Happy Friday everyone! I hope your brain-pores feel cleansed and refreshed after last week’s free writing. Admittedly, I’m just as susceptible to being mesmerized by my brain’s detritus as I am my skin’s, but I’ve spared you that unnerving display in favour of this more self-aggrandizing one.
Over the course of the past week I have grown more and more anxious about this post, which I’m afraid comes off like I think I’m some kind of authority. It’s a bit pretentious to be like, “Look at my process!” as it implies I think I’m doing something special. I assure you that’s not the case. But, I do think looking at someone else’s writing pre- and post-editing would be interesting. So, in the hopes that I’m not the only one who feels that way (and also because I said I would), I forge ahead.
The following piece, written on Dec 18th 2021, was shelved because, while I liked it, editing it seemed daunting. I’m happy this exercise motivated me to work on it.
Duet found memories of other funerals, other burials, other moments when they heard the news. They were together in all these memories. When her mother had died, and she dropped the phone, and he’d come into the kitchen to see her face white as a sheet and her mouth gaping. Somehow he knew without her saying a word, even though her mother was still young, and died accidentally. And when Tom had died, well, it still tore his heart right out even to think the thought, but he could see her face the way it looked that day when they sat on the floor of his room amidst all Tom’s things, finally, after weeks of pretending his room didn’t exist. Together, on the floor, sobbing. The agony in her eyes that day, when the reality of the world was simply too much for them to bear.
He felt a surge of anger all of a sudden at the realization that he was mourning her alone. She wasn’t here to squeeze his hand through the service, and she wouldn’t be there to cry with him later. How could she leave him alone with these feelings? He’d never had to go on alone before. He gasped audibly, feeling his heart jump in his chest with the impact of the loneliness, and Harriet beside him, looked at him concerned, and shifted, turning her nylon coated legs towards him and putting her face too close to his face. His annoyance gave him a moment to catch himself. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said. She turned toward the minister, stung. But she relaxed quickly, remembering what he must be going through. It’s not like he was ever any good at dealing with his emotions.
His thoughts kept drifting back to Tom’s room. The way his framed photos, pictures with friends, his first girlfriend, scattered trophies and nick knacks, all seemed surreal and unfamiliar, like he and Sharon were in a strange hotel room or something, or someone else’s house. And as he felt the depth of his disconnection to these items, to this space and the person it all belonged to, he felt a clarity, one huge thought singled out in a white space, emptied of his humanity.
Someday, it will be Sharon who is gone. Someday I will have to touch her things and be faced with their existence without her. But he didn’t think these thoughts in words. He simply saw the world without her in it for a single moment, and it took over his entire mind. And he felt like he was the wall or the carpet, no longer a man. Absent from the world, brought into non-existence by loosing the tethers he had to the world. In losing them he was lost. And he saw it all so clearly, and fully, in that room, with Sharon’s tears and sobs, and the reflection of the ceiling lamp on shiny spines of textbooks which contained a future they had all planned to live.
In the pew, now, was a man who’s head was jammed with so many thoughts that although he was absorbed wth the memory of that moment, it was jumbled and spliced with words like “alone” and “ dead” and “ never again” and “stop. Stop. Stop” Finally the pastor’s words cut through, jarring him into embarrasssment. How long had he been talking? Was it all over? No, here was Harriet. About to say something poignant and moving which would tear his soul into a million pieces in front of all of these people. He felt a strong urge to run. He nearly stood up, but caught himself. Lowering back into the seat he tried to think, think of something, think of anything- but all the thoughts that had swirled around and tried to drown him were gone. Of use to no one, his mind, as always, betraying him. He couldn’t bear to hear what she would say. He had to escape. He twisted his hands in his lap. He wanted to cover his ears- she began speaking-
He couldn’t. He leapt from the pew and stumbled into the aisle. He turned toward Harriet for only a moment and saw her shock and concern- he didn’t care, he had to get out of there. As he sped away she asked the pastor quietly if it would be alright to have a break for a moment, and she calmly followed her father and found him panting outside in the snow, with his hands on his thighs, bent over and she thought for a moment just how old and withered he was. But it was sad to think this, especially since mom was gone. She really wanted him to make it, and go on living, but looking at him now, she thought, there’s no way. He can’t do it on his own. And he knows it. Right now he’s realizing he can’t do it on his own.
She put her arm around his hunched shoulders.
You don’t have to come back inside. I just want to make sure you’re ok. We need you to be ok. Take a deep breath, yeah? you don’t have to come back inside.
“Good. “ he said.
He sat on the bench by the door. He didn’t even clear away the snow.
I’ll have someone bring you your coat, and I’ll be back just as soon as we’re done with the ceremony, okay? Just don’t get too cold.
A minute later a page brought his coat, and he laid it on his lap. The wind was light and whooshing in the trees. It was snowing again. With the clear, empty air close around him, cold and clean, he settled into a place without thoughts. An open white space just like that day in Tom’s room. And there she was with him, in a big winter coat and blue hat and she held his hand. She wasn’t crying this time. He looked up at the sky and the seed began to grow again in his mind. All the things that were left behind, without any connection to what was. Dissolving into nothingness. Without them. Without him. Alone.
When Harriet found him he was stiff as ice. She couldn’t forgive herself for leaving him alone, but she did note that he had a look of peace on his face, and his hands were folded in his lap as though he had been holding someone else’s. This broke through the wall she had put up to get through her mother’s death, and she sobbed at sobbed at the feet of her father, a full inch of snow in his lap, who hadn’t put his coat on.
Later, when she opened the door to her parent’s home, to begin the long work of sorting through their lives, she stood for a moment in the center of the room, and saw each item in the room in a singular, out of place, unfamiliar light. All the moments that led to these items existing were in the past. They each held stories that they coulnd’t tell, stories no one on earth would ever know. Of course, Harriet knew some of the stories. But they seemed so small now. So far away and cold. Without them, she thought, I would be nothing.
I would be nothing at all.
In my first round of edits, I ignore the suggestions of my editing apps because I learned that if I make those changes too soon I get distracted and lose focus on the essentials of the story. Instead I look for unnecessary bits, such as
In the pew, now, was a man who’s head was jammed with so many thoughts that although he was absorbed wth the memory of that moment, it was jumbled and spliced with words like “alone” and “ dead” and “ never again” and “stop. Stop. Stop”
which I removed completely, and
She turned toward the minister, stung. But she relaxed quickly, remembering what he must be going through. It’s not like he was ever any good at dealing with his emotions.
which deviated from the limited third person perspective (which has to be entirely Kostya’s until after he dies).
I also edited with an eye to keeping a very close psychic distance. Bits like
How long had he been talking? Was it all over?
are not written as internal monologue because the narrator has been fused with the character’s consciousness. My intent throughout is to bring the reader inside Kostya’s experience, to get an emotional reaction. This is why (after his introduction) I refer to Kostya only as ‘he’. Referring to him by name would increase the narrative distance. Who calls themselves by their name in their own head?
In the second round, I focus on removing nonsense like
He gasped audibly,
(I’ve found people often gasp audibly in my writing. I clearly have a fetish for redundancy and cliché),
adverbs, and my “crutch words,” like just and many. If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend making yourself a cheat sheet where you list words to search for in your document before publishing. I certainly don’t catch all my bad habits, but my list has saved me some embarrassment.
And that’s that! The final form can be read here. Feel free to let me know if you would have done things differently. Also, I’d love to know what writing apps you use. Do you pay attention to the editing suggestions? Do you work through edits in a different order? Comment and let me know.
This week’s prompt is: Describe a scene in vivid, absorbing detail. Reference as many sensory inputs as possible. Transport the reader to your mindscape!
I look forward to reading what you create! See you all next week, and keep writing!
4 responses to “weekly prompt | march 11”
I used to use Hemingway, but found it distracting. I used it for about a year (and paid for the privilege to get the extra goodies), learned some of my worst habits, changed what I could, and then moved on without the distraction. I sometimes even turn off spellcheck when I’m writing in earnest (as in, not off the cuff like I often do with WP posts) as I find the squiggles draw too much my focus and I need to fix them before I can move on.
I have used a number of tools and not yet found the perfect fit for me. I have been looking for Zenware that: A) works, B) doesn’t cost a bunch, and C) is actually Zenware. I’m okay with Scrivener, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a fanboy about it. It works. I like the flexibility. It’s better than a standard word processor because you can focus on scenes rather than scrolling through reams of content to get to where you left off. It is definitely not Zenware.
I like what you did with the story, Anne. The changes strengthened the story.
I love your idea about turning off the spellcheck while writing- I consciously try to keep going without fixing mistakes, but it’s totally ingrained. I transferred all my work to Ulysses a couple weeks ago, and so far I don’t have any complaints, but it is a yearly fee which isn’t ideal… I was doing everything in apple Pages before and it was a nightmare!
And, thank you 🙂 I appreciate you taking the time to read it and to comment.
Ugh. They went annual fee? I’m sure they saw everyone do it and had to follow suit. I use PC, so I have more options in that arena, but I’m using more and more freeware and buying them coffee as the subs take over.
I tried Apple pages on my iPad and agree, it would be a nightmare. One app to consider might be WriteMonkey. I think he started coding for the major OS systems now, but he’s just one guy, so it improves in fits and starts. And it isn’t intuitive, although it is super powerful.
If there’s any time you need someone to test read something and give feedback, I’m willing.
Thank you so much for the offer ☺️