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Entries in #writing (17)

Friday
Jan222016

On a Movable Finish Line

There was a moment when I decided that I should publish my first book at thirty. It was a nice age, I reasoned, old enough to have lived a bit, young enough to still be considered a Young Writer. That and I was holding a book in my hand written by a woman who was, according to her author bio, thirty. Reasonable goal, yes?

I certainly thought so. But then again, plenty of things seem reasonable at age twenty-three.

Coincidentally, I also had it in my mind that thirty was the ideal age at which to have my first child. I guess I thought that I'd be editing a literary baby while carrying the human variety.

And here we are. Shortly before becoming pregnant, I decided to put my first novel aside for a bit. I got a good run out of it. Got an agent right out of the gate, had a broad submission to publishing houses I'd heard of and editors who had edited writers I've read and loved, and then, got a pile of mostly-wonderful pass letters. My favorite was one of the last, written by an editor who said that she'd nearly talked herself into it multiple times. I was split between wanting to fly out to New York and talk her into it myself and wanting to send her flowers. She was the closest I got, at least on this round of submissions.

In the meantime, we aquired a dog. A puppy, really, with all that this entailed. He's now a ninety-four pound mostly-gentle giant. And fortunately, he also gets along beautiful with our nearly ten-month-old, twenty-pound baby.

So a baby. A dog. And a novel still in manuscript form while I muse about just what to do next. Did I mention that according to my twenty-three year old self, I'm on the wrong side of thirty?

There's a lot to be said for failure. I've probably said it to myself, before the failure on this project was absolute. I'm sure I've said it to my students, what with all the talk about grit and hard work and education as learning to perservere, all things I really do believe and hope to impart to them. And there's something purifying about saying Enough. That's it. I will start over.

But there are so many ways to start over. If I truly appreciate the myraid of ways to be a writer at this point in time, at this point in my life, the incredible wealth of finish lines available to me, I might just remain here, at the starting line.

I wonder whether I will fall into the easy adult routine of asking my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up. The older I get, the more my answer, at least privately, is simply to be whatever version of myself is current. 

Right now that's a newish mother, plugging away on a murder mystery set in Silicon Valley, who's also attempting to get her literal house in order. And train the dog. At least it's a touch too early to toilet train the baby.

 

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.

 

Thursday
Mar132014

A Loyalty Rundown

It's been a month, and we've had some incredible pieces up already in this series on women and writing, both broadly defined, The Loyalty of Water. So here's a recap of what's happened so far, in case you've missed anything. There is more to come! And if you are interested in contributing yourself, find me via the contact page. New voices are always welcome.

The project itself:

There will be moments of pristine performance, true, moments when the hours on this project, the hours on that, the hours for the immediately-paying-work, the hours needed for this person, and the hours for myself, all carefully arranged and maximized, will look like an ancient Greek mosaic.

Those will only be brief moments. The rest of the time, things will more closely approximate a bag of skittles emptied on the kitchen floor. Maybe two bags. Of different flavors.

Allison Landa, Living with the Scratches:

And speaking of judging, let’s look at the Mary Oliver quote from which this experiment takes its name: creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. I don’t have that loyalty. My loyalty is to other things: lying on the couch, for one. Buttered popcorn, for another. The Food Network, and I can go on and on – but these are easy loyalties, cheap and simply won.

Kristina Weaver, Alphabet Fridge Magnets:

Bless you, toddler, for teaching me tolerance (as she licks off the floor the rice she just dumped there). 1/4/14

Lita Kurth, A Yin-Yang Tattoo:

I’m no Proust. Locked away in a closet for years, I produce not Remembrance of Things Past, but champion neuroses. We each must seek our unique balance; that’s been said many times. For me, community and family are vital, but I need to keep taking my own temperature, as it were, to make sure I’m not lopsided—or too lopsided for too long. At least, now, I have a constant reminder of the goal.

Melissa Sipin, Why Write?:

These are all the reasons why I write. But it doesn’t exactly answer the body of that second question: what are you goals as a writer? Especially when stacked against the backdrop of this descriptive data of who succeeds in the publishing world, and who does not, why continue writing with the goal of publishing? What is the end goal of publication? With publication comes inevitable rejection; rejection is the staple food of a writer’s life. And so are sacrifices. What do we sacrifice as writers, as women writers, as writers of color, as women writers of color? 

Kim Golden, That Old Familiar Feeling:

And picture this: an open-plan office in Stockholm on a gray winter day. I’m sitting in front of my computer screen writing product copy for a mascara. Apparently this one is different from the other mascaras I’ve written about. This one volumes and lengthens…though the others do that too. My To Do List still has way too many items on it, but I’m not making any progress. There are too many meetings, too many deadlines, too many people interrupting, just when I’m about to think of a new way to describe lashes. I tell myself I’ll write during my lunch break, but then someone schedules another meeting, so my planned hour of writing while having a sandwich and a latte dwindles to a quickie 20-minute lunch, no notebook in sight?

I’ll write at home…

Rebecca Foreman, Fermentables:

It’s magical how such simple ingredients—barley, water, hops, and yeast—can result in such different flavors and textures depending on where the ingredients come from and how they are added to the process. I feel a wonderful delirium when I think about beer. But when I get down to brewing, I focus strictly on quantities, temperatures, and times. Brewing requires discipline as well as devotion. Discipline is no fun without devotion, and devotion doesn’t take you anywhere without discipline. I’ve found this true in many pursuits, particularly writing.

We're doing pretty well for our first month. Thanks for checking it out!

Sunday
Mar092014

The Loyalty of Water: Fermentables

Guest post by Rebecca Lynn Foreman

Grains, sugar, and mash wort, the fermentables that will become a Trappist beer

I am obsessed with beer. I dream of brewing a big fat Belgian Trappist, 8% or 10% ABV, with complex interplay of malt and hops, accented by spicy notes. On the subway, I surf my iPhone for homebrew recipes. I take detours to “pass by” brewpubs when they have a rare brew on tap. It’s like falling in love.

This is recent. I only began homebrewing after New Year’s. It’s magical how such simple ingredients—barley, water, hops, and yeast—can result in such different flavors and textures depending on where the ingredients come from and how they are added to the process. I feel a wonderful delirium when I think about beer. But when I get down to brewing, I focus strictly on quantities, temperatures, and times. Brewing requires discipline as well as devotion. Discipline is no fun without devotion, and devotion doesn’t take you anywhere without discipline. I’ve found this true in many pursuits, particularly writing.

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Wednesday
Mar052014

The Loyalty of Water: That Old Familiar Feeling

Guest post by Kim Golden 

Picture this: a scruffy sports bar in Richmond, Virginia in the early 1990s. A group of young writers talking shop over pitchers of Sam Adams and bowls of greasy fries. We are all drunk on youth, on beer, on the freedom to write when and where we want. The warm summer night air is heavy with promise—of words written and words to write, of sex, of stories longing to be told. And yet…we didn’t care. Or perhaps we did, and just didn’t understand the gift we’d been given. 

Back then, we could spend all day, all night, writing and talking about writing. As students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s MFA program, we spent our mornings teaching or working in the Writing Center, our afternoons in cafés or in seminars, our evenings in creative writing workshops, and our nights in various bars imitating the writers we admired, writing drunk, editing sober. We took for granted that our lives would always be like this. I think we all imagined we’d continue our careers in the academia, teaching classes, hopefully on tenure track at some point, with our summers always free for road trips or writing in parks. The idea of having to balance our lives—of actually needing to carve out time for writing—never occurred to us. And most of the time, we wasted all of those precious hours when we could have been writing—we were too busy with our social lives or talking about writing instead of simply writing. 

Now fast forward fifteen-odd years.

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