Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 30, 2008

Making Friends with the Secretary in the House

I spent most of yesterday on the porch with my grumpy typist, glad for her company though she’s rather stern and like me she… oh, yeah, she is me. After a few weeks of dreamy if dedicated mulling, then a while with an elbows-on-the-table editor, it’s time to tidy up. I do get a bit annoyed when the typist decides she needs to get creative or edit. Did I request a secretary with an opinion? She types a bit, then her fingers stop and she mutters: oh, no way will you get away with that.

I want to kick her off the porch. Can’t someone please invite her over for a glass of lemonade or wine? But I give in. She’s got her points, and they’re fairly small things, fixable enough so that I got a decent draft of the first section, which I’m handing to the editor in the house today. It will cycle a while with the dreamer, then back to the editor, and to the slitty-eyed typist.

Thanks again to those who cheered my method of revising my poetry collection by starting fresh on blank paper before looking at the old version. Last week I felt I’d written enough new – thirty-five pages — and opened up the earlier draft. I’d remembered, and believe I deepened and broadened central images, but I found that some sequences and shapes were slightly different from what I remembered, and I’m playing with those. Working without looking at the page, but remembering what I could after more than half a year away, gave me new ideas for the flow of events which would follow closest to the subjects’ hearts. Having good poems from the past and good recent poems, stanzas, or lines gives me freedom to choose the best, and I’ve cut some of what I liked before.

I found a few phrass I’d kept because I loved the sound and mystery. But they didn’t quite fit. Now, gone.

A few lines clunked or needed a bit more mystery, and I’ve since nudged them around corners, away from the bright light, to let shadows do their work.

Mostly I’m having fun, but sometimes the anxious writer worms in among the dreamer, editor, and typist. She’s all for being friendly with scissors, but she wants to know: Am I cutting too much?
— Take a breath. You have copies.
— Is what I’m adding really any good? No one else has seen it. Am I wrecking something that was good enough before?
–Take a breath, You can begin again.

Some of this angst is about the sadness of getting close to being done, and I remind myself, you are not done-done. This is a good draft, but it’s still a draft. And don’t forget: being finished has its pleasures, too! Meanwhile, I’ll take some breaks. A sad hydrangea by the porch is waiting for a hole. And later today I’m going with my friend Ellen to see American Teen.



  1. Yes, those darn typists can be intrusive–but they generally have good ideas–fresh eyes. I am typing up the read aloud revisions my editor has made, and that typist certainly has put in her two cents!

  2. I think your typist has stopped by for tea. ha! I may have to send her home soon!

  3. Chocolates for National Secretaries day; can’t remember when that is, but tomorrow sounds a good a day as any.

  4. Has your typist met my Disparaging Internal Critic? I bet they’d get along famously. Perhaps we can send them on a vacation together…

  5. That’s what happens when you leave to put in a hydrangea (which was calling out for help), and while out, I walked the dogs.
    Thanks for being host — you can send her back now!

  6. She’s on her way!
    Good luck getting more done. It sounds like you’ve accomplished a lot.
    I’m working with you for the day–revising again!

  7. Oh, the famous DIC, yes I’m sure they’d get along. But I kind of need her, even if I don’t love her. No vacations yet.
    (there’s nothing like having a syllabus to write to get me moving here)

  8. I’m glad to have a friendly face on this porch! It’s a bit steamy, but otherwise a good writing day, staying clear of the thousands flocking to our area to move into dorms.

  9. I hope the typist is now under control a bit better and that soon the dreamer can have her chance in the chair once more.
    Congrats for all the progress.

  10. The slitty-eyed typist. You crack me up.
    Jane Austen wrote a manuscript once called First Impressions, which she “lopt and cropt” to make Pride & Prejudice. Lopping and cropping is the way to go.

  11. I love this–it does feel a bit TOO multi-tasking sometimes, doesn’t it. Then again, it’s good to have the skills. Hmmm…chocolate may be the only solution.
    Your poems are going to be wonderful.

  12. Oh, thanks for the tip. Lopping and cropping sounds more fun and elegant than what I’m doing. I must ask the typist to reread more Austen.

  13. Thanks, Becky!!

  14. This sounds like a scary way to revise to me, but it sure sounds like it’s working for you! Getting that first draft down is a relief to me, to have something concrete to work with. The idea of setting it aside and starting from scratch…my stomach aches a little in fear just thinking about it.
    Kudos to you and your dreamer (and your necessary typist):>)

  15. Laura, if it felt scary like that to me, I wouldn’t have done it. No writing with stomach aches! It just felt right for this go around.
    But I am happy to be back with already-written-words to cross out and move around and embellish. Especially as the Teacher joins me on the porch today as I revise syllabi for fall!

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