Karen Brichoux

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"Draws the reader into the story and never lets go." --RT Bookclub
"Brichoux reminds the reader how powerfully the landscape of 'home' can define a person." -- High Country News
Previously Released
"An exceptional novel." --Melissa Senate, author of The Solomon Sisters Wise Up
"A coup. Warm, smart, and original." --Kirkus Reviews

Newsletter

Nailing

September 5, 2006

September Newsletter from the desk of Karen Brichoux

Contents:

*News
*Article: Nailing
*What I’m Reading

News:

*If you would like to be added to my snail-mail mailing list to receive a postcard informing you of upcoming releases (this amounts to one postcard a year and is the only thing I will send you), send me your mailing address at email@karenbrichoux.com Please put “mailing list” in the subject line. The amount of spam lately is making it difficult to figure out what is legitimate e-mail (this goes for all e-mail). I try to always respond when I receive an e-mail (even if it takes a few days), so if you don’t get a reply, I probably didn’t get your e-mail.


*Article: Nailing

You might notice that I didn’t call this article “Nailing it Down” or “Nailing it Up” or even “Nailing it Shut,” because a lot of things were being nailed this summer, including my self esteem. (Not that I have a messiah complex. God forbid that I should have to save anyone else when I feel like I’m holding on by my fingernails.)

I have mentioned in several places that I think writing how-to and help books aren’t of much use. I stick to that opinion in general; however, I knew that Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD had a lot in it about the down side of being a writer, so I picked it up and read it. Writers usually like to focus on the positive aspects of our job: doing something that makes you feel like a human being rather than an underpaid drudge working so the people upstairs can have bigger salaries (yes, I know this first hand these days, alas), working from home, thrill of publication, blah, blah. Most how-to books focus on, strangely enough, the how-to of writing. But Anne Lamott writes a book for people who have been kicked a few times or who are struggling with a fistful of unpleasant demons squeaking madly about things beyond the writer’s control.

I called my fistful of demons the Greek Chorus of Negativity. The Chorus took to standing behind me and saying wise narrator things like, “You’ll never be published again,” and “What is that? That’s the worse (censored) ever put on a page!” or “Help me, I’m bored!” or “Literary fiction? Who do you think you’re kidding?” The members of the Chorus like to perform theatrics (of course they do!), so one will pretend to vomit, another will collapse in fits of hysterics after looking over my shoulder at the computer screen, and yet another has this annoying habit of mimicking various methods of ritual suicide, claiming it represents what I’m doing to my career.

Anne Lamott knows and understands the Chorus. She also understands how easy it is to fall into a perfection trap, where nothing is good enough, so nothing gets written. She even understands the trap of writing something that isn’t what you would normally write, but is something you desperately hope might be perfection, because you can just imagine the glowing things somebody is going to say.

Besides sympathizing with me, Anne gave me a trick: write a small piece. I was trying to write volumes every day. I was in a hurry to get back on the market. I was panicked. After running around in circles as if I’d nailed one foot to the floor and somehow couldn’t get free, I sat down and wrote one, tiny little piece . . . and somehow managed to nail the first paragraph. It wasn’t good. Lord, no, it wasn’t good. But it was how I wanted the book to start. The next day, I wrote a half page. I didn’t ask more than that. I told myself all I had to do was write a paragraph or two each day; all I had to do was write the next little piece of the story. I crept along at that snail’s pace for about a week. And with each day, my confidence grew and I started looking for a hammer so I could nail shut the Greek Chorus of Negativity’s coffin (or at least barricade them in the closet like unpleasant zombies you don’t want running loose about the place). The more pages I’ve written, the less control the Chorus has been able to exert over my work and my confidence. That doesn’t mean the Chorus is gone, but when I start to feel excited about the story and the characters again, I can ignore the rattling and knocking on the closet door.

*What I’m Reading:

Sadly, I haven’t had time to read anything but the books we’re reading as a family. Right now, we’re re-reading the Harry Potter books. Other than that, all I’ve been reading is Science News, the newspaper, and Fine Gardening. If I’m not careful, I’ll forget how to read. . . .