Friday, February 15, 2008

Me, the late great John Steinbeck, and a guy played by Johnny Depp

I've been spending the last few weeks slowly working my way through a book, a very good and famous book, one that I had never read before. I'm stunned that it took me this long to read it. I figure maybe I wasn't ready for it yet, that it means more to me now at this stage of my life than it would have earlier. It's a brick of a book, and I often re-read a paragraph three times. I've been carrying it around the house with a dictionary and a stack of Post-its and a pen. I can't tell you how many times I thought I should make the dictionary a reading companion and this is the first time I've actually done it. This book is doing something to my brain.

It touches on so many things that shaped me in my real life: Land, farming, a man with a plan, the philosopher farmer, the inventor who never gets rich, physical labour just to earn a meagre living. The Bible. The weather. Family. History repeating itself. The way the land can make you and break you, all in one lifetime.

The first Steinbeck novel I read was THE RED PONY, which I think now I read way too soon. I would have been about 11 or 12. I didn't really get it. There wasn't nearly enough pony in it for me. I've been carting that novel around with me ever since, and from where I sit right now I can see it on my bookshelf. I ought to give it another crack. In high school I went through a serious King Arthur obsession, and stumbled upon his retelling of the whole knights-round table- holy grail saga. A few years ago I finally read OF MICE AND MEN which was so slight and short but carried a heck of an impact.

Yet it took me until age 37 to pick up EAST OF EDEN. It doesn't matter that it took me so long to finally read it. The importance is that I'm reading it now.

Yesterday I closed the back cover of my 356 page manuscript. I still feel weird calling it A Manuscript. It's just a chunk of printer paper with words all over it, and now, pencil marks on every page. I thought it was done last August. I shuffled off my queries, got my rejections and decided it needed some clarification. I thought it was ready in October. I sent off more queries, got more rejections, and thought about it for a couple more months. And for the last six weeks, I've been going through it a few pages at a time, armed with a pencil. I examined it and scrutinized it and agonized over it.

Sometimes I was cautious. Sometimes I got bold and slashed out whole paragraphs. I drew arrows where things could be traded around. I asked myself if this all made sense.

Believe me when I say I've lost sleep over this thing. I'm not exaggerating.

It was by far the most difficult edit I've had to do. By the ninth time through, I'm tired. I'm anxious because I still doubt the whole thing. I found so many things to correct after eight previous edits. What if it's still not right? Could I spend another year on this thing?

I gotta suck it up and stay at it. I've been slow, I've been deliberate. I've been reluctant! I've spent too many hours in my jammies while my dog anticipated his daily walk.

But I keep telling myself that at least I have stayed at it. I was tempted every day to procrastinate the hell out of this project, and believe me, I have perfected the art of procrastination.

Wouldn't it be easy to give up? This is too hard. Even if I get it perfect there's no guarantee that it'll ever become anything. I could just give up and immerse myself in the horse world, forget about writing, and spend the rest of my life squashing down all those stories in my head.

Uh, no.

I gotta do this.

Are all writers crazy? Varying degrees of crazy? Or is it just me? Is it totally disrespectful of me to place Steinbeck in a blog post alongside a character from a cheesy movie based on a Stephen King short story, just for the opportunity to post pictures of my favourite master of facial expressions, because after all it is Friday and that's what I do? Well, I'm kinda goofy that way.

It's my scheduled barn day, and I'm going to go out and ride between snowbanks, get some equilibrium back. Get some horse smell on my gloves. This'll all sort itself out. When I come home I'll wrap myself up in a Grandma-crocheted blanket and wrap myself around a really great book. It's all going to work itself out.

That's my reward for all the work, right? Not just that I did the work, all the rewriting and scribbling, and the manure raking (both literal and figurative) and braved the elements, but that I keep going, no matter how slow. Allowing myself to read a life changing book is my reward.

I hope you all have a good weekend.


coffeypot said...

Why don't you just dig ditches? It is good exercise, it is something that can be done without stressing yourself out and you don't have to redo it every time you climb out and look back at it. And you can talk to the dirt and the rocks and tree roots and the worms (both halves if needed.) Think about it!

Heidi the Hick said...

Oh that is awesome! The talking to the rocks and tree roots and worm halves!

I have really shoveled enough snow to last me for a few months' worth of shoveling. The part about not having to redo the job... that's very appealing.

I'll think about it. As soon as the ground thaws!

Anita said...

I always love your posts... you are so open and honest!
I wonder if editing is like painting... Sometimes I'll be painting, and not happy with a certain part, and I redo it and redo it, but in the end it's overdone and looks like mud...

YOU have a fabulous weekend!!

Heidi the Hick said...

Anita... yeah. It's kinda like that.

Oh my gosh, sometimes I think I'm too honest and it's all gonna bite me in the butt some day!

CindyDianne said...

I am proud of you for sticking with it. I think I would have given up in October. Keep at it!

Have a nice, rewarding, relaxing weekend!

A Paperback Writer said...

Ah, Friday night on the blog. A visit with Heidi to see pics of Johnny.
What bliss.
(Of course, this is also a full admission of my complete and utter lack of social life.)

Biddie said...

I was here this morning, before anyone else, and I wrote a very long winded and thought provoking comment. Then, blogger said that my password was wrong, then it said that I didn't even have an account! Asshats.
Man, was I pissed!
Ok. So. I have only read The Pearl by Steinbeck, which I really liked. I read it in english class in NS. Nobody but me seemed to get it. I thought that it was awesome.
I like the way that you worked the Johnny pics into the post.
You rock.

Heidi the Hick said...

heh heh heh. I'm sneaky that way.

So you think I should read The Pearl? I can put that on my list.

I wish I could have seen that looooong comment.

rain said...

i love Steinbeck. Images stay with me forever. HAve a good weekend, too.

Lynn Sinclair said...

Editing. Oh joy, oh bliss. Actually, I like editing. It's like de-cluttering the house --- clearing away the stuff that's been sitting around for years, but you never really recognized that it was useless crap.

Have a good weekend, Heidi.

Heidi the Hick said...

Lynn- yes, exactly! I'm in that kind of mood right now!

(so far, folks, my weekend is going quite alright!)

Anita said...

You have something waiting for you at Prairie Dreams!

JKB said...

Heidi, keep going. You have worked and worked on this MANUSCRIPT for so long, you've made it so much better, you still believe in it...I believe in you. You can do this.

AND - if you need another beta reader I'm happy to offer. ;)

Hope da ponies brighten your day. I love Appys.

Heidi the Hick said...



JKB, if you'd have offered 6 months ago I would have sent it to you in a heartbeat! I have to buckle down to it now though (sorry!) because my last couple of readers were in basic agreement about what needed improving. I really think now I have to concentrate on what I know has to be done. But thank you so much for the offer!!!

I did get some horse snuffles over the last 20 hours or so... shoveled a lot of their crap and isn't it funny that I'll tolerate their crap and few else's? The weather has been wet and cold and awful. I hate that highway drive. I wish I didn't have to do it to see my horses. But. I have horses. I'll take what I can get.

JKB said...

Well Heidi, I was in writing denial until roughly four months ago...I didn't want to face the fact that that was what I was good at. :( It's funny what your mind does to you.

But, like I said, if you ever need anything (I'm also talking edit, proof, etc...I work as a technical editor and writer during the day, and a freelance copyeditor proofreader around my fantasy writing) I'm here for you. ;)

I miss horses so bad. SO BAD. You wouldn't believe how frickin' expensive it is to have horses here. I told hubs that first thing we're buying when I sell my book is a field, and the second thing is two horses, ;)

So keep up the nice horse pictures. You're really helping me in my horse desert.

Balloon Pirate said...

My least favorite quote about writing by a writer:

"The first draft of anything is shit." (Hemmingway)

I admire your willingness to persevere.


dilling said...

The Grapes of Wrath was mind altering for me...made me think long and hard, each and every time I read it. About ethics, morality, justice, kindness, cruelty, the system, the individual...

Heidi the Hick said...

I have so much catching up to do! What a wonderful thing to put on the To-Do List: Read more Steinbeck!!!

Heidi said...

Steinbeck, eh? You are a better gal than me! I read (painfully) Grapes of Wrath and it was the more agonizing book of my life. I don't have the heart to try another.

We are a crazy lot, I think. But not for putting Steinbeck and Johnny Depp side by side. Great literature classes often correlate classic lit with current pop culture. That is what makes classic literature classic.... it is relevant over time, for all time, because it is about the human experience.

I'm with you on the whole rewrite thing. Maddening, I tell you. I completely get this. But don't lose heart. You aren't alone.

I read a book this weekend, a NY Times bestseller, and all I could think of the entire way through was, "this is the worst published writing I think I've ever read!" It was not a bad story plot, although not exactly gripping, but it was TERRIBLY written.


Matt Mullenix said...

My favorite Steinbeck (so far):

Cannery Row

It's a quick read and uncomplicated story--no dictionary necessary. But the characters will stay with you forever.

Heidi the Hick said...

Ah, you guys are all good.

dilling said...

Cannery Row IS awesome!!!