This made me laugh. And I like to laugh.
“I saw the bobcat by the shed. I think it’s here because of the rabbits,” my dad said the other day. “There aren’t as many rabbits around now.”
“Do you remember when I tried to hide rabbits in my closet, Dad?” We have never talked about those rabbits.
“Sure,” he said. “That bobcat is big. I didn’t know bobcat’s got that big. And it’s skinny and tall.”
“Gee, I didn’t know they were very big either, Dad.” We didn’t talk about the rabbits in the closet.
I don’t know what I wanted my dad to say about those rabbits.
I don’t know what I want people to say about my writing either. Being a writer is a hell of a way to live–you might get compliments you can’t believe, you get criticism you don’t want to hear, or you get nothing at all. Did you read my story? Sure. What do you think about bobcats?
In graduate school I met a guy whose job in the Gulf War was to pick corpses up from the roads. He fidgeted in class. The writing life is not that life. It is a luxury. And still I can whine about how much I put into it and I don’t hear what I want to hear.
But when I was a kid, I didn’t hide those rabbits so that my dad and me could have a magical conversation decades later. I’m not writing so that I can hear that magical compliment. I’m writing because I’ve avoided thousands of other jobs.
Are you able to say exactly what you want from others when you write? Money? How much? A compliment? What would that compliment be? Approval? From whom? Revolution? From what?
And when your writing insecurities get out of hand (if you’re the sort of person that happens to), what helps you put things back in perspective?
I hated Brownies, Girl Scouts, and Girls’ Club. After-school clubs, organizations, or whatever you were supposed to join to add sparkle to your college application–no. And sororities? They scared the hell out of me. Anything that comes with a cheer is instant soul-sucking death. I might have shortened my life expectancy by going to a Mary Kay meeting once. And the facebook groups I have joined and even created make me feel like I’ve gone down a wrong path.
I am not a joiner.
But I love NaNoWriMo. It is the first group thing I’ve participated in that is filled with people I could’ve been friends with in high school. It is temporary. One month and you’re done. I now know people I see once a year–and that’s the way it should be. It is free.
Where else do you get a group of people together with a similar goal/interest/passion, and yet each person goes about it in his or her own unique/quirky/absurd way? Reach 50k or don’t. Nobody cares as long as you’re writing. I know participants who never intend to write fifty thousand words. There is no rule about what to do next. Edit and try to be published. Publish yourself. Hide it away. Delete the whole thing. One fellow finishes his novel and come December first, he deletes the file. He doesn’t write again until November the next year.
The first novel I wrote took years. It was like slogging through a swamp of words in a dense fog. That NaNoWriMo goal, 50k in 30 days, is sunshine on a path. There is no edit and create at the same time. The goal isn’t write a great novel in 30 days. I couldn’t do that. I might never do that no matter how many days I’m given. I’m rewarded and approved of for quantity! That I can do.
The rest of the year is for quality. Hours spent picking over sentences and cutting out scenes and wondering what the point of it all is. Maybe I could say that 11 months of the year is like being a soldier getting ready for inspection and November is shore leave.
What goals do you need to help you write? When was the last time your imagination ran around loose on the page?
For better or worse, I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo once again. And so… here is an excerpt of The Memory Kiss.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked me.
He was at least 45. I was 22. He wore a suit and gold watch. I was wearing what my friends called the pocket dress–because you could fold it up and put it in your pocket.
I was also wearing a hot pink jacket and hot pink shoes. He and his friends at the table behind him looked like men with money. “Oh, thanks,” I said and looked down at the floor. “But that’s okay. My friends are waiting for me.”
He said something else, but I didn’t hear it because I was already walking away.
The clingy white dress said things that were not true. I just didn’t realize it until I was stopped by the man with perfect businessman hair and a near empty glass of whiskey.
Sometimes a person compliments my work, and I can’t get away from the feeling that my art is no way to see me at all. At IF+D when the owner introduces me to people as an artist and writer I want to shake my head and leave. You are seeing this, but this is a mistake.
Of course, it is and it isn’t. Like the dress.
Do you feel your work represents you? Does the label writer or artist feel right? Does it make you want to step up or run away?
The night of our first date, I watched for him out my bedroom window. He parked on the street which was silvery with earlier rain. A couple house down, he crossed the street at an angle, his long coat making him look far more romantic and heroic than he could ever possibly be. The coat may have been what doomed me to stay with him longer than anyone with sense would have. As if I kept thinking I would find that man somewhere in the relationship if I just tried harder.
I wonder if a detail, a scene, in my writing enchants me so much that I have no perspective on its true potential. I have several manuscripts and can’t give up on any of them–but they can’t really all be worth the time.
What projects do you stick with no matter what? What lost causes do you hold onto?
Isabel Allende begins every novel she writes on January 8th. Lots of hopeful writers begin their first novel on November 1st thinking that 30 days and 50 thousand words will tell a story. Julia Cameron says to write 3 morning pages a day to reach far enough into your creativity. Joseph Wambaugh says he writes 1,000 words a day. Erica Jong writes 10 pages a day (with a pen). Tim O’Brien claimed to write 9 hours every single day no matter what day it was.
Then there is the magic of 10–top 10 rules of writing, top 10 joys of writing, top 10 fears of writers, top 10 ways to get published, top 10 books of the year, top 10 books ever written (let’s make that last one 100 because ever is a long time)…
Plenty of writers hate math, but they like numbers.
In my novels I pay attention to how many times a person knocks on a door–there is a world of difference between the girl who knocks once and the girl who knocks 3 times, the family who has 7 sons and the family who has 1 daughter, the number of days between the first hello and the first kiss and the number of kisses…
20 years ago today my mother passed away and I can’t shake the feeling the feeling that today I should write something great, something she would like, something important. But I am still the writer I was yesterday and no number of words is ever the right number. When my mother died I remember thinking that I could not survive feeling that way for 20 years.
I worry that I can’t keep writing if I don’t get published in 1 year or by this date or another. And how many novels I have written? 6. Unpublished. That number seems magical too as if it is the number of failure (that many and still not published?) or determination (1 of those is bound to be the 1!).
Do you have a magic number? A day or an hour you like to start your writing? A particular number of pages or words? A deadline that keeps you going or trips you up?
In this new novel so far I have 31,658 words. That is not a bad number, but I’m still counting.
I came out of the bookstore, walked around the truck, unlocked the door, and got in. I waited there in the passenger seat. Then I realized I’d gone shopping on my own and had driven myself.
Ah. I glanced around to see if anyone was looking, got out of the truck, walked back around, and got in the driver’s side. I drove straight home.
Sometimes I’m waiting for someone else to come along and tell me my writing works, that it makes sense, that I know what I’m doing. Then I realize I’m alone in this thing.
I have really got to get this thing on the road because I don’t want to sit in the parking lot. To lose the metaphor, I have got to start polishing my writing and sending out query letters again.
What are you waiting for someone else to take of?
He was a Cosmo Bachelor-of-the-Month. My friend, M., had snagged a date with one of those men featured by Cosmo magazine. He was a surgeon and he’d picked her letter out of hundreds.
The night of their date was the same night M., I, and our undergrad had planned to go see Toni Morrison speak. M. and I were in grad school and we’d been assigned undergrad English major to mentor. We’d all read Beloved and couldn’t wait to see Morrison in person.
The Cosmo bachelor agreed to come with us. He was only in town for a convention. He really lived in New York. M. agreed to drive, and so we picked him up at the very posh hotel, and he wasn’t in the SUV for more than five minutes when he took out his pot.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
I was a 23-year-old grad student, sitting next to a 19-year-old undergrad, on the way to see a Nobel Prize winner on Halloween night, my 28-year-old friend driving. I’d never smoked pot in my life. I shrugged.
M. said, “You’re a surgeon.”
He laughed. He was 40. “Yeah,” he said. “It relaxes me. Want any?”
We all said no. I don’t think he had the night he was hoping for.
Sometimes you read all these great things about a writer–they went to the right workshop, they know the right people, and they look good too. This literary magazine or other told you how amazing they were. Then you take their book out for a night, and it is not a book you’d ever want to kiss.
So. What great and wonderful writer did you finally get together with only to be left cold? What are people making such a fuss about? Why is a book chosen to be the book-of-the-month anyway?
A book review about A.S. Byatt’s new book explains Byatt’s dismay at adults who like Harry Potter and other such nonsense. So, are you a childish adult? I carry action figures around with me and I read Harry Potter. Maybe the magic in my novels is another symptom of refusing to be a grown-up.
Are my stories immature? Do you ever worry about this? Do you want to be Peter Pan? When I was a kid I didn’t see the appeal of staying a child forever.
What do you think of adults who like children’s books? What about children who want to read grown-up books? Are the lines too blurred these days?