I’m especially busy right now finishing up a few things, and it will be this way through the spring until I go on vacation, finally, in May. Every day I just wake up and start working, no matter what. I keep touching the work, I stay in it. Sometimes it is just the way it has to be for a good long while. I can see an end point in the future, though.
A great and healthy distraction from the work is the fact that I have become godparent to a new dog in the neighborhood. I take her on three long walks a week. Here is little Annie.
Annie, she’s a real good time.
I feel lucky to live in a community where I can get to know my neighbors, and where we can reach out to each other so easily. People always want to know why I left New York and moved to New Orleans — even after seven years of living here by now — and I have a million responses to that question but sometimes the answer is just: the dogs that you meet.
If you’re new to this newsletter (hello, fresh subscribers!), I’ll point out that 50% of all subscriptions go to charitable donations and the other half goes to keeping the lights on over here. This week all donations will be going to the Trans Health Legal Fund and Louisiana Trans Advocates in honor of #TransRightsReadathon, which you can learn more about here. If you’re looking for a good reading list, one of my local bookstores, Tubby & Coo’s, has some great suggestions.
You do not have to subscribe, of course. This newsletter is for everyone, and one of the intentions behind it is to reach out to a wide audience and offer up ideas and information and encouragement and support about writing. As someone who did not get an advanced degree in writing, and felt for a long time quite isolated as a writer, and uncertain about how to pursue being one, I feel quite strongly that it’s important to provide access to knowledge to as many people as possible, with no financial barrier attached.
But if you are able to subscribe, that’s great. Or, equally as cool, if you’re just interested in donating directly to an organization, I always identify at the end of each newsletter where I am donating that week’s money.
I’ve been reading my novel out loud this past week, chapter by chapter, line by line. It’s slow-going. I can only read through a few chapters a day. Mostly because I get sick of the sound of my own voice but also because I’m finding so many little fixes along the way that each chapter takes a long time. But I cannot stress to you enough how important this kind of draft is to me. It is extremely effective.
A lot of what I am catching is the repetitions of words, or when sentences are not quite complete (funny how spell check doesn’t catch everything), or when I let sentences run on, and even if I meant to do it — I love a long sentence! Look at this one! — sometimes you gotta shove a comma or two in there, baby. Also there’s just minor timeline issues cropping up, that for whatever reason didn’t occur to me when I had read the draft with my eyes, but are clear as a bell now that I’m saying it with my mouth.
Another thing this read-aloud draft has helped me to realize is that I don’t think I’ve quite leaned in enough to some opportunities for dialogue. When you write a book in a close third person, it’s easy to get stuck in the head of a character and think you’re letting them talk. I mean, you are! There are real possibilities for monologue, for sure. But breaking text up with banter, or a back-and-forth, can really be a release for the reader, not to mention let us get to know a character a little bit better. And I tend to write funny dialogue so it’s also a chance to make a reader laugh. I’m seeing now as I go through this that there are some missed opportunities to brighten the book overall.
I find myself more protective of these characters now, too. Every time I hit a chapter where one of my characters is about to make a mistake or fuck something up, I have this “no, don’t do it” feeling for the character, and I find myself not wanting to read it out loud. Do I have to go there? I think. But then I remember it will make the book better, I will tell their story better, so I must do it.
One final revelation from this past week of reading: When I started this book, all these characters felt like weirdos to me. But now, in the end, all of these characters are normal, or anyway feel normal to me. And I think that’s how we should feel about our characters by the end of writing a book. Even if they’re extraordinary. A superhero or an alien or anything like that. They should still have this feeling of, “Oh, it’s just that guy,” to the writer. By the end, as we speak our characters out loud, after all this time we’ve been writing them, understanding them, they should feel just like anyone else we know.
I hope you’re all writing strong, feeling connected to your work. I’m sending you my best vibes.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Trans Health Legal Fund and Louisiana Trans Advocates.
What's your approach to revision of a first draft? I've been letting a novel first draft sit for a few months and am planning on reading it straight through no-edits on first go round so I can get a general feel for it, and get a sense of any major issues (plot points, underdeveloped characters, etc.). But I imagine it's hard to read through and not mark things up! Curious how others do this.
Such important advice! The reading aloud trick has saved me a number of times, even on boring, work-related projects! And congratulations on your God-puppy! She is magnificent!