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Beautiful Sentences: Tove Ditlevsen

Being young is itself temporary, fragile, and ephemeral.

Tove Ditlevsen, Youth.


A first draft of the novel is done

A week shy of five years after I started writing, I Graph of progress on the novel over five yearshave a complete first draft of the novel. It’s been a long journey and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but there’s a complete story now. Things I still have to fix include making sure characters don’t change names mid-novel as well as taking advantage of the fact that I now know more about the characters than I did when I began so I can flesh out a lot of details (and eliminate out-of-character behaviors) as I work further on the novel.

I have a rather structured process for the beginning of my work on fiction: I write a complete first draft.¹ Then I read it, scribble all over it making notes about how awful everything is and what makes me think I can write. Then I rewrite the whole thing from scratch starting with a blank Word document.² Again, I read the whole thing, plugging my nose to get to the end. The finalish step is to revise it: Now, instead of retyping everything, I let myself just work on the existing document and just change those bits that need to be changed.⁴ Once I’ve reached this stage is the piece finally ready to show to someone else.

Each chapter has gone through this three stage process (which explains the zig-zag pattern in the diagram above), in some cases, a chapter has gone through even more revisions,⁶ so this “first” draft is kind of a third+ draft. Nevertheless, the next step is to read the whole thing, then do a rewrite as above and finally a revision before I start thinking about workshopping it. But first, I can at least celebrate a little.

  1. Sometimes it takes more than one draft to actually get that first draft.
  2. This practice dates back to the days when I was in high school and I would write my columns for the school paper sitting on the floor with an antique manual typewriter, typing with a long-past-its-prime ribbon onto notebook paper³ and then the next day, I would retype a clean copy on an electric typewriter in the school paper’s offices.
  3. Because typewriter paper wasn’t all that readily available in the ’80s.
  4. This doesn’t really have a counterpart to my practices in high school. Word processors were still pretty primitive back then, as in you had to enter printer control-commands into the manuscript if you wanted bold or italics or underlining.⁵ And forget about footnotes at the bottom of the page. Although, as you might have guessed from this post, I’m perhaps someone who shouldn’t be trusted with easy footnotes.
  5. And the printers that our school had, would, if you had something underlined that started on one line and ended on the next, continue the underline right to the edge of the page on the first line, then start at the left edge of the next line and continue it to the end of the document.
  6. The most revisions any individual chapter has seen is eight, but 4–7 revisions are not uncommon.

Writerly resolutions: September status

It’s been a pretty good monthGraph of my progress on the novel in September for writing. I managed to get a first draft of the last chapter of the novel finished and get started on the rewrite of that chapter. I expect to have the rewrite and revision done sometime before the five-year anniversary of starting the damn thing.

The less resistant feeling story has fallen to a back burner to a new story which has demanded that I work on it. I’m not entirely sure what happens in it beyond the inciting incident, but I’m curious to find out. 

The workshopping of the new story went pretty well, with some good suggestions and affirmation of what I had already suspected were weak points. It might be publishable as is, but it will be publishable after I finish with its revisions.

Speaking of revisions, little progress on that front. I really need to push on that.

And a poem was picked up for publication, more on that when it actually goes out.

1000 rejections

Today, I got my 1,000th fiction rejection.¹ It was a tiered rejection from Neon. Per my promise to myself, the journal responsible for the 1,000th rejection (or any acceptances while I was at 999²) gets a subscription³. 

 Looking back over my records, the first rejection in my “modern” era of rejections was a form rejection from The New Yorker (the story in question. “Confiteor” is something that I’ve since trunked). 

My acceptance rate in that time has been 2.06% with 20.8% of my rejections being personalized or tiered, including personal rejections from The New Yorker and The Atlantic, so I’m apparently doing something right (although I could certainly stand to be doing things “righter”). For the year so far, my acceptance rate is 5.7% with 40% of my rejections being personalized/tiered. 

  1. Strictly speaking, it’s a bit over 1,000 rejections, but I’m not counting the scattered rejections I got when I was an undergrad or in my 20s before I tried not to write. This is my “modern” period beginning in 2007.
  2. If I get any acceptances before I hit 1,001, I’ll subscribe to those journals as well.
  3. Had it been a journal that was online only, I would look for a donation option.

Writerly resolutions: August status

Chapter 26 is finally done, Graph of my progress on the novel. A long flat patch where I was marking up the manuscript, a dip where I edited chapter 26, a rise for chapter 27 and then a new rise for the rewrite of that chapter.I’ve completed the first draft of Chapter 27 and I’m partway through the rewrite draft. The story continues to reveal heretofore unknown things about the characters, which is a plus (and some inconsequential happenings in the first draft have become a bit more consequential in the rewrite). I feel optimistic that a complete first draft¹ of the novel will be done before month’s end.

 And that story that I’ve been working on all year (and all last year and far too long before that), finally reached a point where I could workshop it last week. My next new story is feeling less resistant to completion and should manage to make it off my computer in time for my next turn workshopping later this month.

Plus, I finally finished revising a story I workshopped back in March, so that’s now out on submission.

  1. It’s kind of the third-plus draft since every chapter has been through at least a rewrite and revision, but there are a lot of first-draft-y things about it, like character names mutating as the story progresses and inconsistent characterization. The plan is, that when I have a complete draft, I’ll read the whole thing, making copious notes on the manuscript, then do a complete rewrite of the entire novel starting with a blank document, and then revise that and then start talking to writing buddies about getting their feedback on it.

Writerly resolutions: July status

I finally finished the rewrite of NewImageChapter 26 this month. I have two books covering the events that this chapter hangs on with numerous dog-eared pages indicating useful information that I need to go through and make sure that everything in the book is historically correct or includes some useful details to enrich the narrative, so preparing for the revision phase on this chapter will take a little longer than usual, but then I come into the final two chapters of the novel. I continue to have little surprises about what happens so it’ll be interesting to see what these last two chapters reveal.

I’m close to finished with a rewrite on the short story which has been kicking my butt for a year and a half now. I’m hoping to be ready for workshopping at my next turn up in August.

And then there’s an acceptance of three poems for an anthology due out later this year. More about that when publication comes.

“The Norton Anthology of Self-Destructive Behavior”:

This story was one that unfolded itself gradually over time. It started with the title which came to me one day during a residency NewImage for my MFA. I wrote down the title and even got so far as writing down a list of self-destructive behaviors, but put it aside for a while after that.

I picked it up again a year later and wrote the first draft pretty quickly and painlessly. The “zeroeth-person” point of view of the story was something that just evolved as I wrote the story when I was about halfway through and realized that I hadn’t written in first, second or third-person, exactly. Pretty much everything emerged from my subconscious in the writing process.

Then I put the first draft away and didn’t look at it for three years. When I worked on the rewrite, I found my self thinking that I had something really good here and I worried about ruining it. I spent some time revising it and then in May of 2018 I sent it out on submission.

It got rejected, but it had a very high level of positive responses. I let it lie fallow for a while longer, and then pulled it back up once I was back in a writing group. Probably the single most important thing was identifying one of the sections, “Violence towards others” as problematic. That was enough to, I thought, make the story perfect or at least close to it. It garnered a few more rejections, but now I was getting personalized rejections from journals who had only ever sent me form letters before. Eventually, it was picked up by Meniscus, the Journal of the AAWP.

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Writerly resolutions: June status

Progress has slowed but not stalled on the novel.NewImage Rewriting chapter 26 is a challenge since I’ve also been reading multiple books about the Exodus 1947 which is at the center of the chapter which has often revealed details that required rewriting scenes as well as occasional direct contradictions between one source and the next.

Rewriting the short story is also progressing slowly and I have just one week to get it done and revised if I want to have it for my next turn up with my writing group.

And the most recent acceptance has also turned into a publication. Meniscus is the journal which was the first to publish one of my poems, so it was nice to return to their pages in a different genre.

Writerly resolutions: May status

I continue to make progress on the novel,Progress on the novel—steady increase through the first half of the month, then a complete 1st draft, and the rest of the month I've been reading what I have for the 2nd draft rewrite with the first draft of chapter 26 done. It’s a big chapter—28 pages—so reading what I have in preparation for the second draft rewrite is taking a while and I keep making changes as I do my research (this is probably the best-documented historical event in the novel so there’s a wealth of material to use).

The rewrite of the short story is progressing, albeit more slowly than I would like still. The rewrite draft is revealing things I didn’t know before which is a good problem to have. I did miss my writers’ group deadline with the rewrite (maybe this month?) so I pulled another story out of my backlog and have a big rewrite to do on that one too.

The “publication soon” happened. And there’s another acceptance in the mean time. I love my writing group. They’re an outstanding bunch of readers with great insights into my work and its deficiencies.

“Saint Anthony in West Hollywood”: The Story Behind the Story

My newest story, “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” is up now at The Rappahannock Review.

I began with a vague notion of a saint in the modern world, or perhaps someone who was delusional and just thought he was the saint, leaving the trStatue of Saint Anthony holding the Christ Childuth purposefully indeterminate. I had no idea which saint or where. Then little by little, things came to me. Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, and West Hollywood, which gave me some idea of the other protagonist of the story.

I have a bizarre fondness for second person, partly because my first published story was in second person, and partly because for this piece, it’s planned as part of a collection where the POV has a subtle coding to something about the story and “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” fits into neither category. Just as well, I think that the second person fits it nicely.

There’s an interview with me (my first ever) accompanying the story.

Thanks to those with whom I’ve workshopped this story, Aaron Frankel, Paul Gee, Diane Gilette, Davy McNell, Laura Nelson, Gwen Tolios and Matt Zakosek. The first draft of this was begun at a writer’s retreat hosted by Sister Julia Walsh where, for the first time, I read in public an unpublished excerpt of my work, in this case, the opening scene of this story.

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