A contemplation on patience, or the lack thereof

So far this term, I’ve been forced to take my writing process into consideration. I do not enjoy taking my writing process into consideration. I enjoy writing. Especially when it comes to poetry. But that is a different rant for a different day.

The writing process for TKS works better, more efficiently, and more sensibly than does my personal writing process for creative work. The latter is scattered, informal, and makes me feel like a Type B person when I’m pretty sure I’m not a Type B person. However, this mode can still apply to TKS sometimes, and for reasons that I cannot control.

Last Wednesday, on publication night, it felt like all our well-planned deadlines (a nod to Anna Meier for changing them this year in such a way as to make everyone less insane) and well-organized systems had been tossed to the wind. My lovely co-editor had asked a writer for revisions on Monday night, but we did not get them on Monday night. We did not get them on Tuesday night. You can probably imagine that we got them on Wednesday night, of course, since that’s implied. But when? Was it right at 4 p.m., the beginning of our publication process? No. Was it right after dinner time? No. How dare I be so optimistic.

We did not get revisions in until 8:45 p.m. I was overjoyed that we actually got them, but until that time, I was fuming. I’m pretty sure everyone in the publication office was afraid of me. Actually, I know this for a fact; they very graciously took a “by all means!” attitude when I declared that I would most definitely be going to the Quickie to buy a pack of cigarettes, in spite of quitting and in spite of their support of my quitting. (Note: I didn’t end up getting cigarettes after all.)

I think that timeliness is important. Incredibly important. I blame this one on my family: they are always, perpetually 10 minutes late, so I am always, perpetually five minutes early. “On time” to me means five minutes early. So, when most people are actually “on time,” I’ll already consider them to be late.

But what I (re)learned from being crazy frustrated and forced to wait is that we cannot control everything. No one can. It’s a waste of time to think otherwise, because things almost always go wrong. In considering my creative writing process and even my movement process in dance, it’s essential to remember that things will change as I go, and I must change with them. Last Wednesday night, there was no way we could have gone without that story simply because we didn’t have it in. We had to keep our options open.

We, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, had to make it work.

How to untangle a story

(This morning at about 12:15 a.m., I started writing a story about polling. I wasn’t excited about it; the material felt dry to me at first glance, and having done phone surveys myself in the past, I knew how tedious they could be to both outsiders and pollsters themselves. So I let it sit for a day after I transcribed interviews and organized notes before I began. The result was a little gem of a piece that I really love. Here’s how I did it.)

1. Always start after midnight. By midnight, your mind has reached that strange state of lucidness where everything is perfectly clear and connections previously obscured by mundane, everyday tasks come into focus.

2. Go to your most difficult interview and pick the one quote (or two) that is usable. It’s usually a detail that grabbed your pen when you were talking to the person and made you write furiously, whereas previously you were kind of scribbling along and wondering when you could finally go eat lunch.

3. If your interviewees brought up any outside studies, reports, etc., go find them. Read them quickly. Understand the context in which your story is situated.

4. Begin with the hard data, because you can’t manipulate it. It must be presented exactly as is and thus forms a foundation from which different viewpoints can flow.

5. Find a scene that portrays the conflict in the story. (No conflict? No story.) Go to the top of your word processor page and describe it. Who is there? What is he or she doing? Use environmental details–sights, sounds–to get across feelings that are difficult to put into words.

6. Don’t break your train of thought. It’s tempting to write “INSERT ADDITIONAL SENTENCE HERE” and move on to something easier. But force yourself through that sentence. Your story will flow better for it.

7. At the same time, though, if an idea comes to you, as ideas often do in the wee hours of the morning, for something that will come later in the story, jot it down right then. Fleeting thoughts get lost when sleep calls. Make a note and keep going.

8. Keep writing. Everything will come in due time.

For the love of language

NEWSFLASH: New things are scary.

Two weeks into my new position as a Co-Mosaic editor, and I’ve learned that there really isn’t time to think that anything is scary, even if it definitely is. There are constantly people asking me questions and sending me emails and showing me makeshift portfolios of high school clippings. And I end up in this unreal world where I can respond to everything, and sometimes multiple things at the same time. It’s kind of like I’m the internet. (But I’m not as cool as the internet.)

But in the midst of the in-my-head chaos, there are all these little moments that make me remember why I’m giddy-happy instead of stressed: It’s for the love of editing. It’s for the love of new writers who appreciatively respond to my comments on their stories for the week. It’s for the love of writers who include ideas for pull-out boxes (for the uninducted, they’re those gray boxes in print that have lists or statistics and stuff) with their stories. It’s for the love of minimal punctuation, which Chicago style and MLA are only beginning to warm up to. (It’s for the love of not ending sentences with prepositions.)

I’ve loved editing since we wrote our first essays in the second grade (mine was an inquiry about cats). There’s a huge sense of accomplishment in improvement, sure, but in this case, it’s about making things sound better. It’s about sentence structure and flow and diction and tone. It’s about language.

And when it comes down to it, I think language is the most important thing ever. There was an exercise we did in my FP class in which we wrote about what we valued most of all and would never give up, and I wrote about Communication. Then, we ranked our values, and mine won. It shouldn’t have (things like Justice and Equality were ranked quite lowly, for example), but it did. And I will probably always have a little sense of pride there.

Being able to communicate effectively is the key to being a real person, and it’s all because of language and the way we use it. We think differently about people who wRiTe LiKE tHiSs, or who WRITE LIKE THIS, or who write like this. (You just heard all of those differently in your head, didn’t you?) This is powerful stuff. This is real stuff. It’s in that stupid comment on a YouTube video; it’s in that web comic you just read. It’s definitely in TKS. If we miss a misspelling, we offend people and look stupid. But if we remember to eliminate every oxford comma (even though this pains my inner English literature nerd) and place an em dash where an em dash is warranted, we’re respected and taken seriously. And hey, we may even win awards.

So I might be a little bit of a Grammar Nazi. And so what if I geek out about syntax? (Let’s not even talk about etymology.) It’s awesome (yes, I mean that in both senses (“really cool” and “awe-inspiring”) of the word), and in the end, I think it’s totally worth it.

That’s why I edited this post four times before publishing it.