Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 19, 2012


Right now I’m on elbow-deep in the last chapters of what I call in very heavy quotes a final draft of a novel. This means the words must follow some logical order. No more fragments and run-ons, or only if they’re deliberate. Dialogue should be at least a little logical, and trimmed. I’m making this happen by chopping out pages and paragraphs, setting apart and rearranging others amid blocks of fresh material. I leave spaces between, which makes me think of the impressionists, who are included in my novel, and the way some left white spaces between paint strokes, especially when depicting water or sky, to show a sense of movement, to keep the surface alive.

Those spaces are where I can change words, order, and rhythms. They remind me of the great unknowing of starting out as well as the breaks in my writing days, which used to coincide with picking up my daughter from school. Now Emily is beautifully grown, but the timing stuck with various dogs over the years, who paced around the computer at three o’clock to remind me it was time to go outside. On lucky days, the writing continues in my head. Some sentences I worked on jiggle into new places. A bit of conversation continues. A motive springs up. Less lucky days are still good. The dog is happy. I get to stretch, and see day lilies and Queen Anne’s lace, both of which flourish this hot July, tangling like the metaphors and similes I’m about to mix.

While I move toward some kind of end to my novel, I don’t want to send away my muse, or unconscious, or whatever the capricious part of my mind wants to be called. Honey? I want to keep the feeling we have before opening a trunk in an attic, before we are amazed or disappointed, keep that edgy sense of  what’s next?  I want my characters to know that even with lines looking set and pretty, they, too, still have room to wander, nap, continue or abort a conversation. I leave room for images to unfold, like origami, or break open, showing the layers within a stone. The prose should be woven, but not so tightly that I still can’t poke in a pencil. The table set, but with spaces left to move silverware or soup bowls.

All along the way, I think we need to roughhouse some sentences into place, but also to swing in a hammock and see what words float by, to balance effort and letting go. The trick is being ready for anything. Maybe the piece is more finished than I thought. Maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ll get find good new words to add, and maybe I’ll get silence, and not the benevolent kind.  But like the orange lilies by the road, that’s all good, too.



  1. Absolutely beautiful! I love your reference to “lucky days” where, in the pauses, the writing continues in your head. Exactly!!

  2. This makes me very eager to read your book when all is said and done. You capture the process soooo well.

    • Thanks, Amy. I’m also eager to read your newest, which I enjoy seeing on the coffee table. I’ve relegated my reading primarily to research for the next month or so, but … will find a break and a hammock (a real one) soon.

  3. So beautiful. And it reminds me of a favorite M.T. Anderson quote:

    “Readers naturally try to connect the dots you’ve drawn; it is in the empty spaces between the dots that the illusion of character arises. Those voids between points are taken to be the mysteries, the vagaries, the tinctured nuances that lie at the heart of human personality”

    I think you’ll have some lovely vagaries in your finished book, my dear. 🙂

    • Love that quote! Thank you for sharing, Sara, and your hopefulness.

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