Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 7, 2012

Writing Across the Room

How many of us would be writers if we didn’t have optimism so hefty it rivals that of someone like my friend, Jess, a yoga teacher who was so delighted by our trip with our husbands to Lilacland that she did a few cartwheels? “Couldn’t you just stay here forever?” she asked among the dozens of blooming trees. Her husband, Dan, a lover of truth, replied, “No.” But the hill smelled sweet, and the good company was a change from a week of cutting pages I’m no longer numbering, but calling a bunch. I’m trying to think of this not as trimming but getting to play with colored pencils. Cutting with gusto what I’d patiently built up, it’s a time for coffee, not herbal tea, Springsteen, not Vivaldi.

Once I got over the shock of how much I’d have to leave behind and read the notes a writing group member provided, I could hear the positive: “whittle away the slower, more repetitive scenes so that the magnificent scenes can really shine.” Thank you for that, Lisa. And reminders to trust the reader to make leaps. I’m leaving some holes, filling in others. When I look longer at some scenes, I find something hidden: like the photos Peter recently took of a nest with two eagles. Only when he looked at the picture he took, did he see what he couldn’t from the field: a little baby eagle head poking out. If I find those sorts of fledglings in my prose, I have to change the light so they can be glimpsed without binoculars.

I’ve always had a quiet voice, but when called for in life I can make it heard, and here and there I’ve got to raise the volume, draw out from the depths I poke with the question of why each scene is there. If there’s a good reason, I have to sometimes make it more apparent, the way I’d pull out a metaphor from an image. With some restraint, but aiming for clarity.

A friend who heard Katherine Paterson speak recently about writing historical fiction told me that she said that she keeps revising until the research doesn’t show.  A slogan I’m tattooing on my arm. Or at least using it as a guide. Trying to write in service of the story, making sure every fact or bit of dialogue I keep relates to that, and readers don’t spot the author as researcher trying to smuggle in her cherished findings. I’m cutting, drawing, kneeling on a pad someone gave me for gardening, and scrambling up to add notes on my computer, and sniff the vase of lilacs beside it.



  1. I so love that–until the research doesn’t show. I’m going to pass that on to my critique group as my goal–as soon as I get to the point where they’re actually seeing scenes! Have you read Sherri L. Smith’s FLYGIRL yet? I’m pretty sure she accomplished just that.

    • It’s a high bar, but… why not try? Good luck with all the paring, Becky.

  2. Love your process, love your honesty, love your optimism, love your words and stories. I believe in you! xoxox

    • You’re the best! Thanks for all your cheers and faith. Sending them back!

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