Observations from my writing desk: April 3rd, 2017

Location: The corner of my couch, curled on top of the unfortunate crease between the chaise and the long side of the couch, covered in an old green blanket that once lived on my husband’s childhood twin sized bed.

Teacher life is tough. I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone take up the profession. At least, I wouldn’t recommend a person become an English teacher. The sheer weight of the bags I brought home, full of things to finish grading and things to enter in my gradebooks before grades close tomorrow at midnight, was enough to set of the seat belt alarm in my passenger seat.

It’s a good job. I’m lucky to have it. I love my students and the things we talk about. My coworkers are among the best I’ve ever had. But I forget what it’s like to have a Sunday or evening where I don’t have to do hours of work. Teacher burnout is real. It happened to me once before, and I’m determined not to let it happen again, but it’s hard.

Work has been so busy that I haven’t had much time to write, and I really, really need to write. Not just because of this impending deadline, but because I don’t feel quite myself if I’m not writing. It’s 9:11 as I write this, and I should be getting ready for bed, but instead I’m determined to get some writing done. I sleep better afterward. What’s with that? My brother is a musician, and he feels similarly when he doesn’t have time to compose. Are creatives doomed to be dissatisfied?

I’m being a bit glum, and I apologize. The end of grading periods is the worst.

The good news is that the sun is staying up in the sky late each day, and it beams through the living room window at just the right hour between the time I get home from work and cook dinner. I love that time of day. The cat loves it too, which is what really matters.

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Observations from my writing desk: February 12, 2017

Location: In front of the big window in my living room, sitting in a green leather, studded wooden chair, my back supported by a pillow that looks just like my cat, with my feet propped up on the lower level of a 5-foot cat condo.

Hello again, my twice-yearly visited blog. You have been resuscitated because I have a deadline: In May, I’m attending a three-day writer’s conference, and during the event I will meet with an agent who will have reviewed the first 20 pages of my novel. This is important because I love deadlines; I cannot function without them. With no accountability, I will transform into a slug: naked, slimy, and doomed to be annihilated by excessive salt. Pretty picture, huh?

Luckily, I have this deadline, which means I will absolutely, positively, without any sliver of doubt complete a comprehensive draft of this book. I’m already on draft #49567, but the current draft resembles only about .04% of its first incarnation. Amazing how that happens. And as I complete the final chapter of this draft, I’ve already begun researching and taking notes on what changes I’ll make to the next draft. I also have to do my full time, paid job when not working on my flights of fancy. But the two cannot exist without each other at this point in my life.

This meeting with an agent does not guarantee anything but useful feedback, and that’s what I desperately need. Should I continue with this book? Should I make some major changes? Is it ready to be shipped off to agents for consideration? Should I bury it in my parent’s backyard will all of the fish I had growing up? (RIP.)

Not to mention the many workshops and lectures I’ll be able to attend that weekend. I can’t wait. It feels good to keep moving forward, to keep feeling like I’m getting closer to one of my biggest goals in life.

Life goals for me are basically the following:

  • Help and love my family
  • Be healthy
  • Write that book. Love it no matter what happens.

 

 

Observations from my writing desk: 4/19/16

Location: New couch in living room, wedged between a number of pillows who didn’t ask for this and crowded with this week’s dog-sitting clients: two Yorkshire terriers and a wiry haired, sweetie pie mutt from Puerto Rico.

Instead of continuing on with the draft of my second novel (another malformed Work-in-Progress), I’m going to write something in here. On here. Under here? Through here.

I’m on spring break, which means I sleep a little later than my usual 5:30AM wake up time (#teacherlife), and spend the morning watching cooking shows and thinking about everything else I could be/should be doing. I don’t know if this happens to other teachers, but when given extended time off, I find that the sudden release from endless to-do lists, with no responsibilities clouding my vision today or even tomorrow, causes me to regress to the state of the prehistoric millipede, recently slithered up onto land for the first time from the swamp and trying to figure out what the hell to do with itself. What happens to an overtaxed mind when it isn’t called upon to be used? Cooking shows. Endless cooking shows.

Like the ancient millipedes that earned the honor of being the first life forms to crawl elbows-first onto land, watching cooking shows turned out to be quite a fortuitous journey for me as well. It reintroduced me to the person I equally love and fear the most–Martha Stewart.

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I love Martha. And I fear her. I don’t know when it began, but something about her perfectly enunciated words and her unabashed love for all that is rich and decadent has made her a figure of aspiration for me. To be specific, one of my long-held life goals is to one day be invited to her home in Maine for a weekend getaway, complete with an itinerary that begins with a vigorous 6AM hike fueled by homemade granola bars, and followed by fresh egg omelets from a variety of chickens clucking around the expansive porch, as well as (I hope) Bloody Marys made with tomatoes from her garden. Why do I want this? I don’t know–because every kid needs a dream? But I know that she’ll never invite me as I am today. I need to accomplish more, to complete my goals as she has completed hers. I need to have some more work under my belt.

Martha taught me that in order to succeed,

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Thanks, Martha. ❤

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Observations from my writing desk: December 28, 2015

Location: The saggy but well-traveled couch in my living room, currently shared with a three-legged Siamese cat from Arkansas and a goldendoodle who lunges instead of walks and enjoys burping in human’s faces while making uncomfortably close eye contact with them.

 

Time and time again, I’ve been encouraged to “develop my writer’s platform” by creating and maintaining a blog & Twitter.

Time and time again, I’ve tried to get this thing going, but then I feel like a narcissist and abandon the whole thing. What do I write about in this thing? Who even cares? Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive, like exercise?

But no, no, I shouldn’t be doing exercise. A lot has changed, once again, since I last wrote in here. The last 15 months has been the most productive writing period of my life, and I have a few quality short stories to show for it, one published, and one nearly-completed draft of a novel (plus another that’s been shelved, but I’ll get to that someday. maybe). This novel is one that I started three years ago then abandoned during one of my “everything is useless and I am nobody” phases, but I’ve been working hard to quell my nihilism and have produced quite a lot as a result.

So now this blog will take a different turn, especially since I can no longer use the subtitle “The ramblings of the unpublished” BECAUSE I’M PUBLISHED, SON. I’d rather focus on the process of finishing, revising, and submitting a finished novel to agents. I expected it to be a painful process, but also thrilling since I’ve never been this close to finishing something so big before. This feels bigger than my 13 years of public school, 4 years of college, 1 intensive year of graduate school, and all of my working years since. Even bigger than the dog sharing the couch with me, mounting my $50 Crate&Barrel pillow.

This week I’m on winter vacation from school, and this week I’m finishing a shitty first draft of a novel that I care very much about.

Back to work

Oh dear, it’s been a while.  I have a few excuses, which I’ll list here:

1. I got a new job, one of those 9-5, 40 hour a week jobs.  I like it so far, and I’m pretty sure I’m kicking ass, but it has definitely taken a large chomp out of my writing time.  By the time I get home, I need to start working on dinner which takes me a solid two hours because I’m not good with time management and am too stubborn to cook more simple meals.  This doesn’t mean that my cooking always tastes good, however.

2. We adopted a cat!  A beautiful, Siamese, 3-legged cat from Arkansas.  She’s the most affectionate creature ever to be birthed, which is why she holds the spot as Excuse #2: Whenever I sit in my pink writing chair (which Trinity, my cat, has comandeered as her own), Trin jumps into my lap and sprawls out across the keyboard.  I’m not exaggerating when I say she does this every time I sit down with the computer.  It’s adorable, but alas, progress has been slow.

3. Writer’s block.  I never believed it was real, but maybe this is it.  Also, I’m tired of my story.  I’ve been stuck on the first third of it for so long, and now I feel it’s just waving in the wind, moments from being torn off to fly away into the stratosphere, far away from my brain.

4. I’m most productive when huddled in my desk cube at the library, but it gets dark so early now that I’m afraid to walk to the library from my apartment once the sun goes down.  I know, I’m a pansy.  And yes, I could drive, but I’d rather not.  Bad news goes down on bike paths after dark, and my town in particular has been victim to some really horrible tragedies in recent histroy.  I’m a worst-case-scenario type of person, and I don’t want to become a headline.  Unless it’s for the terrific new book that I’ve published.  Or my cat becomes the new youtube sensation.  But only then.

So, I’m back to the library nice and early today thanks to a few sick days I’ve had to take due to a stomach flu.  This virus is a blessing in disguise–first, because it helped to rid me of the half of a pizza I ate Saturday night out of sheer gluttony/pizza glee.  Second, it’s given me time to read and focus back on my story.

But of course, before I can do any of that story stuff, I have to ramble on in here a bit. To work!

Observations from my writing desk, Thursday 10/17/13

Writing desk location: Desk cube at the library, second floor, in front of window overlooking library lawn and pond.

Observations:

  • 70 degree weather in mid-October is uncomfortable, especially when your writing desk is next to a giant window the librarians won’t open.
  • The only other patron sharing the row of desks with me is an Asian man with very greasy hair and too many layers of clothing. He’s a quiet neighbor though, which I appreciate. He is currently passed out at his desk, his head resting uncomfortably against the shelf on the desk. I’ve seen him here before, and a friend of his comes and gently wakes him right before the library closes. I wonder if he’s homeless. I wonder if he’d like one of the bags of fruit snacks I brought with me.
  • Sometimes Spotify is awesome and plays songs that put me in the perfect zone, until it plays some terrible song that makes me feel angry at having had it interrupt said zone, then it takes a few minutes for me to recover from the aural intrusion.
  • I only have one finger nail painted. Decided to test out a new autumnal blood-red hue on the pinky finger of my left hand. Really going for the eccentric writer look.
  • I only have one more day of unemployment after this…one more day of freedom from cubicle tyranny and the 8-5 work day drudgery. I should be making the most of it by working on my novel, but instead I’m writing in here.
  • Maybe wordpress is proving to be more of a distraction than a benefit to my “writer’s platform”. Oh well, at least I’m writing something, right?

“the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really sh*tty first drafts.”

…quoth the illustrious author Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, her guide/scripture on writing.  The chapter this quote comes from, appropriately titled “Sh*tty First Drafts”, completely changed how I write.  Before reading this chapter, I would just sit at my computer, paralyzed by the fear of writing a terrible, incoherent sentence.  As a result, my fingers would dangle idly above the keyboard, and I would feel like a complete failure.  I’d then eat a snack or three, feel bad for myself, and watch something embarrassing on Netflix.  This chapter, and the rest of the wisdom Lamott packs into her ESSENTIAL book on writing, helped me to realize that it wasn’t writing crappy sentences that would make me a failure.  Not writing at all, with my back crooked over the keyboard like a fleshy gargoyle on my Lazy-boy perch, is what would make me a failure.  The gist of this chapter, as Lamott writes, is this:

All good writers write [sh*tty first drafts]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.

I know, none of this is breaking news for others like me, slogging through a draft of something that may or may not be publishable.  However, as I’m riding the wave of revising my very, very sh*tty first draft, It’s helpful to remember that it’s OK, there’s still hope; I just need to keep my fingers moving.

[Also, quick tip: it helps to paint your finger nails wild colors to keep things even more interesting as you spend hours staring at the computer.  Every now and then you’ll look down and impress yourself with how good your finger tips look.  This positive feeling will course through your body, up and down every limb, making the neglected stubble on your legs stand on end, your ears lobes warm, and your lips to spread into a small, smug smile.  (These are all great things, trust me.  I know.)  Hopefully, if you’ve painted your nails well enough, that good feeling will wash across your brain and release some more positive waves.  Before you know it, those waves have unlocked some hidden crannie of creativity, thus causing new material to surge back out of your head, down your goose-bumped limbs toward those fabulous finger nails which are frantically typing out all of those great ideas.]

In the chapter, Lamott writes:

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions
come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

In my copy of Bird by Bird, I drew an arrow to the “Mr. Poopy Pants” line and wrote “hahaha!” But it’s true.  No one has to see what wild ideas you scribble into that draft.  Feel free to get weird.  In the first draft of my current novel, I really struggled with character names, but I tried not to let it slow me down.  I figured I would meet a cat or a coworker at some point with a name that just clicked.  So for the duration of the first draft, the antagonist is literally called “bad boy” while the love interest is simply called “boy.” And ya know? It worked fine for me.  I’m happy to say that boy and bad boy have since been christened real names.

While Ann Lamott’s book is still hugely relevant to the writing life almost 20 years after it was published, her sentiment of allowing oneself to let go and write terribly was echoed in an interview Karen Russell had with The Daily Beast recently. Russell, who is currently my favorite contemporary writer and author of the amazingly original Swamplandia and assorted short stories, fessed up that she too must strive to write without self-censorship in order for the story to progress:

 “I feel like I’m groping my way forward line to line. Writing badly is also hard—you need to give yourself permission to write badly, just to get something down…I think [my writing’s] bad so much of the time. The periods where writing feels effortless and intuitive are, for me, as I keep lamenting, rare. But I think that’s probably the common ratio of joy: despair for most writers, and I definitely think that if you can make peace with the fact that you will likely have to throw out 90 percent of your first draft, then you can relax and even almost enjoy “writing badly.

Karen Russell’s writing is some of the most beautiful, lyrical prose I have ever read.  When I read her stories,  I’m constantly asking myself how she comes up with her descriptions, so vivid and textured.  Based on this interview, which I’m assuming was done in person, she is also naturally articulate and poetic in her speech.  I feel equal amounts of admiration and jealousy for the skill she has with language.  I might paint my nails green tonight to match my envy.  Or, maybe I should take that green-eyed monster and bludgeon him to death by revising a chapter in my sh*tty first draft, and writing some sentences worthy of Lamott and Russell.

Throwing out 90% of the first draft would have sounded ridiculous to me had I read that immediately after finishing my first draft, but as I’m hacking my way through it with my second draft, I’m realizing she’s completely right.  A lot of that crap needs to go in order for the healthy bits to flourish.