Blame it on my High Level Brain

Keep Calm and Check for Typos

I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind or anything, but I suck at proofreading. I know, I know, I’m a professional editor. I should rock at everything edit-y, right? But I have this incredible blind spot when it comes to typos. I just don’t see them, particularly in my own work. It can be kind of embarrassing, actually. Sometimes I can spot them later – like when I look over my email correspondence to find out why that new client never got back to me and I realize that, oops, I typed “I look forwad to hearing form you.” Yeah. Doesn’t inspire confidence.

This is why I subcontract for proofreading, if a client requires it. This is also why proofing isn’t on my menu of services. Instead, what I specialize in is developmental editing. I can look at a writer’s work and understand where they want to go, and how to help get them there, and then I can break that knowledge down for the client in a way they can hear. It’s about accessing their true intent, articulating it, and sharpening meaning.

So, when I came across this article about typos (written by Nick Stockton, posted in Wired magazine) I felt so gratified, so validated, so understood. I miss typos because I’m so high level and shit. Phew. Now I know.

The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.

Writing and Doubt

I identify with this so strongly it’s kinda scary. How about you? It’s from this article in the New York Times by Mark O’Connell.

To put it in the sort of simplistic terms that I’ll no doubt come to regret using: self-doubt is the best friend and the worst enemy of the writer. Because being a writer isn’t like being a tennis player or a boxer, where you presumably have to hunt down and ruthlessly eliminate the source of any flickering shadow of suspicion that you might not be destined for victory. As a writer, you have to take your own misgivings seriously; you have to attend, now and then, to the little voice in your head or the booming baritone in your gut that wishes you to know that what you are writing is entirely without value.

The trick, of course, is to know when to listen to it and when to tell it to shut its stupid fat face. I say this as someone who has never quite learned that particular trick.

“Trust your own dark bouquet of inspiration.”

Listen to the story you are trying to tell, that unconscious combination of imagination and memory and feeling, and trust it. Concentrate on expressing that as clearly as you can, concentrate on finding the language for it, but above all don’t second-guess it. It’s your true north. Because here’s the great thing about novels and writing and creating anything: Nobody else can possibly write the book you’re writing. It is yours, singular, and the more clearly it is expressed the more alive its singularity will be. If you want to be ruthless, be ruthless about clarity, be ruthless about trusting yourself, be ruthless about finding generosity for your characters, but most of all be ruthless about ignoring the inner demon that keeps telling you you’ll never be as good as Eudora Welty or Zadie Smith or David Mitchell or James Baldwin or whoever, that your novel will never be better than an 8. That inner demon is full of fear, and fear, if anything, is what reduces a novel and sterilizes its language. Fear, in writing, is a self-fulfilling prophesy. So banish it, banish the whole scale, and trust your own dark bouquet of inspiration. Thank god you’re not those other writers. We already have their books, but we don’t have yours, and I am of the mind that the world is almost always made better by more books.

So true. Thanks Ted Thompson.

ISO Deep Humility and Patience

Because I have been spending too much time on parenting listservs (ISO stands for “in search of,” meaning there’s something you want to buy…) and not enough time reading Rilke.

Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yeah…so THIS happened.

Ikkle Gangster!

Ikkle Gangster!

This my son, in a three piece baby suit. Doesn’t he look bookish and literary? I think so. Pic care of the talented Amanda Bernsohn.

Lucky baby? Lucky teacher!

LucKy Baby

Lucky Baby red velvet cake....mmmm!

As you may or may not know, dear blog readers, I’m up the spout. Do people say that in America, or is it an English idiom? Let me translate, just in case. I’m knocked up. Got a bun in the oven. Preggers. I’m…preg-Nancy.

The baby is due at the end of July, and my husband and I are busy doing that nesting thing, by which I mean throwing away — or hawking online — everything we possibly can in order to make way for what is bound to be a massive baby (I’m 6′ and my husband is 6′4) and all his massive baby swag. And this also means the end of an era. Since 2006, I’ve been holding weekly workshops in our living room — but no more! Baby’s coming, and baby’s taking over. Well, taking over the living room, at least.

The salons that I’ll be teaching this summer will be hosted by my gracious mother-in-law, the poet Alison Jarvis, and I’m currently sourcing space for the fall workshops.

In the meantime, though, I have two workshop groups just finishing up and one of them was kind enough to throw me an surprise baby shower at the end of our last session together. I was very touched. Reader, I almost cried.

The photo above is of the awesome red velvet cake that we ate, and the photos below show the workshop group and the living room workshop space. (Please note — there are not usually open bottles of alcohol at my workshops, but this was a special occasion.)

A big thank you to everyone in the group for making this such a great workshop and for all your wonderful gifts!

The Workshop Group (and my color-coded bookshelf)

The Workshop Group (and my color-coded bookshelf)

The workshop livingroom space (and that's me on the left, grabbing my belly!)

The workshop living room space (and that's me on the left, grabbing my belly!)

No One’s Despair is Like My Despair

This is probably the exact wood violet that Glück was talking about in her poem. Maybe.

This is probably the exact wood violet that Glück was talking about in her poem. Maybe.

My father recently sent me a quote from the poet Louise Glück who, in her collection of essays, Proofs and Theories, writes that the fundamental experience of the writer is…

…helplessness…most writers spend much of their time in various kinds of torment: wanting to write, being unable to write, wanting to write differently, not being able to write differently. It is a life dignified…by yearning, not made serene by sensations of achievement.

Which is affirming, if you look it at one way, and see it as confirmation that your own struggles — and what writer does not struggle? — are par for the course, a consequence of the difficult art you have chosen for yourself, and not a symptom that you suck.

So many people that I work with think that their writerly torment means that they are doing something wrong, or that they shouldn’t be writing, or they believe that that no one else finds it so hard. Me and ole’ Louie G are here to tell you otherwise.

At the same time, though, jeeze, Louise. Bleak much? I replied to my father’s email with just such a sentiment. “I get it,” I wrote to him. “I experience it, but what’s the freakin’ payoff? Why do this?”

His reply: “Well, the reason for doing it is that there’s no other way of ‘getting’ it than by doing it. That’s the payoff: being in it. ‘Cos otherwise you’re not in it. And then where are you?”

That’s a prime esoteric father response right there, readers. I get it though. Do you? Is this your reason for writing or are you driven by something else entirely?

As a closing note, here’s a link to a Glück poem, called “April,” because we are in April and despite all the writerly torment that we all put ourselves through on a daily basis, the spring sunshine outside is glorious. This is not at all what the poem is about, though.

Ten Golden Rules

These lists, compiled by The Guardian, are too much fun not to share. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing, The Guardian asked a whole bunch of writers to come up with their own versions. The results are usually interesting, often funny, occasionally obvious, always helpful.

Part one features Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, and AL Kennedy.

Part two features Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.

Memoir Round-Up

Note: I started writing this post in January. I know, I know — it’s like, two weeks out of date already. What can I say? Stuff has been going on. The links still work, though, and the possible discussions they could kick off are still valid. Have at it.

There have been some interesting articles about memoir kicking around on teh internets recently, which I will collect here for your delectation.

First Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing in the UK’s Independent newspaper, gives a rousing “publish and be damned” call to arms for all memoir writers. Alibhai-Brown is responding to the bru-ha over in the UK about Lady Antonia Fraser’s memoir, which recounts her marriage to the late Harold Pinter. I haven’t read Fraser’s book yet but apparently it’s not a even tell-all – it’s a rather tender and well-written portrait of an unusual marriage (according to reviews here, here and here.) Pinter’s plays, which I studied in high school, had a lasting effect on me. In particular, the distinction he made between the dash and the ellipses. This was revolutionary for me at the time — that so much could be conveyed through punctuation!

Then there’s this juicy piece in the New Yorker, a review of Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History.

And then a completely asinine memoir attack piece by Taylor Antrim in The Daily Beast, followed by Stephen Elliott’s Antrim smackdown on The Rumpus.

February Workshop and Other News

Boring post title, but exciting news: I sent out an email this morning about my February workshop and had a flood of emails — gratifying! As of 3.20 p.m., four people lined up already and some others who have expressed an interest in the remaining two spots. Yehaw!

And this seems like a good opportunity to include the other publishing news I sent out in the newsletter.

The first item was regarding the publication of Elyssa East’s fabulous book, Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town. Elyssa’s book is a true crime story, combined with the history of an abandoned colonial settlement and expanse of wilderness close to Gloucester, Mass. In a signature review for Publisher’s Weekly, Joyce Carol Oates called the book “…fascinating, richly detailed and remarkably evocative.”

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the book when I read it and offered some feedback, pre-publication. It’s a real page turner, and takes the reader deep into a mysterious, intriguing historical world. At Elyssa’s launch party, at Word, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on December 1, I was awarded “Top Dog” honors (along with some other people who had helped Elyssa’s book along the way, including her agent Brettne Bloom and her fiancé, Yulun Wang, one half of Pi Recordings). Pic of the award below — ain’t it pretty?

Top Dog Award

I also announced — not that she needed me to, considering the great reviews and exposure the book has received — Jessica DuLong’s debut book, My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America On the Hudson, an account of Jessica’s transition from the dot-com world to engineer of the John J. Harvey, a classic fireboat. Jessica’s compelling story is interwoven with fascinating, narrative-driven industrial history, made personal by her deep investment in the preservation of the Hudson river.

Jessica was a member of one of my first ever workshops, back when I was teaching though the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshops. She was honing her sample chapters then, subsequently found an agent and sold the book, and is now busy promoting and reading and being fabulous!

I love hearing about the publishing success of friends, clients, and students. If you have some to share with me, I hope you’ll be in touch.