words

Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

16 June 2007

Deadlines, Editing, the Flood, Being Edited, and Finding Rest

Wow, I just noticed it's been a month and a half since my last entry! I'm very busy these days—writing, writing, writing—and barely have time to think interesting thoughts about anything I'm not already writing about, much less write them down. However, since I originally decided that the theme of this blog would be struggle, I have decided to offer here a rundown on the writing projects I've been working on and the struggles involved in each one:

  1. Revising and cutting (hopefully) fifty pages from Starting from Scratch: Memoirs of a Wandering Cook, a food memoir, due out in January. My revision deadline is 30 June, and I'm only on page 146. Cutting my writing is the hardest work I do. Usually—when I'm shortening an essay for a conference, for example—I have my husband Kris do the cutting for me. He has a good ear and is merciless and makes big Xs through whole pages. Then we don't speak for days until I recover from the meanness of it. And later I almost always like the resulting essay better for the cuts. Right now, though, Kris is busy with his clients' tax return extensions and all the handyman jobs around the house that he couldn't get done during tax season, so I'm on my own. The mss. started out at 371 pages and I'm down to 338, so I keep thinking I'm doing sort of okay, but most of the pages I've managed to cut are from a chapter that should have been cut from the mss. before I ever got it. Oh well.
  2. My book on Genesis, which was supposed to involve daily Bible reading. By "supposed to" I mean pursuant to a deal I made with God at the outset of the project that I would read the Bible daily if he would inspire me. The revision deadline for Starting from Scratch has gotten in my way, though. I do keep revisiting where I am in Genesis regularly, if not daily, and I have moved on past Noah, which was a very difficult chapter for me to write. Aside from Noah and his family, God destroyed everyone in the whole world, as well as all those animals! It depressed me so much to think about it—as well as challenged everything I had previously been discovering about God in my reading and writing this time through Genesis—that I could hardly write for awhile. But I've moved on to Babel and am back to loving this book. The Bible, I mean, not my own babblings about it.
  3. A monthly blog for the online manifestation of Today's Christian Woman. You can read my first monthly offering at: http://blog.todayschristianwoman.com/walkwithme/2007/06/as_your_garden_grows.html. Blogs, I find, are hard to write, as I've already mentioned in this blog more than once and as I'm sure you've already noticed. I like to write long, for one thing, and and for the TCW blog I'm limited to 700 words. (The entry you're reading is twice that.) Also, it's hard to find a subject that others will find interesting enough to want to respond to. I'm not very polemical in my writing but instead pretty speculative, and obviously in-process in my views, which makes it difficult for a reader to write a rebuttal or even much of an agreement. And, above all, I find it tricky, in a blog, to strike the right tone. I keep thinking, "Who gives a rip what I think? Why am I writing about these private little incompletely thought out matters in this public place?" I am like those students I had when I taught seventh grade that scrubbed out and deleted way more words than they ever submitted for a grade. I called them erasers. Their papers looked like terrycloth by the time they were done writing.

    Anyway, that's one struggle with the TCW post. The other struggle is that, although the people at TCW approached me for a blog—and more recently a feature article in the actual print issue coming out later in the year (see below for details)—I worry that they may not want to embrace who I am as a writer. For the blog post currently displayed, in the final editing someone changed my sentence "Those first fruits are precious treasures you share only with your lover, your children, your spouse" to "Those first fruits are precious treasures you share only with your spouse, your children, your dearest friends." It's a minor change, really. I suppose the impulse was—as a student in a class in which I read a draft of the essay aloud predicted it would be—to eliminate the possibility that the word "lover" might be misunderstood by a conservative audience to refer to an extramarital affair or other illicit relationship. My own impulse in using the word "lover" to begin with was to include in my intended audience someone who wasn't married and had no kids but might have a boyfriend. But I hate the word "boyfriend." It sounds so dippy. And I think "lover" is just about perfect as a word to signify one who loves and who, in the sort of relationship most of us are looking for before marriage, is loved back. No one took the matter up with me before they changed the wording—as I'm coming to expect in this new world of publishing. I have gotten used to editors shortening and in other ways "improving" my writing all the time, and I don't usually take it any more personally than I do my husband's enthusiastic axing of whole pages of my essays. (That is, it takes me about a week to recover and to love—in the Christian sense, of course—my editors once again.) What I really struggle with, though, is being edited for ideological reasons. When, not only as a writer but as a believer, I am silenced. I think we Christians tend to do too much of that: silence the voices of those who say what we don't expect or want to hear.

    It especially bothers me to think that my Christian audience has to be pandered to in this way. In my experience at a Christian university where many of my students and fellow faculty and staff are quite conservative, I have found that Christians are able to operate way further outside of the box than many—Christians and non-Christians alike—give them credit for. And, as we all do when we move outside the box even for a moment, they profit from it. Seeing things a new way is always instructive, even if we don't end up adopting the new way. And, the further outside the box we are able to venture and the more frequently we undertake to do it, the more our credibility among non-Christians grows—which is surely good for the spreading of God's message.

    Mind you, I like all the people I have so far met through this assignment at TCW. They are smart and competent and kind-hearted. And good editing, as I say, requires a certain mercilessness. And it is, as I have already said, a minor change. By next week I will be over it. And I may even like the revision better than my original wording by that time. But my struggle with this matter does raise some important (and more polemical than my usual) issues for us to consider as believers.
  4. A faculty workshop presentation coming up in August on rest in the context of work. Not doing much yet, but did meet with a copresenter to discuss what we might want to talk about. And the topic does seem relevant to this blog, with its talk of deadlines and work and not being able to find time to blog. Rest, it seems to me, is relevant to every topic.
  5. The TCW article I mentioned above, which is to be about Jesus as a storyteller. I'm really excited about this and have allowed myself to get a little bit started, although I don't really have time right now to work on it and I need to reread and think about the parables before I do. The deadline is 10 July.

So, my current struggles are deadlines—what a dreadful word!—and editing and being edited and getting back to daily Bible reading and, with so many projects going at once, finding rest. Welcome to the world of writing for a living.

4 comments:

Katy said...

Writing for a living, indeed. Deadlines? Argh! Every week I am afraid I will miss my deadline, and the newspaper will not be out at all in the morning. And somehow it always makes it to our readers.

In the little gray house that used to be the home of the Threefold Advocate, we had a wall full of quotes, funny things people had said or bits of wisdom. One was, I think, from Mr. Warner: "I love deadlines. I especially love the sound they make as they go whooshing by."

Patty Kirk said...

I'm just now finishing up--two days ahead of the deadline. So I guess you're right. I can't wait to hear it go whooshing by!

Tell me about your writing job, Katy. Where are you working? (If you've told me already and I've forgotten, don't let on. My increasing loss of memory so depresses me.)

Ann said...

Prof. Kirk,

It's good to hear from you again. I wish you good providence in meeting your deadlines. Your projects sound lovely.

berniqua said...

Can totally relate about the Christian editor thing. I have a classic tale on that...when I find the exact quote, I'll send it to you. I used to write the back page column for an ex-magazine very similar to TCW.

Bless that editor's heart (as we say in the South)...when you read the rewrite, you'll get the same nails-down-the-chalkboard sensation, methinks.

Dig your blog. Can't remember how I found it.
I'm supposed to have a blog my ownself. Too damn lazy. Or disorganized. Or distracted.
I have more talent than tenacity, so I've been told.
(By me, every day.)

I'm sure I'll dig your book (AB) if I remember to get it.