Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The end is near (of the novel, not the world)

June 30, 2015

I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel for slightly more than a year. Progress has been in small steps punctuated by constant breaks: My halftime job at Golden Gate Audubon gives me the rest of the week to write, but the paying work often creeps over into the unpaid work and then there are all the other interruptions of family, holidays, life.

This week, though, I’ve reached the last chapter.

Audubon work was relatively contained in June so I got on a roll. I saw the end of the book ahead of me, a long straightaway after winding through mountains. I was writing a lot! I became unusually spacey, caught up in imagined conversations between my characters while driving or taking my spin class or buying groceries. I was so distracted that I locked my keys in the car at the gym last week.

locked-out

Evil zombie woman looks at her inaccessible car keys

Then Sam went backpacking for the past five days, so I had my own private writers’ retreat here at home – nothing to do but write, go to the gym, and heat up canned soup.

Yesterday I was exhilarated to reach this point. To get the whole darn thing down! To have a narrative that goes from point A to point B! To write  down on paper all the ending episodes that I’d had in my brain for months!

I had to restrain myself from posting jubilant cheers on Facebook. Huzzah huzzah huzzah! Champagne for everyone! Wait, I told myself, until you are actually done.

Today I got even closer. I started what will be the last chapter.

And now I don’t feel exhilarated at all. Quite the opposite.

I’m sad because something very sad is happening to my main characters. I’m anxious because once the first draft is done, I need to put on my critical hat and look at all the things that suck with the manuscript and make it better. I’m worried because I’m not going to have a chance to finish the draft until this weekend, when Sam will be out of town again and the post-draft letdown will really hit and I will be by myself and I will feel REALLY AWFUL.

For me, one of the necessary tasks in writing a first draft is to suspend all critical voices. Like many writers, and I suspect particularly women writers, I have a very persistent internal critic that is happy to point out every way in which my work is hackneyed, melodramatic, overwritten, predictable, boring, cliched, shallow etc. Over the years, I have gotten very good at shutting the valve on my critic while I plow through a first draft.

But then the first draft is done, and it’s time to edit and revise. I need to be critical. But there’s no halfway setting for my critic valve.

Once released, the critic blasts out with the power of a New York City fire hydrant on a hot summer day, and I’m flooded with self-loathing:

NYC hydrant, 1969

NYC hydrant, 1969

This book sucks! I can’t write decent dialogue! I’m no Virginia Woolf! I’m no Tom Wolfe! I’m not even Wolf Blitzer! This book should be flushed down the toilet before anyone can laugh at its incompetence, which is only exceeded by its hubris!

I’m worried that’s what happens next. With Sam out of town. So…

To-do list for the weekend:

Trip to Ace Hardware. Look for a Critic Wrench that can open the valve part way. A little bit at a time. Drip by drip, revision by revision.

But first, finish the book.

And second, open that champagne. Even if I’ve forgotten that I earned it.

Ilana’s Little List of Superfluous Words

November 11, 2013

Hallelujah! I’m almost at the end of my latest round of novel revisions.

And once I’m done with the substantive revisions, I’m going to try something new — a Microsoft Word “search” for superfluous words.

Noodling  around in the manuscript, I’ve noticed that there are certain words that add little or no value. Sometimes they are “hedge” words that undercut what I’m saying. Other times they state the obvious. Or they are just a flabby cliche.

cliche-t

I don’t notice these words when I’m writing a first draft; they roll easily off my pen. They seem so natural that I don’t notice them on reading the completed manuscript, either. Thus the computer search.

Prime example: suddenly. 

I use a lot of suddenlys!  My characters look up suddenly. They put down their forks suddenly. They hurl chairs suddenly.

(Have you ever seen a chair hurled in a non-sudden manner? Now that would be an adverb worth using: “He hurled the chair gradually.”)

So I’m starting a list of superfluous words that should be weeded out. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • suddenly
  • somewhat, some
  • sort of, kind of
  • little
  • simply
  • just

Here are a few examples from different sections of my manuscript:

“What does Marta have to do with this?” her mother asked with some bewilderment.

There were more stars in just one small corner of the sky than you could see over all of Manhattan.

I felt suddenly uneasy. 

I jerked my head around, suddenly paranoid, and shoved the boa back inside the bag.  (Well, maybe I should keep that one. I’ll think about it.)

Talking with my lawyer friend Beth yesterday, she described routinely excising certain words when editing her colleagues’ briefs. In her case, they are legal jargon like heretofore.

I suspect every genre of writing – every profession – needs its own unique blacklist of superfluous words. Every writer should probably have her or his personal list too: The flabby words that slip into my draft may be different from the ones that slip into yours.

How about you? Any words that routinely roll off your pen that should be rolled off to the landfill?

Kotel in the kitchen: a happy Internet story

February 24, 2013

Amidst all the spam, porn, stupid cat videos, and Facebook Scrabble addictions, every so often there is a happy Internet story. This is one of them.

When I was in Israel in late 2011 working on a book about the Technion, I took some tourist snapshots of close-ups of the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I liked the different textures of the stone, the irregularities amidst the rectangular blocks. I liked the visual parallels between the stones of the Kotel and the stone houses of Palestinian East Jerusalem. You might vaguely remember: I posted one of my Kotel snapshots here.

Then, about six months ago, I got a message out of the blue from some Israeli designer or design student who said he liked the photo, and could he use it?

Of course. I was delighted that someone had noticed my photo, and gratified that he had the courtesy to ask permission. I sent him my highest-res version, asked him to credit me in whatever project came out of this, and promptly forgot about it. I pictured some kind of  abstract collage or installation. Actually, I didn’t picture much of anything.

Then yesterday Sam told me there was a package on the porch. I opened it up and was amazed to see:

kotel board

It’s my Kotel photo, turned into a magnetic metal note board! The kind of thing you’d hang in the kitchen and post notes like “buy milk.”

It’s ingenious and gorgeous. To my surprise, my snapshot blew up with good clarity. I also thought of a use going beyond household notes — a kind of personal prayer board. Like the real Kotel, you could post notes on it of your greatest yearnings. “Help me find a way to resolve this plot problem in my novel.” “Help Aunt Edith fight off her cancer.” “Give me the courage to change jobs.”

I don’t believe in a God who reads notes on a magnetic bulletin board any more than I do in a God who reads notes stuck in an ancient wall, but I do think it is a ritual that can focus the mind and bring peace, determination or clarity. Seriously. I am thinking of hanging it in my study as a tool to help myself solve fiction writing problems.

In any case, the designer, Shaul Mualem, has a Jerusalem studio called Yahli Design that specializes in products that “blend traditional Jewish elements with modern ones.” You can find his online store on Etsy, including the Kotel note board for $26.50.

I know some people might say, “Hey, he’s making money off of your photo! Why didn’t you ask for payment?” but I couldn’t care less about payment. I hope he sells a gazillion note boards. I’m just delighted with the whole episode: A photo I took for fun is discovered by someone on the other side of the world. He makes an ingenious and useful product out of it. Unlike the vast majority of Internet surfers, he even asks permission to use it and credits me for the photo! And then follows up with a thank-you gift that might help my own creative process.

Cool, eh?

And then there’s what Sam said when he saw the note board, referring to the continuing arrests of women who try to pray at the actual Kotel in Jerusalem:

At least they can’t stop you from praying at this one. 

How much bigger is an empty nest?

July 21, 2012

All year I’ve been moaning in this blog about Daughter’s impending departure for college. Loss, separation, passage of time, reminder of mortality, and so on. But in fact, I also spend a fair amount of time thinking about all the things I’m going to do once she’s gone.

Measuring a bird’s nest in the tundra / Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

I’m going to cook kid-unfriendly vegetables like kale and cauliflower and cabbage. I’m going to sign up for a boot-camp program at my gym from 6 to 7:15 on weekday mornings. I’ll go to movies. To synagogue. To First Friday art walks in Oakland. Sam and I will bike from winery to winery in Sonoma. I’ll go on countless Audubon field trips….

Above all, I’ll return to revising my novel. I’ll work like a maniac, like life is one non-stop writers’ colony, and resolve all the plot and character problems, and bang that sucker out. I thought about it a lot this spring when I found myself the underachiever of my writing group, feeling guilty for not producing new drafts or rewrites: Just wait until September, then I will be amazingly productive….

It occurred to me the other day that September — the empty nest — has become an Emerald City. It’s shimmering in the distance at the end of the road. Magical things will happen. The Scarecrow will get his brains, the Tin Man his heart, the Lion his courage. Ilana will get the time and focus to finish her novel.

So then I started to wonder, Just how much more time will I actually have? 

It’s not like Daughter is still four years old and needs me to play with her and bathe her and read stories at bedtime. In fact, most of the time  she’s out with friends or in her room with the door closed. She makes her own lunches and does her own laundry. I don’t even need to drive her around anymore, since she got her license last month. Some days we hardly say twenty sentences to each other.

How exactly is she keeping me from working on my novel?

The critic in me says that she isn’t keeping me from the novel; I’m keeping myself. Revising is hard, I feel stuck on certain things, and she’s simply providing a good excuse not to deal with those challenges. I already have a relatively ideal situation for writing — a half-time job, and a beach house “retreat” that we share with friends and thus have access to every third week. Why aren’t I writing my little fingers off right now?

But in fact, I do believe that having a child at home tends to consume one’s attention, even if that child is an independent teenager.

Having a child — particularly for women, I think, but maybe for some men too — colonizes part of your brain like some alien Star Trek spore. A whole section of your brain is roped off with “seat taken” signs. When your child is nearby — even shut in her room texting friends — millions of your neurons are firing away non-stop on autopilot, vigilant for sounds of distress, sounds of happiness, sounds of misbehavior. When all this is going on, it is hard to summon up the level of concentration needed to work on a novel.

What will change when Daughter is gone:

  • I’ll feel free to spend four-day weekends at the beach house. With Daughter here, I don’t like to be away overnight. But once she’s gone, I can join Sam there on weekends and then remain there writing by myself on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • I’ll have uninterrupted early mornings. I can wake up at 6 a.m. and get right to work.  No half-listening for sounds of showering, dressing etc. No need to remind anyone that they need to be out the door in ten minutes. No driving anyone to BART. By 9 a.m., I can have three hours of work under my belt.
  • I can work evenings without a chunk of my brain hovering down the hall to see if homework is really being done, chores have been completed etc. (This is after Sam and I eat our kale-cabbage casserole,  of course.)

So yes, I think I will have more time for writing when she is gone. Or at least more focused time for writing.

But still, I wonder if I am heaping too many expectations onto September. If I’m slipping into a bit of magical thinking. The Emerald City shimmered from a distance but the Wizard turned out to be an ordinary man with no special powers.

How many ambitions can one empty nest hold?

Stinson alone

March 25, 2012

I drove out to Stinson Beach on Saturday afternoon by myself to spend a couple of days writing. I haven’t touched my novel since the fall. Now I finally had a little window of time. This was what I imagined when we bought the Stinson house with our co-owners two years ago. It was on my mind when I took the half-time job at Golden Gate Audubon. Having Mondays and Tuesdays free gives me a solid block of time to have my own mini “writer’s retreat” every few weeks, especially once Daughter is in college next fall.

But it was hard coming here yesterday. I always feel torn leaving Sam and Daughter, homesick, even when they are busy with their own activities. It was pouring rain. I arrived and it was almost dark, the house was cold, and I forgot a bag of groceries I’d meant to bring. The only heat is a wood stove, so the first thing I had to do on arrival was make a fire, which is an area of chronic anxiety for me. I am a bit of a pyrophobe and feel like there is some magical art to starting fires that I will never master. We all have our “oh, I can’t xxxx” activities, and this is one of mine.

But….

Photo by Ilana DeBare

The house gradually warmed up. And this morning we had a break in the rain. The clouds were high and blue sky started to emerge. I took a long walk to the end of the beach. On the way there, I wore my iPod and practiced the Torah portion I’ll be chanting at my nephew’s bar mitzvah service in May. On the way back, I thought about the structure of my novel. By the time I was back at the house, I had taken off two of the three layers I’d started out in, and I’d visited the little Stinson market to replace the missing groceries.

Stinson hills / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Stinson Beach between storms / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Now it’s enough procrastinating and time to work!

Band-Aids for rejected writers

December 5, 2011

One way to salve the wounds of rejection by publishers or literary agents is to read rejection lessons received by other, far greater writers. There are numerous collections of these, but I recently stumbled across a small, new compendium of rejection letters on the web site Flavorwire.

It includes rejection letters received by Kerouac, Plath, Gertrude Stein and others, but here is my favorite. The Left Hand of Darkness won the 1969 Nebula Award and the 1970 Hugo award, and established LeGuin as one of the most respected sci-fi/fantasy writers of her generation.

 

(Of course, what we don’t know is what kind of manuscript LeGuin had turned in! Maybe it was “hopelessly bogged down” and she rewrote significantly before it was eventually published.

Then again, maybe not.)

Off to Israel

November 15, 2011

I’ve had an upsurge of freelance work since August, to the point where there’s been no time in the past two months to touch my novel. Normally I don’t blog about work. (In the ten commandments of blogging, I think Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Employers/Clients comes even before Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Teenage Offspring.)

But in this case, I’m making an exception. On Thursday, I’m heading off to Israel for ten days for a writing project related to the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Technion.

Based in Haifa, the Technion is Israel’s top engineering and science university – the MIT of Israel. Recently one of its professors, Dan Shechtman, was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of five-sided quasicrystals, a kind of matter that scientists had thought impossible. (You can read here about how no one believed him at first.)

The Technion campus in Haifa / Photo by Technion

This will be my first visit to Israel in (yikes!) 26 years. I was on a kibbutz for five months in 1975, and I lived in Jerusalem in 1984-5, but haven’t been back since.

Why haven’t I visited? It’s a complicated stew of reasons. The simplest is logistics: expense, distance, parenting etc. And when Sam and I  had opportunities for foreign vacations, I wanted to go places that were completely new to me – Barcelona! Costa Rica! Czech Republic! – rather than somewhere familiar.

But I also haven’t known how to go back.

After living there for a year and a half, I chafed at the idea of returning as “just” a tourist. The prospect of staying in hotels and flitting between museums and restaurants felt painfully superficial — like running into someone at a cocktail party who was once the passionate love of your life, and being relegated to small talk about the awful commute or remodeled baths.

The politics of the region didn’t help. When I lived in Jerusalem in 1985, I was working on a novel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and spent a lot of time going back and forth between those two worlds. Just as I couldn’t imagine being a tourist, I couldn’t imagine returning in a way that didn’t address or acknowledge that conflict, that pretended it didn’t exist.

Basically, I needed a reason to be there. A foothold of some sort – a project, or mission.

Here I’d like to take a 10-second commercial break and put in a plug for the New Israel Fund, which raises money for progressive non-profits in Israel that are involved in women’s rights, religious pluralism, Arab-Jewish coexistence, environmental protection, etc. They periodically run study tours to Israel – there’s one in February 2012, in fact, that includes meetings with all sorts of grassroots activist groups. I could easily imagine going on an NIF tour, and Sam and I may end up doing so once Daughter is off in college. That would fit my need for a “mission.”

But meanwhile, this Technion project came up. It’s great – I’ll learn a lot, be involved with an historic Israeli institution, meet a ton of people, contribute something, work. I’m much happier doing this than spending ten days on a beach in Tel Aviv.

It should be eye-opening. Twenty-six years is a very long time. The last time I was there, the Labor Party still existed and Soviet Jews were still in the Soviet Union. You had to buy these little metal tokens called asimonim and put them into pay phones. Today the country has an average of 2.1 cell phones for every family – a higher figure, I believe, than the U.S.

When I went for 18 months in 1984, I took a portable typewriter and a single-lens reflex camera.

Now I‘m going for ten days and am taking a laptop, iPod, digital tape recorder, digital camera and my American cell phone, as well as a rented Israeli cell phone.

(What, no Kindle?)

Off I go!

This is your brain on books

November 6, 2011

Suppose you unexpectedly had three hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing to do – no grocery shopping, no laundry, no Internet.

Would you spend it with a REALLY GOOD friend?

Or would you spend it with a REALLY GOOD book?

* * * * *

When this question popped into my mind, I put it to Sam. He answered “friend.” I answered “book.” And that started me thinking about the role of books in my life.

I like reading a really good novel more than anything. More than gardening, making jewelry, cuddling with the cat, going out to a gourmet restaurant. The key phrase is “really good,” and I find myself becoming pickier and picker about books as I get older. But if a novel is really good, I would pretty much rather read about other people’s lives than live my own.

I’ve loved reading since second or third grade, when I tore through all two dozen books in the Oz series. I would get a new one and curl up on the couch and not put it down until my mother crowbarred me away to eat dinner or do homework.

I wonder if those kinds of positive early reading experiences rewire our brains – if they create some kind of permanent connection between the physical act of reading and neurotransmitters like dopamine that make us feel happy.

Maybe a child learns to read fluently, enjoys a particular bunch of books, and along the way carves neural pathways where the act of reading a book — regardless of the content of the book — generates comfort or pleasure?

I have no idea if anyone has tried to study this. But maybe the act of reading is my personal drug. Simply going through those familiar physical motions with my eyes and brain makes me secure and happy.

Then what about my decision as a child that I wanted to be a writer? At the time I wasn’t thinking of fame or fortune or the thrill of seeing my name on a book jacket. I just wanted to create more of what I loved.

I talked about this with my daughter, who is taking a high school psychology class. “If my brain responds to reading like smoking dope, does being a writer make me a dope dealer?” I asked.

She thought for a minute. “No, more like a grower,” she said. “The publishers would be the dealers.”

Well, when you consider the alternatives, reading is not at all a bad drug to choose. If only the problem with America’s schools were that kids were reading too much!

But still, there’s something unsettling about realizing I would choose reading a book over coffee with a friend. That sometimes I like reading better than living.

How about you – on that hypothetical rainy Sunday afternoon?

A really good book? Or a really good friend?

And what do you think that says about you?

Nitzavim and Yom Kippur

October 5, 2011

The traditional Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning is a section from Leviticus that involves the details of ritual sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. But the 19th century pioneers of Reform Judaism felt this was irrelevant to modern life and humanistic religion, and substituted a different passage — Nitzavim, or Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20.

This is the passage that I’ll be chanting on Saturday morning. (Well, the first part of it — Deuteronomy 29:9 through 29:14.)

Moses would have given his farewell address near here - view of Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo (Jordan) / Photo by David Bjorgen

Nitzavim presents Moses’ farewell address to the Jewish people, as he readies them to enter the promised land without him. He reminds everyone gathered before him that they have entered into a covenant with God. He recounts the “detestable things” and “fetishes” they left behind in Egypt, and predicts that some of them will succumb to the temptations of idolatry, thinking “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart.” He warns them that they will be punished and exiled — but if they repent and return to following the mitzvot, God will welcome them back and return them to prosperity.

I suspect there’s some historical backstory here — that this section of the Torah was written at a time when the Jews were returning from exile in Babylon, and the author may have intended to explain the exile and exhort the people to better behavior. I haven’t done the research on this, so please jump in and correct or amplify if you know more.

But historical analysis aside, it’s a fitting portion for Yom Kippur in its focus on the dangers of sin and the rewards of teshuvah (which translates as turning, or repentance). And the image of  Moses speaking before the entire community of Israel — old and young, the portion tells us, men and women, officials and strangers, even the humble wood-hewers and water-drawers — is appropriate for the only day of the year when every single member of a Jewish congregation shows up for services.

There are two parts of the portion that I find particularly moving.

The first is a line that I’ll be chanting, where Moses tells the assembled multitude that the covenant is “not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”

It feels almost like science fiction, some wormhole or rip in time that allows Moses to speak simultaneously to all Jews through the centuries. The covenant includes those not present because they have died, and those not present because they are not yet born. It gives me a shivery transcendent feeling — I’m part of this stream that extends back to Abraham and forward as long as there is a Judaism.

My grandparents who have passed away are part of it. The great-great-great-grandparents whose names I don’t even know are part of it. My daughter’s unimaginable grandchildren are part of it.  For a moment we are all here together, standing near Mt. Nebo listening to Moses.

The other line I particularly like comes later in the portion, when Moses reassures the gathered populace that they can, in fact, fulfill their end of the covenant.

Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.

I find this a  comforting way to think about other challenges, not just the challenge of leading a moral and righteous life.

It’s so easy to paralyze ourselves by thinking, “That’s too much! I can never do that!” These days I’m having those kinds of despairing thoughts about the ten extra pounds I’ve put on: “How will I ever be able to lose that weight?” And those thoughts are a constant presence around my novel writing: “I’ll never be able to get that character right! I’ll never do decent dialogue! I’ll never be able to write like XXX or YYY!”

But in reality, a surprising number of the things that cause us despair are not beyond us. They are not in the heavens, they are not across the ocean. Sometimes we just need to calm ourselves down — take things step by step, piece by piece, or, in Anne Lamott’s phrase, bird by bird.

It is not too baffling for us, it is not beyond reach. The answers are close to us, in our mouths and hearts.

My favorite place to practice chanting Torah…

September 12, 2011

… is the beach.

I did this when I was preparing for my Bat Mitzvah service, and I’ve been doing it again with the portion I’ll be chanting on Yom Kippur morning.

Stinson Beach / Photo by Becca Schuchat

Stinson Beach is long, wide and mostly empty, even on weekends. It takes me 45 minutes to walk to the end, and then another 45 to walk back. I take my iPod with our cantor’s recording of my portion, and I walk along and listen and chant. None of the other beach walkers seems to notice or care, and it’s much safer than the other place I practice chanting — in the car.

Don’t even ask about that. One of these days I will rear-end someone, and when the officer eyes me suspiciously and asks if I was texting while driving, I’ll say “Of course not. I was chanting.”

Learning to chant a Torah portion is different from anything else I do in my daily life.  It involves spoken sounds rather than written words. It’s not intellectual or analytical. There’s no tangible, material goal like there is in writing a news story or cooking a meal or planting zucchini.

It’s harder than simply learning to sing in a foreign language. When I listen to pop songs in Hebrew or French or Spanish — the foreign languages I sort of know — the choruses tend to stick in my head. They repeat, they rhyme, they use familiar daily sentence structures. All of that makes them easy to remember.

Fog and sun / Photo by Becca Schuchat

With Torah, the grammar is often archaic and convoluted. (For instance, the Torah typically uses future tense when it means past tense. Why? I’m sure there’s a historico-linguistic reason, but no one has told me.) There are weird sentence constructions, and obscure words like “ephod” that don’t exactly pop up in daily conversation.

The melody shifts back and forth at random between minor and major keys. There are no patterns of repeated melodies, no rhymes, no ABAB CDCD verses and choruses. It would be a lot easier if God had hired Woody Guthrie and the Torah read, “This land is your land, this land is my land, from the Jezreel Valley to the Jerusalem highlands.”

To be fair, there is the skeleton of a system.  A limited number of melodic phrases are used again and again in chanting Torah, and there are symbols to represent those phrases (cantillation). Sometimes the melodic phrases even correspond in a systematic way with certain points in the text, like the ends of verses.

But it’s still a lot less systematic and structured than modern pop songs or western classical music or the various bits of poetry we all had to memorize in grade school. And for a relative beginner like me, it remains pretty inscrutable. So I turn on my iPod, listen to the cantor, and imitate what she does. Phrase by phrase, line by line. I look for familiar words and am ecstatic when a difficult, unfamiliar word turns out to share a root with a word I already know. Those words are like rafts in the middle of a long, exhausting swim.

Andie at Stinson / Photo by Becca Schuchat

Between the Torah portion I learned for my Bat Mitzvah service, the one I learned for a service in July, and my current Yom Kippur portion, I’ve now done this enough that I can see a pattern in how I approach it.

Phase 1: Feel overwhelmed. (“How am I going to learn all that?”)

Phase 2: Take it one phrase at a time.

Phase 3: Get enough phrases down that I can chant a verse or two without getting stymied.

Phase 4: Learn enough verses to realize I am almost done. Yay!

That last phase is the one I’m in now, having learned five of six verses pretty securely. At this point it becomes fun. I find myself humming the melody without thinking about it. I can go back to some of the more troublesome lines and make sure  the phrasing and notes are exactly right. I can start to think about the meaning of the words while I chant them rather than just worrying about what the next word/note should be.

It occurs to me that this, in a very abbreviated way, is the same process as revising my novel. I’m in the overwhelmed/one-step-at-a-time phase with that right now. I still haven’t worked out my problems with the middle of the manuscript. It just occurred to me this morning that I may need to completely overhaul the ending. I hope sooner or later to reach  the point I’m at with my Torah portion — where the big, blunt work is done and I can relax and focus on making the phrasing just right.

Huh. What was that I was saying about this having nothing in common with the rest of my life?