If you follow my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve only been posting once a week as of late, instead of maintaining my regular twice a-week schedule.
I assure you, it’s not the start of a long, downward slide into a static webpage, but rather the outward sign of me taking things easy for a bit while I wait for feedback on my most recent draft of the novel.
When I finished the last version and handed it off to a few trusted friends, I really just needed to rest. I needed to sleep in past my 5am writing date, and go to a few of my girl’s soccer games on the weekend (instead of locking myself up to write, write, write). That was early April, and I told myself then that I would not stress about writing until after my birthday.
Well guess what. I am now officially in my late thirties (though I maintain that 36 is late-mid thirties), and it’s time to get back to it. I already got feedback from two of my readers, and I’m waiting on word from four more. It’s time to reach out and set up dates for feedback sessions.
In the meantime, I got a lovely rejection letter for my most recent short story submission yesterday. It’s rare that editors take the time to actually send notes, and she was very flattering – saying how she really liked it, but it was a little too grounded in reality for their publication (which surprised me, as I submitted to them because I thought the journal would be a good match for my story) – but it was a rejection nonetheless.
Oh well, onward and upward. I’ve already sent the story to the next journal on my list. I’m still in my top ten, so I’m not feeling too down about it.
An acceptance letter would certainly be a nice ego boost as I head into the next round of work on the novel.
There’s a scene in “The Incredibles” where the mom calls the dad at work and says “we are are officially moved in,” and he says something like “and the last three years don’t count because…” to which she responds that she finally finished unpacking.
That’s how I feel with my new office space. It only took three months, not three years, but really – I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me that long. The thing is, I generally have a ton of work to do, and when I’m in the office, I’m not there to decorate. So here it is. Drum roll please….
Notice the new file cabinet which took me two hours to put together. And the ergonomic key board tray (which you can’t really see because my chair is in the way). But trust me. It’s great. Everything is exactly where I need it, and I have a whole section there on the left where I can spread out papers when I’m working on something. So much space!
I even love the bare brick walls, though it’s pretty tricky to get anything to stick to them, by tape or tack. I managed to tape a few family photos to a ribbon that I hung from an old nail, but it’s kind of ghetto.
I think I’m going to have to spring for a few frames to put the photos in, and maybe a few tall plants to fill the bare walls a bit.
It’s a work in progress, but the exciting news is, I am officially moved in.
I can’t remember the context any more, but once, when I was in high school, a boyfriend of mine asked “do you want to live to work, or work to live?”
It’s one of those annoying questions that stoners ask when their existential angst comes up pressure from their parents to get a j-o-b.
My mom was an artist (is still), and she loved her work. She lived to work. It didn’t always pay the bills (or so I know now, with the perspective of grown up hindsight), but her work was her passion. So when stoner-boy posed the question, I answered without hesitation – live to work.
But thinking back, I remember my date scoffing. His mom was a lawyer, or something, and I think he equated living for work with selling your soul.
He planned to work to live – go, clock in, do his time and then go home to the thing he really cared about (pot). Even back then I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around that. I mean really, we spend more time working than we do with our families.
Working to live is what you do when you have to. I’ve certainly done it, but it’s not my preference. Life is too short to waste eight hours a day on things/people you don’t care anything about.
I think I’ve been knocking this question around some lately because I’m realizing that things aren’t as simple as the marijuana-addled brains of a teenager would like to believe. I’ve got a great job, and I get to do a lot of writing for clients, but I don’t LIVE for my work. I live for the writing I do at five in the morning. Well, actually, I LIVE for my family. They are the best and if I could I would lay around with them all day every day, soaking in the kiddie pool and planting strawberries, but there are bills to pay. So I work.
I guess the best we can hope for is to be engaged, to be interested enough in what we’re doing, and/or who we’re doing it with, that the time passes quickly and we can get back to the things/people we love. Would that count as living to work, or working to live?
I heard someone say once that you can tell a lot about any given line of work by the verbs used to describe how people find it. Actors audition, sales clerks apply, executives are head-hunted, and writers submit.
This weekend, I wrapped up a short story that I plan to submit to journals. It’s a story I wrote in grad school, and as soon as it was done I started sending it out to the best of the best journals (or at least my favorites): AGNI, Glimmer Train, One Story, and more. Sadly, the story wasn’t ready. Back then I had this attitude of “good enough.” I knew there were holes in the narrative, but I figured no one else would notice. Rookie mistake.
After 32 rejections I stopped submitting it and put it aside for a while.
Then, a couple weeks ago, when I decided to take a break from the novel, I went back to it. What I’ve learned, since I last worked on it, is that readers will notice holes that I as the writer will never see. So I reworked it until I honestly thought it was perfect, then I had my writing group review it, patched up the holes they found, then I had my guy take one last pass, and was excited when he only had a couple minor notes.
So tonight I will begin the submission process again. Sadly, I have ruined any shot of acceptance at the fancier journals, as they have already rejected it, but the good news is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of journals out there. By searching online I have found another 30 that seem to be good matches for my particular narrative – lovely journals, with totally respectable distributions. I’m going to follow the same process I did last time. I will submit to the top five on my list, then, as rejections come in, as rejections will, I will just send it out to the next journal on the list.
If I get through another 30 submissions without an acceptance, well, then, I’ll have to do some serious reassessing. And I think that’s why the word submission seems so apt. This process feels like groveling. Like crawling forward on my knees with pages in my out-stretched hands, head lowered.
Well, here goes nothing.
I was chatting with an old friend the other day about my story. You guys know him as Steve the Pirate. He’s a DJ, and as I’ve written a DJ into my novel, I wanted to get his input, and he asked why, in all the time we knew each other back in the day, did I never mention that I was a writer?
I made a crack about being too dense to realize it. Sometimes I feel like it takes me a really long time to figure out the simplest things. Mitochondrial DNA and the Krebs cycle – no problem, but figuring out what I wanted to do with my life – that one took me a while.
Anyhow, he wasn’t buying the density argument, and it got me thinking that even though that’s what I fall back on as a canned response at cocktail parties, it’s not entirely true. I think the truth was that I was so afraid I would never figure out what I wanted to do that I was trying to test out every possibility, and never gave myself the time to see what was right in front of me.
So what changed that? What made me see the light?
Getting pregnant. Kind of.
What happened was that I got pregnant right as I finished a big film project, and by the time I was ready to take interviews anywhere I was bulging around the middle in a way that was hard to hide and the truth is, no matter what the laws say, no one is going to hire a pregnant lady and spend three months training her just so they can pay her to take maternity leave. So after a few frustrating tries, I gave up.
Daniel was in grad school at Stanford and we were living in student housing, so I just settled in and embraced my lazy self. And after about two days, a pattern began to emerge. I would take long walks, cook, read, and write. Left with no demands on my time, those were the activities I took up.
I wrote the first half of a terrible novel. I wrote a few short stories (and even submitted them to journals). I read Writer’s Digest. Not because I was on some mission to become a writer, but because those were just the things I felt like doing when I woke up in the morning. I had always loved writing, but because it came easy I never gave myself credit for being pretty good at, and I certainly never took the time to develop fiction writing as a skill.
That was when I decided I would apply to grad school, and really work at being a writer. And here I am. Five years later, a working writer.
It was being forced to slow down that finally opened my eyes. It reminds me of something a Buddhist teacher of mine used to say: “don’t just do something, sit there.” Sometimes you have to sit really still for a while before you know what you’re supposed to do next.
I’m very thankful I had that experience, because now, with two kids running around, and a full time job, I don’t think I’ll have time for any extended meditations for oh, about 16 years.