Coming Out

All right, people. I’m half-outing myself for a good cause. The book of short stories, Easiest If I Have a Gun, written by the man I am married to is available for preorder today.

I agreed to go out with [DP] on the strength of our written correspondence. I like them smart and I like them to know their way around the English language. (This is why online dating is great for writers.) We had a very scary moment a few weeks in where we showed each other our writing. This was possibly even more scary than when we showed each other other things. For the second instance, if it isn’t perfectly great the first time, you can work on it. This is not as true for the writing. Fortunately I liked his writing.

If you like dark and funny stories about working-class adolescence, this is your book. If you have ever watched the Dukes of Hazard or a marriage fall apart or stay together, you will like this book. Can a man write convincingly about craft ladies? Yes, he can.

If I were to write a blurb, it would say:

[DP] writes like a dream.

or maybe

[DP] writes even better than he cooks.

or maybe

Reader, I married him.

 

[And look out for our very own Downith, who won a character with her name from one of my silly contests.]

 

Being Alone

In a mad quest to avoid writing, I found myself reading about being alone. Although I’m all happily married with a dog and a house, not to mention a husband, I spent most of my twenties single. I walked alone. I went to things alone. I went to things with friends. I walked with friends. Sometimes I did not walk home alone, but mostly I did. I got a lot of writing done.

The article talks about Emerson, who was alone frequently and got a lot of writing done. One of the great gifts of writing residencies is the time alone with your thoughts. It’s not just physical solitude that you have, although that is part of it. Other considerations can go by the wayside. No one wants to tell you about something interesting that happened today or go with him to the grocery store. You are there to write.

I got up early this morning and went to the computer to write. I have not been alone with my writing in a long time. Of course when I’m alone and writing, I’m not really alone. I have voices parading through my head. It is the voices of my friends, of what I am reading, of what I have seen, of my writing, of Teri asking me questions I cannot answer, etc.

Yesterday I did not run, go grocery shopping, clean out the guest room, plan my class, or a thousand other things I might have needed to do. Instead I curled up on the couch with the dog and my new 1000-page Everyman Library edition of Joan Didion’s nonfiction.

That is a woman who knows how to write and how to work. Her sentences kill me. “Outside the Monterey County Courthouse in Salinas, California, the Downtown Merchants’ Christmas decorations glittered in the thin sunlight that makes the winter lettuce grow.” So exact and thorough and yet it reminds us that we are reading a book about California, even as she talks about Joan Baez.

I realized yesterday that I am beat and I am lazy. I do not have the energy to do this thing, to get the words on the page and then (and this is the part I shy from) to polish them up until they are ready to go out into the world. This is why I took to the couch with Joan Didion and Mr. Dog.

And this morning I wrote. Eventually I get downright agoraphobic (which I realize today means literally that I fear the marketplace). I do not want to leave my room, the space where my words flow onto the page. I shut the door, and will my husband to keep sleeping. I may never get it back. And of course it’s not just him, but my own desire to leave the writing space and do something less frustrating. But today I stayed.

So here is to Joan Didion, warm dogs, and doors that close. May your final draft not be agoraphobic.

Are you alone?

Privilege

It turns out that I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of gender and education. My three favorite grad school professors were men, and they were nothing but supportive and considerate. I turned in a poem with a lesbian theme as my second poem in one workshop and my (male) professor quickly squashed any discussion on subject matter. I was nervous as hell, and I could have hugged him. He loved my work and I loved him (in an appropriate teacher/student sort of way).

One of these favorite professors wrote a new book, so I ordered it from the library. The first section read “We were hell-bent to become poets…we drank and smoked and fucked as much as we could….We contemplated suicide when the world ignored our poems…[but] With women we were sensitive…” Do you see a problem here? I know he is self-aggrandizing and making fun of himself a little bit. However, it is clear here that women are not poets. Not once in two workshops and a bunch of thesis meetings did Professor ever hint to me that women shouldn’t be poets. He just didn’t see what he was saying as he mythologized his young experience. It’s a smaller fault, but it still sucks.

And it made me think of DP’s mentor. He was included in an email about order of the stories in DP’s book. I confess, I threw my weight around a little bit in the book-making process, not in a jerky way, I hope; but I wanted to make sure that people knew I worked in publishing so that when I said that the font on the cover looked like every education book anyone had ever published that they knew I wasn’t blowing smoke out of my ass. (Hate that term, sorry.) But when Mentor wrote back, “Not only is she a babe, but she is smart too,” I got pissed.

DP said that Mentor had said that because I had agreed with him. But I had been talking about an editorial opinion, about the sort of thing I do for a living. And being a babe (which I’m not at all, but that’s another argument) is completely irrelevant. But then one of my other favorite professors posted this essay on facebook, saying something about how he was proud to teach female essayists.

So I can’t read this book by my professor because he pisses me off. What, then, should I read next?

Editing for marriage and profit

1. It’s a good day when you google a phrase to see whether it should be hyphened (your English major/copyeditor brain insists that it should be hyphenated, but you have been tricked by science before), and you find the phrase hyphened in your very own journal.

2. Copyediting your beloved’s work is weird. There are things you miss because you know what he’s talking about even in fiction. It’s almost as bad as copyedidting your own work. You see things that he does that you think are brilliant, and then there are the things he does that are irritating and repetitive. Copyediting is about looking at something in excruciating detail. It is not unlike living with someone.

3. “Profit” is a bit metaphorical.

4. I might have more to say about editing if I had not just had lunch with a friend and drifted into the thrift store. I am now the proud owner of a houndstooth wool jacket. It has turned my head.

“It’s elegant!” my friend said. “And it works with both jeans and something more fancy.”

“Good,” I said. “Last week I almost wore my Carhart jacket to class, because I had nothing nicer to keep me warm.”

What’s turning your head these days?

Late Draft Syndrome

I’ve working on The Fucker for a couple hundred years, give or take. In the past month I’ve had two or three ideas for essays that are tangential to the Fucker, but as of now don’t belong in the Fucker.

There are parts of The Fucker where the sentences sing. My page or two of these baby essays? The sentences are inert and, between you and me, ugly. I hate them. But I need to put that aside and keep writing. I can make them sing later.

And even my pretty sentences I despise at this point in lucky draft #13. I printed out my last section the other day. I listened to Ann Hood’s podcast on what makes a kick-ass essay that Teri has been talking about. And it was worth the hype.

It made me mark five things in the first two (single spaced) pages that I needed to fix. And I knew the right questions to ask. Then I put the printed-out manuscript away. I’ve been freewriting in my little sugar-cane notebook because I can’t bear to look at the manuscript. The pretty sentences are shouting.

This is late draft syndrome, the inability to write anything new because it all seems like so much work, and the inability to work further on the main project. But today it’s a few pages of this essay or bust.

What are your baby steps?

 

Destroying Bad Writing Without Destroying Spirits

Because you can’t always say “this is the worst thing I’ve ever read in my entire goddamned life,” sometimes you have to get creative.

1. Find a glimmer of better writing, one place where you stopped throwing up long enough to take a breath. This is something you compliment. “It’s interesting [or rather less barfworthy than what came before] how you describe flowers as baby kittens, maybe you could talk more about that?”

2. Take the worst repeating offense and offer clear and concrete examples as to why it doesn’t work. “When you said that she has legs of steel and abs of ripped granite, I get confused. I can’t quite picture how granite might be ripped. Could you use another example there?”

“When you say ‘her skin was a creamy cafe au lait,’ I feel as if this is an image that is used a lot to describe women of color. [or if you don't know that they understand the term woman of color *ahem, my college students* then use the following] I’ve seen it before. Can you think a new way to describe the character?” (No, really, click on that link. You will laugh so hard that your cafe au lait will go up your nose, no matter what color your nose is.)

3. Take something you hate and come up with some scenarios to make you hate it incrementally less.

“What if you took the second stanza, which reads ‘the school/ was by the pool/ I stared at the tool/ it was a wrench/ from my bench/ that was once held by Judi Dench’ and varied the rhyme a little?”

“Maybe you could explain circumstances earlier that lead up to the arrival of an alien spaceship in the last chapter of what is otherwise a Regency romance.”

4. Vent elsewhere, like here for example.

What’s the worst writing you’ve read recently?

Finishing the Fucker

I’ve been talking about books, about teaching, about my family. Anyone notice I haven’t been talking about writing?

Yeah, that thing that I had great hopes of having a draft of by fall. Months and months ago. I swear I was going to turn a draft to my beta reader in, what was it, July? And I set down to write a note to Beta Reader about setting a schedule, but then I thought maybe I should write it here.

I live near a synagogue, and I can go days and days without driving, walking, or running by it. But as soon as it’s a holiday (that I don’t remember) I pass it. The dog and I walked by on Passover (don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t look at me). DP and I drove by a very full parking lot for Yom Kippur (the day of atonement and fasting) on our way to luscious bacon-filled breakfast.

But I’m going to atone here a little bit, or at least confess my sins, or I guess in more Jewish tradition apologize to those I have wronged this past year. In the past few months I have wronged my writing (say that out loud, ha!). Mea culpa. (This is why I’m a bad Jew.) I would like to write at least 15,000 more words to get to the end of lucky draft 13.

Teaching has been kicking my ass, but I’m getting used to it. I delivered a good lecture the other day without powerpoint to keep me focused. I was slightly less prepared than I wanted to be, and it worked anyway. DP’s book has been copyedited. I should be able to fit writing around the edges of my life again. Should I write every day as suggested here? Should I have a weekly word count and finish it as I can? In August I had a pretty good system where I didn’t sit down every day, but every time I sat down to write, I made myself write 1,000 words. (I’d get to 965 and weep into my keyboard, then write 35 more.)

I have never been a religious person (see above). But one of the things I like about the idea of religion is how you keep having to rededicate yourself to it. I like the preacher in Gilead, and his thoughtfulness and struggle to stay on the path. Every year you promise to do better and then you fuck up again. But then you promise again to do better. This is like writing.

How do you crawl back and make up with your writing project?