If my kids don't stop complaining about school, I might have to teach them to be hitmen.
Because writers need long, uninterrupted hours of staring out windows, I've enrolled my two sons in their school's "aftercare" programs this year. This buys me two extra hours, three days a week. Time enough to forget what time it is, which is when the real writing starts. But the way they complain about it, you would think "aftercare" equated to being locked in a maximum security cell on death row. Ohhh, and then they made me PAINT!!
They do not shake my resolve. This is what my face looks like when they complain:
And then I say, "Too bad. Your mom works." And they look back at me like a pair of pre-teen Natalie Portmans whose family just got whacked.
Yes, that's right. Mom is a professional. She doesn't have a boss, or a paycheck, or an editor or an agent. She barely has a single publishing credit to her name. But we're going to all look each other in the eye and agree "your Mom works." Yes, we are.
This takes a lot of gamesmanship on my part. One problem is my professional footwear. It usually looks like this:
I've been thinking of wearing pearls to compensate. Or something Dry Clean Only. Maybe slippers that are Dry Clean Only. I definitely need a secretary.
The good thing about kids is that they can't fact check. When somebody asks Tweedle Dee what his mom does he says "she writes stories." Hell yeah, she does. He can't read The New Yorker yet to see that my name is nowhere to be found in it, so we're safe for awhile.
It sounds ridiculous, but in the first few weeks after I quit my Corporate job, and I still had a full time nanny, I used to commute into Manhattan and spend the morning writing in a Pain Quotidien or Au Bon Pain. I think I did it for the plain reason that I needed to still find myself in the same stream of fish every morning. Because if I weren't, if I weren't in the stream at all, I would be dead, right? Like a fish out of water would be. And I would only go into the French places. Somehow they made me feel a teeny bit initiated into the club of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.
I'm getting good at the gamesmanship. I came 20 minutes late to pick up one of the kids last week and, while apologizing to the caregiver/warden, I explained that I had just come from a conference call that ran long. I was wearing spandex and a jog bra. And I was sweating. She looked unmoved by my excuse so I imagine it wasn't the first time she heard it. I do some of my best writing on the treadmill.
If Jean Reno's Leon taught me anything it's that I should take pride in my work, no matter what it is, no matter how morally questionable (like wearing spandex). That might not have been the ultimate message of the film, but it was what I tucked away. Writing is a serious business, and it takes a professional to know it.
September 16, 2011
Congratulations! You have just landed on the most popular post in this blog. I would love to know what is so great about this post - I thought it was one of the worst! Complain, complain, complain.
So please, tell me in the comments, how did you end up here?
How the hell did I get here? Do you ever ask yourself that question? It's been that kind of week here.
This was supposed to be the week I broke out of the author gate like Secretariat. Kids gone, our shower fixed (that would make a long post, but suffice it to say it involved an insurance claim, a lot of gooey grout and jackhammers mincing up our Italian porcelain tile into little bitty pieces), our house clean (I finally had to hire someone because I am a dismal failure at toilet bowls), and the natural disasters seemed to have abated.
But Monday was a full moon. I should have known better.
I've been resisting the idea of writing a post about boo-hooing a physical ailment, but just allow me 100 words and I'll be done with it. I thought you've been hanging with me this long, I should let you know what's going on. About a year ago, this weird thing started happening whenever I sat down at my desk, or sat anywhere, to write. Lots and lots of needles and pins in the legs, and not the kind they sing about. Huh? I wrote less. A lot less. Then I did some physical therapy, swimming, more tests, and finally a doc told me I have something called chemical radiculitus. Sounds like a fancy name for writer's block, doesn't it? Yeah, that's what I was thinking. I must be psyching myself out so bad on the writing front that I'm making myself sick.
The MRI kind of put that fear to rest. Basically, radiculitus is caused by inflammation in one part of the body (in my case, a tear in a disc of my lower back) that rides on nerves everywhere until you want to become a very, very bitchy person. The doc has said "you'll just eventually get better" if you take care of yourself. And then I paid her money.
Anyway, I'm way over my 100 words, so I'll sum up by saying that writing has become a battle between me and my body. My body doesn't want to sit. It says "ouuuuch," kind of in that long groan kind of way like ET. But the writer inside the body does. But the writer can't unless she wants to start cussing like Steve Carell in his chest-waxing scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. So she lays sideways, or props up on her stomach or sits for only ten minutes, or sits with ice under the back of her shirt. So she can write.
I know. Altogether now... awwww. It's tempting to feel sorry for myself, and I do go there occasionally (like now). The universe is being awfully mean to me, don't you think? Doesn't it know I'm in pursuit of my life's work here? Which involves sitting? Hello!
I used to spend 5, 6, 8 hours writing The Orphan's Daughter this time last year. And loving it. It would take at least 2 hours to get to that voice or part of the story I needed to channel, and once I did I was flying. Now I just don't have the luxury of worming my way into a novel for that long. Now I just have to write whatever comes out and move on. Literally. But maybe somewhere in this is a gift, I'm hoping. I'm looking for it. This must be about becoming a better person, or better writer, or both? Or winning a toaster? Something.
Wow, now I'm way over my 100 words. The kvetching endeth. So how are you guys? ;-)
September 12, 2011
I spent some of the morning indulging in an article about Kathryn Stockett's publishing story, in her own words, from More magazine this past May that I wanted to share with the other writers out there. The story starts with her being rejected so much that she started sneaking around behind the backs of her friends and husband to keep working on the book. Because who in their right mind would? Apparently her. Thank goodness.
I also enjoyed some of this long interview Katie Couric did with Kathryn when The Help came out in 2009, which is worth watching if you want to see the author talking about the book and her writing process.
Enjoy and be movitated - now I gotta write!
Labels: reflections on writers
September 07, 2011
|Photo by Joelk75|
Now I'm looking around my office - a corner of our bedroom, next to a window. There are piles of paper that almost form columns: notes and feedback on The Orphan's Daughter, scraps of ideas for short stories, notebooks scribbled with journal entries or more ideas, a file box full of even more ideas, old writing and some poetry, a list of books that will form the basis of research for the next novel, a bulletin board flapping with paper that lists writing tips, my critique group schedule, quotes from writers, my Nanowrimo certificate from 2009, a few drawings from my kids, even a cooking "medal" from my husband (awarded when I confused rice with risotto and botched a whole recipe).
I am overwhelmed by the volume of writing projects at their start or midpoint, but not finished. What do I do first? Where am I going with all this?
It helps to remind myself what I want when I'm trying to prioritize what I need to do and where I'm going. What I want more than anything at the moment is to be published somewhere, with something, online or off, short or long. So the easy answer to the question "what do I do first?" is to finish the dozen or so short stories I've started since June and submit them. That will happen first every day. Write, edit, submit.
Then I'll work on the massive revisions to The Orphan's Daughter. I really don't want to revise it. I really don't. But I want a successful novel more. This will be rewrite #5. I can hardly breathe when I think about it. But based on the bits of feedback I've gotten from literary agents so far, I've convinced myself the novel won't get picked up without these revisions. I know the novel can be better.
Then I'll work on the next novel, more ambitious than the first, much more. Which means I can't wait to get started on it, but I know it will swallow me. Like the 18 months I spent deep inside The Orphan's Daughter, the same will happen with the second one. I used to think I could do other projects while I had a novel going, but I've learned I can't. The novel has to entirely take over every working hour and every dreaming one.
By the end of the calendar year, I want to have a revised manuscript for The Orphan's Daughter in the query pipeline, a finished draft of novel #2, and at least one publication credit somewhere. That would be a successful year. A very successful year. So with that, I'll sign off and get going...
Where are you going before the year is out? How will you get there?
September 05, 2011
|Author Caroline Leavitt flanked by your blogger and|
Ona Gritz, Hoboken librarian and author.
"A doctor, bookended by two cops in uniform resembling Canadian Mounties, was coming toward him. All their faces were drawn, like coin purses."
I closed my eyes and I saw them: lumbering towards Charlie, down the antiseptic hallway, making a roadblock three across, their faces tight and their mouths small like coin purses tied up and closed. They were steeling themselves for something. I feared for what they were going to tell Charlie.
The Hoboken Public Library invited Caroline Leavitt, a Hobokenite, to come talk about her latest novel (her ninth!) last week and I scored a babysitter at the last minute so I could attend. I told Ms. Leavitt how much I admired the precision of her metaphors and I asked her a question that probably doesn't really have an answer. How do you get good at that?
She looked as surprised as I was about the beauty of the coin purse metaphor and others. She shrugged her shoulders in a friendly way and said, "Gosh, I just don't know. That metaphor was really a gift, wasn't it?"
The word "gift" came up again and again. Ms. Leavitt used it to describe everything about writing: ideas for characters, for scenes, for plots that move and excite, for language that delights. She said that such things don't come as much from practice or literary rule-following as they do from sheer inspiration, from the subconscious, from a territory of grace deep inside. They are gifts.
She had a few pieces of good advice about the craft that I wanted to pass on to other writers:
- She does extensive work on her main characters before she ever starts writing the novel. She develops the stories of the character's parents and grandparents, even if they never appear in the book, because she believes that we are all a product of the generations that came before us.
- It's important to train your subconscious -- the source of literary "gifts" -- by writing at the same time every single day.
- Publish short stories, essays and articles everywhere -- it's important for new writers to get their names out. Also blog, tweet, facebook as much as possible! It's all about name recongition.
- Self-publishing is going through an important change and she believes it is a viable option for authors, especially as large publishers are less and less likely to pick up and "develop" a new author if sales do not materialize. If an author goes the route of self-publishing, she recommends investing at least $5 - $10k in good publicity, marketing and promotion.
- There are several semi-self-publishing houses (an author must be accepted for publication) and forums that new authors should look at: Two-Dollar Radio and Red Lemonade.