November 18, 2018

“Is this how a bouquet of red roses is supposed to behave?”

Current Kitchen Table

I’m a nerd. I color coordinate my mugs on a shelf in the kitchen, I like when the potatoes grow little sprouts that I can then pluck off and imagine myself growing — would we be rooted vegetables if we were in fact vegetables? My kitchen table is a hoarder’s den of inspiration without me even really collecting.  You can reliably count on the fact that books will be arranged by size on any given shelf in our house.

I can’t help myself.  I enable what little spatial reasoning I have on making things nerdy.

One facet of my nerdery is that when I’m bogged down in a writing slump, and even forcing a page a day feels like ultimate death, I watch or listen to author’s talk about their craft.  I find online lectures, podcasts, news hours, interviews, and audiobooks.  I generally like hearing what people are passionate about.  Sometimes those lectures don’t help me in the moment, but when I’m back looking through my journals, I find a trinket that I just have to dust off.  Other times, I’m completely enthralled and ready to market what the author shared.  Today was one of those days.

Bookworm Podcast Logo

I spent the morning boiling eggs for avocado and egg toast and lined up two mugs of coffee. I’m reading Florida by Lauren Groff right now and really just sitting in it, absently.  I posted about my feelings of struggling to finish the collection and Katie Ericson shared that her perspective changed when she listened to the Bookworm Podcast with Lauren Groff.  It’s a little, thirty-minute diddy that changed the entire way I’ve been trudging through this collection.  I get it now.  So, if you’re struggling with that book, I highly recommend. The host’s voice, Michael Silverblatt, is also very soothing if you need to get a good sleep.

My photo of Florida while I struggled to finish, review is coming.

Since I had only spent thirty minutes on that podcast, I decided to pull up a lecture that’s been sitting in my open tabs for almost two months. A craft lecture with Ramona Ausubel titled “Revision? Revision!” at IAIA Low Rez MFA.  Not going to lie, sometimes I dread educating myself. I don’t know why I put it off.  Maybe it’s because I know that real writing is in revision, but I still sort of loathe the idea that I could have a 12 page essay and need to change ten of the pages. Can you imagine me with a novel? Often, I’m fine with 34 Google Doc revisions of a poem, but long form writing gives me straight terror.

My advice; run to your computers and listen to this revision lecture. I’m going to post my notes, but Ausubel walks her audience through ten steps that feel like new prompts to revise a piece of writing, big or small. She talks through theme (the black hole), tension, author expectations, what ifs, inventories, echos and double taps, clocks, the outside world, and how every part of your writing is a moving part of writing. She even goes through the ways that she physically revises via documents on the computer, lists, and notes.

Notes on “What If’s” section of the lecture

My favorite part was probably the lists of what-ifs because it allows writers to open up doorways to unexpected turns in stories. We have something flat — a sister and a brother sneaking out, but what if they discover an abandoned plane, bear footprints, steal something? (All Ausubel’s ideas).  I know writing is all about imagination and sitting at the desk, but I like the idea that once we have something, it can always grow into some other animal — or potato/vegetable creation.  I also loved when she said for her 364 page novel (that she’s working on), she has 130 pages of notes, lists and ideas where her mind is just working through things.  As a fellow list-maker, I know this is going to help my writing. You don’t even want to see my journal with my highlighted and detailed grocery lists.

If you’re in a slump, or you just don’t even know where to start with revision, start with this lecture.  I think her ideas have fundamentally changed the way I see revision.  Where was this ten years ago when I was writing abortion stories and taping them to my professors’ doors to win contests before I had really puzzled them out? I also highly recommend Ramona Ausubel’s first short story collection, A Guide to Being Born.  I’ve also read her newest collection, Awayland, but it didn’t resonate as much as the first.  In the next few months, I’m definitely going to try to pick up her two novels, particularly the one she mentions in the lecture.

If you do watch the lecture, or you just read my notes, let me know what you think in the comments.


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3 comments so far.

3 responses to ““Is this how a bouquet of red roses is supposed to behave?””

  1. Bea says:

    I am so glad that you found this “Revision” lecture. As you know, I am pro-lecture! Although I only glanced at your notes, I know that you now see revision in a new light. I loved where you wrote, 12 pages, and 10 need revision. That is a difficult pill to swallow, but if it gets your writing where it needs to be, it’s just another road on the way to a great written work. It is not criticism. It is not insult. It is an opening.

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Hi, I’m Cassie

Cassie Mannes Murray (@fromcass) is a writer and educator living on the coast of NC.

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