We write and we write and we write and we write

A Year in Ink, Vol. 10, the annual anthology published by San Diego Writers, Ink has just been released and it’s a fine one. This is the tenth anthology SDWI has published and I was honored to be invited to be editor for this edition. In the early years of the anthology, when I was Executive Director of Writers, Ink, I served as managing editor alongside the guest editors of volumes I, II and III. And way back when… I worked with the editors of several anthologies for The Writing Center, the nonprofit literary organization that preceded San Diego Writers, Ink. But this is the first time I got to be Editor—both a thrill and a challenge.

 

In writing the Introduction to the collection, I wanted to acknowledge all the ways we writers make our art. This is what I wrote:

We go to our desk or table or we find a tuckaway in a corner or a make-do set-up in the garage or attic or basement or under the stairs or out back in the shed. We pile pillows behind us in bed or slouch on the couch; we load our laptops or iPads, or notebooks or journals, and we walk, we bike, we drive, we trolley to the café, the library, the bench in the park, the spot on the beach, the hideaway in the hills. Before dawn, before bed, after hours, after work, after all. We play music or we insist on silence. We go it alone or we do it together. We join a class or a workshop, a group or a gaggle. We conference, we symposium, we retreat. The kids are at school. The baby’s sleeping. The cat. The dog. The chocolate. The coffee. Does anyone smoke anymore? On assignment, by inspiration, sudden flash or deliberate urge. First draft, third draft, who’s counting draft. We write. We write and we write and we write. And out of that—our stories, our poems, our essays, novels and memoirs: This Anthology.

How do you go about your writing? I think I have gone all the places and done all the ways mentioned in the piece, except my bicycle was stolen years ago and I never get up before dawn. Oh, and I don’t have a dog. Yet.

The cover art for A Year in Ink, Vol. 10, is from a photograph by Patrick McMahon, titled “Ascendence.” At the release party for the anthology, I was presented with a print of that photograph. It now hangs over the desk just inside my door at home. It’s the first thing I see when I enter my home and the last thing I see before I close the door. It’s beautiful and alive and will ever be a reminder of the anthology and the organization I care so deeply about.

Copies of A Year in Ink, Vol 10 are available from San Diego Writers, Ink.

Evolution of a Book

The idea for Wild Women, Wild Voices came out of the Wild Women writing workshops I’ve done for many years, dating back to the mid-90s, but it wasn’t until August, 2013 when one morning I suddenly found myself writing a mini-proposal to my editor at New World Library. A little less than a month later I had a signed contract with a pub date of Summer 2014. Fortunately for me, the pub date got bumped to February 2015, then, even more fortunately, to its current release date of NOW!

box o' booksIn between the signing of the contract and the arrival of the books in bookstores and at my doorstep — some 18 months later, a gestation period more akin to an elephant than a human being — are many, many steps. First the idea, which was already in place, but an idea isn’t the same thing as a book. So you build the skeleton (structuring all those bare bones into some kind of coherent form), and do the research. You scratch out the terrible and lengthy first, raw drafts, followed by more research, followed by the second, third, fourth, etc. etc. drafts, and finally, months later, the final draft goes to your editor.

WWWV page proofsThen begins the next cycle: her edits and your rewrites from her edits; the long email exchanges and occasional panicky (on my part; she never panics) phone calls; next the more final final draft and the book goes to the copy editor. Another cycle: the copy editor’s edits, the revises from her edits, the proofreader’s edits, then the revises from her edits, the page proofs (this is where you get to see how the book really looks and where you grin so big your cheeks hurt), then a few corrections and the printer check arrives (this is how the book really really looks), just these last few tiny details, and then, for the longest time: Silence. You hold your breath. The book has gone to the printer.

All along during the back and forths before the book goes to the printer, you’re getting permissions where they’re needed, you’re double-checking references, you’re asking writers you admire if they’d be so kind and generous to “blurb” your book. They are! You’re all giddy and a little shy at what they write. You file away printouts of the first, messy drafts and say a prayer of gratitude for your editor who you’ve come to believe has special, magical powers that mere writers can never hope to possess. (Enduring gratitude to Georgia Hughes)

Judy ReevesYou get a new author photo taken. Your son, a talented photographer, takes several. He’s a patient man. In the end, it’s the very first one he snapped that you choose. You ask if he can, um, touch up a few places. He just smiles.

Also during the back and forth, you get to see the first draft of cover images. It may take a few tries to finally get the cover image everyone agrees on, but it’s worth it. You’re crazy about the cover. (Thank you, Tracy Cunningham). This is also when you find out your book will have an Index. Your first Index!

The in-between is also the time you to see the interior design of the book. Beautiful! Tona Pearce Myers has done it again. And again, you thank whatever benevolent spirit or lucky stars or whom- or whatever is responsible for you getting to have this long and rewarding relationship with New World Library, a publishing company that has brought so many beautiful and important books to the world.

The in-between time is also when you begin dialogues with the marketing staff and once again, you realize how fortunate you are to work with such pros. This is also when you start to get a little anxious and you remember that writing the book is just the half of it. Now you’re required to become a marketing pro yourself. And much as you like to give talks and make presentations and how easily you can go on and on about other writers’ work, making a Big Noise about your own work is a bit intimidating. You remember what your mother said: “Don’t brag on yourself, it’s not attractive.” So there’s that dragon to beat down. Plus you know you don’t know an iota of what you should know about social media.

To be continued …

20 Ways to Make It Better (#3)

#3 Get It Down

Just Write Board Game

The most important thing about writing? Writing. Getting the words on the page. How to do it? Keep your pen moving. Or your fingers dancing on those keys. Never mind if you don’t know where you’re going. Just go. If you trust yourself and the process, what you want to write will show up on the page. Not in its final form, not all polished and pretty and ready for glory, but somewhere within the mess you made will be that image, that phrase, that line of dialogue. What you’d never come up with if you’d tried to “think” it on the page.

Begin anywhere. Write anything. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. You can clean it up later. Don’t stop to re-read or edit or fix. When you do, you move from that white-hot place of intuition and imagination and into a cerebral place of judging, evaluating, analyzing. There’s a time and place for that, but not in the first flush of creating. One of the advantages of keeping the hand moving is that you can keep ahead of the editor, the critic, and the censor. And maybe, if you’re very lucky and very fast, you can even outpace your ego.

There are dozens of methods to just getting it down: timed, focused writings; free-writes; writing in group; writing against deadline. Try setting up word counts or pages or time limits for yourself, make writing dates with someone else, or with yourself (put it on your calendar — in ink). Use writing prompts or writing exercises to get started (I know a great book that has a prompt for every day). Get writing assignments from someone else, or from any number of writing books. (My current favs are Naming the World, Now Write!, What If?, and Abigail Thomas’s Thinking About Memoir.) Having someone else — a coach, a writing buddy, a writing group, to report in to can help, too. Making bets, giving yourself rewards, bribery. I do some of all of these. (I especially like the rewards part.) Find out what works for you and then, as the saying goes, Just Do It!

What’s your best bet for just getting it down?