Friday, October 25, 2013


     It's October, and time for revision. I write new pieces––poetry, short stories, or essays through the year. I tweak these pieces through the year. Come November, I dedicate myself to major rewrites on pieces I want to submit to literary journals or competitions in the new year.
     Every year at this time, I bring out the Revising Checklist. I examine a piece's introduction, and its content. I look at the organization for transitions, emphasis, and its conclusion. Style, by way of similes, metaphors, concrete language, repetition and clutter is scrutinized. The same for the mechanics of the piece––punctuation, word and verb usage, and spelling. Revising takes time. It requires getting the words right. It involves more than just correcting errors. It can mean shortening, lengthening, changing or substituting, and in all honesty, it's a messy and frustrating affair. Paper clutter on the floor? Sometimes. Desktop/file overload? Absolutely.

     In revision, I try to make my writing as clear, smooth, and interesting as I can. I must do it. It is in my best interest to revise or rewrite until the cows come home, and every year at this time, I sigh.

Revise ~  verb  1. to look over again in order to correct or improve  2. to make a new, amended, improved, or up-to-date version
Rewrite  verb  1. to make a revision  2. to revise something previously written
     All good writers revise. All good writers rewrite. Rewriting is an essential part of composing, and in the end it can be the most rewarding part. 

To wit:
- The pleasure is the rewriting.     Joyce Carol Oates 
- If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.    Elmore Leonard
I'm all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.   Truman Capote
- I have rewritten––often several times––every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their        erasers.    Vladimir Nabokov

So, tell me do you think revision is important to your writing? What is your modus operandi for revising/rewriting your stories, essays, or poem? What steps do you use to make your work become the best that it can be? As always, I love hearing from you.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Famous Writers' Writing Sheds

     I ended last week's Blog post with this: Books and Boards reflect a deep-seated desire to have a secluded, away-from-the-room-filled-with-distractions in which I currently write. Authors of every stripe have or have had their version of a "writer's cave," and for the same reasons I hold for myself. 

     Allow me, in today's post (a post or two will continue this theme), to give a small tour of some of the more famous writers' writing sheds. As I've gleaned sources and images, I see mussed and fussed pages, notepads, and open books strewn on tables, adjacent surfaces, even floors. Their desks, much like my own, lean toward cluttered. In some, there are the rudiments of humanity––radios, ashtrays, cigarette packs, pets, framed pictures, and typewriters. 
     While some writers chose to set up shop abroad to immerse themselves in an undistracted world of prose or poetry, their choices often overlooked vistas of the Alps or vineyards surroundingTuscan villas or perhaps a castle or two. A few set up camp in hotel rooms.
     The writers I'm spotlighting in this and forthcoming posts, and their deified writing huts or sheds, are or were near at hand to each other. Their quaint and simple structures could be reached by a worn path or a short walk from the main house. Crucial to them was the sense of ease, the lifting of a creative web, the necessity of being near to their writing labors. 

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan's book A Place of My Own is the story of how he built a tiny writing hut for himself in the woods behind his Connecticut house. As he writes on the first page, "Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words over until they'd assumed a habitable shape? What they propose, to anyone who admits them into the space of a daydream, is a place of solitude a few steps off the beaten track of everyday life."Pollan turns his sharp insight to the craft of building, as he recounts the process of designing and constructing a small one-room structure on his rural Connecticut property—a place in which he hoped to read, write and daydream, built with his two own unhandy hands.
Roald Dahl
(Quentin Blake, children's author and illustrator)
I didn't go into the shed very often, because the whole point of it as far

 as Roald was concerned was that it was private, a sanctuary where he could work where no one interrupted him. The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn't want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened. He used to smoke and there is an ashtray with cigarette butts preserved to this day.
Roald Dahl's writing roomThe table near to his right hand had all kinds of strange memorabilia on it, one of which was part of his own hip bone that had been removed; another was a ball of silver paper that he'd collected from bars of chocolate since he was a young man and it had gradually increased in size. There were various other things that had been sent to him by fans or schoolchildren.
On the wall were letters from schools, and photographs of his family. The three or four strips of paper behind his head were bookmarks, which I had drawn. He kept the curtains closed so that nothing from outside came in to interfere with the story that he was imagining. He went into the shed in the morning and wrote until lunchtime. He didn't write in the afternoon, but went back later to edit what he'd done after it had been typed out by his secretary.
He wrote in the shed as long as I knew him - we worked together for 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and I illustrated a dozen of his books. I would take my drawings down to Gipsy House for him to look at while sitting on the sofa in the dining room. I don't think he let anybody in the shed.

Mark Twain's writing hut is currently situated on the campus of Elmira College in Elmira, NY.
"It is the loveliest study you ever saw...octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window...perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightening flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it." - Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells, 1874

Michael Pollan asks it best, "Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place...?"

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Dreamed-for Writing Shed

I want one of these: a dedicat-
ed place to write and create––a modest, outdoor building solidly anchored to the floor of my back garden, preferably near a few trees but not too close to the beehives. It would be a stand-alone place that would take me away from the house both mentally and physically, a haven where I could think or be inspired. 
     I picture this outpost as a poetic vision of a shed––modest of size, yet big enough for two pooches to lounge in my midst. The structure would
reflect me as environmentally friendly, unique, eclectic, and of a loving nature. It would be adorned with a covered porch or deck with a comfortable chair or two, and small-paned windows with heat-reflective glass. There would be no doubt left to the "fly on the wall," as to who occupies this tiny dwelling.

The space would contain deep boards (waist high) braced along two walls to hold a printer and other requisites of writing, with a pull-up chair to help in that process. Above the boards would be built-in shelves or cubby holes for books and files. A cupboard would house supplies, and a cork bulletin board would post notes. Shades or blinds would cool the interior. A carpet, most likely a runner, would cover some floor.
     Electric wiring would run the ceiling fan, printer, a few lamps, an electric teapot, and an under-counter refrigerator. A seating area, probably a used loveseat with a colorful and soft throw on an armrest, would provide a less-rigid place on which to contemplate ideas or to welcome a guest. A small table would sit nearby to hold a mug and a few books.
     For a number of years, I collected home design books filled with ideas for a future one-room writing space. When Pinterest entered my life, I created Cabins 'n Cottages, Retreats, and Writing Cottages boards to which I've pinned other images and plans.
     Books and Boards reflect a deep-seated desire to have a secluded, away-from-the-room-filled-with-distractions in which I currently write. Authors of every stripe have or have had their version of a "writer's cave," and for the same reasons I hold for myself.  I'm set. Now all I need is the money and the permits, because I sure have a plan.

    Have you ever envisioned a nurturing retreat away from the distractions of the home for your writing? Have you dreamed about a small enclosed space, simple in design and surrounded by natural landscape? 
    Check out Tumbleweed Tiny House CompanyNantucket Sheds, and Tiny House Blog for inspiring ideas for yourself.

Friday, October 4, 2013

You Never Know

Recently I responded to a call from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, Florida:

WIN Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel, The Signature of All Things!

"This kind of storytelling is rare––one in which an author can depict the particulars of a moss colony as skillfully as she maps the landscape of the human heart." This is just one of the many amazing reviews for Gilbert's new book, exploring the life and times of a woman who discovers the wonder of botany.

Do you want to win a copy? Tell us about a time when you discovered something wonderful about nature. We're giving 3 copies away tomorrow!

I saw the notice on my Facebook feed approaching 9 P. M. the night before the selection was to be made. I breezed past it, but then paused. Pushing back up the feed, I rested on it and thought: I'm going to do this. All things "nature" run through my blood. I'm going to do this. And I did, and here's what I submitted in 277 words.

After settling into my home on a Florida canal, I began what would become a daily exercise. I’d descend the canal bank and search for all manner of life along its shore and in the water. Among the many fascinating things I found, were flat, thin, oval plates ringed in blue, beige, and gray. To my inexpert eye, I thought they were severed halves of freshwater clams or mussels. I soon learned this flat plate belonged to the apple snail, a freshwater mollusk, and is called an operculum––a cover that slides across the shell’s opening like a retractable door when the snail withdraws into its shell. One memorable day, a snail complied with a live-action demonstration of this when I lifted it from the mud. I caught my breath in marvel.

Apple snails are afoot in your canal, pond, or lake when you find grape-like clusters of pink-to-red eggs on objects above the water. Emerging vegetative stems and pointed cypress knees provide above-water pedestals for the female to deposit ten to eighty eggs packed in a gelatinous mass to keep them safe before they start life on their own. The young snails appear after two weeks, drop into the water as mini-versions of their parents, and quickly grow to adult size. They want to live with a passion.

For the shore-wading limpkin (also found in my back garden), it’s an important food source. For the snail kite cruising on the wing over water, it’s this bird’s only food. Apple snails are an integral part of Florida’s lake, pond, and marsh life. They are a part of my life, also.
I wrote it. I submitted it, and I won one of the three copies. If I hadn't, I would not have won. Simple as that.

But here's what I really won––I took a small, calculated risk to submit something I believed in, entered a mini competition to test my "flash" writing, and had in my hands (within two days) a hardcover book by an acclaimed author. It tasted and felt sweet.

Fellow writers, enter small competitions with your words knowing big-time fame might not come of it––but the validation of a crafted piece will bolster your writing efforts. And, don't forget to enter the big ones along the way. Either way, if you don't, you'll never know.