Keep Breathing

It’s been an action packed week. It feels like I should have learned something. I don’t think I learned anything new, but I did reconnect with ye olde life lessons (nothing earth shattering but always humbling in constructive ways.)

  1. Monday: The endless battle. Nothing is good enough for my writing group. This is probably a good thing. They keep pushing me past my own boundaries. If I think something is good or interesting, they demand I make it better.
  2. Tuesday: Suck it up, there’s a lot of week left.
  3. Wednesday: Breathing (+). When I’m going through minor though significant discomfort, I should focus on my breathing. When I’m done breathing, it’s okay to have a margarita (salt, rocks please.)
  4. Wednesday: Acknowledge others. People in my doctor’s office really appreciate it when I tell them they’re doing a good job (when they’re doing a good job.)
  5. Wednesday. Art–time consuming but mentally refreshing. Maybe Neil LaBute is finally softening up. I saw the play Reasons to Be Pretty. I’m pretty sure the moral of the story is don’t be beautiful and keep reading.
  6. Wednesday. Grace. Lovely boyfriend remains amazingly thoughtful.
  7. Thursday: Let go. Sometimes, despite my compulsion to do homework, it’s okay if it didn’t happen.
  8. All week: When agitated, I ought to get up and take a short walk down the hallway, and go compliment someone, reconnect with humanity.

Small Compliments & Small Signs of Progress

One of my coworkers took a look at me today and was like “you’re losing weight.”

I was like, “thanks for noticing.” In fact, I’m not losing weight, but I am losing width–the exercise is making a difference. Sporadic small bits of encouragement keep me motivated, and get me thinking, “Hey, if I actually put more energy into this health initiative of mine, I might get more noticeable results.”

I have been a bit of a slacker since my delicious trip to France, but it’s nice to be reminded that change is possible, incremental, and there will be some results.  Occasionally, the casual bystander will gaze at you and remark upon a change you’ve been trying to enact.

In a similar, not quite success but better than the alternative, vein–I’m getting a lot of semi positive rejection notices. The tone of the rejections is changing, for example this closing: “However, we are intrigued and would be interested in seeing more of your work in the future. Onward with the battle!”

So I’m going to put this development also in my small signs of progress column. And pick up that motto: Onward with the battle!

Refreshed!

A week’s worth of procrastination, it turns out, can have a blessed effect on my productivity. Witness my ability to crank out a paper in four 40 minute chunks over three days—that’s the direct result of serious resentment and goofing off last week. I gave myself time off–I thought it was just because I was lazy, angry, and unmotivated, but in fact, it was catharsis–I didn’t even know there could be a turnaround in my mindset, but yes, after my week in revolt, I was able to move beyond my dangerously bad attitude. It’s nice knowing that sometimes waiting and distracting yourself and being inactive and unproductive can have great results. Magical goofing off.

75% Freaking Done

As of tonight, I’ve got 21 chapters in my memoir, and I’ve got 5 stories to revisit and improve upon. This means I’m 75% done with this revision. That’s either incredibly close or impossibly far.

Tonight I rewrote my query letter to give some background on what motivated me to write the book. I was able to take a piece of my foreword, which came from a piece of this blog, and tighten it. I love re-purposing.

I also answered some questions readers had about my old darling, Bed Stories. It is easier to answer questions and expand on a topic than it is to restructure a piece from scratch. It was fun to add color.

I feel a bit guilty for going with the easy way out, but I don’t want to do my major rewriting in my Scrivener software manuscript draft. I want to try it in Word, see what happens and go from there.

I know you’re supposed to sacrifice your darlings as a writer, but really, why not indulge them instead?
Bed Stories is admittedly a lackadaisical, sideways piece. A bit shapeless, but a chapter I can’t bear to totally rewrite because I love all its weird bits and pieces. Having read it for a decade now, probably explains why I’m so attached to and slightly immobilized by it. Oh well, old loves die hard.

Between Done and 25 pages of comments

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.

The Gazillionth Rewrite

“I feel stupid and contagious” allows me to a) honor Nirvana belatedly (jumping on media bandwagon), and b) succinctly express how I feel when my writing group critiques my work. I have been working on my Frenchness and Identity piece for a while. I must be in my fifth major re-write/re-org at the very least. Last night I had the audacity to share the piece with my writing group, and those lovely wizards clarified the million different ways in which my piece is limping along on crutches, with a bad case of…(I don’t know. I want to say charlie horse, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong) broken ankle. They rightfully exhorted me to simplify, streamline, focus, deepen, add fuller scenes, and feel the rage. These are all excellent suggestions. I’m going to need to put on my small cape to tackle this mess. It’s not like it was a revelatory session, it was a session of dread. I hate being told that what I suspected all along was right–my nagging doubts are totally warranted. My piece doesn’t suck, it’s too tentacular. Tentacular spectacular. Apparently I have the outline of a book buried in an unevenly paced essay. Oh me oh my, I’m gonna have to work like the dickens to figure this out (again), after having worked so hard to figure it out (before) because nothing is damn linear for me when it comes to writing (darn).

“I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed”

Smells like teen spirit.

Delicious Rejection

I got instantly gratified, or nearly so, with a rejection two days after submitting my work for consideration. This kind of turnaround in the zine industry is rare stuff. So I’m delighted and honored to know where I stand, at least with this one publication.
I am not however disheartened, probably because the best advice I ever got about writing was to submit often and fearlessly and expect numerous rejections, and count each rejection as taking one step closer to getting something accepted.
The advice giver, my friend Nina, is an abstract painter, so she knows a thing or two about the brutal marketplace of art and esthetics.
So every time I get a rejection slip, I stick it to the wall as a reminder to keep going out into the world. I have my NO pile, nice and thick and chaotic, and my Yes pile, two pages deep. But I’m cool with that. Because I’m not nearly systematic enough about submitting my work. For example, my last rejection came on August 29, and the one before that in May.
People this is a wake up call! I need my work to go out and about into the world. The marketplace of ideas.
Also, I am being held in a lovely cold embrace as I write this post. It’s perking me right up.

two of my favorite things, together

Delicious, nutritious, loving

Writing’s other face: Submitting

So I finally got around to doing what I probably should have been doing all along–tonight I sent in three chapters from my memoir as submissions to literary mags. I can expect resounding rejections, but at least I’m doing what I think I’m supposed to do–which is opening myself to criticism and rejection by letting total strangers read my work. It’s kind of the walking-in-the-park part of being a flasher, if you’ll forgive this tawdry (perhaps unfortunate, but amusing to me) analogy. After spending all the time carefully hand sewing the exact model of my London Fog raincoat (i.e. my body of stories), I am venturing out into the world, displaying my wares, waiting for the horrified screams of bystanders (or their silent equivalent, the form rejection letter). Luckily, I’m happy to say that law enforcement, common morality, and decency rules don’t have to come into the mix of my literary submissions. Has this metaphor gone too far? I’ll let it rest for now.

So there. I’m not doing any major writing, but at least I’m doing the better part of the lazy lady’s alternative: forcing other people to read my writing. Maybe this is the best aspect of Reasonable Girl. I’ve got limited time and patience, but I’m making do with what I’ve got.

One page a day/the language of writing

Carol Shields, who is one of my favorite authors, wrote her first book by writing one page a day for a year. It sounds so easy. It’s so hard to do.
I’m finding myself consumed by the need to get homework done, and so I probably need to find a new strategy to get creative writing done. Some sort of hard uncompromising commitment–a pact with myself. I’m pretty sure blogging doesn’t count though I find it incredibly gratifying, like doing language homework and learning new vocabulary and finally being able to say something provocative in Italian (which I can’t do). Saying provocative things is great, but it would be even greater if I were mastering the whole language of writing. I guess that’s the operating metaphor. I need to get serious again about practicing the whole language of writing, which of course includes writing. (Not online, but offline, faced with the blank page and no quick exits to browse my site stats.) I have this idea that I’m going to put together a week’s calendar and figure out what i’m doing with each hour. I could do the exercise, but it would be tragic because i would make a mockery of my suggested time map. Oy.

Fighting the lure of revision

I’m quite fortunate in that two friends have already given me comments on my memoir collection. (I only distributed my memoir a week ago.) Interestingly, the piece I consider my weakest was rated among the favorites and the least favorites, respectively. The world remains a place of diverse sensibilities.

I’m already faced with a pile of prospective edits, clarifications, corrections, amplifications, amendments, and changes. I’m really tempted to go in and just work on the typos. Even as I consider doing so, it’s clear that it would start innocently enough with typos, and next thing I know I’d be writing and rewriting whole paragraphs.

So I must resist the ultimate editing gateway drug–fixing typos.

Why? Well, I’m trying to let the language cool down. I want to regain a measure of perspective on what I did, both good and bad, and the only way to do that is to leave the text alone for a while. Steven King recommends six months. I’m not possessed of six months of patience. Thus, I’m aiming for a more modest period. A 30 day cooling month.

I have to pray that this time away from my language will allow me to renew my stamina for new edits and rewrites and give me the clarity of vision necessary to move the narrative further along the absurdist humor curve.

Meanwhile I have to live with myself. I’m full of vague regrets and recriminations at all my suspected failures. I had so many (semi articulated) writing goals. It’s going to be a good month for humility.