Friday, December 17, 2010

Awesomeness of Things Past

My wife and I have recently started watching reruns of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

(That's the title, I mean. We're still here in 2010.)

Now, when this was originally on TV in the early 80s, I was not blind to its sillier elements. Those helmets make people look like Q-tips! Why are everyone's pants so tight? Shut up, Tweaky. God!

But mostly the impressionable eight-year-old me thought it was totally awesome. I was building a spaceship in my backyard, after all, so this was all important source material and / or motivation.

And today? Mostly I see the campiness but there's a part of me that says: This. Is. Awesome. Especially the theme tune: that crackling macho voiceover, the tentative strings as Buck hurtles through time, the plunging bass note and then, and then: a squadron of fighters and the crescendo speeding towards New Chicago. Who am I kidding? I love it.

This morning, the office opened late due to snow (thank you, winter) so I hopped on the stationery bike and watched quite of a bit of The Empire Strikes Back while spinning and sweating like a furious ape. I scored the original version a year or two back, and just like Buck Rogers, it's still ... well, cool. The special effects are better, too.

The stories stay with us: and the music, the looks, the gestures. They are, I think, laid down one by one, over and over until we can see them with our eyes shut. But then to go back and watch the real thing after so many years?

Still awesome.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ten pages

I'm grinding through edits at ten pages an hour. That's about twice as fast as I wrote them the first time. Does this mean editing only takes half as long as writing?

Ha ha, what a hilarious question! I wish revisions only took half as long as writing the damn thing in the first place. For me, revision is much slower. In the first draft I'm easy on myself.

But now there is no mercy. No "I'll just figure this out later," or "I think that word is close enough." Close enough ... isn't.

This morning I tried to calculate how many pounds of coffee beans I've ground into coffee during these revisions, but couldn't carry the four or figure the square root gerund participle of eleven or something. And I'm not sure I want to get to a "coffee per page" count. That is a lot of coffee.

I wonder: without the various drugs of history -- stimulants, narcotics, the Internet -- would we have the same vast field of literature we have today? Let me sip another cup and ponder that....

Monday, December 6, 2010

O Coffee

When the alarm goes off at 5 I discover through a fog that my clock radio has station-drifted from to soft static like a distant ocean.

This is why I set a second, backup alarm. Ha! It beeps every second until my arm shoots out and hits snooze. I press the button a few extra times for good measure and then retreat, slug-eye-stalk-like, back under the covers.

It's not getting up at 5 that's the hard part. It's staying up. Coffee and editing until 6:30, sure, no problem. The time flies by, marked by a snoring dog, leaves blowing against the patio door, and cats pawing at things in between (their) naps.

But when I get to work, as bleary-eyed as if I just rolled out of bed, my hands still numb from the walk through the parking lot to the office, I heft my not-nearly-full-enough travel mug and think: gonna be a long one today.

And tonight: more edits!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fifth Base

I'm learning that writing and revising (repeat as needed) is like sprinting around the bases. You think you're heading for home, the manuscript looks good, everything is going great, and then SURPRISE! That's not home plate, it's a fourth base. You're running in a widening spiral. On to fifth base!

I've been hesitant to update on the revision process because it seems so repetitive. All the hackneyed metaphors come crowding in: honing the knife until it's sharp; chipping away at the sculpture; running in circles.

But the fact is that with each revision the story gets a little. Bit. Better. And that's what it's all about: truly the first (I almost said "only") measure of success.

Early morning is the only time I can make for this maddening and revealing process, so that's when I work: up at five, make coffee, step over the cats, put on my glasses, and get to work.

These days I'm doing one last look at the bones of the story. Chapter-level and scene-level changes. Paragraph-level if absolutely necessary, but I'm trying not to go deeper than that, because it's too easy to get distracted by line-edits.

Instead I satisfy my inner critic by swiping an impatient underline to mark clumsy text, problematic text. Because I want the words to go sliding past fluidly in exactly the way a cat does not swallow a pill. Or exactly the opposite of the previous sentence.

In any case, with each pass it gets better. And I think I can see home plate, up ahead in the outfield, where kids stopped playing years ago, and tortoises wander in the tall grass. Or do I see more bases?