Sunday, September 20, 2015

Looking inside myself for the stubborn little bulldog

I was lucky enough to attend a reading this week by the celebrated Texan memoirist, Mary Karr, to promote her latest book, The Art of Memoir. She joined a packed and rapt audience at Christ Church Cathedral, brought together by Inprint, the fabulous Houston reading and writing organization (and I’m talking about “reading and writing” in LITERARY terms here, not LITERACY).

When I heard the word memoirist, my mind immediately went to names of dusty old chaps like Samuel Pepys and Winston Churchill, but Mary Karr is something else entirely. She is knowledgeable, witty, and self-deprecating, and she swears like the best of them. I’m really trying to describe her without commenting on her short skirt and her amazing red patent platform heels, but really, I think my eyes rested on those shoes as much as they did her face. They were, as I said, amazing!

Mary Karr read from The Art of Memoir and talked about her work with Mimi Schwartz, the executive editor of Texas Monthly, before talking questions from the audience.  But throughout all that, there was one passage about revising which really sang to me, given that I am currently struggling through major revisions on my YA novel manuscript.

In the final chapter of The Art of Memoir, Karr writes about how lucky writers are because we can go back to a previous draft, unlike a painter or a live performer, and that you should not look on the marks your editor makes on our manuscript as pointing out your mistakes. Instead, you should: 

Remind yourself that revising proves your care for the reader and of the nature of your ambition.

Writing. . . means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world. And you do that by fighting for elegance and beauty, redoing or cutting the flabby disordered parts.

Mary Karr with Texas Monthly's Mimi Schwartz
So as I battle through my scrawled-upon manuscript trying to find the elegance and beauty amid all the flabby disordered parts, it is reassuring to hear that a writer as celebrated and successful as Mary Karr has been here before. After all, she has told me: 

For me, the last 20 percent of a book’s improvement takes 95 percent of the effort – all in the editing.  I can honestly say not one page I’ve ever published appears anywhere close to how it came out in first draft. . .  I am not much of a writer, but I am a stubborn little bulldog of a reviser.

So let me raise a glass (okay, it’s a paper cup of earl grey tea) to finding elegance and beauty in my manuscript, and to finding the stubborn little bulldog of a reviser in myself.

The Art of Memoir is out now, published by Harper Collins. To buy a copy or to find out more about her memoirs The Liar’s Club, Cherry and Lit, or her books of poetry, visit her website.

For more information about Inprint and the other brilliant writers coming to Houston soon as part of the Inprint Reading Series, visit the Inprint website.