On First Drafts and Finishing Same

first drafts

On First Drafts and Finishing Same

Well, this week it happened. I finished the first draft of my novel-in-progress. Thank you Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, 1938) and Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, 1994) for the same freeing advice. Just write, they say, and Anne coined the wonderful “shitty first draft,” which gave my fingers and pen liberty to fly over the keys and page, not stopping to agonize that I had used the same word in the same paragraph, or that I typed lay instead of lie. Time enough later to go back, to fix, to struggle to find just the right word, phrase that is original, unforced, that will say what needs to be said as it has never been said before. Just get the words down, they say. And that is what I did.

While I was writing, I thought my work was amazing, better than I had ever done, better than anyone had ever done. In the cold, cold light of day (you see, I can use clichés here, though not in my book) it looks pretty dreary. Ah well, isn’t it always easier to work from something, to make it better, bird-by-bird, than to have those incredibly poetic words rumbling around in one’s head, but never quite making it to the page.

So, today my words are on the page. Now comes the hard part – transforming them into a work that I can stand behind, that I can be proud of, and, with every hope, one that will speak to my readers’ hearts.

(Incidentally, the draft above is  from Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading. This is the very first page of the novel, and if you are having trouble reading it, it’s not just because the page is a mess. It’s also written in Russian.)

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com



On Writing Rhythm, and Naps


On Writing, Rhythm and Naps —

I should be working on my novel-in-progress. That is what I tell myself as I clean the sunporch, change the cat litter, and lie on the sofa for just a twenty-minute nap, which, as everyone knows, is the renowned time for bringing those fuzzy brain cells back into focus.

I’m gradually coming back to my writing rhythm, or at least heading in that direction, as I also recognize that the same excuses for not writing lure me with an ever-stronger pull. Especially naps. And I must say that, when I lie there, allowing my brain to go where it choses, I compose (in my head, of course) some of the most lyrical prose never to be put on a page. I have completed at least three novels, poetry that is so moving that the reader (if it were written, of course) would swoon, or at least stay home from work to think about it. And that is only what I can remember. Now I should clarify that a bit: what I remember is how wonderful my words were. Unfortunately for me and the literary world, I am unable to recall the actual words.

Once or twice I have been so moved as to jump (well, that is an exaggeration – more authentically, I push back the blanket, stand up, and walk) to the computer to get those words down. Alas, in the interim between living room and office, the muse decided to dwell elsewhere. But in these weeks, in my head, I actually have completed my storyline, wept for characters who will face tragedy, and developed understanding, perhaps even compassion, for those characters who I wouldn’t want to meet for coffee.

And somehow, word-by-word, I am making progress. Shitty first drafts, but words on paper, waiting to be reviewed, rewritten, and cried over.

Now, as to the image above, that is Susan Sontag. Surely she napped, and look at how beautifully she wrote. Maybe some of her talent will rub off. At least that’s what I’m thinking as I drift off – for twenty minutes only.

Another Sunday, a novel of historic Baltimore, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Structure, Habits, Routines and Rituals


Every day since I left the world of paid employment, upon waking, I savor my freedom. Oh, the joy of having my hours to call my own, to choose how I want to spend my days, an ecstasy that makes even doing laundry a delight.

I’ve known, since I was a child, that I am a person who likes, okay, I’ll say it, loves structure, and over the past years, I’ve developed a rhythm, a cadence, mapping out a time to write, or at least a time to dither about not writing while finding what might be considered odious chores around the house, rather than “sit, stay” at my desk. I devotedly make up my to do lists– they provide me with a texture of security, of protection.

This week, while putting off returning to my novel-in-progress, I happened upon Mary Oliver’s Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, in which she considers habit and life’s rhythm, and how it sets a context for the daily-ness of our lives.

I give you her words, which say it better than mine ever could:

(with habits) “life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers. If you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real. (the bold is mine)

… Most people take action by habit in small things more often than in important things, for it’s the simple matters that get done readily, while the more somber and interesting, taking more effort and being more complex, often must wait for another day. Thus, we could improve ourselves quite well by habit, by its judicious assistance, but it’s more likely that habits rule us.

And so, as I consider the habits that are my master, I ask you to consider those traditions that rule you. And not all bad, I’d say.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com



On Writing and Selling Same


On Writing and Selling Same

Dorothy Parker is credited with saying, “I hate writing. I love having written.”  I agree. And let me add: “I hate selling. I love having sold.”

I’m now in the midst of marketing (a less odious term for selling) Another Sunday, setting up readings, sending out press releases, posting events on Facebook, and, I must add, writing blogs. It’s a nasty business, this marketing is, for those born without a silver tongue and a thick skin. Fortunately, as with most writers, I’ve had the opportunity to develop a relative resilience, born of a myriad of opportunities to be ignored or rejected by journals, literary and less-so, agents, and publishers, the latter holding the manuscript for months.

So not hearing back from some book sellers, high-tone reviewers – well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And hurray to those who reached out, said yes, welcomed me and my book warmly. It makes their percentage-take a bit more palatable.

Marketing involves a great deal of planning, implementation, and waiting – there’s a long lead time. It is also a very left-brain activity. And I thought, hoped, that I had left all that “business stuff” behind when I decided to devote my days (and nights) to writing. Well, not quite.

Now, finally, after immersing myself in selling, pardon me, marketing, these activities are slowing down – not ending, but I’ll take slowing down as a gift.

This week, I returned to my novel-in-progress. As I carried my files to the dining room table, I felt that I was coming home. Not that it’s easy. Having written is still way preferable to writing. But I’m loving it. And the research – Wikipedia and I are best friends again. And I do hope that no one ever investigates my web searches.

So, I would be delighted if you’d read my book, thrilled if you’d buy it, print or e-book. If you can make it to one of my readings, well, that touches my heart. And, even more shameless self-promotion, the schedule of appearances is on my website:  cynthiastrauff.com.

And now, back to writing….

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com