Friday, July 08, 2005


Right now, Medusa is looking over my shoulder and laughing at me. Every letter I string together makes her giggle and when I come to the end of a sentence, she rolls her eyes and sighs deeply, as if she is ashamed of me. I hear her say, "That is the stupidest thing I've ever read. Who on Earth is going to read that?" I could stop typing and insist she's wrong, but I know it's pointless to argue. She'll just keep laughing and I'll lose my train of thought. There's no winning with her, especially because if I meet her eyes, I'll be frozen.

She looks like Angelina Jolie, with perfect skin and a mouth that makes people pucker, but her dark hair is filled with snakes. They hiss and slither, spitting with their fangs drawn. When she leans against me for a better look, I feel the snakes cold skin shiver against my neck. They are waiting for the moment I stare at her directly, because that's when they're allowed to bite me. They like frozen blood.

I keep writing. As long as I keep writing, she is powerless. All she can do is mock and tease, threaten and laugh, but nothing else. Even her snakes can only lick me with their eager tongues. I don't want to give her the satisfaction of making me doubt myself, so I move my fingers across the key board in a desperate attempt to get the words out before her voice gets too loud and I become lost in fear. The urge to create is greater than my fear of failure. She knows this. That's why she tries so hard.

I think she secretly likes me, but she'd never admit that. It's her job to make me doubt myself and quite writing, but the fact that we've been playing this game for twenty years without rest has made her respect me. No matter what, no matter how many more snakes she adds to her collection or what vision of perfection she morfs into (five years ago she looked like Uma Thurman), I haven't stopped writing. She's wounded me a few times, though. I used to argue, and now and then I'd turn around to challenge her and would instantly be turned to stone. It would take weeks to get the feeling back into my hands and heal from all the snake bites, but I would heal, and I would write again. Now days, she's more of an annoyance.

Except right now. I've written my novel, and she's just finished reading it. Her laughter is the only thing audible. "Do you really think the agent is going to take this piece of pooh?" I keep my eyes averted, put the novel in a box, write the agent's name and address on it, and walk out of the room. She yells, "I'll bet you ten bucks you don't mail it." I feel the weight of those 315 pages in my arms and long to turn around and fling it at her. Maybe I could take out a few snakes. But I won't take the bait. I'm smarter now. I smile and say, "Where'd I leave my car keys?"

Monday, June 20, 2005


Here it is. My novel. All written. Complete with characters, a plot, sub-plot, climax, a point, numbered pages and half decent prose. It's all here, everything I need to tell this story. Now to make it shine.

Every time I hold this 330 page monster and feel the weight of all those pages, my heart starts pounding and I feel dizzy. Polish. That's all I need to do. After reading it, a friend told me to "polish and send." Right. Polish. I can do that. If my hands would stop sweating I could actually try typing. What does Anne Lamott say? "Bird by Bird." I pick up page one, stare at the opening line, and smile, because it's good. Then I read the whole paragraph. Not bad. This novel could be good. I plow on, finish page one with only a couple of minor adjustments, and begin to feel better. I focus on page two, and my heart starts pounding even louder because I wrote the wrong "there." It should be "their." I know that's not right! I know the proper use of "there," "their," and "they're," so how could I make such a ridiculous mistake? An amateur mistake. I try to breath and fix the problem, but every page shows me more: commas where there should be periods, "your" instead of "you're," too many sentences beginning with "But...," or "Then...," and horrible verbs, like "pleaded," "snapped," and "soothed." I've obviously overdone this no adverbs thing. Panic makes my vision blur, and then that critic, the one who lives in my head and looks like Angelina Jolie, starts laughing and telling me what a terrible writer I am. "Who's going to read this?" she asks. "You can't even spell terrified. It doesn't have a 'y'."

I take a walk, because it's either that or weep. I wish I'd paid more attention in my high school English class, rather than doodling or flirting with the guy sitting at the desk across from me. I might have learned how to use a comma properly. How did I get a B.A. and not learn how to use an elipse? Come to think of it, I didn't know that's what those dots are called until a week ago.

I know how to tell a story. I don't know how to polish it. I've never done this before, and I'm feeling like a four legged animal trying to wrap a present with transparent tape, wishing for thumbs. I dread going back to my novel and striking out the unnecessery words and adding better sensory details. I can't do it. I can't think of a way to say "She was happy," in a stronger way. Or perhaps I'm being too hard on myself?

Bird by bird, page by page, that's the only way to get it done. I've come too far and given up too many movie dates to stop now. Besides, my characters would never forgive me. They'll keep me up all night demanding attention until this novel is complete.

I go back to my desk, decide it's okay to sweat and type at the same time, and turn to page 3.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


I'm close to finishing my novel, which means I'm having panic attacks every time I look at the pages and doubting my ability to craft a decent sentence. Obviously I can't spell, I forget the rules for comma's, and my characters speak a stilted, forced, uptight language with lots of exclamation points. What's a girl to do? I pick up my thesaurus and hunt for similies.

quietly: silently, soundlessly, noiselessly, inaudibly, softly, peacefully, serenely, calmly, tranquilly.
quickly: rapidly, swiftly, speedily.
sadly: unhappily, lamentably,regrettably, deplorably.

Before long my novel is filled with adverbs and my characters are saying their speeches "wearily," "happily," "angrily," and with a lot of flaring nostrils and raised eyebrows. I'm picking up speed as I revise, and the edited pages are flying by. I'm feeling like a pro, like maybe I know what I'm doing, like maybe I just might get this novel done and it will be great and I'll win a prize and get a fat advance. Advance... That sounds a lot like... Adverb.

Horror stricken (there's a great cliche), I look at all the pages covered in blue ink and realize I've just broken one of the gospel rules of writing. No adverbs. Great! There's the proof. I'm an amateur. I am a terrible writer and will never sell my book, never even finish it, and that's probably a good thing, because no one should read this piece of pooh anyway. I walk away from my desk, crying and longing for a cigarette (I stopped smoking 9 years ago).

What's the big deal with adverbs anyway? Don't people walk "quickly" or "rapidly" sometimes? Wouldn't a character say her lines "wearily"? Why aren't' we allowed a few short cuts. I mean really, what can it hurt? It sure picks up the pace, and no one wants to write a book that lags. I should just keep writing and not worry about it. I'm sure lots of writers use adverbs. I'll bet Anne Lamott and Alice Hoffman use them all the time.

No they don't, and they write excellently (there's another one!). So what do I want to do, write, or write my best?

I go back to my desk and pick up the pen, ignoring the pages I've already worked on. I'll get to those later. I'll keep moving forward, tweaking the language and avoiding adverbs like the plague (cliche). When I'm done, I'll start over at page one and keep working the language until it sings. (is that a cliche?) While I'm at it, I'll cut cliches and the thousand exclamation points I love to use because they make the dialogue flow by forcefully. Ugh! Another one... No adverbs, no cliches, no boring adjectives. If I stick with it, maybe the whole thing will turn out alright. Maybe I'll finish this novel.

If not, there's always lion taming.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Writing a Monster

First you dig up the body; the past, the skeletons in the closet, the buried truths, all those stories and overheard conversations you've been waiting to use. Then you put the pieces into some kind of order by writing a rough draft. Next, you pump it full of energy, electricity, hope and terror, until it begins to breath. This is the first, second and third drafts. Once your monster is moving, you get it under control quickly, before it tears up all the paper in the house and destroys your lap top. Only then can you teach it to speak. That's the final draft.

There will always be problems. Editors may demand your monster learn to dance so you'll need to spend hours in the studio forcing it to waltz in steel toed boots. Or maybe the publisher really wanted a translucent, blond female and you've built a giant, drooling male with bad body odor. Your agent may love the monster, but thinks it would do better in a red suit rather than the black one you found, so you will have to strip him down, which he won't like, and force the new suit on. Be careful not to tear it.

When at last your monster is released into the world, will it be met with applause, or pitchforks and torches? Will it be happy on its own, or return to its master, beaten and desperate. Perhaps it will come home angry and try to kill you, its creator. Maybe the Monster will ask you for a bride and you'll have to go back to the graveyard and dig up more bodies to write about. Because once you build one monster, you usually wind up with a whole family of them, living in you cellar, demanding attention.

Here's my monster.