I second that emotion

In a stack of books I wanted to write about, I found Elizabeth Strout’s Amy & Isabelle that I reread in November of 2010–almost a year ago. (I really should clean out my study more often–yes, I’m still going–down to one laundry basket.)

I had marked four passages with red flags and two with sticky notes (that had nothing written on them). I can’t remember if the different way I marked the passages meant something. In any event, two of the red flags marked ways that Strout expressed an emotion in a character through action and without naming the emotion:

In the girls’ room she wrote an obscenity on the wall. She had never written anything on a wall before, and as the pen made gritty, wobbly lines, she felt an affinity for whoever it was that had vandalized the gym the year before, as though she were capable of breaking windows now herself, this one right here in the bathroom with wet snow sticking to its pane. (31)

And the second:

“Amy?” she called, unlocking the door. “Amy?” Where are you? She dropped her keys on the kitchen table and the sound was brief, immense.

She switched on the light. “Amy?”

Into the living room; switching on the light there. “Amy?”

She went from room to room, light switch to light switch, up the stairs. “Amy?” (76)

In this second example, there’s one more paragraph, and then Strout writes, “And now she felt hysterical.” Only after the reader experiences the mounting tension of fear does Strout add another layer, naming the way fear was making her character feel.

So much to learn from this book. So much to enjoy in reading it.

in flux

Just a quick update: the rearranging of my study is temporarily on hold (things still sit in laundry baskets and all around me is still a HUGE mess) as I work on the revision of my novel like someone who has no other life. My third to last packet is due Friday, and I want to make it count.

What prompted me to stop in the middle of a page to check in here was that in the last few days of revising, more than once and again just now, I’ve deleted parts of the story that I really liked because a new opportunity has arisen. Each time, as I hesitated before changing, one of the five orange sticky notes on the front of the notebook containing my manuscript has popped into my head like one of those conversation bubbles. I don’t know where the words came from, but here they are:

Everything about a manuscript is in flux all the way through the process.

Back to work…


I’ve been sitting too much–novel, lecture, mfa, Contrary, Hunger Mountain, facebook, email, bills, purchases, photos… I noticed that my running injury from last December got worse, not when I ran but, when I sat for 10 hours.

I’d been looking online (sitting) for one of those mobile computer stands that doctors use but wasn’t persuaded that was exactly right. Then about a month ago Robin Oliveira posted a photo on FB of her new TreadDesk. And I knew immediately that was the solution. I called, and Jerry helped me choose the right desk.

I am, at this very moment, walking on a treadmill as I type.

As a child, I was fired by two different piano teachers–I could never get the hang of each hand doing something different.

But I can walk and type and I love it.

In order to move the desk into my study, I had to slide baby towers of books spawned from my bookshelf tower and haul a bunch of other stuff–including my old desk–out of my study. I took advantage of the opportunity to clean shelves and windowsills, to blow away dust from journals and books, to go through stacks, and weed. I was a little surprised to see what was still on some of my shelves.

This desk is bigger than my old desk and without drawers so I’m having to do some rearranging. All around me chaos reigns. Photos of the desk coming as soon as everything finds a place.

to do today

  1. write blog post
  2. read over 5 pages of novel-details (every day 5 pages)
  3. make airline reservations for Oct trip to California
  4. out
    1. buy birthday gifts (8 birthdays in 10 days in sept)
    2. exercise
    3. grocery (supper!)
    4. make copy of photo
  5. call
    1. cancel exercise apt in Atl
    2. Dad
    3. Claire at 3:00
    4. Jodi
  6. work on novel revision-big picture
  7. play with point-of-view in general
  8. edit reviews for Contrary
  9. edit HM piece
  10. read

Not sure how time feels to the rest of you, but if you have a little to play with, don’t miss Robin Black’s To Do list, the second list of the new feature Lists: Literary & Laundry at Hunger Mountain:

“For as long as I can remember I have made TO DO lists with the letters of TO DO all caps.”

What’s on your list for today?

How We Spend Our Days: Heidi Durrow

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Heidi Durrow:

I only hope that today will be the first of a string of regular days.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have been on book tour almost non-stop for a year and a half.  My typical daily to-do list during this time has read: pack, unpack, go to airport. Seriously.

It has been a whirlwind tour of more than 50 cities and some 150 events.  I am fudging those numbers because I don’t want to spend any part of this day actually doing the fact-checking.  Today is my first day to write without interruption on the new book.

I start each day as I always do: a cup of coffee that I drink with my bendy straw, NPR playing in the background, and me with my Moleskine in my favorite chair with pen in hand writing three pages long-hand.  No stopping.  Today, I write: “I am sitting here.”  A lot!  Because I feel like I am just learning how to put the words on the page again.

Travel is not conducive to writing for me—so I feel very out of shape as a writer.  I don’t know if I can “tune” myself today, but I will try.

Once I finish the free-write I write a one-sentence affirmation ten times.  I know that writing this wish won’t make it come true, but it gives my brain a chance to say something nice to me.  In those minutes, I am all possibility.

It’s Saturday morning and so it’s time to go to the farmer’s market.  I’m a sucker for ritual and look forward to saying hello to the melon guy, and croissant guy, and the potato guy.  But first it’s time to workout.

I do my cardio and some weightlifting.  It’s tough.  No, it’s killing me. But that’s what I get for neglecting my workout for so long on the road.

When I’m done, I know it’s been worth it. I’ve imagined a new character for the new book. I’ve also come up with an idea for an essay which may distract me from the new novel, but I am so thankful for these new ideas—for suddenly not being stuck.

At the market, I say hello to the melon guy, the croissant guy and the potato guy.  I only buy plums.

The rest of the afternoon is my own again.  We have a dinner party tonight, but I’m not the house chef.  So I climb the stairs to my office, and sit to write.

My task: write 1500 words in a row.  Wait, let me be clear: write 1500 terrible words in a row.  I have to set the bar low.  I am deathly afraid of the page again.  And I’m not entirely sure of the story of the story.  I know the characters yes, but the story.  I keep writing to see what the characters do then I will know.

I write until it’s time to take my Saturday afternoon nap.  When I wake, I write a little more.  Soon, it’s time to get ready for dinner. The guests will arrive in just half an hour.

I don’t even look at the words I’ve written—just the word count.  Job done for today.  I’ll get back to the page tomorrow.


1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • Pym by Mat Johnson.  I “met” Mat when I interviewed him some time ago and am a big fan of his work.  I was feeling blue and had his book on the TBR pile—who else I thought could make me laugh and really think at the same time. His book did not disappoint. It is brilliant.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Don’t show your work too early—the feedback may stop you in your tracks.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I only write in Moleskine journals. For me, it’s Moleskine or nothing.  (I have not received any compensation for this endorsement BTW!)

By Heidi Durrow: