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Entries in #ambition (2)

Thursday
Nov062014

Nanowrimo Manifesto, 2014 modified edition

I've never done Nanowrimo before, never sat down for a month and binge-written that, along with the binge-eating, so often heralds mid-fall for novelists. I know many people who have, though, and successfully, but something about sitting at a desk, pounding out words I hate, or worse, waiting for words that won't come, always put me off. This year, however, I think a modified version will be just the ticket. 

2014 has been nothing if not a year that has taught me how to abandon plans, reframe goals, and adjust to less-than-ideal circumstances, if not always gracefully, then at least with full acceptance of reality. I suppose we all need these years once in awhile; I'm dearly hoping that this one, and only this one, will be mine, at least for some time. And given that, if all goes well, we'll have an infant in the house by late spring, this was probably the time to go through this training. For several years now I've paid very close attention to what women writers have said about having kids, about not having kids, and about their own writing. I've collected stories of the ones who have managed to write books with children, and not just before. I've prayed that I wasn't like Ann Patchett, unbeknownst to myself, secretly unable to have kids and produce quality work, doomed to try to do both rather than what I should be doing, sloughing off one with crazy conviction and writing multiple award-winning novels.

But I never did think this would be my situation; after all, things were proceeding along reasonably well with my agent spearheading my own round of editorial submissions, and it looked like I was going to sneak in just under the wire, giving birth, as it were, to a book before a baby.

Turns out 2014 had other plans. Or the publishing industry did. Or it's just one of those things.

I recently wrote in a fellowship application that the most tangible proof of my sustained commitment to writing is the fact that, on the heels of a pretty brutal, and ultimately fruitless, submission cycle, I'm both researching small presses for my first manuscript and working on the second. I believe this with all of my slightly-bruised heart, and I have never, for some strange reason, felt more like a writer than I do now. Maybe that's another lesson of 2014, that my identity as a writer has never, despite what I may have believed from time to time, been tied to any external validation. I have no book. I have very few publishing credits, as I've spent the past seven years focusing on a manuscript that, as has been established, won't find a home this year, unless I'm damn lucky. And yet. Here I am, still noting the phases of my writing life, with no plans to stop any time soon. Or ever, really.

(Not to say that I don't remind myself, often daily, that getting agented and having my manuscript sent out on broad submission is a form of external validation, that this process would have been far easier, and far more forgiving, ten years ago, that it might even be so ten years in the future, and so on and on and on. Not to say that rejection doesn't sting, or that I don't wonder with mild despair why it is that I'm clearly not going to be a writer who breaks out in her twenties--that ship sailed years ago. But my sense of my self, my sense of vocation, isn't nearly as tied to these things as I once suspected that it was.)

Here's the thing: I still believe in my work. I still believe that it's worth writing, and moreover, that it's worth reading, even if you aren't me or the handful of gentle, kind people who currently allow me to bug them for manuscript trades from time to time, despite my own snail's pace as a reader. I know that I've gotten better, a lot better, over the years of writing and revising, writing and revising. Seven years was often the length of an apprenticeship, after all, and on good days, that doesn't feel coincidental to me. And I know now that how I do this work is necessarily going have to shift in the near future, probably for several years.

And so, my own Nanowrimo, modified. Write something every day. Get into that head space, even if it's just for twenty minutes. Today, it's this post. Tomorrow, we'll see what strikes my fancy. This isn't a year for focus, after all, and I have many new projects in the works. But it is a year to learn how to produce in circumstances where time and energy are tight. So November, for me, is less about producing a particular word count than it is about getting creative with time, with space, and with what commitment looks like.

I'm inclined to end this post by asking you to wish me luck. And I'm not beyond taking any and all well wishes, in whatever form people are inclined to send them. But honestly, sitting here on November first, nearly 20 weeks pregnant, monitoring a puppy, worrying about family health issues, working full time, and trying to keep the house moderately clean, I haven't ever felt stronger in my convictions. I'm a writer. And so that's what I'll do--I'll write.

 

Monday
Feb172014

Loyalty: Gloria Steinem

There are few things I pull out more often lately than this quote, both for myself and my peers. I don't know that I would have found it had I not been unemployed in May, when this story ran in New York Magazine, since no one in the event lineup is anyone I tend to follow (excepting, of course, Amy Poehler). But I'm glad I did, and entirely for the Gloria Steinem quote in the final paragraph:

“In my generation, it was difficult to know that you could take control of your own life,” she said. “You thought your husband and children were supposed to dictate your life. Now I see young women who feel they have to be a total success by 30, which is very different. And both things are equally wrong.”

She wasn't talking about writing, at least not exactly. But she was talking about writing, and about how a particular subset of women in my generation--well educated, high-achieving, either middle class now or from that sphere in childhood, and tending towards social justice, or at least socially postive, professions--tends to think about ambition. I personally find it simultaneously an excellent reality check and effective motivator.