Bi-yearly update on life

Since deciding to create a blog focused on writing, I have found myself mainly writing, and not so much blogging. This is obviously a good thing, but it does mean that the tumbleweeds roll regularly through this space.

Much has changed since I decided in December to give anything and everything a try. Much good. I’ve gone from software engineer to doula, and that’s the right choice. It’s been an exciting, busy, freeing shift.

 

I’ve started working with a writer’s group that’s been extraordinarily good for me – it’s critique-style. Friendly and rigorous. I think, for me, seeing the reactions of ‘audience’ up close and personal was an element I needed to be comfortable with my own work, whereas that hasn’t always been a need. I’m learning through body language. I’ve been in group with one of the writers before, online,  and her help was useful – only I’m finding that when I see her say the same things in person, I understand more completely the nuance of the interaction, and I feel far less confused. What a bizarre thing.

We’ve been meeting once per month, reading and critiquing pieces we’ve pre-submitted. The writers in the group all produce work I look forward to reading and are witty, outspoken people, so I’d have fun anyway: but, unfailingly, I’ve come away feeling good about what I’ve written, really clear on what’s broken, and pointed in a direction that a fix might be found.

One short story I’d brought to critique had already gone out twice. The first response I got was “oh, this is intriguing, but no, send something else,” and the second response was a rewrite request with a deadline I couldn’t make – “send this again with a plot, please.” I’d been monkeying with the plot, feeling sort of despairing, and brought a rewritten version to the group. With extra eyeballs and opinions, I found my way out of the smokey tangle of my own hangups.

I parked the story for two months – I’m better at that now – and when I read it again felt truly satisfied with it.

That’s new for me. In other work I’ve done, I feel good about it *until* I park it. My first drafts come in a roar: the sense I’m getting down is imperfectly rendered, but I can’t hear the sour notes because my head is rushing with inspiration. When I try to edit the first time through, inspiration is what I’m hearing, not what’s actually there. After I’ve parked it I’m shocked at the dented places where it doesn’t ring true, and I start ripping and rending sentences to try to make the tone come back.

This story finally sounded right.

Hurray!

 

I’ve been using Duotrope’s Digest as a submissions tracker and a market research jumping-off-place for a year and nine months. I feel like I’m constantly submitting, I must admit, but according to this it’s been 17 times in that time, with 6 pieces. Generally, I look for markets that have print publications, have a somewhat picky editorial and acceptance process, and make token or greater payment. I figure that these will be generally legit places. I’ve been doing pretty well – the  last 5 rejections were personal and positive; one almost-but-not-enough-space, three personalized like it but not quite enough send-something-elses, and that rewrite request.

Recently I also got notice of acceptance to a market that met my print/picky/token payment requirements; “Huzzah!” I thought, “That’s the piece that’s never gotten a positive personal rejection and I don’t know how to fix it! Maybe I fixed it on the last run through, which is good, because I don’t think I’ve got anything left for it.”

However, I’d misunderstood the market when first reading about it.

The token payment at this market is a discount on the purchase of the print book: the print book appears to have many authors and be printed through a publish-on-demand online system. This suggests to me I’ve been accepted to something akin to a vanity press. I’m not terribly distraught about losing that particular piece, but it does mean being a bit more careful in the future, with pieces I’m a little more attached to.


Going to New York

Everyone’s heard me say this, by now, but I’m writing it anyway.

The first time I ever wrote anything of size was a play in one act called “Divide by Zero”. Sam Dulmage helped me edit it: the first draft was practically a series of essays glued together with two goopy characters that said their lines like they were news headlines. The structure was interesting. That was about all you could say to recommend that first draft.

Sam did not treat me as a fool without a brain, nor a helpless case, although he could have. First thing he did was have a couple of actresses read it to us. That exercise quickly put paid to the essay: hearing actresses struggling to get the weight of words off their backs made me realize what I’d done.

But I didn’t have the fix, right away. I had essays with holes.

Sam helped me realize that my problem (still sometimes my problem) was  pulling my punches. I was writing a play about friends,  woven together privately and professionally, clinging together in graduate school. Then one of them had life happen to her, big stresses, and her perspective on life changed. She decided to drop out.

The conflict between the women was multi-layered and pulling several directions; I’d made the play mainly about the arithmetic of the situation. I’d set up a powerful set of emotional pushes and pulls, and then had them discuss the situation bloodlessly.

Sam called the need to follow through, emotionally, “Going to New York”. I don’t know why that metaphor, but it’s worked wonders for me. I’ve been catching myself stopping in Boston ever since.

I have trouble with New York specifically because I’m  passionate and opinionated on one side and people pleasing and conflict avoidant on the other. But I’ve decided it’s not just a quirk of my personality type: I’ve really noted that “going to New York” is difficult for many of the writers I know that are trying for honesty. It is big and loud and you are bombarded with feelings. You and your characters are more vulnerable to judgment right where you’re most sensitive. Your characters will make mistakes and embarrass you.

These days, I almost always write in New York, but I’ll have the rest of the world drop away and it’ll just be emotions and dialogue. I’m working on making it concrete; being all-in present. There is nowhere to hide, really, in fiction. But I do have a greater resistance for the first draft because of it. I’m more likely to have – not writer’s block, exactly, but vicious procrastination.

I’ve been considering my blog, in relation: writing Rants has both helped and hindered my process in going to New York. I’ve been really honest and have made  mistakes. I’ve been passionate & angry about things and had people disagree. I have told my life stories from my perspective. I have argued a point or three. It’s helped in that I’ve seen the spark in me roar heat; I’ve got no end of experience and emotion to take to New York. But it’s hindered because I’m aware of my own anxiety when putting forward opinions – I hoped it’d become easier, but it hasn’t, really.


Today, on CBC

They’re discussing whether artists are lunatics or not. One professor has proven many great artists had mental health issues: he’s trying to show causality.

Are artists creative because they’re nuts? Or nuts because they’re creative?

Here’s my take on it: creativity isn’t crazy-making. But it can ask for behaviours not inherent to the artist.

The number of writers of creative materials I know: around 30.

The number of those that are hard-nosed business persons, who have high risk tolerance and love self-promotion and are good salespersons and have enough inbuilt self-love to not care with serious critique or changed goalposts… maybe 2.

Risk-taking is insecurity, and insecurity can be crazy making. Writing is a lot of work with little chance of payoff. Even WITH payoff – because I probably know more paid-off authors than most – it’s still work, monetary risk, rejection stress, no obvious ladder, no clear entry point and vague attainment levels. Even the ones who “make it” are steeping in a stew of many cultural bosses and no clear goalposts towards ‘mastery’.

There is situational depression to be confronted in these attributes, if you’re working hard. Square pegs in round holes.

So what happens when your drive to create and be heard, your urge to share something you think is missing, is greater than your own self preservation regarding the stressors of the attempt?

Yeah, I think probably artistic sorts have a tendency to struggle… but it’s not the avocation, it’s the profession.


Guest Post – Writing Process

– I got this email about process from a writer friend and was overwhelmed by its succinct kick-in-the-face truth. With permission, I’m sharing it anonymously with y’all.

When Rose was about six weeks old, she was awful. She cried all the time, nonstop ear-piercing wailing. It was like living with a police siren or an alarm clock that wouldn’t stop. We were all miserable. I’d gone back to work and was exhausted. Joanna was flailing, scared, trying to deal with the baby and her own exhaustion, grading papers in whatever nonexistent spare time she had–while she was nursing, mostly.

And Rose– well she must’ve been miserable too, or why else would she be screaming like that?

We couldn’t stop it. That was the unexpectedly terrible thing about having an unhappy baby in the house. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, we couldn’t make it better, and we couldn’t stop the awful crying that was assailing us all the time. We became furious. At each other, mostly. And I at least was furious at myself too: what was wrong with me, that I, who’d always been good with kids, couldn’t do this simple thing, couldn’t make a baby stop crying?

To be honest, I was pretty angry at the baby, too. How come she didn’t like me!? I knew better than to take her screaming personally, but I did anyway (and then got even more angry at myself). Mainly what I remember from those dark weeks was coming home from an ever-longer commute to a frazzled, tired spouse and a miserable, crying tired baby, and not being able to help any of it. Actually, I was angry at all of us. This domestic stereotype was not my beautiful life!

I remember one afternoon in particular. I came home, Joanna was in the kitchen trying to do something about dinner (she’s never liked cooking dinner, I’ve always liked it, and the fact that my work and commute meant that she had to do it was one more source of constant frustration to both of us). The baby was on a blanket on the floor, screaming, as usual.

“She’s crying,” I said, stupidly. (I like to think it was exhaustion making me stupid.)

“Pick her up!” Joanna said. “Hold her!”

So I did. She cried harder. “She doesn’t like it,” I complained, and put her down.

“Pick her up ANYWAY!” Joanna snapped.

Truth is, I don’t remember whether I did. All I remember is that I wanted to cry myself, to curl up in a ball, and to run away, all at once. It all seemed so unfair: I was doing the best I could, I thought, with this baby, this marriage, this life. And this little thing I did to try and help only made things worse.

In the long run, of course, things got better, in spite of all of us. The baby got older and stopped crying so much. Joanna and I got more sleep, and also learned how to be kinder to each other.

This has something to do with the book. The book I’m trying to write. The book I’m writing (“do or do not,” one online Star Wars fan pronounced, when a relative mentioned on her blog that someone she knew was trying to write a novel, “there is no try.”).

“The Book I’m Writing” sounds so…pretentious. Hubristic. BIG. When really I have no illusions that it’s a particularly big or ambitious or important project. Except to me, of course. Because I want so badly to succeed, to write a novel at long last, I’ve done everything I can to make it easy for myself: I’m writing a sequel to a short story I wrote a long time ago, so the characters and basic situation are already there. It’s set in such a way that I don’t have to do lots of real-life research, or a ton of world-building either. (There is some of each, but it’s fun and not onerous, at least not so far.) And maybe most importantly, someone more or less asked me to do it. So I know that when it’s done, there will be at least one person who actively wants to read it.

Even so, it is hard. I expected it to be hard, even with all the ways I tried to make it easy. But expecting and experiencing are two different things. And I’m barely started, maybe halfway through a first draft. I know there’s a lot more work, maybe years more work, ahead.

Right now, I’ve been actively working on it– outlining, and then drafting– for about two months. That makes this book about as old as Rose was in those horrible constant-crying weeks.

And, just as it was then, I have the miserable sinking feeling that this book simply *doesn’t like me*. Here I am, being good, writing every day, doing my short assignments and accepting that my first draft will be shitty, and it’s slipping all over the place: refusing to have a reasonable plot, and at the same time multiplying characters and subplots and complicated situations like some weird creeping amoeba-like thing.  The prose is boring and the characters aren’t well drawn and the setting isn’t even cool.

I try, I try to write anyway (do or do not, there is no try). I encourage myself, I talk out the plot, I ask friends and mentors for advice and pep talks, I drag out my old copy of Bird by Bird and read it again.

And then I have to write. The book in my head is crying and screaming and having a tantrum because no one– not even me– knows what it says, how it goes, how it ends, and the only way to find out is to write it. I pick it up, try to make it better–and it cries harder.

So, I’m remembering how Rose was, and how– if not that particular day, than some other day, and over and over– I picked her up anyway. Because that’s what babies need. I picked her up, and tried to figure out what was wrong, and even if I couldn’t, I just kept at it. I didn’t give up on her, and Joanna and I didn’t give up on each other.

And now that baby is, gloriously, ten years old, and things are so much easier and so much better that that dark fall day a decade ago seems like it must be from some other lifetime.

I can only have faith that it will be the same with this book.

– Amen.


Reverb * 2 weeks

Due to various developments, I have not done any Reverberating over the past 2 weeks. Every day I’ve looked at the prompts, but my urge/creativity in responding to them has not overcome the life I’m trying to juggle. It’s been interesting, though, to have them in the back of my mind; when coping with ragged life, moving through whatever comes with some level of intention is helpful.

Plus, I’ve used one of their “tools” to do a spreadsheet of goals for the coming year.

I’m feeling kind of excited about a grab bag of attempts this year. I want to train as a doula, to set up my Fictional Character Counseling Service,  and to get both fiction and non-fiction queries out the door at a measurable rate. (2010 taught me this: non-fiction is a slightly easier market and when you do sell, it’s not $20-, but $300-, for pieces of comparable size. Bring it on, megatron.)

Fictional Character Counseling, you ask?

Yes. I’ve worked with a number of writers’ groups and a number of writers now, and my editing contribution tends to be thematic, interpersonal, and motivational. I read books like the dreams of main characters. And people I’ve done this for have suggested that it’s a service they’ve found useful, whether it’s just as a sympathetic reader or it’s to help them work their character down off the ledge of “OH MY GOD I DON’T WANT TO DO A SECOND ACT” terror.

So, for themes that won’t lie straight, characters that misbehave themselves into plot snarls, second acts that fail to launch, and “this book doesn’t make sense” terror, I will offer either help at a distance or, like Lucy from Peanuts, find a drink-stand-at-the-side-of-the-road and charge my nickles for advice.  My goal is to have a website – with blurbs from authors or characters – up by May, and cards to scatter at NaNo events. *g*

I have no idea if that service is feasible. From doing it anyway, I know it’s useful… but whether it’s useful enough for someone to pay some cash for, dunno.

I suppose it’s doula-ing, of another sort.

…. Also, an actress friend, upon hearing my “yay driving” theme,  pointed out there’s a lack of female stunt drivers in Vancouver. Well! My friend Monkeypants may be best suited to such a job. The school is somewhat expensive. But starting a career in stunt driving in middle age? WHY NOT? *g*


Reverb10 – Day 14 – Appreciate

December 14 – Appreciate … What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?


( Well, driving, obviously. )

(You can’t say driving. Jesus. They’re going to be forced to stage an intervention.)

(No they’re not, you nasty editor. We likes our wheel, yes, precious.)

(Oh, seriously? That’s where you’re taking this? To Smeagol and Back Again. I think it may be time to get a new joke.)

(Well, other than getting your big ‘ole SCOLD on, do you have anything better to contribute, Ms. Pucker-pants?)

(There’s nothing more, I don’t know, real that you can appreciate?)

(Hah. Busted. You have no idea. You want me to get all “oh-I-appreciate-the-food-I-have and the-fact-I-can-vote” so that I look properly moralistic. Didja think there were priests reading this blog?)

(Pretty sure not. You use the word ‘douche’ too much.)

(I appreciate the word douche. From shower to insult by way of lysol. It just feels right. )

(If I had eyes, I’d roll them.)

(You’re so cute when you’re smug.)

(Focus. Appreciate something.)

(Driving.)

(Something else. Something INTERESTING.)

(Douche.)

(Next.)

(Uh… the way the morning sun strokes my children’s cheeks and brings my attention to their excitement and joy as I walk them to school.)

(Well, now we’re …. Oh, screw off, you’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?)

(Snork.)

(How grown-up.)

(Well. I appreciate these little chats.)

(You do?)

(Sure. You really make me think, push me to the next level. No resting on my laurels when you’re around. Some might say you’re just a grump, but really, you’re more like a muse.)

(Really? … Well, thank you.)

(HAH. Snap. That was sarcasm again. You’re a STUNNING egotist. Super-egotist. Pthbbb!)

(FINE. If that’s the way you’re going to be, next time you send a query letter I’m deleting an important verb just before you hit send.)

(Awww, c’mon. You don’t mean it. …

…. Hello? )

…. I appreciate that I ever get any work done.




Reverb10 – Days11/12/13 – ThingsBodyAction

December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)

December 12 – Body Integration This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

December 11 – 11 Things What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

Screamingly fast catch-up post!

11 things I don’t need? The next 11 things I recycle, compost or throw away. ONWARD!

Body integration: Most integrated while SLEEPING. Sleep is good. Must have sleep. Immediately. ONWARD!

Action: Actually, this one I am serious about. Read the prompt: didn’t write about it, because instead I did a whole bunch of next steps today. Hurray!

ONWARD TO BED!

G’nite.


Reverb10 – Day10 – Wisdom

December 10 – Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? (Author: Susannah Conway)

“They want to know what wise decision I’ve made,”
I laughed, melting into the couch,
“Tricky question. I’ve made no decisions.”

**

Every autumn as the air cools the irritation of August
and the leaves shed green costuming and flash their scarlet underclothes
a single insect chewing stops, sniffs the air,
declares itself fat enough,
and lurches into the sky.

It waves orange wings to orange leaves turning,
Goodbye.

Without passport or flight plan
The insect aims its tiny breath of self
Orients across vast space
Empty of meaning, full of danger
To a small distant point it has never seen

The journey calls the butterfly
The butterfly attends

When the wind comes,
A giant roar ripping through the journey’s path
the insect stops, perches, waits.
When ballistic rain slams the leaves,
Rattles the air,
Creates soup from sustaining lift,
the insect stops, goes beneath, and waits.

The insect travels without company,
No V-formation to switch the lead,
It does not slice the air to carve a path
But tumbles over it;

As the insect finds its way closer
(to the small distant point)
Others join beside, and there, and another,
Flashing orange and black at each other
They become a gust, and then a torrent.

Together they arrive
A great cyclone of colour and wings
They set down on a tree, covering it,
A tree with a million leaves added, creaking with strain,
Hefting bodies and journeys along its weight

The insect opens and closes its wings,
A tiny breath in a gale.

The journey calls,
the moment attends.


Reverb10 – Day 9 – Party

December 9 – Party Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. (Author: Shauna Reid)

Random aside: our friend Erin says “shenanigoats”. Now I always read shenanigoats, even when it’s not.

I went through my calendar: there have been some good parties in 2010. A friend’s 40th birthday, another friend’s bon voyage, parties with family, dinner parties. Surprisingly, my favorite of all the parties was the Crazy Lady Party.

A group of four of us dressed up in our cracked-lady-finest, like the seniors we plan on becoming, and got together to watch Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and drink Pims Cups and … uh, other drinks. I’d never seen Sunset Boulevard. ‘Twas awesome.

I believe there was noshing, as well, although mainly I focused on the drinking. And the sparkles. The celebration of our own crazy sparkle was implicit. Maybe a slight sympathy for those characters broken by the obsession of  fabulous fame whoring too. Plus, turbans have got to be ripe for a comeback, y’think?

Ripley was so charmed by the idea that he had me promise he could play with my hair &/or accessories if we did it again. … Perhaps he was a drag queen in a (recent) past life?


Finding Beauty in Difference, Revisited

Well, I may be at a loss myself, but there’s all sorts of people doing work on informing cultural ideas of beauty, and that’s where I sit in examining this prompt.

Adipositivity is not safe for work, nor is it necessarily easy for everyone to accept or embrace. I expect everyone to be respectful should they comment.