Posts Tagged ‘editing’

I’m an adjunct and it’s killing me

September 6, 2011

I’m not good at it. I think it’s fair to put that right out there. But, under fair circumstances, I do alright. This fall has been hellish so far. I’ve been teaching comp pretty much non-stop for the past year and ahalf. Maybe two years. Which really isn’t all that long. I know this, too. Except I teach online.

You don’t get to see the faces of your students. They don’t get to see you. The entire reward of working with people is fairly obliterated by the computer screen. Having two discussion threads and 25 papers littered with basic spelling and grammatical errors per class , per week, week after week, can be fairly dehumanizing. After awhile, all that you know is that this massive pile of incredibly tedious work descends on you every sunday night and you just wish it would stop. While your employer pushes for greater retention, you just want them to disappear, one by one, until you’re left with something a bit more manageable, or at least a bit less soul  crushing with its omnipresent weight of tedious repetition.

And that’s under the best circumstances, teaching online, at least for me, anyway. This fall has already fallen into the “worst circumstances” category.  The institution (business?) I’m working for decided they needed to revamp their email system for this fall. So, in August, I got instructions for setting up my new email account to use in the fall. Assuming I had a job, which hadn’t been confirmed when all of these emails were going out, but I assumed it was a promising sign. So I set up the account and then pretty much set it aside, believing it was for the fall.

Except for one of my bosses, and I mean “one of,” as in, I have several. And all of are able to simply nip into my class and observe me quietly from afar and all of my students have ready access to complain to them over any real or perceived slight. With a little imagination, you are probably beginning to grasp how nerve wracking this existence could be, with this idea that Big Brother could be omnipresent and that anyone can turn anyone else in and have it given weight, after all, because retention is key.

This one boss was using exclusively this new email address while the summer semester was still going on, while there was still three weeks left in the summer session. So I missed out on his email saying that the class I’m teaching was being revamped. I missed out on the email offering a workshop in all of the new stuff they’ve crammed into this thing. And I missed out on the email reminding me to get the new books for the new course, just in case I didn’t notice that the entire course has been altered for the fall.

Frankly, I was too burned out to care too much by Aug. 8, and I still 17 days in the summer semester. And when that Summer semester ended, I had to simply bottom out for a few days. So, I was pretty much fucked when I opened up my new classes the day or two before they were to begin and saw the whole damn thing changed. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. My students are miserable and bitchy because the campus bookstore can’t manage to send them any of their books on time, so they can’t access half the work. I’m in a horrible mood because I still haven’t gotten all of the books myself and my students are freaking out because of something I essentially have zero control over. But that hasn’t stopped them from bitching to me about it.

And the worst thing is that I sort of like the new class layout so far. It actually seems easier if Ihad my book or if mystudents had theirs or if any of these emails that I missed had been sent to the email account my other bosses and department secretaries were using.

And what does all of this have to do with writing or literature? I don’t have time for it right now. I’m trying to make time but it’s just not there and when I do find free time, I’m so stressed and angry and tired and just thoroughly unhappy with what I’m doing for a living that I can’t concentrate on anything I really care about. Instead, I continue to just need to crash. To bottom out. To push everything aside for a bit and engage in some mental.emotional candy like obsessively scouring ebay and craigslist for specific toys for the kid or trying to figure out what that song by the cranberries is that I have stuck in my head from 15 years ago (it was Zombie) or watching Ghost Hunters International on Hulu while also bitching about the regular Ghost Hunters no longer being on Hulu.

The thought of picking up pen and paper or opening an office document file and diving into serious editing and revisions is damn near impossible at this point.

Alright. Piss and moan over. Back to the world.

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Typewriters, the new bottled water

April 1, 2011

I have a feeling that, among thirty year olds, I might be a bit of a rarity. I remember Johnny Carson, not from best of videos but from staying up far too late at too early of an age to watch him. I remember Cheers and Nightcourt, also not from re-runs. I remember the Atari 2600, DOS, and a time when the Lions were a decent (though not good) football team. And judging from my girlffriend’s poetry class, knowing what hammer is may also be a rarity (three guys, no idea what the claw of the hammer was called, one confusing it with the handle, which I’d personally love to see in use). I have also used a typewriter, manual and electric.

Apparently they are coming back into style.

I find this cute. Every typewriter I have used has been a sturdy, well constructed machine. There is something reassuring to this. The slap of the keys, the movement of paper, the rise and fall of the ribbon of ink, revealing a new letter with each fall. They were also a pain in th ass. You make a mistake and you have to break out the whiteout, brush it over, move the paper down, hope to god you line it up right, re-type it.  Rewriting was a literal thing then. To redo something, you literally redid it, from start to finish. If you happned to start moving too quickly and your fingers slipped a bit, you would suddenly find yourself with a handful of metal keys jammed together, stuck.

Personally, I don’t miss them. The keyboard might not offer the same tactile pleasures and reassurances, but it offers a helluva lot of convenience.  Maybe it’s one of those things where, unless you had to do it in some point in your life, it has a certain nostalgic appeal. But having to use one in the past, I don’t miss them, and I’ll make this trade every day of the week. Viva la office suite.

You might want an emerald…

September 16, 2010

but if you dig up an onyx, you just have to go with it.

Thinking a bit about writing today. I don’t want to say that I’ve hit a wall, because I’m still reading through a second draft and jotting down notes, I’m still working on the research for another project, I finished one poem and wrote another, I have continued reading (and putting off grading and at least one review to write and some cleanup on a previous review…) but my enthusiasm for what I’m currently re-writing (well, editing/re-reading right now) has ebbed a bit.

It’s not entirely what I had expected, or wanted, it to be. Part of it comes from a sheer lack of skill when I first started putting the whole thing together. Part of it was from lack of preparation. But mostly I think it was from not entirely knowing what the hell I was doing.

This isn’t to say that I think it is bad. It is readable. It gets the pages turned. But it also feels a little light, it lacks a certain critical weight. And this saddens me a bit because I think there was space in there for that. It had some soil that was fertile enough to sprout some insightful/clever/whatever things. But I just didn’t get it tilled enough or I didn’t water it enough or maybe I just didn’t spread enough shit on it.

So it doesn’t appear that I have pulled from the earth of creativity the precious stone that I had envisioned. But I did pull something out, and it’s shiny, it’s nice, and I still like it. And I am trying to make it the best whatever it is that I can.

And it is gone

March 12, 2010

Short note, today has been a bit of a devastating nut crusher. Went to open up my file for the re-writes of my novel, called often here as The Novel, and found that upon closing my last session down my word processor decided to save it as a blank file. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Zero. Gone.

I’m fortunate in that I still have a roughly weekold copy of my re-writes. Loading the car and trekking home every other weekend, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking an updated copy of my re-writes with me so that I can keep working on them. So at least I didn’t lose the entire thing. But this past week has been an agonizingly slow week of tedious revision of a chapter I like but have found to be horribly sloppy with numerous and apparent shortcomings. But I’ve been trudging through it and could begin to see the light at the end of the chapter, as it were, and was looking forward to taking another big chunk out of it today with hopes of closing it up over the weekend but now, well, fuck.

that about sums it up. Well, fuck. Time to start over again. I’ll try to wear a cup this time.

Disorder in the House and Finding Motivation

November 5, 2009

Hitting one of my many lulls in re-writing The Novel, I find that one of the hardest things to come by is just time where I am left alone. The apartment I share with my girlfriend and kid is relatively spacious but it doesn’t exactly have different wings we can venture off to when we wish to be alone and undisturbed.  What makes the whole writing vs interaction thing more difficult isn’t when we just have conflicting projects to work on where we each need the computer but only have space for one of us. We’re moderately well behaved and well adjusted adults, after all,we can sort this out. Meaning she smacks me with her Webster’s II and I agree to wait until she’s done.

The most problematic times are the times when one of us is trying to work while the other wants “quality time.” Alright, yes, it is stereotypical here for it to be her wanting to snuggle and chat and blah blah blah, and I’m sure I occasionally fall into the nagging “spend time with me” mode, too. But, today, it’s her in that mode and all I want to do is what I am doing now. Sitting at my computer (after she sat at hers all morning and I sat in the bedroom reading or went to the living room and jiggled around with wii fit thirty minutes), doing a blog or two, maybe some email and, hopefully, some work on The Novel.

Of course, this situation didn’t come about through some frictionless negotiation. So she’s in a surly mood now, I’m going to pay for it later and, well, yeah. Fun. But this is something everyone deals with, right? But I think it’s something that is particularly difficult for people trying to do something artistic (though i still hate referring to my attempts to write as “artistic” as I don’t see myself as any sort of artist). Sometimes we just need left alone and, as anyone who writes a lot knows, we who write tend to spend more time than normal alone and entirely by choice.

Where is all of this going?

Well, it goes towards another problem I’ve had the past couple of days and that’s finding motivation to open up the word doc and start working.  I recently got done with grinding through two particularly rough chapters in the re-write and I’ve been hesitant to delve into the next chapter.  Maybe I just need a mental break from it for a couple of days, or whatever, I’m not sure, but I also feel horrible at not making more progress yesterday. So last night I was talking to my girlfriend about this and she suggested setting carrots out in front of me. For every so many chapters I get re-written we would go out to eat or get a book or something.

with how much writing is focused on being a delay of gratification (after all, unless we have a book deal none of us knows if our stuff will ever be published, regardless of how much time and effort we put into it), she thought that maybe this would be a good way of providing a little extra motivation to get through the particularly rough patches. And it seems like a good idea. But when we started talking about it, I realized that there also just isn’t a whole lot I want and, generally, what I want bad enough to really want, I’ll just go out and get.

but this has made me wonder: do external motivations work for writers in general? Or is it mainly an interior drive to get the thing finished that pushes us through to the end of projects?

Chapter Seven

October 7, 2009

I’ve never re-written a novel before. I’ve writtten a couple of novel length pieces that have just sort of vanished over the years and that I’ve lost interest in but I’ve never really seen a project through to it’s true end. So the work I’ve been doing lately is rather new to me.

And dreaded.

The entire concept of editing and re-writing has been largely foreign to me for most of my life.  Reports and essays for school were always just scratched out and handed in with no real revisions and no appreciable proof reading (the fact that I did well in school is something that still amazes family and friends). The same with fiction, poetry and anything else I wrote for fun or entertainment or assignment. I would have an idea, I would put the idea onto paper, it would be done and I would move to the next idea.

This has produced a lot of surprisingly solid work, some of which I even still enjoy reading.

But it has also produced a lot of stuff that I have felt was half-formed.  the problem has always been that I haven’t had the ambition, or plain blue collar fortitude, to sit down and truly re-write any of it.

There was also a bit of artistic arrogance to it that, before, might have been thought of as artistic principle. It was that the first take is usually the most honest and true to a vision and that altering whatever is written is destined to move the piece ever further from its most natural beginnings. And this might be true. After all, there is nothing to definitively say that it isn’t, but it is also something that likely requires an incredible amount of natural ability, of intense training in this form or, most likely, a combination of good helpings of both. I don’t believe I have either of these things, at least to the degree that would be required to pull off such a style.

So I stepped timidly into the world of re-writing with my short fiction, poetry and prose. and I couldn’t help but admit that it made my work better.

I also couldn’t help but admit that I found it all sorts of difficult, time consuming, and physically and mentally taxing. It wore me out. it still does. And it’s gotten twice as difficult with the novel.

Knowing how much time and effort went into the initial conception of the idea, there is a part of me that hates to admit how much work some sections need. And a larger part of me that simply does not desire to sit down and do this work.

luckily, the novel started off easily. The opening chapters required little work and I was able to breeze through and feel pretty good about it. I should get through this in no time, I thought, and then began setting all sorts of entirely unrealistic time lines for myself.

then I hit chapter six and things stumbled a bit. I wanted to change one  aspect of the chapter and this change forced me to re-work roughly the first half of the chapter. It was rough but I got through it and I felt the stronger for it.

And then came chapter seven. Chapter seven is a place where I introduce a new character/story line and it was something that I felt I had botched almost entirely with the first draft. But it was still something that needed to be salvaged in some way for the rest of the novel to work.

Figuring out how to salvage the basic character/store line was the easy part. Coming to chapter seven and actually seeing all of the work laid out before me was the beginning of the difficult part.  the entire chapter needed re-written from the ground up. Even the names were changed to entirely put the past mistakes behind me. Not only was I altering something that I had spent much of the past few years on but i was entirely changing it. I don’t want to say I felt awful doing it, that wouldn’t be true and it would be an overstatement. Closer to what i was feeling was probably a certain deflation. After all, spending so much time on something only to re-read it later and realize I had botched the entire thing  is a pretty big kick in the knee.

With a 1500 word sprint today, though, I got it done. Chapter seven is behind me and I’m now feeling pretty good about it. Not just the chapter itself, which I think is vastly improved over what it had been before, but about finishing the chapter at all.  I know I will have future chapters that will require similar work but, having gotten through this one, the chapters to come seem less daunting. Now it is a case of having been there and done that and knowing I will get it done again.

All writers likely go through something similar, most probably at a much earlier stage than I, but it still feels good. It feels as if I have cleared a hurdle placed before me and the track is now opening up a bit allowing me to just run instead of maneuvering over, around and through obstacles. Now for Chapter Eight.

You want to go forever…

September 25, 2009

Today has been spent delving into the re-write of the novel. The beginning euphoria of it, something that was roughly equivilant to the feeling of beginning a new novel from scratch -the limitless possibilities, the newness of the story, the curiosity over where you would be going and how you would get there, etc.- has quickly worn off and I just need a break.

The coffee maker has been getting pretty solid use. I’m feeling a little wired and queer. I’m not really thinking of anything but it feels like I am on the cusp of remembering something or thinking of something important. It’s odd.  My fingers feel disconnected.

I was somewhat unprepared for the reality of re-writes. I’ve re-read the thing once, made notes, etc. and now I’m effectively re-reading it again and then deleting/typing/arranging. It’s a continual re-working to get something closer to what I want to say.  It’s looking at something and know it’s not working and trying to figure out why. It’s reverse engineering someone else’s product to figure out how to put it back together with your own spin before realizing you have forgotten you built the thing in the first place.

then there is the re-reading of what has been re-written and realizing that it’s still not right and knowing I’ll have to go back and re-write what’s been re-written and wondering if, even then, it will be closer to what I want or at least closer to being readable.

so now I’m listening to REM and just trying to string myself out for a bit and let everything settle despite having chapter five open across the bar at the bottom ofthe computer screen, waiting to be maximized and finished and knowing that there isn’t even that much left of chapter five to go over and re-work but knowing what is left is what drove me to blog right now in the first place.

Then there was yesterday when I was at the library and noticed a book that looked to be bent along a similar line as mine and wondering if there was any point in going through all of this mess anyway if someone has already done something similar and, quite possibly, better. On the bright side, after checking said novel out of the library and beginning to read it at home last night and this morning found that it’s not overly similar and not even overly enjoyable to read. At least not as enjoyable as I hope my novel is to read, so I feel a bit better again on that angle. One, from knowing the novel isn’t remarkably similar to mine and, two, from being able to convince myself that mine’s better written.

Whether it actually is or not I have no idea but it’s what I’m allowing myself to believe. and now I’m starting to feel up to delving back into chapter five and continuing the march towards completion. there are messier chapters to come, more intensive re-writes to engage and maybe I can get a couple out of the way today.

It got longer

September 23, 2009

alright, I’m still plugging away on the re-write of my novel and I’m noticing something I’m leery of. It’s getting longer. Not only the parts where I’m tweeking but there are entire chapters that I’m adding now.  To be fair, part of it is that I intentionally left stuff out with the first draft thinking it wasn’t needed only to find it severely lacking in these areas through the course of the re-read. that’s where the extra chapters are coming in. but i’m just leery of the other chapters getting longer.

what this really boils down to is a lack of experience. Realistically, stepping back, I see that my first draft is largely an outline in spots. Places where I just kept writing to get down what was in my head but hadn’t fleshed out or communicated properly. So, going back over it, I’m picking those areas out and changing them and putting some meat on the bones.

But this also seems entirely contrary to the idea of “tightening up” a work. Every time I read of someone’s editing efforts, they are only looking for stuff to pare away. As if it is an absolute truth that leaner=better. 

It’s something that I have a passing belief in myself. I don’t like using a lot of -ly words. I try to get to the point of what I’m trying to write and not divert myself into several needless directions or use “flowery” language. An economy of language while not compromising the flow and the story is a goal for me.

So now I’ve added roughly a few thousand words while barely scratching the surface of the re-write. Looking at other novels, though, I’m wondering where the idea of Leaner=Better got its foothold, though. A look at the fantasy shelves in your local borders shows a litany of 500+ page novels, often a number of them stringing together to make up a 5+ book series. Roberto Bolano’s posthumous work 2666 is hailed, in part, for its daring breadth and scope. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is hailed, in part, for the undertaking that its girth represents while Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is regarded as a minor deity with its considerable heft. Don Delillo’s best book is, also, arguably his largest, Underworld.  Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a sizable paperweight, also.

Then, of course, there are the heavies of literature’s past. Dicken’s wasn’t exactly short of words. Neither were Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Austen, or Melville. Books have never seemed to have been hurt by their having too many words.

Is the mantra of editing to a smaller size our tacit acknowledgement that writing has gotten worse and we simply want to read less of it?  I don’t know but I’m going to continue to worry as I re-write and enlarge my novel.

Stand Next to Your Friends!

September 1, 2009

A hodge podge today.

 

I was looking forward to trying to get into Derrida but I’ve just hit a stonewall lately. This, along with seeing all of the blah crap g/f has had to do recently with her MFA program, has put a sizable dent in my enthusiasm for going back to school.  I’m not big on going for an MFA in creative writing but it’s what I would be most suited for. I would be slightly more interested in pursuing a PhD in culture studies but I think I’m far less suited for that.

As always, I’m hit with a big sense of doubt and lack of surity. It’s probably a character flaw. What I’m best at is just sitting in front of the computer and churning out lines. I excel at going over my own work. In the end, I’ll probably do it  just to do it and to keep moving forward in some way.

– –  –

This morning the kid was a hassle at the bus stop. Again. yesterday he pitched a fit because of a butterfly. One of the neighbors grew some butterflies over the summer after capturing some caterpillers. Last week, one hatched and they released it when all of the kids got off the bus from school last friday. Yesterday morning it was mentioned the other butterfly hatched over the weekend and they released it. And he pitched a fit because he didn’t get to see it.

This morninghe refused to stand with everyone. So the g/f went over and dragged him back to the group. First, because it was annoying that he was shunning everyone. Second, because it’s dangerous with him standing on the other side of a driveway by himself. He threw another fit. Screamed about how mean she was and she practically had to pitch him onto the bus so he didn’t get left behind while throwing this tantrum.

A wonderful way to start the day. And, of course, his teacher just raves about how well behaved he is. I think she’s full of shit.

– – –

I’m making good progress on some fill-in chapters for the novel I’m re-writing. While reading through the first draft, it became clear that there was a bit that wasn’t being mentioned that probably should be mentioned. Not to just flesh out the story but to also flesh out the characters and the world. Besides, if I don’t like it, I can always take them out again later.

But I like the bits I’m working on now and they are helping answer some questions I had in regards to how I was going to re-work some of the pre-existing chapters.

– – –

On the first draft of a novel I’m working on now, I’m pleased to say that it is going noticeably smoother than the first draft for the other novel. So for anyone that’s wondering, yes, I think it does get easier the more you do it.

it’s got good size

August 26, 2009

I’m not sure where I was reading about it, or even if it was true, but an agent was relating stories about how they hate a particular month because it is a month that they get a ton of slush material and the majority of it stops at around fifty thousand words. This is because it is part of a national “writing month” or something that encourages everyone to try writing a fifty thousand word novel so it has people just writing to cover the word spread. There were stories of works ending on the fifty thousanth word, regardless of where they were in the story, paragraph or sentence. They hit the magic number, they stop. The novel is done. Over. Complete. Fin.

While the stories were funny, I think they also held a bit of every writer’s worry, or at least the worry of every writer who has yet to secure a book deal; is it long enough? Or, is it too long?

While the idea of quitting a story at a particular word count is absurd to me, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that size was something I try to measure and evaluate myself with. I’ve went so far as typing pages of other books up in word and running the number count on them. I found that the average novel has 330-450 words per page. Why or how they came within this range, I don’t know. I’m not sure I care. But, when I’m particularly curious about the length of whatever I’m working on, I find myself taking a number within that range and dividing my total number of words by it to see where it comes out at.

Should this concern me? Should this concern any writer? Ideally, probably not. But, realistically, we all know that there are predescribed size limits for our writing that we must meet to be marketed as what we wish to be marketed as. For novels, I’ve generally heard that seventy thousand words is a short novel, ninety thousand is the sweet spot and anything appreciably longer than that is a longer novel. At least by today’s novel standards (outside of the fantasy sections where 800 page epics seem to be the norm).

And I know that when my first novel crossed that seventy thousand word barrier that I was more than a little pleased with myself.  It marked the passing of a threshold, the movement into another realm – if not physically then at least emotionally and psychologically I understood this – and was something that could never be taken away from me.

For whatever reason, knowing that what I was continuing to write was technically of novel length was uplifting and help propel me through several more pages before falling back into the real work of writing that bends backs and breaks shoulders.