Monthly Archives: December 2009

3 years later

I repeat my tweet today from Tahoe:

“I FINISHED the 1st draft of my novel–and on the 3rd anniversary of my stroke that left me unable 2 write fiction for a year, no less. :)”

It feels very bizarre to be done with my novel first draft, but in a good way.  Now, on to revision (and revision and revision)!

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Balancing Act from Writerland

In the news I read that fewer people are having babies these days thus ending a baby boom, even though I greet that news with great disbelief. This year and last year was full of newborn babies in my life, and friends celebrating motherhood for the first and in many cases, the second time (and third!) time. Along with the baby announcements have been tweets and blog posts about their struggles to balance writing with their new children.

There was one blog to which a friend pointed me that actually advised mothers to prioritize their writing to an extreme: the writer said one should NOT go to their children’s activities, and work on their manuscript instead.  My friend (a new mother) and I whispered (if one can whisper on twitter) that just seemed a bit extreme.  (The writer also suggested other extreme items, which I have blocked out from memory, they were harsh enough for me to wonder why it was the writer had children in the first place–children are not pets that can be crated, people!).  But that still begs the question–how to do it? How to balance writing with children?

I asked my friend Meghan who blogs at Writerland, that very question…and she has graciously obliged me with a guest blog post:

People ask me whether I have time to write with two kids—one who just turned two and the other only three months. The answer is, “Yes, but …” Yes, but only while someone else is taking care of them (i.e. I’m paying someone else to take care of them) or after they go to bed. I’m fortunate this time around because my newborn is already sleeping through the night. So after 8 p.m. I’m “free.” Free to eat dinner, wash the dishes, fold the laundry, pay my bills, check my e-mail, catch up on editing, etc. etc. etc.

So I find myself staying up late at night, usually until 12 or 1 a.m., and then getting up at 8 and feeling semi-tired all day. But there is time to write. It’s just compressed time, which means I need to be more disciplined than ever. If I want to accomplish anything, I can’t spend my time e-mailing, reading blogs, and Twittering. I can’t go the gym, have lunch with friends, or watch TV. If I do, I don’t write. Or I don’t sleep. And then I get sick. Which I did two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, the fact that I’ve completed my first book and am trying to get it published makes me feel justified in spending all my time online rather than putting words on the page. I’m itching to start a new project, but I don’t want to be one of those writers who has several unpublished books lying around, so I’m trying to focus on getting my first book out there instead. I wish I had time to do both—to use the social media tools to their fullest extent AND write AND exercise AND spend time with my kids … but I don’t.

Writing with little kids is all about choices. It’s about running instead of going to a yoga class because it saves me time. It’s about sharing my kids’ attention with a nanny and being okay with my son accidentally calling me “Dolores” from time to time. It’s about forking out a lot of money each week in order to buy myself the freedom to write, which is a tough choice when I’m making so little money from my writing. It’s about spending my evenings on my laptop instead of curled up on the couch watching a movie with my husband. It’s about being tired most of the time. Is it possible? Yes. Is it hard? Hell yes!

Yiyun Li, who was my thesis advisor in the Mills College MFA program, said she once heard that a writer’s career is delayed by two years for every kid she has, and she agreed. I agree, too. But when I look at my son’s sparkling blue eyes when he giggles with delight at being tickled, or when my baby girl smiles when she sees my face, I figure it’s worth it. Like the Peace Corps motto, parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. I think that’s true of writing, too. Combine them and you’ve got two tough jobs to love—double the work and double the pleasure.

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Rejected

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I once wrote a short story and titled it “Rejected.” It got rejected a kazillion times. I thought to myself, “Perhaps that’s not such a good title for a short story.” I changed the story title, and…it still got rejected a kazillion more times, until I retired it.

Retirement meaning: I forgot about it. It’s gathering dust in my hard drive. What the hell do writers do with stories that never ever get published? I feel like I should have some sort of burial ceremony. For every story of mine that’s been published, there exist at least a few more that will forever be wallflowers, never asked to dance, lingering on the sidelines. Poor dears.

So in a sense, there are quite a few stories I’ve written whose titles are unofficially, “Rejected.”

My friend at Writerland wrote a post titled (and about) “Dealing With Rejection”. It is a timely post, at least for me, because even though I’m always dealing with rejection as a writer, this week has been especially tough on my psyche.

I don’t deal with rejection well. My first short story was published in ZYZZYVA a few years ago in the early 2000s. But here’s the thing: the published story was written eight years prior. I didn’t submit it anywhere other than ZYZZYVA–it took me eight years to send it out, because I couldn’t deal with the thought of being rejected.

After that acceptance (what a bluebird! It was the only place I’d sent my work), I was buoyed, and sent my stories out. I have since been rejected hundreds of times. It’s awful. Sometimes, I brush a rejection off. Other times, I want to burrow under the covers and stay there for weeks. I’ve been driven to suicidal thoughts, I’ve thought of giving up. But I’ve kept on going.

I’ve kept on going with my writing, not because of any special coping device, but simply because there’s nothing I’d rather do than write. Even if I feel that I only produce mediocre, trite writing…it’s still all I’d rather do, and the thought of a life without writing drives me to dark insanity.

I deal with rejection in both healthy and unhealthy ways:

  • I feel sorry for myself. I wallow in self pity. I question myself. I become imbued with self doubt.
  • I go for a run. Hell, if my psyche’s suffering, then I should do something good for my body. Besides, endorphins are real.
  • I go for a walk, especially on a beautiful day like today–a late autumn day with golden light and a chill that requires a warm jacket. It’s peaceful.
  • I eat an entire bag of chips. Sometimes it’s Doritos, lately it’s Pirate’s Booty.
  • I used to eat chocolate, but I’ve been “off” chocolate for over a month now (resulting in weight loss, but that’s a different story). But you know–emergencies require chocolate.
  • I will email a good friend to tell her how awful I feel.
  • I will tweet my misery.
  • I will call writer friends to vent.
  • I will read a good book (right now I’m reading Victor LaValle’s Big Machine–it’s good!).
  • I will blog.
  • Sometimes, I drink. Today, I added some vodka and cointreau to my pineapple juice. I’d have added a splash of grenadine but I couldn’t get the bottle open, because it was glued shut with sugar. That kind of gives you an idea of how often I drink (rarely).
  • I’ll go see a movie, turn on the TV and veg out.
  • In the growing season, I’ll go putter in my vegetable garden.
  • And most recently, I’ve clung to this quote from Cormac McCarthy who in his WSJ interview said, “I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”

In sum, rejection is like heartbreak. There is only so much you can do, like running and commiserating with friends, to stave off the devastation of heartbreak…but in the end, you have to let the devastation wash over you and run its course. The more in love you were, the greater the heartbreak. The more hope you had in a writing opportunity, the greater the impact of rejection.

Right now: I’m feeling the heartbreak. I’m making loved ones around me miserable. I’m miserable. If you’re not a writer, you won’t understand what it is I’m going through. If you’re a writer, then you, unfortunately, understand.

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