Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Blame it on my High Level Brain

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Keep Calm and Check for TyposI don’t want to blow anyone’s mind or anything, but I sometimes struggle with proofreading. I know, I know, I’m a professional editor. I should rock at everything edit-y, right? But I have a blind spot when it comes to typos. Sometimes I just don’t see them, particularly in my own work. It can be kind of embarrassing, actually. Often 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 “Thank you for sharting” instead of, um, sharing.

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.

Let me be clear that when I talk about my problem with proofreading, I’m referring to the occasional misplaced letter, autocorrect problems, and, every now and then, spacing issues. Words that runtogether. I’m not talking about making sure your grammar is tip-top, your sentences fluid, and your meaning clear. For me, that’s an even higher order task. As Joan Didion once said, “Grammar is  a piano I play by ear.” Like her, I might have been out of school when they went over the rules but I have nothing but respect for the infinite power of language (and copyeditors). And I’ve since had to learn how to articulate the rules of grammar, so I can pass them on to students. That was hard — because making intuitive knowledge accessible is always hard. But boy, was it useful. Now I can hammer out a tune on that piano like…

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Writing and Doubt

Friday, August 8th, 2014

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.”

Monday, June 9th, 2014

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

Monday, June 9th, 2014

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.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
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.

More Juicy Links, and Steinbeck’s NaNoWriMo Instructions

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

The Paris Review has put all their interviews with writers online. This makes me very, very happy.

I wrote a column for The Faster Times that was biting on NaNoWriMo, but only a little. When I tweeted the link to the column, Paul Constant, book editor for The Stranger newspaper in Seattle, tweeted back. “There’s something to be said for speed, too,” he wrote. “Knocks the precious out of you.” And you know, he’s right, as backed up by John Steinbeck in this quote:

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.

But then again, the next day, I came across this interview with Mary Karr in which she talks about her process in writing her new memoir. Seems like it was incredibly slow and painful, which is something I can identify with. Whether the results will be worth it remains to be seen, but I’m fan of her first two books, so fingers crossed. Here’s a preview of the interview:

Mary Karr was four years behind deadline for delivering a new memoir detailing her disintegrating marriage, alcoholism and recovery. She had scrapped more than 1,000 pages and was considering selling her Manhattan apartment to give back her advance.

“That’s how much I didn’t want to write the book,” said Ms. Karr, best-selling author of “The Liars’ Club” and “Cherry,” also memoirs. “I was clawing my way through it. It was a horror show.”

The NBCC website has kindly made available the recording of a panel discussion I attended a couple of weeks ago on “the art of reportage.” Find it here.

Then there’s this: Make your own academic sentence! Too funny.

Get Your Freedom On

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

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I am here today to tell you about two pieces of software that, combined, might just be saving my life right now. Hyperbole? Not even. I’m deadly serious.

The first is called Freedom and I’m afraid it’s for Mac users only, though there may be a PC equivalent. What Freedom does is block your access to the internet for the amount of time that you specify. It’s that simple. Free yourself from your internet addiction! Ditch the distractions! Write without checking your email every five minutes! Get your Freedom on! Download it here!

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the self-control to limit our own internet use, without the need for a technological intervention? Sure — but when every coffee shop in the metro area seems to have free wireless, to do that you’d need the will power of a superman. I don’t know about you, but that just ain’t me. I’ll take the help, thanks.

Freedom is also, um, free. But please consider making a donation if you use it and like it. In the immortal words of George Michael: You’ve got to give for what you take.

The second piece of software that is rocking my world right now… (more…)

Anne Enright: The Thing You Have Written Is A Piece Of Shit

Friday, July 11th, 2008

The title of this post is a line from this forthright essay about the writing process by Anne Enright, taken from the Guardian books section. Read the whole essay to see the line in context, but here’s the opening paragraph as a teaser:

It doesn’t matter what you think about your work. This is one of the weirdest lessons a writer has to learn, that the emotions that push you to write better, with greater accuracy, truth, verve, wit; the despair that makes you cast your eyes to the ceiling and then plunge back to the keyboard; the running pleasure of one good word being followed by a better; the glee as you set a time bomb ticking in the text; the glorious megalomania with which you set out to describe and yes! conquer! the! world! … are all completely redundant once the piece is finished.

Enright won the Man Booker Prize in October 2007 for her fourth book The Gathering, which introduced her to a whole new audience. The Times book blog Paper Cuts posted something about her back then, and the tenor of the comments – most of them asinine in the extreme – is indicative of her reception. She got in a lot of trouble for her essay about the McCanns in the London Review of Books. UK media commentator Janet Street Porter – a woman who might be described as shrill if she wasn’t simultaneously so horsey – encouraged the public to boycott Enright’s books.

I find Enright’s essays (and check out her others in the LRB while you are over there – one on religion and her children, and one on breastfeeding) to be refreshingly honest and powerfully written. I think this is why she provokes so much ire: she writes about the things we think and feel but are afraid to express. Which, in my book, makes her a good writer. Which takes us back to: The thing you have written is a piece of shit. What writer hasn’t thought this, at one point or another, about their own work? Enright’s point is that you can’t let that voice dictate to you or you’d never write another word. I couldn’t agree more.

Quantifying the Unquantifiable

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

I admit it: part of the reason I started this blog is because I spend an hour an unreasonable amount of time every morning looking around various literary websites and blogs*, and I needed a way to justify that investment – plus I wanted a place to put all the thoughts that were prompted by what I read.

So here are two things I looked at this morning, which seem to work together nicely. Over at the New York Times Paper Cuts blog, Barry Gewen offers his assessment of Judge Richard A. Posner – not a cultural critic that I have ever sampled, admittedly, though Gewen does a pretty good job of convincing me that I should. What struck me about the post were these lines:

Posner likes to quantify, and sometimes he tries to quantify what isn’t quantifiable. David Brooks caught the problem perfectly in his review of Posner’s magnificently wrong-headed book “Public Intellectuals”: “Watching Posner try to apply economic laws to public debate is a bit like watching a Martian trying to use statistics to explain a senior prom. He is able to detect a few crude patterns, but he’s missing the fraught complexity of the thing.”

Then, over at the Syntax of Things, I came across this video, which kind of blew my mind.

[googlevideo=http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4515877390655740878&q=booklamp&ei=Ukt2SJLLAoL6-gHNnIW-DA]

Half of me thinks this is a brilliant, if totally geekish idea. The other half thinks: There is no way on this earth that such a technology could work or help in anyway whatsoever. So BookLamp might be able to tell me if a book is plot heavy or light on dialogue, but it can’t come close, presumably, to judging the quality of a book’s style. It must miss the fraught complexity of the thing, no? And isn’t that why we need good critics? And isn’t that complexity, the kind that resists being reduced to a statistic, the kind that authors strive for? Could this technology possibly work on poetry? I think not.

Actually, after thinking about it, the bigger half (and I know there’s no such thing) thinks that BookLamp is a totally wrong-headed idea, but there’s a little geek in me that thinks it’s kinda cool and that there’s probably a use for it somewhere. Assessing the appeal of books just isn’t it.

*OK, so maybe I check People.com too. And, um, realitytvworld.com. But that’s because, with as little posturing as possible, I cast myself in the tradition of those who think so-called “low” and “middle brow” art as worthy of cultural discussion and assessment as that stuffy old high brow stuff. If this approach was good enough for Orwell, it’s good enough for me.

The Importance of Titles

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Finally, I have entered the world of blogging. Here it is – my first ever bouncing baby blog post. It seems appropriate, somehow, that this one be self-referential.

One of the most common complaints I hear from the writers that I work with is how hard it is to title their work. I understand their frustration – I struggle with the issue as much as the next writer, but I also know that titles are crucial. They are signposts and framing devices, the first thing that the reader actually reads (assuming they do not skip them altogether, which is surprisingly common). Titles can give a taste of what is to come: create atmosphere, foreshadow, or even, sometimes, ruin the surprise of a piece of work (Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff anyone?)

Over at the Virginia Quarterly Blog, Waldo Jaquith has done everyone a great service by compiling the most common titles from the slush pile of material submitted to the magazine. Some titles from the 2007 list also appear on the 2008 one. **Sound of writers rushing to their computers to retitle anything currently called “Waiting” or “Grace.”** Incidentally, Grace is now the number one girls baby name in the UK. Coinky-dink? What do you think?

Accordingly, I did give some thought to the title of my blog. Boolah. A portmanteau of “moolah,” slang for money and the name of my incorporated company (I figured if I called the company that I might actually make some it) and “books,” which will be one of my primary concerns here: good books, bad books, book related posts of all kinds.

Boolah also means “an expression that conveys excitement” according to the Urban Dictionary, which I didn’t know until I had chosen it as a title, but which makes it especially germane. I’m feeling excited about my blog. Boolah!