Rap music…sounds like somebody feeding a rhyming dictionary to a popcorn popper

The subject of this post is a quote from my favorite writer of all times, Tom Robbins. I start reading his books with the knowledge and acceptance that the world will look radically different once I have finished. When I prepare lunch for myself, I half expect the can of baked beans to start talking to me – inanimate objects take on a special life force in his masterpiece Skinny Legs and All. You come away from the book with the sneaky suspicion that until now, you have lived your life as if you have been on the set of a black and white movie, and suddenly you are seeing things in color. A revelation. Every sentence in his book is a gem, and no word is wasted.

I recently read an online article in which Tom Robbins revealed the secret of his writing, and while I wouldn’t necessarily advise writers to adopt this approach, it was definitely an eye-opener:

When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period.

Next, he rereads the first sentence and starts writing a second, rewriting it again and again until it shimmers. Then, and only then, does he add a period. While working on each sentence, he has no idea what the next sentence is going to be, much less the next chapter or the end of the book. All thoughts of where he is going or where he has been are banished. Each sentence is a Zen universe unto itself, and while working on it, nothing exists but the sentence. He keeps writing in such a manner until he eventually reaches a sentence which he works on like all the others. He adds a period and the book is done. No editing or revising in any way. When you read a Tom Robbins book, you are experiencing the words not only in the exact order that he wrote them but almost in the exact order that he thought them.

“But wait a minute,” I interrupted. “The first sentence of your first book, Another Roadside Attraction, is ‘The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.’ Are you telling me you wrote that sentence having absolutely no idea where it was leading?”

“Yes,” he said. “I knew I could explain it later. I like painting myself in corners and seeing if I can get out.”

Identify your audience

Before you submit your manuscript to a publisher, or better yet, before you begin writing your book, sit down for a minute and consider the potential readership. Ask yourself who you think will most likely want to read this book. This will influence the tone and direction of your book. For example, if you are writing a book about Kabbalah, we all know that you’re not the first or last person to do so; there are a plethora of Kabbalah works out there on the market. You will need to provide a fresh perspective on the subject in order to make your book stand out from the 150 other Kabbalah manuscripts on the publisher’s desk. If you are writing about a subject that requires specialized knowledge, but want to target your book to a wide audience, make sure to explain and define any complex concepts and language.

It is the publisher’s and submission editor’s job to weed out those manuscripts that are cliched and lack originality. They will only take on your book if they can identify a potential market, and unless your writing is of an excellent literary standard, your manuscript will gather dust on their desks and will eventually end up in the garbage.

One final word of advice: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your first page, your first paragraph, your first sentence, needs to grab the reader. Don’t expect the reader to persist through 100 pages of waffle to uncover the point of the book. From word go, you need to engage your readers.

On that note, I will get back to work.

The joys of bathroom reading – Part Two

I just know that you have all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for a second installment of weird and wonderful words with which to impress your friends, so here goes. I couldn’t resist. (Brownie points to those who already knew these words, and yes, I am spending far too much time reading this bathroom book.)

Franch: To eat greedily

Rhotacism: Excessive use of the letter “R”

Wamfle: To walk around with flapping clothes

Charientism: A veiled insult

Moll-buzzer: A thief whose specialty is robbing women

Mubblefubble: Mental depression

Shabbat is wonderful, amazing, and meaningful, but restful?

A member of our community asked me recently if I would be interested in attending and committing to a series of shiurim (lectures) taking place in the holy city of Modiin. My first reaction, to be honest, was to laugh out loud. It is hard enough for me to function as a mother, wife, editor, and hygienic human being who needs to brush her teeth, take out her contact lenses, but to attend shiurim? You gotta be kidding. Would love to, but just not on the cards. I conveyed as much to this woman in my email back to her, but I have to give her 10 out of 10 for perseverence – the same day, she came back at me with an alternative offer: What if the shiur was on Shabbat? Would you be interested?

It sounds like a reasonable suggestion on the surface, but anyone who is a mother – correction, parent – will be able to identify with the following sentiment: Shabbat is anything but restful! It may be spiritual, it may be laden with meaning, and it may be an opportunity for the family to connect and spend quality time together, but restful it is not, and wasn’t from the minute your oldest child was born! Once your child turns three, nap times are a thing of the past, and then there is the challenge of coordinating multiple naps so that you are not up with one kid while another child is sleeping.

The way I see it, the Shabbat that I can actually read one article (or one page, if it is a book) without falling asleep is the day that I can start entertaining thoughts of shiurim. Until then, it’s back to reality.

The joys of bathroom reading

We try to go the States once a year to visit our family, and when we do, it would be no exaggeration to say that we return to Israel ten times heavier than when we left. And I am not just talking about the effects of Krispy Kreme (spelling?) doughnuts on our weight. My husband and I are unabashed consumers, and we take full advantage of the great prices coupled with great quality, and buy everything from kitchen appliances and garbage bags to cosmetics and winter clothes, and everything else in between. While we were at my in-laws during our engagement trip, my husband and I teamed up against my sister-in-law and brother-in-law for a game of monopoly. My husband and I were really getting into the spirit of the game, and derived great pleasure from cashing in on our Park Place investment. My mother-in-law who was ensconced on the sofa with her romance novel, looked up and said to my husband and I, “Geez, you guys, you are SUCH consumers!” Well, I suppose she’s right.

Anyway, I digress. One of the best parts of our trips to the US is our annual freeze-yourself-to-death trip to Barnes and Noble. (American stores really need to do something about the AC – I mean, I know it’s August, but the air-conditioning is so out of control that I arrive at the store in winter garb – coat, sweater, the full nine yards.) My husband and I always set ourselves a budget, and we normally say that we can buy three to four books each, excluding the books that are for general use, such as cookbooks, How-To Books, and of course… bathroom books.

I won’t go into too much detail, but considering the amount of time some family members (ahem! you know who you are!) spend in the bathroom, it is of no surprise that we should spend some money on bathroom material. I normally am contemptuous of bathroom reading, and marvel how anyone can spend such a long time in the bathroom in the first place to get beyond the first page, but I recently came across some words in one of our bathroom books that I admit I had never heard of before, so if you feel like improving your vocabulary, read on:

Joad: A migratory worker

Wanion: Disaster or bad luck

Erubescence: Process of turning red, blushing

Sudorific: Causing perspiration

AND FINALLY, MY FAVORITE:

Cachinnate: To laugh noisily

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I have been debating for a while whether or not to treat myself, and order this book from Amazon. Anyone out there got anything to say – yay or nay? I have heard very mixed reports, with people either LOVING or HATING it, much like the marmite phenomenon. Amazon had no less than 863 reviews on it, and after wading through the first fifty, the jury was still out.

What blows me away is the fact that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide (there goes any hope for a sequel) at the age of 33 after submitting this manuscript to Simon and Schuster, and having it rejected.

Anyone?

Writing your memoirs

I have edited several memoirs over the years, and the trap that many writers fall into, time and time again, is writing from the perspective of hindsight. Interspersed in the story of their childhoods are insights that have been learned over the course of decades. Your aim should be to transport readers to a different time and place in your life. If you inject into your writing information that you could only have learned as you became older and wiser, you are cheating your readers. You need to erase from your database all nuggets of wisdom, and, as hard as this may be, write from the perspective of THEN, and not NOW.

Qualification to be an editor: um, I like reading?

A year ago, I was at the point that I was having to turn down editing projects because I simply didn’t have the time to take on anything else. Rather than turn away work, I thought it would make sense, financially and professionally, to start outsourcing certain projects. I advertised on various email lists in Israel, and I was stunned to receive in my Inbox no less than 100 resumes. I don’t believe that my list of requirements was too unreasonable: I required an English-language editor with a strong background in Jewish studies, and at least three years’ experience in the field. My first thought was, “Wow, there are THIS many English-language editors with over three years’ experience in editing in Israel?” It struck me as I read through some of the resumes that many applicants (erroneously) thought they were suitable for the job simply because, “I have always loved reading,” “When I worked as a medical secretary, I would often have to read and write letters,” “As part of my job as a sales assistant, I had to write out orders”…. you get my drift.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that you can’t study editing in university – there is no degree in the subject – and sometimes you either have it, or you don’t. I certainly didn’t enter the profession with any particular qualification in editing, and sometimes it is just a case of possessing a sharp eye. However, I would never dare apply for a profession that is so clearly beyond my capabilities. You would never catch me applying for a job as a web designer because websites are made up of words, or a job in psychology because I deal with difficult clients on a daily basis.

You can’t blame them for trying, but still… you might want to consider whether you actually fulfill any of the requirements before applying for a job. I’m just saying…

Once an editor…

Welcome to Double Take! The problem with being an editor, and having an anal personality in general, is that you can never stop being…an editor. I recall countless blind dates, back in my single days, when I vowed that I would not point out to my date every ridiculous spelling mistake on the menu – and believe me, Jerusalem restaurants have their lion’s share of those! – but alas, I couldn’ t help myself. It would take me an hour to decide what to eat. This was not because I couldn’t decide on the dish, but rather the mental red pen was crossing out (Track Changes in Word is a lame substitute for the relentless and unforgiving red pen) each and every typo on the menu. Well, there is a happy ending – luckily I found someone who found this quality of mine to be amusing and even endearing, and after six weeks of dating, it was a done deal and we were engaged. So now he has to put up with my editorial observations on a daily basis.

As part of our engagement trip, we went to Disney World. My husband was extremely excited – as a child and teenager, he would travel to Disney World almost every winter, and now he was going to share with me the magic of Magic Kingdom. It was my first time in Disney World, and to be honest, I wasn’t convinced that it was going to be quite the magical experience for this British gal as it was for him, but to my credit, I was jumping up and down with excitement. If it meant something to him, it would mean something to me, too. Well, after 5 minutes of sitting on the train that took us into Magic Kingdom, I didn’t need to “act” anymore. I experienced Disney World in the same way that a toddler experiences his/her first taste of candy. I jumped up and down on the spot in order to be noticed and chosen by the magician. I was entranced. We entered the Hall of Presidents, which frankly bored me to tears (it’s hard enough to keep track of all the British Prime Ministers), and just when my husband thought that he had left the editor behind in Israel, and was traveling with his fun-loving fiance, I exclaimed upon noticing a typo on the board.

Once an editor, always an editor…..