skills, but also someone who could feel my story, and show me how to make all the elements fall gracefully, seamlessly, meaningfully. I finally found one.

I’ve gotten the edits back. They’ve been sitting on a file cabinet in my study, waiting while I finished a second memoir. I’ll be ready to look at the comments by the end of this week. I just hope my editor had as light a touch with my work as I try to apply when I edit my clients’ work.

I’ll let you know.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like:

After the First Draft is Done

A Mess Before A Masterpiece

When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: Intro (Especially for memoirists)

When You Hate the Book You’re Writing: My Solution (Especially for memoirists)

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