Last month I was excited to find the Changing Focus Blog Challenge, because I’m always looking for ways that my talents and creativity can work together, and a multimedia project around a theme each month felt like just the thing for me. I came up with, and executed, my Pathways response in two weeks. I like it, but it felt like a draft: rushed and rough, And I didn’t realize I didn’t have until the end of the month, so it was late.
I thought about reflecting bokeh and tried several shots with the big mirror in the closet, and got some very interesting shots, but that needs a lot more practice.
The lake wasn’t calm enough to get much other than dock shadow. I took a few photographs of reflections in the windows, thinking of setting up scenes inside and doing an inside/outside type reflection.
I wrote more poems about reflections. I found a great site for kids that inspired me to do an acrostic, but that led me to working on a submission for Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction with the theme Redirections. I love how my work on pathways and reflections had my mind firing for redirections.
After I looked up “reflections” definitions and found “folding back,” I thought my daily inkblots that I started during “Pathways” could continue into this project and I thought about playing with my Rorschach mask, a mask that reacts to temperature change to change its black and white pattern. I couldn’t see through the mask, so the 10sec timed shots were very tough, but I had some fun with it.
However, a couple of minutes of that would take more space and time than my computer or I have; we would all get dizzy; and it seams like something I want to save for a more Halloween inspired piece.
I came up with some melodies in A-flat, chose beautiful chords with my capo on the fourth fret, and yet nothing was coming together. I even started a page in my hardback The Musician’s Notebook: Deluxe Edition, titled it “Reflections in A flat major.” But blank those pages stay. Perfectionism is a curse. Nothing will ever be perfect.
I took my small, ornamental mirror into the bathroom, creating eternal reflections, then I remembered that the large mirror in the office closet wasn’t attached to the wall. It was heavier than I would have liked, but I shoved, slid, carried it into the closet where I was working. I had ideas to film myself moving the mirror while filming to create more and less eternal reflection with my eyes and feet around the mirror: naked to full costume was also an idea through all of these processes.
By this time I was stressing and hitting other deadlines and any one of my ideas would take another month. So this morning, I decided I had to let this reflections project go and do a project every other month and be happy for the inspiration.
But this evening, the world provided. And this panoramic image says it all.
I got in the Halloween spirit a little early this year. Yesterday, I was tweeting about Readers Imbibing Peril. It starts the first of September, but I always forget until October. So in one way I’m early by only starting a couple weeks late. This year’s group book is The Sundial by Shirley Jackson. I started reading it just after watching the first episode of the new season of Slasher and something was oddly familiar. I think I’ll finish the book and then see if Slasher really is mangling it. I haven’t picked any other scary books to read this season yet, but I do have a bunch of thrillers on my kindle. Readers Imbibing Peril also has a fun photo challenge this year and a BINGO card. Oh, so much Halloween fun!
I also went through a list of the top 200 horror movies of all time on Rotten Tomatoes and made lists of movies I haven’t seen yet that looked interesting, or at least were famous, and movies I want to watch again. I would have to watch two or three a day (don’t have time for that). But at least I won’t have to search for something to watch for a while.
Usually for #Writober, I create a collection of images on Pinterest and challenge myself, and you who want to join me, to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by the image each day of October. The first and second years I actually came away with some finished flash fiction. The last few years I haven’t gotten much past a one or two sentence microfiction each day. This year, since my focus is revision, I thought I might choose about six of my favorite microfictions from previous years and expand them into flash and or short stories. I think Ray Bradbury’s schedule of a story a week is much more doable than a story a day, especially when I’m doing OctPoWriMo as well and writing a poem a day.
So that was the working plan for #Writober, but then I saw A. M. Moscoso’s Halloween Prompt Challenge over at MY ENDURING BONES and those all look like fun. So now, the working plan is to go through the last five #Writobers and pick my favorites to revise and turn into stories, and to pick some prompts from the Halloween Prompt Challenge to write new stories to, too.
When I went to Pinterest to link to last year’s images, I noticed I had been collecting images for this year, so I filled up a folder for #Writober6 in no particular order for you to pick and choose from when you’re in need of inspiration. Since I’ll be going back through all the #Writobers to find my favorites, here are links to each of the collections:
a sudden interest overpowers calm and everywhere I look a present falls like plums too high to pluck now in my palm enthralling rubber skin to sweetness calls excite my senses newness all around abundance fills my morning breakfast air the plop of ready fruit, adventure’s sound what foreign taste awaits for me to dare once hidden, now the joy in looking found
I finished this poem right on time to go combine my shrubs. I made:
plum & honey + apple cider vinegar with basil
plum & agave + balsamic vinegar with sage
For my cocktail I used equal parts rum, the balsamic shrub and tonic water. Sounds weird, but it’s tasty and has a nice bite. Here’s to trying new things! Make your way to the bar and request a sample. 🙂
Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of four literary novels, nine short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas.
Vision and Revision
Once I had the pleasure of chatting with a well-known sculptor whose preferred medium was marble—and I couldn’t resist asking her what happened if she made a mistake. I had expected her to respond with an earnest observation about the planning required to prevent such a calamity: measuring with calipers, modeling in plaster, etc. Instead, she laughed and replied, “Why do you think the Venus de Milo is missing her arms?”
Fortunately, writing is far more forgiving. A loose plot line can always be tightened or a more original rhyme found to end a stanza. Would-be authors are taught early on that Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell to Arms and Fitzgerald continued to revise The Great Gatsby even after it had been typeset, that Auden had the audacity to alter “September 1, 1939” after publication and Moore grappled with the text of “Poetry” for five decades. In contrast, writers publicly (although falsely) believed to eschew revision—Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara—are often derided accordingly. One can still hear the disdain of Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
In modern western culture, and particularly in the United States, revision has claimed a hallowed position. Nearly every writing course I have encountered incorporates an emphasis upon revision, a belief that multiple drafts are essential to the writing process. Maybe this reflects the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, or the Edisonian notion that genius is 99% perspiration. Unfortunately, many aspiring writers take the wrong message from these lessons. It is certainly true that revision has a valuable place in the writing process. However, that does not mean that vision isn’t also necessary. Nor does it mean that, just because great works require revision, revision necessarily leads to great works.
Grace Paley frequently observed that she did her best writing in the bathtub. Her point was not, of course, that she had to worry about getting soap suds on her writing pad. Rather, she was suggesting that she thought through her stories in depth before she put pen to paper. Having a sense of where you are going in advance helps you get there—both in life and on the page. Anyone who has ever planned family vacations with young children surely knows this: It is far wiser to book a hotel room at Disneyland or Yellowstone prior to departure than to hop into the station wagon and drive until one finds an appealing destination. For John Wayne and a few inveterate literary explorers, the open road may be alluring. For many writers, it is the sure path to hours before a blank computer screen. That is not to say that a writer cannot change paths or make discoveries as she writes—for the creative mind, that is inevitable. But choosing the Goldilocks moment to transfer words from one’s soul to one’s hand—not too soon, not too late—is one of the skills that separates the skilled writer from the amateur. And, fortunately, it can be cultivated.
I urge my students to take time to reflect upon what they want to say, and how, long before they consider saying it. It is easier to erase a sentence in one’s mind than on one’s parchment. (There are a few exceptions, like Dostoevsky, who managed to weave his revisions and even his mistakes seamlessly into his prose without any undoing.) Either Will Rogers or Head & Shoulders once warned: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That is as much true regarding the impression you make upon yourself as the impression that you make upon others. Once you’ve committed yourself to a word or idea in print, you’ve often moored yourself to a particular course. Needless to say, there are limits to how much one should wait before setting down your internal epics. As either Aristotle or Voltaire or my Great Aunt Sadie once warned, “Don’t make the perfect an enemy of the good.” But the good, thought through in advance, can prove the mortal foe of the mediocre.
The fetishization of revision often leads writers to forget one of the craft’s most important principles: Quit while you’re behind. I firmly believe that anyone with the passion and commitment can write valuable and inspiring poetry or fiction. Yet that does not mean that every particular poem or story can be transformed into a work of value and inspiration. Sometimes, the materials themselves don’t cohere: the author had chosen the wrong structure or genre for this particular idea or the underlying plot simply isn’t compelling; other times, the material is worthwhile but the author is at the wrong point in her journey to share it most effectively. Knowing whether a story or poem is working is a talent. But recognizing whether a story or poem can work is a far more crucial skill.
So how does one know whether a story or poem can work? One question to ask is whether, as you are writing, you find yourself with too many or too few ingredients. An analogy I often share with my students is self-assembling an exercise bicycle—inevitably, one of life’s greatest challenges. If you try multiple times and find yourself with excess parts and wheels that don’t spin, or too few parts and a hollow pole for a seat, you might consider repackaging and returning to the supplier. The same is true with writing. Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit together. Accept that. Move on. Live to fight another day. I say this as a writer who has spent thousands of hours writing manuscripts that should have been scrapped after fifteen minutes. Revision is often necessary, but it is rarely sufficient. No writer wants to be lauded as a “revisionary.”
It has become a trope in creative writing to place original drafts and revisions of famous works side by side to admire the radical changes imposed by the authors between drafts. That is often a rewarding exercise. But I exhort students that they should admire the vision of the original as well. Exceptions do exist: The Ray Carver-Gordon Lish Complex, for instance. (Editor Gordon Lish is often credited with line editing Carver’s stories to create the spare, crystalline prose we now know as Carveresque.) Yet it is usually the magic of the original draft that still enchants in the final form.
Revision, in other words, is an essential tool—but it shouldn’t be a crutch. I am very wary of writers who plan on revisions at the outset, of students who assure me, “I’ll fix that later.” To my thinking, that is like planning for a second marriage at your first wedding. The responsibility of the writer is to get it right the first time. And then, in the revision, to get it even righter.