I’m proud of this essay I wrote for a Junot Diaz website.
Check it out: http://thecheatersguide.net/2012/11/13/the-cheaters-guide-to-loneliness/
I’m proud of this essay I wrote for a Junot Diaz website.
Check it out: http://thecheatersguide.net/2012/11/13/the-cheaters-guide-to-loneliness/
I haven’t written in months. My head is starting to feel like the cork in a champagne bottle. The pressure of unexpressed things is building steadily. First it manifests as a nagging need unmet–the perennial itch I can’t scratch, or at least won’t scratch yet. Then it becomes an annoying flood of ideas. Half-baked images, random notions, elusive dust of stories sometimes floating sometimes ramming into my mind; then the dust becomes a snowball, and gathers momentum: story potentials nag me, they poke at my consciousness, they try to get my attention. I tend to wait for this pressure to become near unbearable. If there is other stuff in my life, like an impending move, distracting me from my writing, the pressure becomes volcanic, painful to my psyche, and then in a moment of torment, I finally surrender.
Today, I am writing something new again. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.
It’s nearly time to write again. By Thursday this week, I will run out of my officially sanctioned excuse, “I don’t have time to write because I’m too busy with my grad coursework.” The big question is what happens when I get two months of free evenings.
Whenever I stop writing for a period of time, a mysterious pressure chamber appears within me. The pressure keeps building in my “you should be writing” space, until I feel a nearly explosive tension in my ribs. I’m a talented procrastinator, so I am able to ignore a great deal of internal pressure and pretend everything is all right. But when I have the leisure to stop and think about it, I am afraid.
Here I am, on the cusp of free time. It’s a huge opportunity and of course opportunity is a burden of sorts. I desperately want to write, but I don’t know that I will. I’m feeling un-practiced and anxious and I have a zillion fragments of ideas, but no big concepts I want to pursue. Of course, there’s always the option to edit and polish existing pieces. Editing is important, but I would like to write something new. There’s also submitting, and I’ve realized that submitting is hugely important, and I enjoy the process and the volumes of rejection and the occasional sliver of encouragement. I could turn my attention in that direction. However, the insecure part of me wants to know that I can still create from nothing–that I can make a fragment of a new world in my head.
My idealized version of myself would set aside time every day to write or revise. My actual self is an anxious little pony. The page is blank. The page is waiting. The threat of the blank page trumps any passing feeling of accomplishment about wrapping up my first year in my grad program. (Why are feelings of accomplishment always so fleeting? I guess the answer is fear and pressure. They have their uses. They either immobilize me or they push me forward.) Onward with the battle!
Now that I’m more diligent about sending pieces out, I’m getting volumes of rejections–several a week in fact. Most don’t say much, but a few say things like, “We enjoyed reading and discussing your work; in fact, it made it to the final tier of the editorial process. Although we are going to have to pass this time around, please don’t let that discourage you.”
Relative to the typical rejection letter, this note is great. But what’s missing is the information I need as a writer. What did my story do or fail to do? How can I make it better? (Okay, I’ll concede that making my work better is my job, but still, I thought I had it worked out or I wouldn’t have sent it–obviously, outside help is needed!)
In fact, I’m getting so many rejections that my tape-rejections-to-the-wall project had to be discontinued because the sheer weight of the paper was making the pile crumble down the wall onto my printer.
I’m full of hope though. I still haven’t heard from 40% of the places I sent the piece–this means my story still has a shot. I’m also learning, again and again, that the editorial review process needs must occur at geological speeds. I’m hearing in late June about stories I sent out in early January. Imagine how many life changes I could make in six to ten months! I could have mastered a new hobby, like knitting, by the time the last rejection for my January submission gets to me.
I remain, yours, undiscouraged. (Furthermore, nine days from now my summer classes will have ended and I will finally take up writing again.)
After years of hemming and hawing, of feeling inadequate, ambivalent, worried, anxious and excited about the notion of being published, I finally this year, in my 40s, have gotten my act together enough to submit some of my long-lingering work for publication. Since the beginning of the year, I have submitted three stories, and I have gotten two stories accepted for publication. This makes me feel quite optimistic.
Here are some (fairly obvious) “secrets”:
1. Guaranteed: You will Never get published if you don’t send your material out into the world. (My first 30 some years of writing related behavior prove this.)
2. Good Likelihood: The more venues to which you submit your stories, the more likely your stories will eventually be accepted for publication. This doesn’t mean be indiscriminate, but as I’ve learned from Writer’s Relief, you should send every story out to at least 25 appropriate publications.
3. Inevitably: The editorial review and response process takes time–I’m just hearing in June about stories I submitted in January. For the first time in my life, I had one story accepted in two different publications, a slightly painful but exciting turn of events.
4. Definitely. If an editor sends you encouraging feedback, follow up! Try to build dialogue, invite additional feedback, figure out if something else in your portfolio might be more suitable. That’s how I got Rosamonde Wakes published.
In short, send out your stories! The pieces that make you shake with excitement will provide enjoyment to others as well. Do your best at writing, then take a deep breath and submit!
here’s a quick list of my writing sins (likely incomplete):
and here’s a quick list of my fixes (still under development):
I’ve massively revised three stories in ten days. It’s been a luxurious stretch — I’ve been indulging in a slight, but growing feeling of mastery over my words and storytelling. Ladies and gentlemen, this is as exciting as writing gets.
Here’s a bonsai metaphor–as a writer, you keep trimming and guiding the growing thing and you hope you don’t end up with a horrifying shapeless garbled web of a bush, and you try not to trim down until you have a stick, but both are tempting avenues. The big trick is to somehow visualize the emerging shape before it’s actually there and then encourage its emergence — on paper. [You have to imagine a ghost of a story into being.] (You have to terrify the page into surrender.) I’ll stop my metaphors here, but you get the picture: Gardener, warrior, Voodoo priest, these are the components of authorship. Let’s throw in monastic novice as well, because although this post is lofty, my writing experience is one of extreme humility and short lived aha moments.
The turning point was watching a brilliant editor, in my case Ellen Parker of FRiGG Magazine, edit down my sleeping beauty story–she helped me increase the narrative speed, cleared the brush of unnecessary ideas, and unburied the ending. It was great observing someone else at work on my text. It liberated me to rework my other texts. Her approach to polishing my story gave me insight into my writing sins and how to move beyond them. I’ve been frantically practicing these skills, and now school starts again.
My partner accuses me of only writing sad stories. Why does he think this? Because of my endings. I say nay, I write bittersweet stories. Life itself is a wonder of bitter-sweetness, what other endings could I write that would still feel true? This tendency of mine to err on the side of hopeful melancholy probably limits my choices.
Endings. Writing endings is an art I have not yet mastered, and frequently it is the story mechanism with which I have the mightiest struggles. Version after version, new ending after new ending, never striking the right note.
It is a heavy burden. How can I give a satisfying close to my readers? How can I bring earlier themes back but synthesize them or introduce a new idea that builds upon all that has gone before?
Perhaps it is time to devote myself to the problem. Let’s say that over the next month I will study other writers’ techniques for tackling this conundrum. (I might end up where I started, as, let’s face it, my favorite authors also go for the bittersweet in their stories.)
I could also go the simple route and try to write a story with a happy ending. If I keep up with the theme of Matisse’s Paires et Series exhibit, I could write several versions of the same story, striking different notes in each iteration, experimenting specifically with the path to the ending and the conclusion itself. I sense a project in the making.
After working for ten years on a piece that was almost, but never quite, satisfactorily finished–I decided, inspired by the Matisse show “Paires et Series” I saw in Paris, that if I couldn’t get my story to behave as I had written it originally, and rewritten it countless times, perhaps it was time for a radical rewriting. I opened the existing word document, then opened a new word document next to it, and got to writing, occasionally re-purposing small amounts of text that still worked in version 2. Aha! Working fast over two nights and two days, I’m pleased with the final result. The narrative finally makes sense, it is cohesive, the images have been pared down to the necessary few. The character’s emotional journey has a beginning and an ending and a melancholy swath of a middle.
It was a good week. I significantly reworked two pieces I’ve always loved but never brought to ripeness. They had hung around, rotting green mangoes of work, and I felt angry for not being able to bring them to their full sweetness. Rotting no longer. My shiny new fruit is off to market. I wish I had more weeks like this.
My lack of time generally, and my surging ambition specifically, make me feel like I’m in a kiln, being slowly baked by my desire for further publications. The terrible truth–now that I have an inkling that I might occasionally produce publishable work, is that I’m desperate to hit that quality level more consistently: I want to work harder and get further with my writing, and I resent anything that takes away from that project (like being a student). Furthermore, I want new publishing credits and I want them right now. My impatience is rearing its head. I’m angry for having waited so long in my life to get to this point.
The remains of my rational self hold to the proposition that I should be able to celebrate the small measure of progress I’ve made. But my tiny taste of success gnaws at me, a reminder that I could do and be more as a working artist. I guess the good news, despite my ego problems, is that I think I’m slowly getting a touch better at my craft. This week, I picked up two old unfinished pieces that dragged about like spinster aunts sharing an efficiency studio (the cramped cement backyard of my writing archives), and I finally have a wealth of ideas as to how to “marry them off” to publishers.
Sometimes I look in the mirror of craft and this is what I see: Too many notions, concepts and fancies oozing out of my brain and too few finished stories. There’s good reason that I started my writing career as a poet–I’m full of atmospheric images, but I’m not so good on the plot thing. The plot thing I’m told is largely the point of storytelling. This makes me feel a little bit sad, but it’s also something to strive for.
I tend to get lost in the weeds of images or moods, or possibilities. I hate to define too closely, I want lots of room for my reader to embellish what’s on the page. Or maybe this is laziness. My limitations explain my tendency to re-write fairy tales. Fairy tales give me something to imagine against. Even when I end up writing something wildly different, at least I had a starting point, an arc to reference. This also explains my creative non-fiction habits. I like to re-purpose what exists.
But I do like to write new things, stories that have never existed before (in as much as that’s possible for me, someone who loves stories and has spent her life absorbing other story tellers’ narratives). When I write original fiction, I have to write it in layers. I have to re-write and redirect, edit after edit, isolating each particular strand of the narrative I want to explore. It takes me some time to refresh my ideas. So after each edit, I need to leave my story alone for a while. A few months later, I can revisit, identify a new strand of story to explore, and layer that in, and re-balance what’s already on the page to accommodate this new idea of mine.
As you can imagine, this is a lengthy exploratory process–why did I write what I wrote in the first place, what was I trying to say, which of the many narrative doors I’ve opened do I really want to wander into? But the process does eventually get me to some kind of movement in the story. My characters do change over time, as I do while writing them.
The bad news is that it takes me years to write my way through just one of my stories. Oh well, on with writing.
I’ve gotten dozens of rejections from literary journals aver the last two months. Here’s what’s fun about wholesale volume ixnays having to do with my attempts at artistry: I’m getting more gleeful with each new “thank you, no.”
Each rejection indicates at least one person tried to read my work. Each rejection is just another sign that my work is really out there in the world.
Now that I’m in the rhythm of getting those politely phrased kicks in my ego’s face, I’m kind of amused instead of slighted.
I should acknowledge that part of my glee stems from having published at least one piece as part of this process–so work submission has revealed itself as a process, full of defeat certainly, but also occasional, abrupt rays of sunshine.
My ego’s face is bruised, but also smiling. Calluses are good sometimes–they’re signs of use, which is a kind of bravery.
Just got word that my latest story, Rosamonde Wakes, is now online at FRiGG Magazine.
It occurred to me that as some parents tend to prefer a specific age in a child’s development, some favoring babies, others toddlers, and others teens, so it is likely also the case with babies — they themselves might be more comfortable at certain ages than others. This for me would explain why some babies are so much more comfortable in their baby skins and while other infants seem uncomfortable and put upon, and others still have that patient look in their eyes, clearly tolerating the condition, but without much affinity for it–other than the cuddling, I think most creature enjoy the cuddling.
I’m thinking of writing a story along these lines that takes place at a playdate, where the parents have mental monologues about the babies and the babies do the same about the parents and each other. It could be hilarious!
Timing. It’s a killer.
I wrote a novella-length feminist adaptation of Rapunzel in 2004. I’ve been trying to write complementary stories ever since. It’s been slow work, but now I’ve got close and far adaptations of Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood. And then I’ve got Stan, my devil story, which is an odd tale that doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere, though he is very interesting. If I put all these stories together I’ve got a slim, but compellimg volume that makes me feel like I’m close to finishing another short book of writing.
Here’s the problem. I’m obviously neither prolific nor fast, and my little volume is not quite finished even as fairy tale retellings become the rage on TV and in the movies. I’m watching my thing get played out in the commercial arena and I’m not quite ready for prime time. This is an odd feeling. Like if all your life you’ve loved persimmons and no one talks about them and in your spare time you’re slowly working on a persimmon cookbook; then you wake up and you start seeing persimmons on all the menus in all your favorite restaurants and in all the newspapers. Yup, that’s what this year feels like.
There’s also a bit of Tantalus in this tale. Success (or its attempt) is not quite within reach.
I guess, and here goes further proof of how slow I am, that it’s time to redouble efforts and concentrate on what I can do to get my work to market sooner rather than later.
This weekend I went to a friend’s baby shower in NYC. As friends and parents dispensed advice on the parents to be, my favorite analogy was how traveling and parenting resemble each other: How you have to adventurous, brave and flexible and face sudden setbacks while you travel and after you procreate. (This is true of writing as well.)
Several of my friends are in the process of embarking on the parenting journey, and it’s incredibly moving to witness their transformation. They are courageous and they are vulnerable. I love these parents and children to be, they are part of my growing family. I look forward to meeting each and every one of this new cohort.
I bask in the maturity and thoughtfulness of these near parents. We’re all in the process of stretching into the new obligations and joys these children will bring.
For my part, I’m enjoying being forced to grow up, or accepting being a grown up — becoming a point of reference about how to live life for each of these children.
I’m also thinking about story telling. How raising children and telling stories are related. Because my story telling is (in part) a reflection of me, how the language and images I use reflect my knowledge about the fabric of the world, my values, my dreams, my hopes, and my sense of the possibilities and my feelings about the life experience.
There’s a reason so many stories and fairy tales are journey stories. Family relationships, new friendships, dating adventures, trips, commuting, making a home, creating a family–the journey metaphor, sometime the literal journey, are essential to the human experience.
Writing, traveling and family building–all tied together. Neat.
Right before I woke up this morning, I was dreaming that I was writing poetry. I was organizing a poetry reading and, as a featured reader, I had to work on creating new poems. Poetry intimidates me, but in this dream really good poems were coming out of me, and I had all sorts of poetry prompt ideas for more good poems. That was my dream. So I woke up, grabbed my laptop, and came downstairs to make coffee. Here I am, not feeling particularly poetical, but feeling like I have an obligation to try to write.
Let me mention that I’m not a “dream” person. I don’t recall my dreams, discuss them, assign meaning to them, or keep a dream diary. I generally think dreams are mental flotsam and jetsam, foaming up while the central controls are down. Dreams sometimes make something pretty or interesting, but they are what my brain does while napping. Neither dreams nor snoring are meaningful to me, and they’re of about equivalent value.
There is one exception. A “truth” dream – A dream that reveals something I know to be true but haven’t acknowledged yet. A truth dream will tell me to pay attention because I need to do something important. I’ve had very few of these dreams. In February, I had a series of dreams that drove me into graduate school.
What makes these dreams different is that I wake up with a strong conviction about my course of action. Waking up with a sense of mission is a very exciting change when my greatest morning ambitions tend to be hygiene and caffeination. Waking up feeling decisive is a nice break from waking up feeling sluggish and a little out of sorts at being awake.
Today, I am listening to my dream, even if all I write is one blog post.
May your dreams point the way to something great in your lives.
Merry post-Christmas time: may you enjoy it in good health and good company.
Every day since the semester ended I’m feeling a little bit lighter and happier. Today I woke up and realized I was totally carefree. No pending homework. No feelings of guilt or obligation. I felt like a floaty balloon. A balloon that wanted a long nap.
There’s plenty to do, but a lot of it is going to the movies, watching movies, napping, reading guilty pleasures and fibrous fiction. I get to do with my mind whatever I want. Extravagant feeling.
In a nice turnaround, today for the first time in a long time, I wrote some fiction. 1000 words. I had a longstanding plot problem and I solved it. I’m facing my usual challenge with the ending, but that’s not so bad.
I’m feeling blessedly playful.
I have plenty to tackle in the next two weeks, but my chores will be book-ended with silly fun. Even having the time and leisure to dedicate to my chores fills me with relief and gratitude.
The holidays are looking brighter than ever. Merry merry.
It’s getting to be that time when I get antsy at not writing anything more creative than student papers–student papers, as far as I can tell, require sourcing good information and then organizing and explaining that information coherently. It’s a skill set for sure, but it doesn’t give me a buzz. Okay, it does give me a buzz, but it’s not a creative buzz, it’s a “look at how well I can follow guidelines” buzz. Reasonable Girl thrives in the academic setting, she’s so reasonable it’s amazing. But Reasonable Girl secretly craves the ultra-rare big sexy rush of creative writing.
Meanwhile, I hear some gurgling in the background, and it’s not my tummy digesting cake (at least not today)–my creative wellspring is gurgling. It’s not an angry gurgle yet, but it could be, soon! The spring is telling me I have a whole backlog of weird half lived fantasies and notions that need some kind of funneling, or my dreams are going to keep getting weirder, and I’m not even taking anti malaria drugs anymore.
I’m doing the multi-identity juggling again. The worker, student, girlfriend, wannabe author smack down is in full force, plus there’s the added pressure of the holidays: I have to be a good family member in a variety of settings as well. In the next 30 days, I’ll hang out with a 5 month old. I’ll also hang out with a 91 and 90 year old. I will be flexible; I will be kind; I will be tired.
The good news is that I only have two more school papers to go. I’ve got pretty much all the pieces I need to complete my generative, academic oeuvres. And then, one blessed month from now, I will have one blessed month to goof off. That month of will be chock full of a ridiculous lack of things to do at night. I will unveil my other superhero identity yet again, the one with the small cape, the writer person who right now has been closet-ted and ignored for a bit too long. Yay small cape. I see you hanging. You’ll be dusted off in no time.
Life is very exciting in these parts. I just tackled my second memoir chapter rewrite, and it felt downright successful. That’s two pleasurable chapter rewrites in a row. Inconceivable. (“Are you sure that word means what you think it means?”). Miraculous.
The experience is good because I can read feedback on particular chapters that tell me I’m currently failing and take the critique in stride, and when I re-read the chapters, my X-ray editor/writer vision is in full force. I can see when this empress has no clothes. And I have the gumption to make my own cloak and fix the problem. This is a very empowering process. I can be pointed to a problem, and I can tackle it. Oh sweet rewrite siren, how sweetly you sing.
Tonight, I also rewrote my intro to my book using language that I first plunked here. It’s been tweaked, but it’s still good and evocative (thanks Blog!). I also started re-organizing the order of the memoir chapters. The memoir order is not exactly chronological, but it’s now more thematic. Kind of.
I have to do homework, so i have to leave well enough alone for now, but I may have found a new technique: I get an hour (on nights when I have five hour homework stretches in front of me) to work on my memoir (timer and everything) and then I have to attend to homework. This creates a positive kind of force. I am compelled to face my fears, write, and be efficient, because my precious minutes are tick-tocking away. Oh the precious!
And with that. Good night.
I was reading the done manifesto, which encourages you (me) to wrap things up and move on, in acceptance that everything is a draft, and mistakes will naturally creep into the process if you’re highly productive (paraphrasing). I like the idea of getting things done, of course, and maybe I should embrace the 20 minute productivity burst ethos that led to the creation of the manifesto to begin with.
I am however in possession of four thoughtful people’s comments on my memoir draft, which adds up to 25 pages of feedback. That’s 25 pages of editing suggestions to synthesize. I’m excited and pleased and slightly dismayed because I agree with most of the comments and they represent a huge amount of potential work. If I try really hard, I might just get to squeeze in 20 minutes a day of manuscript editing.
That’s like being told to build a highrise during your regular job smoke breaks.
I guess my new approach is to aim to get one story edited a week, and in half a year or so, I’ll have my next memoir draft. I better start carrying the weekly story to edit with me at all times. Commitment requires sacrifice, overcommitment requires sacrifice And sustained strategies.
This week, my sustained strategy was to declare an all out war on stress. I had several tactics: get homework that was making me feel bad done, throw some acupuncture at my back to keep it from seizing up from all the sitting, get a massage to remind myself what feeling good feels like, get a haircut because honestly I’m getting quite scraggly, and have a support session with a new school friend so we can compare coping techniques in the flood of new responsibilities. But what really needs to get done: learning to let go, and learning to be where I am, without the racing monkey mind of guilt and confusion.
I want to get things done, but to do it with grace, and in a happy way. That’s the trick.