“The End” is my beginning

A couple of weeks ago, a few days before family arrived from out of town, I typed “The End” to a book manuscript I’ve been working on for 16 months. That’s a little long for me. Usually I finish a manuscript in just under a year. But I also started a business in 2012 so admittedly I was busier than normal.

A few days later I printed out the rough draft and stacked it on my working table (mostly because my desk was, and still is, covered with things that need to be scanned/filed/shredded, which is why I have a “working table” in the first place but that’s another post) and that is where the draft remains, not because I dread the first edit, but because I don’t.

I enjoy the first edit more than writing the original draft. Why? Because once the first draft is done, I have something tangible to work with. It’s no longer an idea, a dream, a possibility. It’s there. It exists. I don’t see a rough draft as a completed project. I see it as a foundation, a structure, a base for what I’m about to build.

Contrary to the stereotypical writer, I don’t become terribly attached to anything in my first draft. I don’t have to wrestle with the necessity to “kill my darlings.” The words that make up my first draft are just words. They can be rearranged, exchanged, hauled off to another section, or discarded altogether. That’s all fine with me as long as when I am finished I have created what I imagined before I typed “chapter one.”

Words are only one of the ingredients of that creation, just as sand is only one of the ingredients of a beach. By itself, it’s just sand. But sculpted by water and wind, creatures on top of and beneath it, and the hands and tools of people, the sand becomes anything from castles, to turtle nests, to dunes. As a writer I am the sea and the air, the life above and below the surface, combining and recombining words to create the landscape of my story.

It’s during the first edit that I do begin to resemble some of that writer stereotype. I become a bit obsessed. I become so focused on the book, the book, the book, that I put off everything else, things like chores and social opportunities, or any other use of my free time, sometimes even those daily walks on the beach. Clearly my priorities get out of whack.

Knowing my tendency to develop tunnel vision during the first revision, I’ve left my manuscript undisturbed so that I could cross some important items (like hosting a family visit, completing first quarter business administrative duties, and uploading a few website changes) off my task list. With that done, I can safely devote my attention to that stack of paper on my working table. But first, just in case I get lost in my work, I think I’ll take a walk.

Dolphin Plaza entrance to Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Jacksonville, FL

Dolphin Plaza entrance to Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Jacksonville, FL

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A Visitor’s Perspective

Family visited us last week for the first time since we relocated to Jax from the landlocked Midwest. We took our hosting duties seriously and packed as many local sights and sounds into the five days we had together, and of course, we started with the beach.

The beach, in our case, is a series of beaches along the coast that together form about six miles of walking, biking, surfing, sun worshipping and beach combing bliss. Those miles are divided into four distinct beaches, named for the communities they border. There aren’t any lines in the sand separating one from the other, but each has its own feel and we’ve already developed favorites. On their first full day visiting, my in-laws walked with us on the two strips of sand where my husband and I spend most of our beach time, a southern stretch of Jax Beach and the beach at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Seeing our familiar sights through their visiting eyes was an unexpected treat. They pointed out and admired features that feel like home to us. Their visiting perspective provided a fresh view of what has quickly become our common everyday surroundings.

A visitor’s perspective is exactly what is needed for editing the first rough draft of any writing project. The best revisions are born of a wide-eyed reading conducted as if those words you wrestled onto the page are telling you something you’ve never heard before. Without that visitor’s perspective, you won’t know which words to cut, or what to add. Whether you’re a new writer, or someone who has produced and published for many years, you must develop the ability to approach your completed writing as if it’s a change of scenery after a long drive.

Sunset, April 1, 2013, Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Sunset, April 1, 2013, Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Have to Laugh

Did Laughing Gulls get their name from the sound of their calls? Or do they get their name from the fact that it’s hard not to laugh when we hear them?

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

I’ve cleared my business schedule this week so that I can focus on a self-imposed writing retreat, right here at home. The rules are no business-related writing. No conference calls or meetings. No client deadlines and no sales activities. Instead, I am spending the entire week focusing on a personal writing project, in hopes of pounding out a significant word count and bringing the end of this manuscript in sight.

To kick off my writing week properly, I spent an unusually warm Monday afternoon at Hanna Beach. As I walked I was already running phrases and paragraphs in my head, writing before the writing, which is a common practice for me. I had a good pace going and noticed that I was approaching a flock of gulls but didn’t pay much attention to what kinds had gathered. Instead I was watching a handful of pelicans diving repeatedly just offshore, when suddenly I found myself smiling and then laughing out loud.

The flock I had caught up with was mostly Laughing Gulls and they were separating left and right to create a path for me to walk through them. They were also complaining about it. Just as I made eye contact with one gull, he (she? it?) threw back his head and called Ha Ha Ha so loudly that the gulls near him stepped a little farther aside.

I had to laugh. I always have to laugh when I hear them calling.

Spring is coming and when it does, a group of Laughing Gulls will gather here at the apartment complex where we live and squabble with the crows about who gets to perch on top of the community center building and proclaim themselves King of the Complex. Each morning, with the sunrise, the squabbling will begin and I’ll wake up to the Ha Ha Ha of the Laughing Gulls. After experiencing that last spring, I know there will be many mornings when I’ll have to laugh with them, and isn’t that a great way to start the day?