Show and tell

Learning to live through the in-between scenes

Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links.

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When it comes to feats of strengths, writing a novel is most often compared to running a marathon. Having done both, I get it. When you begin, the finish line seems impossibly far away. Getting there requires stamina, endurance, and a certain amount of naïvety. You will hit a wall, probably several. You might cry. It’s a good idea to stop and have a snack at some point. But as long as you keep moving, you’ll finish. 

It’s a nice metaphor, and it works—for a first draft. When it comes to revision, however, we need an analogy that connotes more than mere muscle and sheer will, something that invites us to stretch our imagination and strike a balance. If writing is like running a marathon, then revising is like practicing yoga. 

There are many different styles of yoga. In my favorite type, the challenge lies less in the actual poses, and more in the moments between them. Shifting from plank to downward dog, windmilling your arms into Warrior II, matching your movement to your breath—that’s where the change happens.

Once I attended a yoga class in which the instructor called out poses, but did not guide us into them. Our feet shuffled awkwardly on our mats as we lurched from Warrior to Tree. There was no flow, no transition, and I left the class feeling more lost than when I arrived.

Book-length projects face a similar challenge. The writer must find a way to carry a cast of characters, multiple conflicts, and countless subplots forward, without losing momentum or unmooring the reader. Transitions—the moments between scenes—are used to change locations or jump in time, shift perspective or skip the boring parts, a time machine that keeps the story moving at a steady clip. 

“Two weeks later…” 

“That night…” 

“After a long day at work…” 

Transitions look easy, but they’re actually quite difficult. It’s hard to know how much information to give, how much time is enough. What to show, and what to tell. What to skip, and where to sink in.  

Speaking of transitions…

Here in the United States, we’re in the liminal space between “lockdown” and “new normal,” but in many ways, it feels like we’ve rushed straight to the finish line. The YMCA removed the “six feet apart” stickers from the floor. At Trader Joe’s, my maskless cashier asks if I’ve tried the new vegan ice cream cones. I’ve been going to the office, meeting new coworkers in the kitchen instead of on Zoom. “And then, 16 months later, the pandemic ended…” One to 26.2. Triangle to pigeon. Conflict to resolution.

The transition is disconcerting, the jump too big, and it reminds of me of that confusing yoga class. My body feels off-balance. The pose I’ve stumbled into feels unearned. 

Ever since I quit my daily yoga streak, I’ve been going to a Friday afternoon class in an actual studio, with a real, live teacher at the front of the room. The class is still new to me; when it starts, I don’t know what to expect. But as soon as we begin to move, I stop thinking about what might come next, whether I’ll lose my balance in half moon or fall on my face in crow. 

Instead I focus on my breath, on flowing from one pose to the next. I don’t want to rush through the transitions or muscle my way to savasana. Revision is an art, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s okay to take your time and appreciate the moments in between. After all, that’s where the change happens.

Snack of the Week

I attended a friend’s 30th birthday party yesterday, and halfway through what was already an extremely lovely event, I was handed a homemade ice cream sandwich, complete with colorful sprinkles. The best part were the chunks Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in the freshly baked cookies—incredible and delicious and such a sweet, celebratory surprise. Also: you know you’re in your late 30s when you go to a party and only manage to snap pictures of desserts and dogs.

Relatable Reads

  • The Rise of Must-Read TV, The Atlantic. “Is contemporary literature being dumbed down by authors, agents, and publishers motivated purely by profit and struck with a severe bout of adaptation envy? The short answer is no. ” A fascinating dive into the symbiotic relationship between TV and literature. 📚

  • Why People Are So Awful Online, The New York Times. “Every harm is treated as trauma. Vulnerability and difference are weaponized. People assume the worst intentions. Bad-faith arguments abound, presented with righteous bluster.” As usual, Roxane Gay puts into words what so many of us are feeling. 😱

  • The Acknowledgments Are My Favorite Part of a Book, Electric Lit. “Acknowledgments are a commentary about how the work is made, a small resistance to the capitalist illusion that this is just a product you bought, a reminder that the work still exists outside the market, that the making itself matters.” I cannot WAIT until the day I get to write my acknowledgements. I may already have a draft in progress. 🙏

  • One of the benefits of drinking less/more intentionally is that when I do decide to indulge, I splurge. That’s why I’ve been loving Your Weekly W(h)ine, a great newsletter all about wine (and also dogs, because, well, dogs). This recent issue about Albariño is a good example of why it goes down so easy—smart, approachable, interesting, and did I mention dogs? Pour yourself a glass and subscribe! 🍷

Coffee Club

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