Some people have problems looking at red ink. It reminds them of third grade in Mrs. Johnson’s class, when bloody papers also held a bloody grade of C, D, or F. For a long time I was one of those people. Overly sensitive about my work, I saw every mark as a personal attack, the affirmation that I had no skill. Bloody pages chased me in nighttime dreams and paralyzed my daily attempts to create. I played tricks with myself, using inks of green, blue, or purple to mark up my tentative drafts so that I would feel better.
Times have changed. I guess one thing that happened was that I passed 40 and my near vision went south. These days, red pens are requisite so that I can see the changes I want to make. Sometimes I can’t read my handwriting, but that’s another matter. I’ve come to a place where I am proud of my red ink, because it tells me that I am committed to making my work better. I can be tough on the writing without being tough on myself, and that feels good.
So this week, back to work after a month of travel, I felt oh so happy to break out the red pen yet again. I am focusing on two projects: Exodus (boy, I need a new title) and Blood and Loam. Yes, I’ve decided to get back to work on the novel! I thought I would begin some new material, but I feel excited and motivated to finish what I’ve started. I love vacation and travel, but it feels great to be back to work, doing what I love.
My plan is this: once I finish the next round of revisions on Exodus, I’m going to start posting it, one chapter a week (there are 52 chapters, one for each week of the year), for free on my website. I’m also going to podcast it. I am convinced that Exodus needs to be a gift. Time–and level of interest–will tell if I end up putting it in traditional book form.
Then there’s Blood and Loam, my marathon effort that I can’t seem to shake. The idea has been with me for decades. In the late 80s I went to work on it, but destroyed my draft after a premature critique. The person liked the work but felt my lead character was unrealistic. At the time, she was more than loosely based on me! Devastated, I shut down my writing for years. In the early 2000s I picked it back up again, but dropped it again in favor of some other projects. B&L is a dark, foreboding, treacherous kind of book, and I wasn’t willing to “go there.” I still have mixed feelings about it, but I keep thinking it’s a good story. By the way, my heroine no longer resembles me in the least! She’s developed her own background, appearance, and foibles. I like her a lot, particularly because she’s made up.
Last year I went to a writers conference hoping to be sent home with an admonishment to give up trying to write fiction, but the opposite happened. “Keep going,” people said. This summer I hired a published author to critique the work, and she said it was one of her favorite projects ever to work on. So, no matter how much I want this book to go away, I have a story that wants to be told.
So I break out the red pen yet again for yet another revision, one that will take me deeper into the story and into my craft. Yet again, I will have to poke around in dark, interior spaces. I may have bloody pages chasing me in the night again for a while. And I’m happy about it. I am where I need to be.