With September nearly over and summer on the way, kite-flying season is well and truly here. Spring days in Perth tend to trend towards being reasonably dry and sunny, yet also moderately breezy – perfect weather for kite fans, however inexperienced, to have some fun.
Back in the day my younger brother and I used to get stuck in and build traditional diamond shaped kites every year, utilising dowel sticks, crepe paper, newspaper, string and glue. In the end we probably spent a great deal more time building the kites than we ever did flying them, but it was all part of the fun. The trick was to have a long enough tail and to be prepared to run around like crazy until lift-off was achieved. Then it was a matter of seeing who’s kite stayed up the longest, went the highest and crashed most spectacularly.
From that basic diamond shape we moved on to box kites, but these proved to be a great deal more challenging and less rewarding overall and were soon abandoned. The next iteration of kite manufacturing was hexagon-shaped kites, which worked remarkably well. By that stage we’d learned quite a lot about making each unit as light as possible and had started to cut up large garbage bags for the kite skins, in preference to the very heavy crepe paper we’d used in the past. Tissue paper made a brief showing, but generally proved to be far too flimsy. We’d also learned about adjusting the position of the tow point and bridle lines to make the kites fly most effectively – and with less running!
In due course we each had children of our own and they in turn wanted to make kites and fly them. So it was back to the drawing board, followed by construction and yet more running around with kites – and handlers – of variable skill levels. For a while each year brought with it slight innovations in kite design and effectiveness. Then came a foray into the world of commercial kites – including delta kites, power kites and fighting kites, each of which probably cost more than all the kites previously made by any one – or perhaps all – of us.
Although these all provided much entertainment, there remains that urge to actually make a kite from scratch, to glue and tie and decorate and then fly something that you’ve made yourself. As it turns out there’s a birthday coming up soon, so next weekend we’re having a kite day (weather permitting) to celebrate. With luck lots of kite-hopefuls will come along with kites they’ve made or bought and send them soaring up over the river. Those who arrive without kites will have the opportunity to make mini ones on the spot (from kits provided) and send them out to dance on the breeze too. Hurrah!
On the way to work last week I heard a Nickleback song on the wireless. I hadn’t heard it for a while, but singing along to it in the car (as I do) set me to thinking about life, the universe and everything.
… If today was your last day / And tomorrow was too late / Could you say goodbye to yesterday? / Would you live each moment like your last? / Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have? / If today was your last day…
I wondered what I would do / think / feel if it was my last day? Are there regrets and unfinished business / people I need to see / bridges I should mend / projects I haven’t completed? These thoughts preoccupied me on and off for the rest of the day, until I eventually concluded that the answer each of the questions I was asking myself was a reasonable approximation of No.
Essentially, I have few regrets / my unfinished business such as it is could easily be resolved (by others) if necessary / I try to ensure that the people who are important to me know that they are / bridges untended (if they exist) will fade with time / and life is full of projects at various stages of completion – but that’s okay.
It might be an age thing, but I think that life – however long we are in it – should be about living, about being in the moment and finding joy in it wherever possible. This may seem like a Pollyanna response, but it’s really just pragmatism. I simply don’t see the point in bucket lists or regrets. Things are what they are – so I try say goodbye to yesterday every day, to live each day for what it is and to make the best of what I find in it. It takes a little determination at times, but seems to work for the most part.
I hunted down the rest of the lyrics later on and read through them while I enjoyed a cup of coffee and listened to the song again, going back to the part that resonated most strongly. Clearly I’m not the only person who thinks this way.
… every second counts ’cause there’s no second try / So live like you’ll never live it twice / Don’t take the free ride in your own life…
I remember editing my dissertation a few years ago, reading and re-reading over eighty five thousand words. This equated to about 1,370 paragraphs (excluding footnotes) that I had to check for formatting, typos, spelling, punctuation, syntax, grammar, references and more typos. After I’d stared at the words on the screen and on printouts for way too long, my treasured band of proofreaders stepped in to try to ferret out what I’d missed. They went through the whole thing with fresh eyes, providing me with a bit of distance from it all and some invaluable feedback that I could put too good use. The whole process took months; it was a long, hard slog, but well worth it in the end. (Thanks again, guys).
To date I’ve had five sets of eyes (other than my own) run through my current manuscript. Four were those of friends or colleagues, their remit simply to look for flow and coherency in the story line and to let me know if anything didn’t make sense. Changes were made and then the manuscript went off for a more comprehensive review, to elicit specific editing feedback.
This brought me to the end of the first two phases of the edit process (self-editing and outside assessment) and has left me squarely in the middle of the formal revision stage. When that’s done I plan to call on some more of those fresh eyes before taking the next step.
Meantime the typos are easy enough to fix, the layout likewise, and even moving the prologue to the end of the story and repurposing it as an epilogue had turned out to be okay. Adding content for context is quite a bit more challenging. Not because writing the content is difficult, but because there is so much I could add – and only a small percentage of that is really relevant.
So I’ve taken to reading the new sections out aloud to see if they fit, or if they sound awkward. The dog gnaws on carboard and looks on patiently as I drone on to myself; the chickens watch me warily through the window with their beady little eyes. It’s a writer’s life.
I see some editing (however minor) in my immediate future…
A few weeks ago I read an essay by George Orwell in which he suggests that a ‘scrupulous writer’ should always ask the following of every sentence s/he writes: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? and Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? He adds that the writer should also consider whether what they’ve written is concise enough.
I’ve been mulling these questions over while waiting on a critique of my memoir (elsewhere referred to as Epic Tome #1). Is what I’ve written clear enough, succinct enough and, most importantly, interesting enough to engage readers? It’s become more and more difficult to answer these questions, particularly since I’m so embedded in the narrative. I’m prepared to confess to a smidgeon of obsessing on the issue, actually.
Then, this weekend, I found a most delightful surprise in my inbox. After weeks of worrying about the manuscript assessment, I finally received feedback in the shape of a very encouraging email and a comprehensive report from Tom Flood. I bounced around for the whole weekend after reading the email, feeling rather like I’d had too much sugar – or caffeine – or both. I didn’t even read the report until this morning – a combination of nerves and that Christmas-morning feeling of anticipation before all the gifts are opened.
Essentially what the report says is encapsulated in the email itself:
“…congratulations on a well thought out and executed manuscript. Not much to do to bring it to a publishable condition…You could have this ready for submission in a very short time… If that is the track you’re interested in, I would eschew agents and approach publishers directly, working from large to not so large.”
If I had a picture of me doing the happy dance all over again, it would go here – and would quite a lot like this!
(Oh, and if you’re interested in the Orwell essay, you can find it at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html#part42)
10 weeks ago I came across a 12-week online programme called Write your book in 12 weeks. It sounded promising – and it only cost $99. What a bargain!, I thought, and signed up immediately. I waited with an-tic-i-pation for the first of the 12 weekly modules to arrive in my email inbox, confident that this programme would help me to pummel my notes into a good rough draft of my next book within three months.
But here’s the thing – and it’s scarcely new news: writing – or even editing content already mostly written (that’s me) – actually takes a bit more than $99, following instructions and scheduling time. Not exactly a revelation, but it still a bit disappointing to realise that 10 weeks out I’m not a lot closer to that first rough draft than I was at the start. It’s also a bit surprising since I’m usually pretty focused once I set my mind on something. So I guess that this isn’t (currently) something I want badly enough.
So what have I been doing instead? Well, I prettied up Epic Tome #1 a bit and finally sent it off to Flood Manuscripts for a manuscript assessment. That’s a big step all on its own – and I’m anxiously awaiting feedback as to how much rewriting I’m in for before I try sending it off to a publisher. That aside, I’ve been blogging. Yup, instead of editing/rewriting sections of Tome #2, I’ve been cobbling together regular slice-of-life posts as a way of regaining my joy in writing. It’s spontaneous, random, creative and moves me to think about the world around me differently. Coming up with topics each week can be a challenge, but it’s also fun. I head out to work, play, shop, walk and drive with one part of my mind paying that little bit more attention to the odd and the ordinary – and to my responses to them.
Things that made me smile this week: driving through rain puddles and creating giant sheets of water – wearing bright orange socks with my new red shoes – a bedraggled sunflower on a wintery morning – a girl with scarlet hair on the train – watching 100 school kids learning how to draw an emu – the smell of orange blossom.
On reflection, I don’t think it matters all that much that I’ve fallen behind on my 12-week writing programme. It’s still there, ticking away in the background, and I can – and probably will – pick it up again later on. I’m satisfied that I’m writing – and doing so regularly and with enthusiasm.
This is part of a strip that appeared between May and June, 1992. For the whole comic strip, check out http://blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2012/03/sunday-comics-calvin-and-hobbes-on-writing-a-short-story/