Was It Worth It? Yes.

I just got home from a writer’s conference, and I’m exhausted. Being chatty with so many strangers is extra tiring for an introvert like me, but it was worth the energy; as my hero Eudora Welty once said, “All serious daring starts from within.” Next post I will explain why I believe that going to writing conferences are great for writers, but right now, I just want a nap with my buddy, who is also super happy I’m home.

jocks happy

 

Nice Little Boost

An update on the book: two of my three first-round Beta readers have returned it with positive notes, so I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and signed up to attend a writers conference in a couple of weeks, and asked for a reservation to pitch the book to three agents who will be featured speakers. Gulp! That means I have to write a BOOK PROPOSAL (duh-duh-DUUUUUH). Jeepers, a book proposal looks like more work than the book. Still, I’ll do what I have to do–onwards and upwards, take no prisoners, yadda-yadda.

I got a little boost today when Dual Coast Magazine sent me a note to tell me my accepted poem was now up on their website. So if you want to check it out, you can find it here.

battlefield pic

 

And Just Like That, the First Draft Is Done

 

book first draft (2)

And by “just like that,” I mean after HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of research, planning, bleary-eyed writing, and a first rough edit. Dreaming about characters, fussing at plot, boring all my nearest and dearest with how I need to FIX my plot, closing my eyes and seeing black letters on white pages marching along . . .  . Also I lost my capacity to spell. Or type. At the end of some days I couldn’t even make my fingers unbend. But who cares? 86,000 words+ later, 276 printed pages that stand almost 2 inches tall, the first draft of my novel manuscript is DONE.

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Can I get a hip-hip, huzzah, y’all? Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance !

 

 

 

Where Writers Write

Roald Dahl’s desk, found in his “writing hut,” was a winged-back chair with a long tray that was covered in dark green billiard cloth. The tray/desk was balanced arm to arm on the chair, sometimes supported by a rolled pillow. Before settling himself into the chair and positioning the writing tray across his middle, he would first stick his legs in a sleeping bag in order to stay warm. (Now here was a man who no doubt would have appreciated a good Slanket. Alas, for him, progress moved too slow.)

dahl

Jane Austen wrote at a dainty octagonal wooden desk while seated in an uncomfortable-looking, cane-bottomed chair that was positioned by the window for the light. Flannery O’Connor’s schoolroom-style desk and straight-back chair were wooden too, minus the cane bottom but with the addition of a floral needlepoint pillow. Virginia Woolf, Kirkegaard, and Nabokov eschewed seats altogether and often wrote standing up.

nabokov

Some people are coffeeshop writers, enjoying the white noise of conversation as they create. Others write in quiet libraries or peaceful parks. When searching for advice to writers on where to write, you may find the mildly offensive exhortation to “Designate a room in the house as an office, and when writing, always sit at a chair and desk as if you were at a real job.” Fair point; after all, Hemingway once said that “There’s nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Pfft.

I do have a writing office in my house, and I love it–it’s a tiny room upstairs, narrow because of the enormous built-in bookshelves stuffed with things that I treasure (like my ever-expanding collection of signed books–getting literary superstars Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, and David Sedaris to sign my books ranks up at the top of my “I can die happy now” moments), things I use (like my too-many books on teaching college composition), and things a Lit major like myself is required by Lit-major law to dig (Shakespeare, Edward Albee, and Euripides have to hang out on the shelves with Stephen King and Yann Martel, because all the shelf’s a stage, and all authors merely players). The entrance to my office is a wooden Dutch door, salvaged by my husband from one of his jobs. I don’t care that it’s supposed to be an exterior door–it is for ME and I love it so.

office door

My desk seat is a red vinyl director’s chair, a hammock for the butt. My writing desk is another salvage–from the 1930s and enamel-topped, it was given to me by my late Grandma Jean. I had to scrape and scrub to get the rust off of the legs, but it was worth it. Once while watching the awful movie Walk on the Moon,  starring terrible Diane Lane and only-good-in-LOTR Viggo Mortensen, I yelped in delight when I spotted my table on the screen. Then I finished watching the movie and was sad for both me and my table.

desk
Holla at my girl Miranda Hart and her “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” Heather Small tributes. Heather keeps us all accountable.

So yeah, I love my table, but let’s get real–I am more of a recliner than a sitter. Therefore when I DO write in my office, I shun the butt hammock and too-good-for-Viggo desk and instead stretch out on the antique fainting couch I found at a local flea market. Obviously I have smothered it in pillows because comfort (and Michael Jackson) are king, and I am queen.

fainting couch.JPG

But to be really, REALLY honest, I spend 98% of my writing time not at a desk, not in an office, but propped up on more pillows on the giant four poster bed in my bedroom. Regardless of how uncool it is to admit that my writing is best when I lounge on the bed, gazing out at the balcony and trees beyond the window (So unprofessional! Not like a real job at all!) it’s the truth: a semi-prone position works for me.

bed desk

Now before you judge me too much, allow me to direct your attention to other lie-abed writers such as Truman Capote, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. And as to the question of where the best place is to write, I humbly submit that we vein-openers should do what we do in the way that we do it, and we need make no apologies.

 

 

 

Setting Goals

I’m deep in the process of writing a novel, and I gotta say, it’s going pretty good. (I am superstitious, so excuse me for a minute while I find something wooden to knock on. Okay, I’m safe. We can carry on.) Mind you, this is not my first attempt at writing a book. I have a first draft of a memoir that is gathering metaphorical dust in a file on my computer; my justification for waiting to edit it is that the more time goes by, the more distant the 80s become and hence my book is like a slice of real ancient history. Or something. It’s the fine-wine principal of books.

I have one other novel that is about halfway completed. I started it as the requirement for my Master’s thesis, worked on it for a while after graduating, then started teaching composition and found I didn’t have the heart to keep going. Teaching was new to me then and I was constantly tweaking and changing and trying new stuff in my class, and the last thing I wanted to do when I came home was write. Plus I got stuck–really stuck–at a plot point, and writing is haaard, y’all. So I abandoned that book and began to write short stories–way less time commitment, quicker affirmation because it’s easier to get a story published (oh, the sweet joy of publication–I could become a junkie on acceptance letters if I didn’t have to live through the sting of all the rejections first), and I had the satisfaction of starting projects and FINISHING THEM.

Which brings me to now. A while back I had a good idea for a new book, did the research for it, and started to write last winter. At first, I had a great goal. “I will go to my office at school on my off days (Tuesdays and Thursdays), lock my door, and write from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00.” And it worked . . . for a while. Until I didn’t feel like getting public-gussied to leave my house. Or I really wanted to clean something. (Cleaning is a great excuse for not writing because it seems so noble–“I’d love to write but I need to do laundry and sweep and mop and do dishes and dust and wash windows and clean the buttons on my laptop!”) Or I would start watching a new show on Netflix and find myself deep in binge-land, muttering “Just one more episode.” (Don’t you judge me; let he without binge-sin throw the first stone.)

So my habit never really became a habit, and though I wrote some, I didn’t write enough. Finally I got so sick of hearing myself give excuses for not doing something I had been thinking of doing for fifteen years–finish a darn book already!–that I snapped and berated myself into submission. It was summer break and I had no teaching obligations for three months. I laid down some laws: 1,000 words a day, Monday through Friday. Editing on weekends. I played with time–morning? No good–it was easy for me to get distracted or overwhelmed by necessary life things. Afternoon? Nope. I have to take a nap at 4:00 p.m. or I weep and rage like an angry toddler. Night? Ah, my old friend night, the time when I like to walk, read, and surprise, surprise, write.

So 11:00 p.m. became my habit–a habit that actually stuck. I’m now 60,000 words in and I’m feeling hopeful and joyful. As such, I would like to offer some battle-won advice to other writers who may be struggling with making habits. So here it goes:

Stop just thinking about the thing and actually do the thing. Wait . . . did I get that from Nike? I think maybe I did. The swoop would never lie. Anyway, it’s true. Just. do. it.

A writer should write however and whenever it works for him/her. Some are morning people. Some aren’t. Be flexible at first in terms of figuring out when you’re the most creative, but once you find that sweet spot, dig in like a fat uncle at a family reunion picnic. To quote my young adult progeny: “You do you, Boo.”

Be consistent.

Be disciplined.

Give yourself a break on quality–don’t obsess over how good (or bad) the writing is at this stage. You can fix it later. If you fear, like I do, that you may die unexpectedly and someone will read your crappy draft and think that’s the best you got (Shudder! Nightmare!), then make arrangements for that contingency. Upon your demise, instruct your nicest/most reliable child to throw your laptop into a pond. Give your husband permission to use it for target practice. Have someone destroy the evidence of your mediocrity because we all know you could and would have done better given a few more days on earth–your momma wasn’t lying when she said you were special. There are nights when I know that out of my 1,000 words, 990 of them will have to be cut because they’re utter crap, but that’s okay. I can close my eyes, satisfied that I have exercised the lonely office of writing for one more day, and if I die before I wake, my husband will shoot up my laptop with his biggest, loudest gun, and my daughter will throw the pieces in our neighbor’s pond, and everyone will surmise that I was probably a brilliant writer, and isn’t it sad that my masterpiece was never finished? Because it surely would have been amazing . . .

Sorry–what were we talking about? Greatest fears? Oh, right. Habits. You know what to do, so go on, get going.

 

 

So I Have to Market This Stuff Too?

That’s what I read on the interwebs–writers these days have to write their books, sell their books to agents, help their agents sell their books to publishing houses, sell published books to readers, and, oh yeah! KEEP selling books by maintaining a sparklingly witty blog that has 4 bazillion entranced readers. Fool, if I had 4 bazillion entranced blog readers, I wouldn’t NEED to sell my book now, would I? I would just sit back and wait for a publisher to notice me. (Holla, those quirky cooking-blog-gals-who-show-up-on-Ra-Ray’s-show-all-the-time.)

Oh, for the good old days when I might have to publish under a man’s name because “women can’t write!” but someone ELSE was in charge of the marketing. Okay, whatever. Here it is. Me and my blog again.  With a recipe for instant pudding. Because this is as good as it gets with me, chums.

Pudding

Ingredients:  

  • Apron. Because cooking is messy.

apron (3)

  • 1 box of whatever blasted flavor of pudding is your favorite. I’m partial to butterscotch my ownself, but all I have in the pantry right now is vanilla.  Sadly, vanilla is the vanilla of vanilla.
  • 2 C. cold milk (Why cold? What else would it be unless you’re planning on squeezing it straight from the cow’s teat into your bowl, and if you ARE, then we need to talk. Because that’s just nasty, my friend. Believe me, I speak from reluctant experience–I grew up in a foreign country where we had to buy smuggled illegal milk from the neighbor, and his wife squirted Bossie’s offerings right into our freshly-washed Tree-Top bottles, and brother! There’s nothing on this planet grosser than warm milk straight from the cow. Sometimes there were even little cow hairs floating on top. Hence my lifelong hair-in-food phobia, but that’s a story for another day.)
  • Whipped topping, otherwise known as Cool Whip, whether it’s the branded version, the generic version, or the shooting-out-of-the-can version. It’s Cool Whip, just like all sodas are Cokes. Don’t question me on this.

Directions:

Open pudding mix. Dump into bowl.

dump pudding (2)

Dump in milk.

milk pudding (2)

Whisk until your forearm aches. (Or 2 minutes, for you Popeye types. Show-offs.) Stick pudding in the frigidaire for five minutes or until you decide you’ve waited long enough. Five minutes is like an HOUR in dog years, y’all.

stir pudding (2)

(So it turns out that I don’t have any Cool Whip in the house either. Though it is an inferior experience, pudding can be consumed without it just fine.)

Eat a sensible serving, telling yourself you will just have a teeny bit, and then hide the bowl behind whatever your family hates the most in the fridge. (I keep a package of collard greens simply for pudding-hiding.)

hidden pudding (2)

After an hour, sneak back in, remove the bowl from its hiding place, and finish the whole batch while standing in your hall closet so you don’t have to share with the kids.

Be prepared to be judged by the dog. He knows what you’re doing in there, and he does not approve. Also, doesn’t he look a little like those scary twins in The Shining? REDRUM, REDRUM.

Make sure you rinse the evidence away so that when your husband comes home and asks you what’s for dinner, you can say, “Oh, let’s just go out. I’m starving–I’ve barely had a thing to eat all day.”

There. I made a foodie post. Are you not enter-taaaaaained?

gladiator-movie-russell-crowe