the problem with being trans is cis people. The problem with being queer is straight people. The problem with being disabled is abled people. The problem with being Black is white people. In other words, prejudice.
Do you wonder sometimes if writers you love, writers who come alive on the page, just have more innate gifts than you do? How do they get their sentences so crisp?
While I can’t answer for other writers, I know I spend a lot of time at the sentence level. You know those times when you need to cut 500 or 5000 words but you don’t want to change your story? Often, if you just take those words from the sentences, you’ll get where you’re going.
Here’s a sentence I wrote this year:
Our geese had begun to go after Scott as he toddled. 11 words.
Possible edit: The geese swarmed my brother. 5 words.
See what I did there? I made “had begun to go after” into “swarmed.” It’s more vivid. It uses fewer words. I excised the flab. So that’s what I’m always doing in editing. I look for words that aren’t necessary at the beginning and end of the sentence–and anywhere else inside it, too. I utilize more precise language. If it becomes shorter, that generally fits my purposes, whether or not that’s why I’m doing it. Besides sharpening your ms–putting it to the whetstone, if you will–this makes words fall off, and you’ll find yourself with a crisper, shorter manuscript at the end.
My kid had a birthday and took her children snowboarding for their first time–lucky ducks. They both loved it, and staying overnight at a hotel, too. The older child, 7, has fallen for independent reading in the worst way, doing exactly what both her mom and I did as kids, walking around with her book clutched in her hands, not willing to exit the story long enough to eat or interact.
I find that thrilling, I think because reading’s always been such a joy for me as well. “She reads a book a night,” her mom said, so I asked how she manages to keep up with the demand. “The library.”
Me, I’ve finished prepping the garden beds for spring thanks to a lovely sunny day yesterday, which thrills me except I’m so stiff I can no longer walk. So good to dig my hands into the loam. I swear I’m hungry for this by March, but the earth is usually too damned cold. Not this year where I live and love.
Next for power washing and a dump run and the outside will be in tip top shape. I moved my canvases from inside to the storage shed, where they’re set up with a dehumidifier. Glad that’s done. Next step is moving inside, where I will declutter, de-spider-web, and give the place a good going over. That should take some weeks.
Spring cleaning. Or should I say accounting avoidance?
I just got buzzed by a hummer telling me it’s time to change the nectar in the feeders–quite rightly. They know. So the new nectar is cooling in the measuring cup on the stove.
I have to create a grant application in the next couple weeks. I was trying to come up with a name for the new project and I realized I’d thought up a great title for a book a couple weeks ago and noted it down. I was wondering what the scope of the project should be–its defining scaffolding, if you will–and I went in search of that book title. There it was, not just the title, but as soon as I read the title again, the book itself announced itself, its range, tip to toe, where it begins and where it ends.
I got a cheque for royalties for my old memoir, too. Good to know it’s still selling!
How are things down your way, here on the spring equinox, when days and nights are the same lengths? At least at this time of year we have the beautiful resurgence of spring. The first cherry blossoms here where I live are popping! They are perhaps my all-time favourite and most cheering sight.
I hope you see them where you are and I hope they give you hope and forebearance.
I was wondering what to write today, and I wondered if there are followers here who’d like me to speak about some aspects of being an author? I have the best advice for writing blocks! I was plagued by them for decades until I figured out that having multiple pieces in-progress at once works well to overcome them. You run into a block on one piece, you just move to another. If you have, say, five going along, waiting for your attention, just the fact that they need you seems to be an impetus to get moving on them.
Try it. Work this way for a month or so and then tell me what you think. Do you have questions about it?
What else would you like to talk about, here?
This week, the author Sonya Huber posted a great essay on LitHub, “The Three Words That Almost Ruined Me As a Writer: ‘Show, Don’t Tell’” You know those words if you’ve been around writing instructors–including me–at any time. I think they’re valuable but, as Sonya points out, they’ve become way too prescriptive. She also notes that part of that instruction is “don’t tell” which as we know is what every victim of violence has heard again and again, to her harm.
It’s late at night. I made Colombian coconut rice tonight. I mention that only to bring up the fact that I’ve been writing about Colombia of late in my memoir, which of course reminded me of the delicate rice and generally how amazing Cartagena was. But it also reminded me of attending three bullfights when I was fifteen, which sent me down more than one research foxhole to make sure I was getting the sequences and names correct. I read part of Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” and his “The Sun Also Rises.” I had to really firm myself up to re-enter that world, but, generally, the behaviour around animals in my childhood was not exemplary, and I’d seen gore long before I ever saw my first bullfight. As an autistic person, it often takes me a long time to absorb things and understand how I feel about them and this was true in the bull ring, too.
One night in Colombia, I was out walking along a beach with a boy and the power went out in the city. For a few minutes until it was restored, life was what it always should be. Mystical, expansive, full of stale light from the stars and wonder.
I hope in your life that you have moments like that, despite everything.
Which is not really what I want to admit. But I’ve been scared–terrified–all weekend, and have ground to a messy halt. Not that I do a lot outside of the ordinary on the weekends on the regular. I add some cleaning like changing my sheets and cleaning the bathroom, doing laundry. I run the dishwasher. Sometimes when I have decent yeast I set the breadmaker to make bread. I post on my blog, here, and on my Patreon, and mostly I continue to work on whatever project I was working on during the week. I’ve a seven-days-a-week worker because I’m so unreliable from disabilities and illness that it’s actually easier to just keep at it instead of starting again, which inevitably will run into ADHD procrastination hell. I finished a really cool painting that I think I was working on, off and on, for four years. I’m showing it here, to you, for the first time, though a quick iphone snap doesn’t exactly capture it.
I’m scared of what’s going on in the world. I’m scared of some people I know, and I’m scared *for* some people I know, too. I’m scared of what’s coming up for me. This shit isn’t fun. This shit is overwhelming when you’re alone, disabled and starkly ill.
But it is what it is, and I remind myself that not liking my choices isn’t the same as not having choices.
Hi folks! How’s everyone doing this week? I’ve had a great week in some regards, and in others, an extremely difficult one. I did manage a fair bit of clean-up around the manse today, and got in some Vit-D by weeding in the sunshine. Funny, that. How much Vit-D can you absorb when all the sun sees is your face and the back of your neck?
As planned, I finished the memoir draft this week, so that was wonderful. Anyone who writes knows how difficult the first drafts are. In fiction, it’s because you’re conjuring things usually from thin air. In memoir, it’s more that memory is the problem. I have a few very noticeable gaps–like, where the hell is grade five? A friend sent me this passage from Mary Karr’s “The Liar’s Club” today:
I too admitted it in the text, wrote around it and went on. I asked in a group I belong to if other writers had any tricks on how to break old memory jams, and there were an incredible number of generous replies and clever ideas, some of which I tried, but (so far) to no avail. I’m taking a couple of weeks off now to catch up on life–which means paperwork, accounting, gardening, cleaning–before going back into it. Who knows how many drafts it will need?
In other lovely events, I finished a 30×40″ acrylic on stretched canvas painting I’d left for years. I would take on a bit of it daily and over about two weeks, I got it. So happy about that!
The unlovely events will continue to have their outsized effects on living. Naturally the pandemic is one of those, with the foolish gets at the gov’t mismanaging every.damned.part.of.it, at least where I live. I’m very engaged in covid battling on twitter, if you too are irate by how BC is being treated by the PHO and the NDP govt. It’s open season on the vulnerable and children here, being cared for without PCRs, RATs, HEPA filtration, CO2 monitors, or even N95s. (Can you imagine the danger of N95s being banned for patient-use in hospitals? Neither can I. You won’t get treated if you insist on wearing one, here where we room covid+ and covid- patients together. Here where even HCW are not permitted to wear even their own.) As omicron version 2 surges.
You can join me at Hamilton Art on Patreon, too, where I’m thinking of hosting a free-with-subscription writing class. Love to have you along! Tell me what you want to learn!
Very exciting for me–this week I’ll finish up the first draft of my new memoir. Having already written one (quite a long time ago) that was successful in the UK, it was interesting to be writing in that format again. For simplicity’s sake, I did write a linear book, since it’s my habit to loop and wind and bury myself (and my stories) in complexity and I couldn’t afford the twenty drafts that always takes. (Ask me how many unfinished novels I have. Wait. No, don’t.)
I hope when I start to read it, it reads okay. I know there’s a ton of work ahead to get to a second draft–isn’t there always? When did the world ever have a scarcity of work?
It’s been that kind of week in Canada, including locally, where truckers wanting to get rid of vaccine mandates have protested them from coast to coast, raising over $10 million on Go Fund Me before Go Fund Me threw them out. I do not support them. They fight for nothing except their right to harm other people. They’re xenophobic, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist as fuck. They carry Confederate flags. They wave upside-down Cdn flags on their trucks plastered with swastikas. They’ve desecrated Ottawa monuments including the bronze statue of Terry Fox, who ran across the country to raise money for cancer research.
I’ve always maintained Canada is a racist sewer, but this last while, the sewer rats have been crawling through the grills and getting right in our faces. Thank goodness for counter-protestors.
Go home, truckerf*ckers. We despise you and everything you stand for.
Anyone else feeling the pinch of the longest month of the year? God, it drags. Never sure I’m ready, though, for how life escalates after February until, by April, it feels like a race. Not sure it’s possible to get back the feeling of endless summers I had when I was a kid (“Mo-oo-om, what’s there to do?”).
But I appreciate all the garden changes–the buds, the bulbs shooting up, the snowdrops, the crocuses blooming. The idea of clean-up. Getting compost on the beds after being indoors all winter.
I’m not able to work efficiently at this time because of health issues keeping work at bay, but I’m able to work steadily, a little at a time, without taking any days off–what would I do with them? I’m in lockdown–and bits accrue, they do. Up to about 35,000 words in the memoir-in-progress now, looking to March as a possibility for finishing the first draft, leaving me a few months for hopefully making my way through two more drafts.
All very pie-in-the-sky hopes at the moment. But, dream big.
Dream with me, won’t you? Pick a dream and let’s dream it with me in Feb and March. I’ll dream that I’m somehow able to stay in my house another year and with that dream get a dependable car.
When we’re young, we can’t imagine aging. Many of us think we won’t get there, or if we do, we’ll be more vital than our grandparents or parents were, which is just another way of thinking we won’t get there. For some, that’s a reasonable thought given their circumstances, but for others it’s far more likely that we’ll pass through youth into middle age, and, if we’re lucky, into older age.
We’ve had a nastiness of snow where I live and rotten temps that finally, in their last hurrah, killed all the hummingbirds. Or they went back to where they came from. Maybe the latter. I like to think the latter, since I only had 4 or 5 when the cold hit, and suddenly there were 20-30, what with my feeders. In any case, there are hummers here again, but not the juveniles. Haven’t seen them again. I am not sad that I don’t have to do the constant thaw and freeze, bring in, hair dryer, take out routine any longer.
January has been a bugger for covid. Governments are now routinely behaving badly–letting their populaces fend for themselves in a pandemic, figuring they’ll only deal with hospitalized patients when they have to (and maybe no one with pre-existing conditions? Yes, I’m outing you, hospital personnel, triaging out a constitutionally-protected group of people.) I rant about government lack on twitter, where you can follow this.
If it’s art you’re after, try @hamiltonart1000 on IG. Posting daily!
I’ve had a dear beloved down with covid the last couple weeks, and kiddos back at school without effective mitigation, and so many friends with covid I can’t count, and friends worried about their little ones. None of us will come through this psychologically unscathed, I don’t believe, even if we manage to miss getting long covid.
My writing is going okay. It’s the first time I’ve written a book without regulating my output (2000 words/day, 1000 words/day, poem a day etc). I thought it would be dangerous. I just write when I want to; what I’m finding is that if I can make myself start, and stick to it for about two hours, the rest will flow pretty easily and I can put in a good six hours or so before I conk out.
I hope you are managing out there in these tough times. I wish you the easing of your burdens.
Omicron is raging and where I live, kids are going back to K-12 tomorrow without the proper mitigations to keep them safe. No HEPA filters, no CO2 monitors in every class, no N95 masks. It’s terrifying. At most, only partial vaccination status. Teachers too without N95s. I wish every one of them well.
Did I say I turfed my essay collection in Dec and decided to re-jig and re-write as a typical linear memoir? I’ve had a month with it now, and while I’ve had major health problems during this time, I manage to sit with the ms, now about 20K words, most days for at least a little while. That’s one of the benefits of being on perpetual lockdown, I guess, and it’s important to find satisfaction in that ugly situation where you can. So that’s me. Always a dollar short and a day late, but struggling along, doing my best.
I continue to be passionate about advocacy work and educating others about ableism, homophobia, transphobia, fat phobia and violence against women/enbies and children. I put a lot of time into twitter these days trying to undo some of the damage of government covid policies. BC is off the rails. I can’t get BC back on, but I can link to some of the people whose work very well could.
Happy new year, everyone! It’s been a rocky holiday season for me, busy as I was having a PET scan in the omicron soup of Victoria, BC, and waiting waiting waiting for results. Meantime, with family just up the road, I stayed in lockdown. Been painting. Been working on my memoir. Been watching TV. Been switching out hummingbird feeders during out sub-zero weather and snow dumps. One feeder belched nectar and the hummers stuck to the perches and had to tear feathers, and, I presume, skin off to get free, even as it was -12C. After I realized what had happened, I was able to improve this for the future by bringing feeders in and running water over the perches. But it’s been a struggle, made partly so by the birds’ extreme aggression. At the start, I’d guess I had 20-30 birds here; by the end, I was only seeing maybe five. There were new fledglings, too, and surprisingly, they seemed to manage better than the adults because they weren’t scared of unknown feeders and fed well. Now that it’s warmer, I haven’t seen the littles again.
Best wishes as we move a bit further into January and more inane, ineffective mitigation policies from what is supposedly Public Health. Happy creating! It helps, being creative. It takes the edge of fury off about all the unnecessary suffering.
I don’t know if I mentioned this, but halfway through my memoir writing time, I decided to punt the book and start over. Something had been niggling at me for months, and that something was suggesting it wasn’t working. It finally barrelled to the front of my brain and I began over. I frequently do this with books, which is why I’ve written 3x more than I’ve tried to have published. I already have 10K words done. This week could be a washout, though, due to other challenges.
I hope your holidays were good ones. I don’t really celebrate Christmas, but this year is snowy and desperately cold and I’m certainly watching the weather, at least and hoping the power doesn’t go out. The wind just came up, one of the forecast gusts, I guess. Most of my time seems to be used bringing in hummingbird feeders to blow-dry them into thaw before setting them back out. The hummers–must be 20-30, all squabbling–are desperate.
As always you can follow daily paintings on IG at hamiltonart1000 and also join my Patreon for weekly chats on writing and painting (Hamilton Art)!
Lee Gutkind on the road to creative nonfiction at LitHub.
I would have liked to see this essay acknowledge the democratization of literature with the advent of the internet. Marginalized voices were, sometimes for the first time, able to add their voices to literature’s mix. We began to see lit from disabled, queer, trans, non-binary, autistic and biwoc folks. (I hate the word “confessional” applied to lit, as it transfers a sense of blame to authors for abuse, illness and so on. Most of the things that have gone awry for us are not our fault.)
Did you know that in order to get published, I had to enter and win literary contests? It was the only way I could get my pieces noticed, the only time my work was judged on merit rather than name and identity.
We are swiftly approaching the shortest day of the year, but, today, everything where I live feels springlike and I feel that awkward-in-December urge to get out and start spring cleanup. Summer roses near the warmth of the house are still blooming. The hummingbirds asked for a change of nectar (they come hover in front of my face when they need my services), which I provided. They are feeling gay and glorious and I think their instincts may be turning them toward nest-building. We’ll see. I hope they hold off. I hope I do.
I had one of those burning bush moments last night, an epiphany about the structure of my work-in-progress. These work epiphanies are double-sided: fabulous because hello, solution; difficult because it means a ton of work ahead, right? I got out of bed to go retrieve my computer and set things up on Scrivener so I’d have a scaffolding to follow in the morning if the idea held water.
Aimee Bender, author of “The Butterfly Lampshade,” in a talk with Jordan Kisner on Thresholds at Lit Hub, on how creating a structure for your project can really help. Think of this as infrastructure for which you must create walls, insulation, electrical, plumbing before any of it will really be pulled together.
This week BC had catastrophic rains following just on the heels of another catastrophic fire season and heat dome. Things are in a bad way, with thousands upon thousands of animals dead, a state of emergency declared, and many roadways and highways washed out amidst flooding and washouts. Wishing everyone the very best with this new challenge. I’m sorry for your losses and your sorrows. Help victims here:
This week, too, of course, was the XX acquittal in the US. I can’t say the murderer’s name, but you know who I mean. I ached for the families in the courtroom as the verdicts were delivered and just as much for what this means for the safety of social justice workers and racial minorities protesting on US streets. As always, you can donate to the ACLU, who work to keep you safe.
The good news is that we now have vaccines for 5-11 year olds in Canada. This is a relief. Despite my own vax status (x2), I have medical problems that mean I need to avoid the people I most want in my life, but when they’re flu and covid vaxxed, I’ll be able to resume our relationships.
On the creative side of things, I continue to show visual art daily on Instagram at hamiltonart1000! I hope you’ll visit and drop me a line; if you fall in love with a painting, do inquire about its availability! You can also support me on Patreon at Hamilton Art.
In the writing world, it’s award-season and I’d like to congratulate all the long-listed and short-listed authors, and the winners (!), and urge readers to remember those who weren’t on the lists–their books are still terrific! Me, I’m working on difficult essays and those remain difficult to find forms to fit them. Still, I work on them every day. I’m working, in particular, on an essay about homelessness and another about autism.
I hope you are doing okay. I find it harder to be doing okay the longer the pandemic lasts. Many gov’ts, including BCs, seem to have decided not to battle hard against covid any longer, declaring it as a preventable illness (say what now?) and endemic. Good luck to you navigating through your week. I wish you all the best.
I’ve been thinking a lot about moving somewhere warm. Who wants to come? The south of France, Portugal, Costa Rica?
I’m sick to tears of bad weather, I have to say, and these days I’m on total lockdown and finding it incredibly challenging to be back here (still, again, I don’t know)? It feels futile and forever, but my medical situation is such that I am stuck with solitude. The BC gov’t is not going to do its job and lock the province down, even with about 3500 new cases a week, so the disabled among us have to do it for themselves. I had a brief flurry of opening up two weeks after my second vax mid-July, but the Delta situation was worsening around us even then. I did go swimming and to the supermarket. I was called on to leave the island several times for car repairs and medical tests. I did see my grandkids, the dearest people in my world.
But on Thanksgiving, in early October, my two kids came over because I’d had a medical emergency. It was the first time I’d seen my younger child for 2.5 years. I kept two masks on the entire time (all weekend long, only lifting them to eat and sleep, door firmly closed) and it was no kind of feast, given we ate far away from each other and at staggered times for safety’s sake. Two days later, we discovered the littles had played indoors the day before with two covid positive kids, maskless, for three hours. Having that health emergency on top of my personal one capsized me. We waited anxiously for the results of covid tests, which were, when they came, astonishingly negative. We dodged bullets there, but I’m not keen on taking more chances.
I miss those grandkids something fierce. We can’t really seem to connect via FT as something’s always chasing us offline. I’d visit outside keeping masked and distanced, but so far, the weather has disagreed with that plan.
Back to dreams of moving. Do you imagine living in your dream location?
I’m supposed to be working today on my essay collection, but it’s one of those days where all the words are wrong, bland, without a pulse. You know those times? How is it going for you?
Someone on FB asked why we write. I had a dream where the horses from my childhood were starving. The food I found ran out but there was still a filly to feed, and I found her a plastic pen. I was worried that the plastic would shatter in her throat.
She’s how I would talk about writing. She was starving and the pen could save her–but it also came with splinters.