Rebecca Meacham on Love and Revision
This is the latest in a series of posts on revision. It’s a revision exercise meant to inspire a return to loving your novel. Rebecca Meacham responded to my post on 22 revision prompts. Her previous post (another revision exercise) in the series is here. As always, if you’re interested in contributing to this series, email me at m [dot] salesses [at gmail etc.].
Rebecca Meacham’s flash fiction collection, Morbid Curiosities, won the 2013 New Delta Reviewchapbook contest. Her story collection, Let’s Do, won University of North Texas Press’s 2004 Katherine Anne Porter Prize, and the book was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection. A Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she directs the creative writing program, Rebecca lives with her family in the woods of Wisconsin– which play an oddly large role in her first novel (in progress), about one of the worst wildfires in U.S. history. She can be found online on at http://
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A Ritual for Rediscovering the LOVE in your N-O-V-E-L
(or, Yep, Your Grandpa was Right about Creative Writing Workshops)
The Problem: You Are Completely Sick of Writing Your Novel
Throughout fall and winter, my undergrads slogged to produce 50,000-word novel drafts. Several continued into my Spring Revision Workshop. And so by April, every single writer in my classroom was wholly repulsed by every single aspect of their novel-in-progress.
Frankly, I was, too. I’d run out of ideas. We’d begun in Fall semester as two sections and 22 students, then winnowed in Spring to 10 die-hards, and the workload was killing me. I’d been constantly reading ever-lengthening drafts, then turning on a dime and inventing activities suitable for fairytale trilogist, horror writer, and domestic realist alike. Plus, I had three new preps that Spring. Plus, my own WIP (work-in-progress) was stalled and unfathomable and would not be coaxed out of hiding.
The Ritual: Purging Hate and Welcoming Love (Yes, Love. I’m Being Sincere)
Maybe you’ve suffered this kind of fatigue as a teacher, novelist, or both. Maybe you can’t remember what originally sparked the L-O-V-E in your N-O-V-E-L— or in your teaching of a writing workshop.
If so, it’s time to goose your routine. Do something certifiably kooky, the kind of thing our grandparents suspect we do in workshops anyway— stroking tree trunks, shouting odes to clouds, those nutty “writer” things.
Because in truth, some novelists do enact actual rituals at key stages of their novel’s development, like throwing a party for a fake finish, or burning old drafts in a fire pit. Rituals sanctify—and signal—major changes in identity, status, and thought.
So, why not conduct a ritual at a creative impasse? Why not use chants and props to create a change—to purge self-loathing and welcome our WIPs back into our hearts with love?
Educator’s note: I concocted this ritual for an 80 minute-class, and led my students through it step by step, with no foreshadowing. If you choose this route, be sure your students trust you, and one another.
Step One: Placing Hate.
To begin, find a setting where you can no longer stand to be.
In our case, we began in our usual classroom, a room that hates learning— no windows, an overhead projector, and a pull-down screen made, I think, of medical tape.
Step One also requires the most hateful paper available—brown bags, wrapping paper, whatever. On our college campus, this was easy: Examination Blue Books.
Optional: Select a hateful writing utensil— leaky pen, dull-tipped pencil, etc.
Step Two: Get The F— Out.
In Step Two, “F—” is for “Flailure,” a term I coined to express the prolonged state of failing and flailing of novel-drafting. Using your hateful writing tool, fill the hateful paper (or Exam Blue Book) with all that you hate about your writing, your novel, your characters, your writing process. What do you fear? What can’t you solve? What parts are just plain idiotic? What other writer is doing everything better than you? What jealousies and disappointments does your WIP evoke?
Write hatefully about your WIP hate for 10 straight minutes.
Step Three: Wad and Stomp.
Find a neutral space— we chose the common area in front of our Student Union. In this space, crumple your writings of WIP hate. Wad them into a hateful ball. Then throw it to the ground and stomp on it. Grind it with you heel.
For Step Three, my students and I also chanted—
“I hate you, stupid WIP!”
“You’re wasting my time!”
“You suck! I suck!”
—and whatever else felt true and right and unredeeming, including obscenities.
Pick up your Wadded Hateball (no littering!) and store it until the end of this ritual.
Step Four: Go Away.
Now that the hate has been expressed and stomped, find a new setting. A pleasant, open, inviting space. For us, in Wisconsin on a warm-ish Spring-ish day, this was anyplace outdoors.
Step Five: Think About What You’ve Done (In the Name of Love).
Now, create some love. Note: none of this has to do with your novel. Step Five is about you.
First, select a writing tool you love. Next, choose a new notebook or paper with some degree of charm. In our case, I’d grabbed a stack of colored paper before class and allowed each student to select their favorite.
With these implements, you are going to create a Book of Openness and Love, as directed.
- Make a list of things that open up, awaken, and emerge.
- Write about a childhood love of any species, or a much-loved place.
- Describe something you did in the name of young love, first love, or new love.
- List every giddy-making detail about a first, or current, crush.
If you’re in a group, share some of these lists and stories aloud, because sometimes they’re wonderful. Our class enjoyed some well-needed laughs and learned a lot, including how our snarkiest workshop member once feigned a playground injury to attract a pretty girl.
Step Six: Love Notes.
Tiptoe back to your WIP. Flip to a new page in the Book of Openness and Love, and write.
- List foods, places, materials, tools, memories, animals, or people your novel’s characters love.
- Pass a love note to one of your characters.
- List everything you love about your WIP, including parts of the writing process.
- Draw a heart with your initials + your WIP’s title inside.
Again, if you’re in a group, everyone should share, out loud, at least one item from Step Six. If you’re alone, read your writing out loud— or at least doodle smiley faces in the margins.
Step Seven: Bells Will Ring, The-uh-uh Sun Will Shine
You’ve purged loathing and invited love. Time for the final kookiness.
Kiss the Book of Openness and Love. For real. Kiss it. Then keep it, in case it offers something useful to your WIP or another project.
Take out the Wadded Hateball. You have to accept this part of your novel, too—accept the shame and self-loathing and abject failure as well as the thrill of fresh and shiny ideas. Hold the Wadded Hateball. Hug it to your chest. And chant to it, “I welcome you. I forgive you. I embrace you.”
Embrace the self-loathing, and write your way back to love. That’s it. Plus, you’ve produced new words! You can keep the Hateball or toss it out, no matter—just keep moving.