Life (Or Something Like It)

I hesitated before deciding to write this post, not because of the words that follow, but because this is a writing blog, and a personal post about my life just seemed a little indulgent. But then I remembered good writing is all about tapping into truth, and what could possibly be truer than the life we’re living?

Well, mine has been…interesting. Some of you know that last May I took on the responsibility of caring full-time for my Granddaughter, Harper. (She turned five in December, three days after Christmas. I know, right? December birthdays. Sigh. think I’ll introduce half-birthdays this year.) The first two months or so, I dedicated my time 24/7 to helping Harper overcome some emotional and psychological challenges that resulted from her previous situation, and also to help her with speech issues that had plagued her since her first word. (No, I won’t go into detail here – but suffice it to say she didn’t have much consistency in her little life in the preceding year.)

(For the record, there will be lots of parenthetical stuff in this post. Think of it as carefully-considered words, not meant to stir up conversation or controversy, but to gently inform. Okay? Thanks.)

Did I mention that I’m on my own? I’m not married, nor do I have a significant other [call me, Kate Beckinsale] who can play a support role in this. (Going on 11 years of singleness and solitude and loneliness in that regard. That’s another story – one for the movies – and one that I won’t share on this blog. Feel free to piece it together from the spaces between the words in my fiction writing. Then cry a tear or two if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Well, I’d already scheduled a full slate of editing projects for the summer, so those had to be delayed, and the ones on the heels of those as well. There’s absolutely no way to “edit faster” if you’re committed to giving both the book and the author your best. All the deadlines went down like dominoes. My meager savings (meant to buy me a month to write my next novel) quickly disappeared, and I was just hanging by a thread there for a while, at least financially. The good news is that when you’re totally consumed with trying to remember how to parent a young child and figure out how to pay the bills without a regular income, there’s little time left to remember you suffer from depression.

Meanwhile (I could do lots of “meanwhiles” here, but I’ll just do this one), I had just released a novel, Stolen Things, which I self-published because I couldn’t find an agent who was willing to take a chance on it (though a few truly wanted to, for what that’s worth). All my clever marketing plans went up in smoke, as did that plan to work on the next book, Beautiful Sky, Beautiful Sky. (It will be worth the wait – I promise.)

I love writing. (And of course, having written.) But writing, along with my income-producing editing work – which I love nearly as much – had been flipped on their heads and all my writerly dreams – of marketing my ass off to get onto the bestseller charts with Stolen Things, of making the next book so good agents would fight over it – evaporated. Yes, I know, the right word is “delayed,” but in the middle of wrestling with the chaos, “evaporated” is what it felt like. Feels like, still, sometimes.

And so here I am, seven months down the road, playing single-parent at 57, not counting on that to change, but still hoping for good things, and still doing my best to keep moving forward. It’s not easy. But what is? (Don’t even get me started on the mess that politicians are making of the country I love and for the people I care about.) That’s probably the only lesson I can give you in the middle of this post. It’s far from original, but it’s about as true as true gets: Life isn’t easy. Writing isn’t easy, either. But if you have to press pause on one, choose writing.

I get mildly upset when I read advice from “successful” writers telling those of us still angsting for that modifier that to be a real writer you have to write every day.

Bullshit.

If you write every day and that’s how you get where you want to be, good for you. But life doesn’t care if you have a dream of selling a million books, or getting a hundred five-star reviews, or being touted by Neil Gaiman as a brilliant, if underrated writer. (Fingers crossed.) Life just does what it does and sometimes it drags you away from your dreams to care for a little girl who needs all of you.

I have written exactly 346 words in my novel since May. Am I still a writer? Damn right I am. And someday you’ll have more evidence of that. Until then, I’ll be raising a young reader-dancer-firefighter-whatever-she-wants-to-be-today while chipping away at all the missed freelance deadlines (many apologies to my long-suffering clients, and many thanks as well for your continued patience) and hoping for an hour here or there to write more of my next book.

And that will have to be good enough.

I’ll leave you with this: Write as much as you can. Be intentional about it. But first, live.

Dis-Encouragement

This is not a hopeful post. Usually when I say something like that up front it’s just a clever (or not so clever) ruse; a setup for the inevitable twisty punchline that will leave you feeling strangely encouraged, despite having walked barefoot across the broken glass path of a none-too-pleasant publishing reality.

There is no clever twist this time.

Have you seen the movie, 500 Days of Summer? When it begins, you’re certain it’s going to be a love story, but then the voiceover says, without apology: “This is a story of boy meets girl. But…you should know up front, this is not a love story.”

This post is like that.

I haven’t touched any of my works-in-progress in months. That includes the middle-grade-though-maybe-it’s-really-for-adults novel, Stolen Things, that I believe is eminently publish-worthy, or maybe just a chapter-one-rewrite-away from being the kind of novel  that agents would fight Ronda Rousey for in order to represent me.

That doesn’t mean my brain hasn’t been busy. I mean apart from the editorial (ie: paying) work that consumes my days and nights and eats my vacation dreams for breakfast. I have had plenty of Really Good New Ideas for short stories and novellas and novels pop into my head during this time of writerly despair.

But those are just ideas. Ideas come easy for me. Go ahead, give me a prompt, any prompt, and I’ll have a story idea for it in a matter of minutes.

This isn’t a post about ideas. It’s a post about writing. About being a writer. And about not doing the former and struggling to see myself as the latter.

My writerly despair isn’t just about rejection, though I have had my share. (Here’s how to deal with rejection: Let it sting, feel its bite, then move on.)

And it’s not just the fact that time is an inexorable asshole, layering age lines on top of age lines until I wonder who the old man in my mirror is and why hasn’t he done anything meaningful with his life?

It’s also not just about clinical depression, though I am intimately familiar with that Liar-In-Residence.

This is a post about discouragement. About the kind of failures that don’t make us stronger or count toward some cosmic tally that will ultimately tip the scale in favor of some grand success. (“You’ve hit 53 rejections! Congratulations! The next agent to read your book will love it and so will the whole world and Neil Gaiman will refer to it as ‘unexpectedly brilliant’ the same day Steven Spielberg options the movie rights.”)

It’s about thinking you can’t do it anymore. I mean write, but I also mean “believe you can write.” The former is a familiar place for all writers. We look at our words, no matter where they are in the editorial process, and whisper or shout, “I can’t write.”

That’s normal. That’s expected. And that doesn’t scare me one bit.

What does scare me is thinking that I may have lost the ability to believe in myself. Oh sure, there are others who believe in me. At least two or three. And I don’t mean to disparage them for their generosity and kindness.

But to be a writer you have to have at least an inkling of belief that you can do this thing. And I am currently inkling-less.

That’s it.

No, really. That’s the end of the post.

Feeling a little uncomfortable? Anxious? Nervous? You really want me to end this with a tease of hope, don’t you.

I warned you this wasn’t a hopeful post.

Sometimes you just have to own your despair.

And then see what happens tomorrow.

(What’s that? The last sentence looks a little like hope to you? Well, that’s all you, my friend. All you.)

 

#amwaiting

When the language gods sat down at their very expensive polished maple conference table to decide which term to use for the art of putting words together to tell stories, “writing” wasn’t their first choice. “Bloodletting” actually had the most up-votes and was likely to get the nod. But then one of the lesser gods – the one everyone mistakenly called Vern – felt compelled to mention how similar “writing” was to “waiting,” which they’d already determined would mean “excruciatingly long pauses where nothing appeared to be happening.”

While he was publically showing his support for the already-popular idea of eliminating “writing” from contention, he was secretly hoping his observation might be clever enough to gain him a little status among his peers. But when the other gods noticed this similarity, they immediately changed their votes. They’d find another use for “bloodletting.” “Writing” was perfect, because, as the god known as Carl V. Clamphammer said, “Writing and waiting are intimately intertwined.” The other gods cheered and nodded and deemed it a done deal and Vern was hailed as a genius.

All this is true. Except the part about Vern being hailed as a genius. Ask any of the gods today and they’ll universally respond, “Who’s Vern?”

By this point, you’re probably wondering if I’m ever going to get to the point of the blogpost. Oh, I will. Eventually.

But first, let’s talk about bloodletting.

Okay. Fine. I’ll save that for another post.

This one is on…wait for it…

[Taps fingers on table.]

[Stares at clock on wall.]

[Goes online to try to understand Tumblr and find out where the missing “e” went.]

Writing and waiting. Carl V. had it right. If you’re a writer, you’re a waiter. (And yes, you might also be a waiter, but that’s not important, so ignore that six-top and rejoin me here at the point. Oh, and could you bring me some water? With lime, please. Thanks.)

Here are some of the ways a writer waits:

  • You wait for the computer to wake up from sleep.
  • You wait for inspiration.
  • You wait for the children to take a nap so you can wait for inspiration.
  • You wait for the Internet to stop offering you pictures of kittens knitting sweaters for their pet sloths.
  • You wait for feedback from your beta readers.
  • You wait for a response (or non-response) from literary agents.
  • You wait for your editor to get back to you with his notes. [Ed: Thanks for your patience.]
  • You wait for someone to buy your book.
  • You wait for the first five-star review.
  • You wait for the first one-star review.
  • You wait for someone to respond to the one-star review by telling the reviewer he should probably read the book before reviewing it.
  • You wait for writing elves to finish your novel while you sleep.
  • You wait for sleep that never comes because you’re worried that the writing elves might steal your idea and give it to James Patterson.
  • You wait for phone calls. Emails. Texts. Ideas. Words. Brilliance. Coffee. Wine. Hope.

There’s a lot of waiting in writing. But it doesn’t have to be an “excruciatingly long pause where nothing seems to be happening.” See, you can still write while you’re waiting. You can brainstorm the next book. You can come up with marketing ideas. You can argue with the voices in your head. You can crawl out of your bed and put on sweats and running shoes and pretend like one day of exercise will make up for the dozen donuts you ate yesterday while you were writing.

Waiting is a great time for pondering things. But here’s a tip – be sure to have paper and a pen (or a laptop, or a smart phone) nearby while you’re waiting. That plot problem you were struggling with? The answer will inevitably come to you while you’re waiting in line at the corner deli.

But it’s not like you have to fill every waiting moment with stuff. That’s insane. Please feel free to enjoy an “excruciatingly long pause where nothing seems to be happening” if that’s what you need. Sometimes doing nothing is exactly what you should be doing.

Then, when your nothing time is over, you can get back to waiting. I mean writing. I mean waiting. I mean writing. I mean…

Bloodletting might have been a better choice.

Thanks a lot, Vern.