Monday, December 20, 2010

The Most Sobering Writing Project…Ever

As we closed out our semester, I found it nearly impossible to focus. I think I was more excited for the break than SJ. While I love many aspects of homeschooling and know this is the right thing for this season, it makes me almost giddy to think of next year when he will go to high school. It became even more of a reality as he took the school entrance exam during our last week. It was a placement test, of sorts, and I will be curious to see if test results reflect anything of our year at home.
            To complicate our final week, I learned that a family friend’s 19-year-old daughter had passed away on Saturday night. This doe-eyed beauty, who had married her sweetheart just this summer, is with the Lord but that makes the loss no less acute to those left behind.
            In my world, that makes three deaths in one month. A 39-year-old worship drummer friend. My cousin’s two-year-old son. And now Laura.
            Mercifully I have been spared this kind of grief for most of my life. The downside is that I am so ill equipped to respond. In most cases, I have probably done less than I should or could for the family, mostly from my lack of confidence in knowing what to do.
            When I heard about Laura, I prayed that God would show me something I could offer. In what tangible way could I redeem my inaction and be a blessing to this family? He answered. I don’t have much, but I can write. I couldn’t help but feel like the little drummer boy. I have no gifts to bring. Shall I play for you? Pa rum pum pum pum.
            Calling the family was the hardest part. Though we were once neighbors and walking buddies, our circles have since followed separate orbits so it has been a few years since we have sat together and talked. What a tragic way to reconnect. Inadequate doesn’t begin to describe the degree of my thoughts toward myself and what I had to offer as Laura’s mom said hello. I stuttered my condolences and offered my humble gift. Mary nodded. Pa rum pum pum pum.
            Over the next days, I met with Laura’s parents, collected messages from her friends, and took notes about her short life. It occurred to me then the gravity of this job. In my hands was a lifetime of memories, told to me by grief-stricken loved ones who would never again have Laura but who will have the words that I write. How does one make sense of such sadness with honor and grace? I held a legacy and I could only pray God would give me the words. I played my drum for Him. Pa rum pum pum pum.
            I wrote. And I cried. I sifted through photos. And I got to gaze upon this lovely girl. Her time seemed so short but in God’s timing, it was perfection. I played my best for Him. Pa rum pum pum pum.
            I can’t tell you what an honor it was to do this for the family, for Laura. Though sobering and difficult, there is something about working in the gifts God has given us. I pray that tonight, at her memorial, the words I wrote will touch those who loved her, not because I wrote them but because she lives in them. I pray that I captured the Laura who lived. I pray that she smiles at me just as Jesus, the baby, smiled at the little drummer boy. Then He smiled at me. Pa rum pum pum pum.

Rest in peace dear Laura.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who Knew? Editing = Courage

Here is the truth about editing.
It stinks.
At least, editing one’s own work stinks.
Give me your paper and I will happily chop and alter.
Give me my own work and I am paralyzed.

Up until now I thought of editing as simple fixes: checking spelling, cleaning grammar, and adjusting for rhythms. It’s a quick one-two. And really, it’s what I do with my son in his Daily Grams. How could I have known it should be different?

It’s one thing to edit a sentence. Or a paragraph. It’s quite another to edit 100,000 words, the equivalent of about 60 pages.

And it isn’t just sentence structure. It’s structure-structure. As in, change the way the whole thing is presented.

The truth is I have a book proposal “out there.” A well-respected editor even took the time to tell me she is interested. But, she said, I needed to change the way the topic is presented to my readers. 

That was two years ago. (See what I mean about paralysis?)

This summer, the urge to approach the book returned and I wrote madly for a week or so. A complete rewrite. I didn’t even look at the first submission.

A few weeks ago, I read both the original and the rewrite. I have decided that I have lots of material. The first submission is well written but boring. The second writing is c**p but has good bones. It isn’t at all how I wanted to say what I tried to say and certainly wasn’t fit for anyone to read. (In fact, I had a friend review it to provide scripture references and I am pretty sure she thinks less of me as a result.) Cringe.

Thank God for writers who have gone before me and have had the helpful urge to write about their own terror in the process. I’ve been reading Barbara Abercrombie’s Courage & Craft and Anne Lamott’s writing classic, Bird by Bird. Both are encouraging in their advice to write, write, and write. And both are equally as adamant that they are pretty sure what you write first will be awful.

Anne Lamott goes so far as to have an entire chapter devoted to “Sh***y First Drafts.” Thank you Anne. She also tells of the looping “KFKD” (Sound it out.) that plays in her head. Check. I can relate.

Barbara Abercrombie says to be ruthless in chopping your work. But, she warns, be kind. Don’t delete. Save. Says she, “Nothing you write is ever wasted.” Thank you Barbara. I think I needed to hear that.

So. Here I ponder the best way to approach this editing project. These authors helped me realize that I have some good stuff in these “down drafts” (as in, get it down on paper). They also helped me realize that my work has just begun but that I am not alone in the daunting task of it. Every good writer makes MAJOR changes to plot, structure, character, and tone. 

What I lack is courage. Who knew that editing and courage should coexist?

I vow to change this. I vow to approach my work with love and kindness, red pen and open files in tow.  But I will keep quiet about this to my 8th grader who still lives under the happy illusion that editing takes five minutes. This is one life lesson we each must learn on our own.

Writing is such a lonely pursuit. Very few understand just how far we go into the recesses of our minds as we work. In the meantime, I will make a shameless plug to solicit encouragement in the process. Thank you in advance to all of you who will hold my hand and gently walk with me. I will personally sign a copy of this book for you someday!