Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pieces of the writing life

The popular conception of an author's life comprises two aspects, I think: pounding away at the keyboard creating, and making the bookstore/talk-show circuit to sell the book. Those are two parts to the writing life (although the latter is not likely to include talk shows for most authors, but may include visits to schools, libraries, book festivals, conferences, conventions, and so on). But there are many more. These are some of the hats writers wear:

Creative: the actual writing part; daydreaming and peripheral creative acts (such as drawing a map of your fictional world, or designing your cover if you self-publish, etc.); revising; attending classes and workshops focused on craft

Administrative/Professional: researching the business; querying agents and editors; tracking submissions; filing; writing correspondence; managing schedules; booking travel; maintaining supplies and equipment

Financial: tracking grants, royalties, expenses, taxes, and other monies

Marketing and Publicity: arranging and conducting author visits, interviews, etc.; ordering swag; maintaining an online presence

Social: maintaining ties with readers and other writers, live and/or online

Service: donating books or services; teaching; mentoring; using one's platform for outreach on good causes

Not every writer does every one of these things. But most writers find themselves spending much less time on writing and much more time on other activities than they ever would have believed when they scribbled their first stories, poems, essays. 

The upside to having so many pieces to this pie is that if one task seems like a nuisance, there are plenty of other tasks to look forward to--or procrastinate with. 

And at the center of it is the writing. It's home base, the core that's essential to all the rest.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The story that won't die

Sometimes you have to give up on a project completely before the way to write it becomes clear. Sometimes it takes giving up on it repeatedly over a period of years. Sometimes after you've buried it for what you swear is the final time and gone skipping on your merry way, you are startled to find it dancing in your path, waving its zombie arms, crumbs of dirt falling from it. "Hey just had a GREAT idea for how you can tackle me from a different point of view / rewrite the ending / turn a subplot into the main plot!" it will say. And you sigh and follow it off to the keyboard, because what else do you have to do with the rest of your life?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blog salad

This post is going to be a sort of blog salad, a mix of interesting items picked up here and there:

Jen Doktorski writes of risk-taking, in water-skiing and the rest of life, at YA Outside the Lines. A sample: "The potential for disaster loomed as I sat on the edge of the dock and watched as my fellow water skiing neophytes toppled over while attempting to stand on their skis." Good for some laughs--and of course, a writing-related lesson!

Thanks to a tweet from @NathanBransford, I saw this article by Anjali Enjeti on pursuing book publication for more than a decade. I certainly agree with her on this: "... in the years I’ve tried to sell a manuscript, things seem to have gotten tougher." And this: "... I’m happy with the career I’ve built. Rejections still flood my inbox, but my smaller successes go a long way toward offsetting the disappointment. ... I decided to shift my priorities, to spend more time volunteering for social causes and political campaigns and less pursuing traditional book publishing. ... By recalibrating, I’ve regained a small amount of control in a process that has very little predictability." For those of us in this tough field, there's a lot to ponder in this article, about goals and dreams and reality and priorities. 

Many of us have struggled with clutter in our lives, with clearing out junk (physical, mental, and emotional) to make room for what's most important. But what is clutter, anyway? I like this phrase from Eve O. Schaub (from Year of No Clutter): "Things I neither want nor can part with." 

Finally, Melodye Shore writes of hope as an antidote for suffering. A sample: "Helen Keller once said, 'Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.'"

Monday, September 4, 2017

September Grace

It's been a time of well refilling, of silence, of listening and reading. Of following the news, of using my writing skills mainly to craft heartfelt messages for my elected representatives. Of taking walks and seeing old friends.

There's a snap to the air, and the mornings are dark again. I used to despair at this time of year, sensing the long cold tunnel of winter ahead. I've despaired less in recent years--but mostly because time passes so quickly now, and every autumn is shorter than the one before it. 

I never say good-bye to mellow August without regret--golden August, the most leisurely, reflective time of the year. But for now, the crickets are still singing, and the leaves haven't turned yet. September is a foreshadowing, a farewell, but also a grace period.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Using what we have

My husband and I are getting more accustomed to this aspect of our CSA subscription (community-supported agriculture, where we get regular food deliveries from a local farm): using what we have on hand. Every week, we get whatever is in season, whatever crop successfully made it to ripeness. And that dictates what's on our menu for the week. It's made us try all sorts of foods we wouldn't have otherwise. Because of the CSA, I've eaten kohlrabi, and salads with turnip, and chard omelets, and salmon with fennel, and zucchini bread, and rhubarb cobbler, and spaghetti squash, and a host of other foods. 

The other day, we got a lot of peppers, so we had chili. And it's this "what can I do with what I have" approach that's different from how I cooked for most of my life. For most of human history, people had to eat whatever was available, but nowadays, in my location and at my income level, it's possible to go to the store and get almost any food I want--whether or not it's in season, whether or not it grows anywhere near me. It's a luxury, one I used to take for granted but don't anymore.

The writing connection (you knew I'd get to the writing connection eventually!) is that there, too, it took me a while to get the concept of using what I have. For a while I tried to write like writers I admired but whose voices and subject matter were very different from mine. I tried to write what would be easier to sell. I tried to write what seemed like good stories--but turned out to be good stories for someone else to tell. And eventually I started using what I had. I started basing my writing on what I had to say, and on my own voice--which proved to be a much more natural wellspring.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Saving yesterdays

I haven't been a steady journal-keeper; I've tended to write more at stressful times in my life, or during events that I suspected would be historic, or when traveling. Consequently, I have many notebooks and pieces of notebooks and stray pages from various times. One of my part-time projects--on which I spend an hour here, an hour there--is consolidating those journals into one coherent whole. 

As I go, I discover records of events I'd forgotten but can recall when prompted by the journals, as well as events I've wholly forgotten. There are a few people referred to by first name only whom I can no longer identify.

There are so many days we live through and then utterly forget. A journal can save a few of them for us. Some of these days, honestly, I am happy to let go of; others I'm happy to retrieve. Maybe it's good to forget so much. Everything is impermanent; carpe diem; live for today. I'm not sure how much yesterday matters. I'm saving some yesterdays just in case.

Friday, August 11, 2017


I haven't posted as frequently lately, and it's because I'm in a listening/reading phase. I go through times like this, when I am writing less and absorbing more. Reading a lot, thinking, preferring silence to speech. Feeling as if my ideas are half-formed, not ready for expression. I can feel them taking shape, but they're still lumps of raw dough rather than cookies. 

(I do love cooking/food metaphors for writing!)

August has always struck me as a meditative month, a good time to be in this frame of mind. The weather is warm and mellow, the days are still long, and the cicadas and crickets issue their endless waves of music.