Saturday, December 31, 2011

My New Year's Eve

You know when you take on a project like cleaning out a closet that was kind of disorganized, but now you have stuff all over the room and it appears that you are actually making things worse rather than better?

Well sometime in November I was searching job posts and feeling discouraged because nothing resonated. Then I went to a local publisher's website and I saw a posting for a poetry contest. A contest for people living in a limited number of states (one of which is mine), for a full-length poetry manuscript (which I have) and it was free to enter. I sent out my manuscript once (maybe twice?) to contests but I had to pay, I hadn't looked at it for a few years and now I was getting excited. I pulled out my poems with a fresh perspective and realized most of them still held meaning. "There is still something here," I thought. I went through them again pulling some poems out, adding a few and realizing it needed some serious work on sequencing.

I don't know how to sequence poems. Poems are written separately, complete in themselves. How do they go together? There are poems written around my mother's death that clearly belong together, but beyond that?

A couple years ago I decided to branch out in my writing and try a fiction class called - Writing Fairy Tales, Folk Tales and Legends. Fiction scares me, but in this case our first assignment would be to rewrite a traditional tale (changing the setting for example) so it seemed more accessible. Anyway one of the main gifts from the class was completely unexpected. When I shared my fairy tale rewrite (that was okay but nothing I thought had any future potential) the other students made comments on it. As is typical there were probably a few encouraging comments. Then there was the guy who either suggested I add a bunch of commas, or remove a bunch of commas, (I can't remember which I just remember thinking), "I am sharing a draft of a story and you want me to address the commas?!" However, there was one woman who took this story I really didn't even like and made insightful comments about it. She made me look at my own writing again with fresh eyes.

The second (and last) story we wrote in class was our original fairy tale. I was really bummed because I liked this story much better and the woman with the insightful comments was not in class that week. Just today (2 1/2 years later) I realized how this was a gift. I sought her out the next week in class, gave her my story with an envelope and asked if she would be willing to read it and mail it back with her comments. She said yes.

I also really enjoy her writing so we briefly did some editorial exchanges through the mail. I haven't been in contact with her for over a year, but she immediately came to mind as someone to help look over my manuscript. Besides she writes more novel length pieces which require sequencing of events, specifically what I most need help with.

Anyway, she has had it for the past month and emailed yesterday to say it was coming back in the mail. I did not have any plans for New Year's Eve so it is the perfect time to sit and work/play with my poetry. However, as I mentioned starting this out, right now it looks more like the closet whose contents are strewn all over the room. I thought it was pretty close to ready, but now I can see what a mess it still all is!

Anyway my editor (as I will call her because she obviously is one) says she knows nothing about poetry but has made more insightful/helpful comments than anyone else who has seen my writing. She actually spelled out what the themes of my manuscript were: "how to enjoy your life in a meaningful way, how to simplify and get back to nature (possible this is an answer to questions #1), how to go through a relationship, how to be/accept yourself, how to continue on after a mother's death." (I didn't even know my manuscript had themes beyond the mother's death one!)

Also it is tricky - there are a couple poems she suggests cutting that I know are each favorites of other friends of mine. If I felt strongly either way about these poems it would be easy, but I don't. So I have her voice saying, "No," and other voices saying, "Yes," and I have to search for my voice in between.

She also suggested I end with a different poem to sum up the whole thing. The thought of writing something new, some big pinnacle, sounded exhausting. One short poem came to mind as a possibility though that I had cut out of the manuscript. I didn't know if it was what she meant, but it was worth a try so I emailed it to her. I just checked my email and she said,

"Yes! I really like that poem and it really plays into your themes. I think that would be a good poem to end with."

Thank God.

Anyway, I am grateful to be working on this project, that it arrived back today, and that I met someone who I hardly know who is willing to help me for free!

And I'm grateful to the Onion once again - from the Dec 29th, 2011 issue -

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