1. I’m fucking grateful that what people say on facebook they don’t say to my face.
2. I’m fucking grateful that you guys think it’s funny when I cuss and whine.
3. I’m fucking grateful that it snowed last night, because it hides the fact that we haven’t raked our leaves totally.
4. I’m fucking grateful that my brother-in-law always, always brings beer. And it’s always good. And he looks out for me.
5. I’m fucking grateful that my credit card was declined because of a fraud alert and not because they’ve discovered I’m a worthless deadbeat.
6. I’m fucking grateful that Louis is moving to Philly, because who has time to maintain friendships anyway? (No, it isn’t true, Louis. I’ll miss you, you jerk!)
7. I’m fucking grateful that no one but DP knows where I hide the good whiskey.
8. I’m fucking grateful that it’s the holidays and I don’t have to write because I have no fucking clue what I’m going to write next, and it’s not that freeing anything-is-possible feeling, but rather the shit-I’m-fucked-it’s-a-test-I-didn’t-study-for feeling.
9. I’m fucking grateful that I’m not the kind of person who has to have ten reasons to feel as if my list is worthwhile. Fuck you, numerical expectations.
C’mon. Show your bitterest gratitude.
One of the very most useful discussions I had in a writing workshop was how we would continue to write over the summer when we didn’t have to turn in a poem every week or every other week.
Of course I don’t remember any of the techniques our professor or my classmates suggested, but just the fact that the professor brought it up as an important class item helped me think about it. That’s the thing about writing, no one can tell you exactly what to do to get it done.
I have successfully written 300 words a day for two days. So now I feel as if I have bragging rights, and can tell you what to do. But here’s the thing. Writing is one of my favorite things about myself even though I whine up a storm about doing it.
Christmas is complicated (although not nearly as complicated as when we had to go visit two families, two nursing homes, and negotiate stays between sisters, friends, and dog-friendly households). There is a nice independent coffeeshop near my sister-in-law’s house. DP and I go there at least once to get some work done and to support them.
I could write 300 words there, slightly more than a page. I can remind myself that I’m not the polite in-law, or the bratty youngest child. I can stake a very short claim on who I am when I write.
Once, when I was in a much more emotionally dire situation, I kept a haiku journal. It was the faintest whisper of poetry that I could write before bed, reminding me that I wasn’t just watching my mother recover from chemotherapy. I was also a writer. Hi, I’m still here.
Hi, I’m still here.
How do you survive the holidays?
How much research do you do for a memoir? Journalists go back and interview people. Academics do research in libraries. The reason I never considered journalism, although I was a kid who wrote well, was because I wasn’t outgoing enough for the job. And I’m way too ADD to devote myself to serious research.
Instead, I’m taking the Sebastian Junger approach. I read three-quarters of The Perfect Storm in a summer cabin in New Hampshire while suffering from insomnia. They had more than one copy of the book at the cabin, and I liked the book so much I stole it.
(Side note: Booksellers and former booksellers often don’t read books that are insanely popular, because we are tired of looking at them and/or find their likelihood of being any good highly suspect. So I was surprised at how good the book was. And, yes, booksellers can be snots.)
Junger never figured out what happened to the Andrea Gale, the boat that was lost in the storm. So, instead, he wrote about what it feels like to drown. He wrote about what it takes to do a sea rescue. He wrote about how intense (not a meteorologically precise unit of measurement) the waves had to be to blow out the Gale’s windows. He wrote around everything he couldn’t answer. And it was absolutely engrossing.
I couldn’t do what Junger did, in that he was still a journalist and still interviewed total strangers, something that makes me practically break out in a cold sweat. However, I can write around the shit I don’t know. Yesterday’s five hours and 200 words? I never figured exactly what my father did at [job redacted] in the mid fifties, but by god I learned enough that I could write around it, Junger style.
How do you write around gaping holes in your knowledge?
You’d think I was writing a fucking academic dissertation considering how slow things are going here. To write a measly 200 words, I printed out ten pages of two different articles from Journal of Thank God You Have Full Text of Old Articles. I took four pages of notes about articles, databases, archives, and other directions I could go in, as well as two transcribed pages of quotes from correspondence I have on hand.
Five hours, 200 words. That’s a minute and a half of research per word. The words weren’t even terribly technical, I’m just describing something my father used to do. On the bright side, I figured out as much as I could without raising the dead. I’m confident that there is not a thing more I can learn on this subject.
Well, there are a few more things I could learn, but I’ve written those things down, and will work on them later. You know, when I have five more hours to spare.
Do you research?
Can you tell I’ve run out of good titles?
It’s about to snow up to our eyeballs, or at least the eyeballs of a very tall cat (who lives inside thankyouverymuch). I have great plans for the weekend. I’m going to clean out my office, clean out the guest room, write, and make chicken and biscuits. It’s earlyish in the morning, all things still seem possible.
I’ve put in all my changes from my beta reader, and now need to start writing again. Do I write new chapters? Do I add material to old chapters? Do I write little chapterlets and hope they fit somewhere? Do I read more and bring in outside research? Do I print it out and read it again?
I think I’m tired of reading. Certain chapters get shined to a high gloss, because I’ve gone over them so many times. They may not be finished, but I have a hard time seeing them any other way. Look at that transition, isn’t it beautiful? I might say, completely in denial about how bad the scene following the elegant transition might be. So I guess it is to be new reading, new material, new notes, new chapterlets.
What do you do on snowy days, should you live in a place that has them?
I have removed a third of my manuscript. The act of cutting was clean. I took chapters I have never felt good about and simply did not transfer them to my new draft. I also stopped numbering my drafts because they are getting perilously close to the double digits.
I can keep my last chapter. It is only half-written anyway, but it gives me the feeling that I at least know where I’m going to end up. I’ve deleted a storyline, so there may be even fewer loose ends than there were. But there are gaps, lordy, there are gaps.
Now I have to go back and reshape my chapters. I feel as if I am trapped back in September. I need to look at storyline and write more pointed text. But even if I feel as if I were moving backward (which I don’t, quite), I need to believe that I am moving forward. Every time I solve a writing problem, I become a better writer. Right?
And I take comfort from the words by Leigh Newman about revising her memoir:
“What was left to do was a lot of huge, ugly, much-needed cuts, lots of rewriting, sobbing, and more rewriting.”
(Still Points North is a great book, you should look for it.)
What direction are you moving?
A conversation with Sarah W. prompted me to construct this fee structure. (It had nothing to do with my dislike for genetics papers, really.) I was a writing tutor in college, and during orientation we were told not to help our friends for free. I’ve taken this good advice to heart. This is not to say that I charge my friends $75/hour [Ed. note: Indy Clause only wishes she made $75/hr]. But I make them buy me beer or dinner or read my own work.
DP molds young minds for a living. One day he told his students that they all had to learn how to cite in MLA—no exceptions—unless they married copyeditors.
How much do you charge?