How to Know When Your Book is Done

Pen Writing for Marcia's blog.jpg

One of the issues that comes up frequently with my clients and students, especially those who have been working on a particular project for a long time, is “How do I know when it’s done?”

1)    The most telling indication, I believe, is when you realize you are simply moving furniture around and not revising. You are no longer improving your work, but simply changing it. It’s not better, it’s just a different way of expressing what you want to express. When that happens, it’s time to put down the pencil (pen, cursor, etc.) and let it be.

2)    When you find yourself having trouble choosing between one word, one phrase, one sentence, one paragraph or another, it’s time to stop. You’re not improving, just changing things. (See above.)

3)    You spend inordinate amounts of time in indecisive revision. Despite the stories of famous authors spending days on one word, you’re not them. Hemingway is said to have rewritten the ending to A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times. Fine, he’s Hemingway, and he probably drove his editor to near suicide. Don’t be that crazy.

4)    Read your work out loud. How does it sound? If it flows, let it go. If not, fix those spots, but don’t agonize over the whole manuscript.

5)    Let it marinate for a while. Put the book (story, poem) in a drawer for a period of time. Advice varies on this—I would say at least a month, some say a year. Whatever it turns out to be, you will come back to your work with fresh eyes (and a fresh sensibility). Things will jump out needing work, or the whole manuscript will wow you. Either way you will know what to do.

6)    Go for a walk! Get away from the work. Put some space between you and the writing. This is similar to No. 5, but it’s more appropriate while you’re in active revision. I have always found a sojourn into the woods or to the beach opens up new approaches to the writing. Get away.

7)    Recognize when things aren’t working and likely never will. Sometimes the story just isn’t working. LET IT GO! At some point it may morph into something else. But sometimes you have to be brutally honest with yourself and realize some projects just aren’t ever going to work.

8)    There are writers who outline and writers who don’t. If you’re one who doesn’t, and find yourself stuck in a cul de sac, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Consider an outline.

9)    Do you still care? If you have come to the place in your heart where you HATE this project, it’s time to step away. Perhaps not forever, but for now.

If any of these things are true for you, take stock. You may be ready to submit. Or perhaps not.

One final thought: I am assuming you are in a writing group or have been able to take advantage of writing workshops or the expertise of a good editor to get feedback along the way. If not, get yourself into a competent group or hire a good writing coach. You can’t learn how to write in a vacuum; it takes years of practice and mentoring. Take advantage of every opportunity to master writing. Then trust your gut and heart when deciding if your book is done. 

Unmasked Reading at Tecolote This Wednesday!

 Marcia and co-editor Kathleen Barry

Marcia and co-editor Kathleen Barry

Come join us Wednesday, Nov. 29, from 5-7 p.m. at Tecolote Books in Montecito! Several of the women who contributed to Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty will be reading, and I hope some of you can come out to enjoy some titillating poetry and essays, as well as refreshments, of course. Kathleen Barry and I will be reading, as will Maya Shaw Gale, Perie Longo, Lori White and perhaps one or two other special guests.

We look forward to seeing you!

Unmasked Launched; Rabbi Mysteries Unveiled; Yuko Ready to Fly

  Unmasked  contributors, from left, Renata Golden, editor Marcia Meier, Tania Pryputniewicz, Lisa Rizzo, and Barbara Rockman.

Unmasked contributors, from left, Renata Golden, editor Marcia Meier, Tania Pryputniewicz, Lisa Rizzo, and Barbara Rockman.

 Marcia and Kathleen at Carr Winery.

Marcia and Kathleen at Carr Winery.

So much has happened in the month or so since I returned from Greece, both personally and professionally. Kathleen Barry and I launched our new anthology, Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, at two events in October: A reading and signing at San Diego Writers, Ink, with four of the contributors to the book, and a reading and signing at Carr Winery in Santa Barbara. We had a wonderful turnout at both, and look forward to another reading at Tecolote Books in Montecito on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 5 p.m. Also in the works are readings in Venice at Beyond Baroque (8 p.m. January 28), and an early February performance at Center Stage Theater of "Unmasked LIVE, Women Read About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty." Stay tuned for more details. 

 Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer signs a book for a fan.

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer signs a book for a fan.

A week ago, more than 60 people came out to Chaucer's Books in Santa Barbara to celebrate the publication of Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer's second mystery novel, The Rabbi Wore a Fedora, and the reprinting of his first, The Rabbi Wore Moccasins

Next Saturday, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m., Tecolote Books will help us bring out Dick Jorgensen's second memoir, Yuko, Friendship Between Nations, about his world tour as he traveled back to the States from Japan in 1957, and his subsequent work with The Asia Foundation in San Francisco, promoting improved ties between the two former World War II enemies. Come join us!

Keep all these Weeping Willow Books in mind as you make your holiday lists for the bookworms in your life!

What Feels Dangerous in Your Writing?

I recently completed an online poetry workshop with Kim Addonizio. She is a perceptive and skilled poet and teacher who was both fun to work with and discerning in her critiques. I highly recommend her. As part of the workshop, each participant was asked to pose a question for discussion on the group blog. One of the questions was, What feels dangerous in your writing?

Interesting, yes? Here’s what I wrote: Everything. The fear of not getting it right, of not being able to express exactly what I want to express in the way I want others to receive it (ridiculous control issue there). The fear of being rejected (especially by the “people who matter”—I'll come back to that in a minute). The venturing into a way of writing that I haven’t done before, whether it be poetry or something experimentally genre-bending.

Vulnerability is scary. We open ourselves up in our writing, more than most artists do. There is arguably greater risk, it seems to me, in writing something that has potential to bring on condemnation—if not death, as in the case of dissident poets in totalitarian regimes—than in painting or musical composition or dance. And if we assume the persona of another, whether in fiction or poetry or even nonfiction (as in the case of trying to understand someone else’s motivations), we are inevitably being dishonest. But sometimes it takes that to get to a larger truth.

I was intrigued by the Lionel Shriver controversy last year, because I think novelists particularly have the right to and should write what is true for them, and if it means assuming the persona of another gender or ethnicity or race, then I’m okay with that. Memoirs of a Geisha was written by a man. But I also see the other side. Sherman Alexie writes a lot about what it’s like to be a Native American in a white world, and I, too, found the problem of choosing work based on the ethnicity of a name pretty provocative. At AWP in 2012, Claudia Rankine took Tony Hoagland to task for writing in the voice of a racist narrator in his poem, “Changes.” And Kate Gale added to the fray last year by suggesting that the organization didn’t have a diversity problem, when it clearly did. All of this is to say that we, the writing community, perhaps has as far to go in communicating and understanding our diverse voices as our divided country does today. Okay, I veered off into politics, so let me get back to voice and vulnerability and risk-taking.
 
I think any time you pick up a pen or pencil and write something from the deepest places inside you with the intention to share, you step into a place of risk. There have been many times when I’ve read something I’ve written to an audience, and had people come up later and tell me what they got from it—and frequently it’s not at all what I intended. So, yes, it’s scary and risky and makes us vulnerable, but in the end we write for ourselves, because we have no control over how others will respond to it.

Now, as to writing for recognition from the groups we aspire to be a part of. There is inherent risk to sending out work and seeking approval from the “legitimate” literary community. I sought approval for a long time, then decided I would learn as much as I could and apply it the best I know how.  If something is accepted for publication, I’m thrilled, of course. But I don’t stake my self-worth on it. Sadly, I have some writer friends who do. What I’ve learned is that if you do in fact write outside the expectations of others, you’re less likely to win the approval of editors (especially younger MFA-trained ones) who follow the latest trends. And that’s okay. The only critic you really have to satisfy is yourself, and sometimes that’s the toughest one.

Thanks for a Great Signing! Plus New Website for Weeping Willow Books

 With Haydee Perez

With Haydee Perez

 (Haydee Perez photo)

(Haydee Perez photo)

Shout out to Mary Sheldon and Penny at Tecolote Books in Montecito, and to all the folks who came out for my book signing on Saturday, July 22. It was a lovely afternoon, and I appreciate your support so much.

And hop on over to the new Weeping Willow Books website and check out our books and forthcoming titles, including our anthology, Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter here.

Join us Saturday, July 22, at Tecolote Book Shop!

On Saturday afternoon, July 22, I will be at Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito, CA, to read from and sign copies of my newest collection of poetry and photographs, Ireland, Place Out of Time. Come join me from 3-5 p.m. for conversation, wine and appetizers

Tecolote is at 1470 East Valley Road, in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. If you can't make it, you can order my book here.