“I was worried about solitude. I’ll be honest: It kind of drove me crazy. I’m not like Flannery O’Connor or whatever, but after I’d been writing for a while, I was like, ‘I’m going to go nuts.’ I can totally get how those Stephen King characters go crazy and murder a town.”
-Mindy Kaling as quoted in “Mindy Kaling on Guys, Hot Pants & Tina Fey” by Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly, October 28, 2011
When I was a new librarian just out of graduate school, I got a job creating entries for the first edition of the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. It was the first time I got paid for my writing, and it justified a lot of time I’d spent reading, writing, and watching film in all its forms.
So now they’re working on the second edition of the encyclopedia, and I am working on revising some of my old entries and writing seven new ones.
I’m starting with the revisions. I have four: South Park, Peanuts, John Grisham, and Toy Story. The amount of work I need to do on the entries varies. I’m already done with South Park, which was a short entry to begin with, but over the last years South Park has gone from being something new and edgy to a longstanding cultural landmark. I wrote the Peanuts entry when Charles Schulz was still alive, and I thought my revision was going to be as simple as making him dead, but it turns out that no, that thing needs a lot of work. Like any sensible human being, I avoid reading things I’ve written after they’ve been published, and reading this particular entry made me glad I’ve put some effort into developing my writing skills over the last fifteen years. Toy Story is going to need an overhaul. It was clear when I wrote the entry that the film was groundbreaking and was having a big impact on animation, but the property’s impact, power, and relevance have continued to evolve. (Note to self: use a version of that sentence in the revision.)
For John Grisham, I just have to be like, “He wrote a literary novel! And a nonfiction book! Way to stretch yourself, John!” But different. The experience of reading that entry was the complete opposite of reading the Peanuts one. I can’t believe how much I knew about legal thrillers fifteen years ago, because I haven’t read one in YEARS. Maybe even since then.
Of course, fifteen years ago I was using floppy disks and laptops were crazy things wealthy people owned. I didn’t anticipate ever needing to revise these entries and lost the electronic files somewhere along the line. So my very irritating and time-consuming first step has been finding electronic copies of my articles on the Internet, copying and pasting them into my word processor, and then checking them against the encyclopedia (which I have a used copy of–thanks again for that, Jason!).
The second step has been reading the entries, doing some research, and figuring out what I need to do. I have finished South Park and am midway through Peanuts. My editor has asked that I revise using the Track Changes feature on Word, which means I do all my revisions on paper first and then transfer to Word. I think some of the other writers in the room will understand my reluctance to allow someone else too much of a window into my writing process, which is less like a process and more like chaos. I do a lot of I should add that, no I shouldn’t, yes I should, no, yes, no, yes, maybe, I’ll decide later. I obsess over every use of that in a way that could be described as compulsive. When I’m drafting, my writing is littered with really, very, and like; I always have to remember to go through and delete them. There are other things no one needs to know. My revisions belong to me.
My deadline for the revisions is in two weeks, so I’m forced into pajama days in which I spend a lot of time in my head and on the laptop and drink too much coffee and get a little weird. Er. Weirder.
I love this work.