Wednesday, February 2, 2011

AWP & Groundhog Day

The 2011 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair starts today in Washington, DC, so if you feel the literary climate of the city suddenly expand, that's why. If you need to impress a writer, throw this word into conversation: omphaloskepsis.  It means contemplation of one's navel. 

Politics and Prose is the official bookstore of the event and conveniently lists the free events on its Web site:

Today is also Groundhog Day.

Coincidence? I think not. 

For the few people who haven't seen the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day," here is the premise: a weather man named Phil (Murray) is trapped reliving the same day, Groundhog Day, over and over again.  Over the course of a many, many years trapped in Groundhog Day, he acquires new skills and (eventually) a considerably nicer temperament, but no matter what he does on that day, he wakes up at 6am to the same song, Sonny & Cher's classic duet, "I Got You, Babe" on his clock radio.  Everyone he knows remembers nothing of the endless permutations he has had of that one day, successes or failures. 

Revising can feel a lot like Groundhog Day. You take the same scene and tweak a few words and not much changes.  In another round, you change one character's response and the scene goes off in another direction -- but who's to say that direction is any better? You're still waking up to Sonny & Cher, coming back to the scene knowing it doesn't work.  You experiment wildly, as Phil does.  You kidnap a groundhog and kill off characters.  You learn the piano and change point of view. You add characters back in, the same, only subtly different. You become exhausted by the monotony of almost-repetition. "I Got You, Babe" plays endlessly.

And then one day, finally, the scene works. February 3rd arrives! And you start revising the next scene.  Over and over and over again. 

Of course, in the midst of those days, you might have moments when you're a wee bit unhinged. 

Happy Groundhog Day!

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