Clarity, Doubt and Insanity: The Edit

Alexa Mazzarello

So, as you may know, I’m in revision mode on a memoir.

Last month, I decided to dedicate some space on this blog to document my journey to finish this project.

You can read about that here. I wrote that I wanted to make a record. To reveal moments of clarity, doubt and insanity; the process. That even as a writing coach, I, too, need a schedule and some witnesses to keep me accountable and encouraged.

To that end, here are some selected scenes from January for what I’m calling my periodic blogumentary.

Tuesday, January 2

I respond to every e-message and Facebook post as they arrive; run up and down the stairs  to stay on top of multiple loads of laundry; take my car in for a wash and balance my checkbook.

Thursday, January 4

First writing day of 2018. I dig back into a scene from the early nineteen-seventies where my mother checks in on my brother who, at 10, was quite shy. After I write this scene, my brother, now 55, calls to tell me about how he has taken a tough stance with the bank and car dealership so that we will not under any circumstances be going underwater with our mother’s car. 

Friday, January 5

I return to another scene from the early seventies, revisiting the moment my mother first sees me, post-auto accident. I remember her expression when she sets eyes on my mouth  – where my main physical injury occurred – and I am reminded of how she refused to look at her own reflection in the mirror when she was sick for so many months prior to her death last year.

Thursday, January 18

A coffee conversation with a friend who writes young adult fiction gives me the confidence to let go of sentences which didn’t read as authentically twelve for the section in my book written from a young girl’s perspective. She reminds me that what comes after trauma doesn’t come all at once, but in small bits, slowly. Later, I notice that I have more emotional distance from a pivotal scene with my father, which allows me to soften it and let the storyline create the scene’s poignancy.

 Monday, January 22

I take a treadmill break and am flooded with surety about adding a new “character.” She’s been in, then out, and in-and-out again. But with my heart rate up and sweat dripping down my brow, I suddenly recognize the mark she made on me as it relates to the narrative and when I get back to my laptop, my fingers can barely keep pace with the flow of my thoughts.

Tuesday, January 23

I write 3,500 words and take a long lunch break and watch “The Chew.” When I get back to my office to reread what I wrote, most of it is windup, but there are 250 really good words that are worth keeping.

Friday, January 25

I spend most of the day reading the entire manuscript – start to finish – making little tweaks here and there, and when I’m done, I think, this feels close to whole as I can get it today. I set it aside for a much-needed break.

Monday, January 29

I rise early and read certain sections of the manuscript again, the parts more recently written. I find typos, as well as phrases that need tightening or clarifying. A writer can endlessly edit. But I let out a long exhale, craft an email to my trusted editor, attach the document and press send. Several hours later, two ideas for new complete sections come to me. I sigh, grab my iPhone, and jot them down. A writer writes even when she isn’t writing.

Sunday, February 10

My editor tells me she’ll have notes for me in a few weeks. While I wait for feedback –  which we writers desperately need but desperately fret over, too – I am noticing more psychic space, more room for random thoughts even though many still have to do with the book. But I am also noticing an unhinged feeling, some rootlessness. A worrisome thought comes: Once this work is completed, who I will be?

Photo from Unsplash by Alexa Mazzarello.








Nurturing the Pages


January brought a stunning selection of essays for Thread. Such gifts! Reading them is like being seated at a magnificent banquet, a glorious tasting of my favorite recipes. In less than three weeks, I found six beautiful expressions of the human heart that touch on, among other things, memory, geography and epiphany. I can’t wait for you to read them.

But wait, we must. Because as easy and swift as it would be to copy and paste these writers’ words into the site and insert the images I’ve taken or collected to highlight them, I’ve entered that time in publishing that’s unique to literary publications: edit mode.

That final edit is a reminder of why I’m doing this. Not only because a careful edit reduces misspellings and typos.  Sure, that’s a huge part of the process. But a good edit also brings out what’s best in a piece; it can make the words more true, encourage some of the words to actually pop off the page, to make the whole piece sing.

I’ve certainly posted lightly edited lines on Facebook, Twitter and sent quickly crafted emails. But I’m old school when it comes to publishing.  I think the time consuming, detailed nature of editing is what makes literary publications different from everything else. I think this is why we enjoy reading them. Well edited words leave a trace; a light, fragrant scent of being well nurtured like a fine, hot house plant.

So the Summer issue of Thread is slated for an early April release. The reading will take place in late April, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 29th. (Place to be determined but it’s likely to be one of the two Curt’s Cafe locales in Evanston.)

Which means that submissions from here on out will be considered for the Fall 2015 or Spring 2016 issues. To find out more about what I’m looking for, go to the Submissions page of the Thread site. Stay current with news about issues and readings, as well as links to interesting articles about the creative process by liking Thread on Facebook.

In other related news:

Those of you who live in the Chicago area: Come on over to Max and Benny’s in Northbrook later this month for an evening devoted to the essay at the February Chicago Jewish Authors Literary Series. I’ll be reading selections from my book of essays, Views from the Home Office Window, and talking about Thread. The event is free. Monday, February 23rd at 7 pm.

Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish