Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Half my life is an act of revision" (John Irving)

Keeping a blog carries with it a certain responsibility. I have to jumpstart my creativity in a way that’s new and different from what I usually write. Beginning any writing project is not an easy feat, but I’ll tell you something else that’s hard: knowing when to quit.  

I’ve been revising several picture books for years. A non-author probably reads a picture book and thinks, “It’s so short—must’ve taken about five minutes to write.” And, really, maybe the initial jot-down doesn’t take a lot more time than that. But inevitably that first rendition doesn’t quite work; neither does the second; neither does the 50th. But maybe the 51st does. But what if I go on to revise 52, 53, 54 times? Will my work never get published because I inadvertently pass over the sweet spot? How’s a writer to recognize a finished project when she sees one?

The trouble with PBs is that each word matters, so I constantly run into dilemmas. Should I say, “Sure, you can,” or “Don’t be silly!” when a child says he can’t do something and you know darn well he can. As parents, we’re supposed to encourage our children, but doesn’t real life dictate that we cajole them periodically, and shouldn’t books reflect real life? They can’t all be sweetness and light, right? Or am I revealing something about myself that should just stay hidden?

I fear that my approach to writing simulates my approach to life; it’s in a state of constant revision because I possess contradictory opinions on just about everything (barring my liberal political views). Should I live in the city where everything’s near, including neighbors who are decidedly much too close; or should I move to the country where I can appreciate the nature that I love, understanding I could shrivel with loneliness and would have to drive everywhere? Should I serve my guests on paper plates--oops! serve FOOD to them (actual guests should always be served on real plates)--because of the convenience factor, or should I go for elegance and wash dishes? Should I eat an egg sandwich for lunch, or a tomato sandwich? Should I go, or should I stay?

Whatever decision I make, whether on the written page or in life itself, will very likely be revised at some future point.

Yes, the act of starting a story is no easy feat and knowing when to end eludes me.

Or does it?

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