Notes from the End of Bachelorhood

I spent the last two weeks as a temporary bachelor. Some things are great: I can sleep diagonal in the bed. I can write without interruption. I finished up a Netflix series that is not universally popular in my household. But other things are less great: I guess I actually like the man I married, so I wanted him to be around. I had to cook for myself. Both taking out the recycling and garbage AND bringing the cans in is so much work.

I know, you don’t care about my extraordinarily minor problems. What about your fucking writing? Ah, yes, writing. Turns out being alone is excellent for your writing. I knew this from grad school, of course. But being alone without feeling unloved is even better.

I’ve switched two sections. My pain-in-the-ass section has only two small bits with major problems. It used to have a lot more. The whole thing is riddled with minor problems, but that’s par for the course. I don’t hate it. I am seeing resonance between chapters. [Management: Indy refuses to apologize for the mixed metaphor.]

I’ve learned how to make curried noodles.

Now I’ve got to get the fuck back to work. You too, people, you too!

Bisous,

Indy Clause

Book Writing Math

The most basic equation in book writing is the standard page equation.

1 page = 250 words in a standard font with 1″ margins and double spaced

It’s a professional equation and emotionless. It does not have the weight of “I need to add 10,000 words” or the even more frightening, “I have to cut 10,000 words.”

And since we’re going into a spiral of mathematical, book-writing doom here, may I remind you of hours. This is the worst for poets.

“I just spent 2 hours on 50 words.” This is why poets do not know anything the standard page equation. They instead create a mathematics of rhythm and sound, and retreat into their happy word-spinning place.

I just spent 4 hours on 1,895 words. I was interrupted once by two nephews coming up to have lunch. They awarded me with cheese doodles and I politely kicked them out once they were done eating. At hour 2.7 I half unloaded the dishwasher in the vain attempt to avoid a particular writing problem.

Freelancers beat themselves up about hours. How much of that hour was I really working? God, stay off facebook! If I don’t finish this paper, I will never get paid!

Is it worth to take a job that will take x amount of hours and pay y? Is my pace equal to my acceptable hourly rate? Is it more cost effective for me to hire painters and spend my time editing or paint the room myself?

Never ever calculate how much money you are earning per hour while writing.

I set out to fix a chapter today. I blew off work to do it. I have to get the bulk of the Fucker out of the way before the semester starts. I can afford to take a day here and there to write.

I can’t decide whether to be ecstatic that I mostly fixed the chapter that I thought I couldn’t fix this morning or to feel concerned because that was 4 out of many-mumble pages.

But I also felt good enough about the ever-dreaded section 5 to save the document as my next draft. I’ve turned a corner. I’ve rephrased one of my major themes. It’s lucky draft 16, baby!

Fortunately my brother-in-law came with a wide variety of interesting beer, and while it is not quite beer o’clock yet, I have only 1/24th of the day to go. Or maybe I’ll crack one open early to celebrate.

Prewriting

Prewriting. I don’t do it. I open a page and start writing. How else do I know what I think? (I’m paraphrasing a quote from a famous writer whose name I don’t remember.) You can tell I do this on the blog every day.

But sometimes you look at your manuscript and think, fuck, I have nothing else to say. Then you have some options.

As I discussed with Averil, you can get drunk or kill yourself, but often these are very inconvenient. So there are other options.

You could read a book in the same genre to get ideas for flow, voice, and style. You can give up for the day and hope for better luck tomorrow. You can read a book that is tangentially related and mine it for ideas. You can go walk your dog/spouse/kid.

Or you can do research. You can go outside and sit under the tree in your yard. You can eye the mint under the tree for juleps later, but it’s too early for that shit now. You can read a book about [obscure topic] that you only barely understand.

Somehow that scholarly book is like poetry. Each line takes you so long to digest and think about that you have the space to have your own ideas and reactions to the information presented.

And when you look at your MS again, you still hate it. Even the font (your beloved Times New Roman) disgusts you. But you feel on fire anyway. When was the last time you thought this hard about something divorced from your daily thoughts?

[Spoiler: When you read Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts]

This reading is cracking my head open. It is prewriting. It is good for the brain. It is giving me the endurance to finish the fucker.

What have you been doing recently to finish the fucker?

In Praise of Useless Skills

The Kid (who was born to one of my many sisters 18 years ago) is having problems. She’s going to college in the fall and she doesn’t know what classes to take or what to major in or what to do with the rest of her life.

“Am I always going to be this stressed?” she asked.

“Nope. Going to college is a major stressor.”

“Am I wasting my time in classes that won’t help me in my career?”

“Of course not,” said her former English major auntie.

I tried to explain to The Kid the value of a liberal arts education. Then I reflected on the wide array of useless skills I have and the paucity of useful skills. But fuck that. Let’s celebrate the useless ones.

1. I can write notes to my friends in Jane Austen’s style. They, being lovely and geeky, write me in turn. I do it better.

2. I can read alto clef.

3. I know the entire canon of Simon and Garfunkel by heart.

4. I can find the poetry section in five bookstores that have now closed. (Probably because I didn’t buy enough poetry books.)

5. I can spot sun dogs.

6. I can tell whether I’m looking at a star or a planet.

7. I can recite the alphabet backward.

8. I regularly lose interest in lists after about 6 or 7.

What are your favorite and least favorite useless skills?

Retreat

One of my friends believes in monastic practice when it comes to writing. He likes the routine and the silence, the discipline. I’ve never been very good with silence or stillness (stop laughing, Cougar). But on day three of my (temporary) bachelordom, I am beginning to understand him.

I spent all weekend entrenched in my father’s papers. I’ve been condensing the boxes, emptying binders into folders, flipping through page after page of calculations and handwriting that looks suspiciously like my own. I also printed out section 5 and edited it in the only room of my house with AC (that would be the bedroom).

I was not silent. Living alone makes me talk to the dog or myself or both. I scold my keys for going missing, I get mad (out loud) at my father (who has been dead for 15 years) for not labeling his binder, I give my dog guilt trips in a loving tone so he has no idea what I’m up to. Nor was I disciplined. I’ve been texting friends and checking facebook. But I put in my time and got shit done.

And it’s the silence of being alone that is allowing me to sink into the Fucker. I can spend hours trying to figure out what the hell I need to do to make section 5 work; my only distraction is my own mind. No one is talking to me about errands, something a friend said, a shocking news item. No one is singing me songs that are stuck in his head with alternate lyrics that often involve my last name.

There’s a silence in my practice (to use a monastic word) that I did not have before. I’m staying in. I’m editing, cutting, pasting, printing out, making outlines. I don’t get jolted out every 30 minutes. It’s like a slow swim across a lake. I’m coming up for air and then I’m going back in. There is a rhythm to it that works, a pace that will get me across the damn lake.

That is if I don’t starve to death between now and then.

Writing Retreat Complete with House Cleaning

DP has left me (temporarily) to go to Fancy Fancy Writing Conference.

“I wish you were going with me. I have to go schmooze with writers and you’re my social buffer,” he said before he left.

“Wait, I thought you were my social buffer?” (This is one of the reasons our marriage works.)

But now I’m a bachelor again. When I first lived with DP, he went away to teach for six weeks every summer. Six weeks is a long time to be a bachelor. Then he only taught one session and we had been together longer. Three weeks is not too bad. I think two weeks is better, however.

I know how it goes. The first two days I am happy. The whole bed to myself! No one else to consider! Imma gonna eat cereal for THREE WHOLE MEALS IN A ROW! But then I get a little wistful. I mean, I married that man for a reason (other than his cooking prowess). He is one of my favorite people to hang out with, even if he takes up more than his fair share of the bed.

This time I’m using the echoing emptiness of my house for a purpose. I’m going to finish the damn book. Well maybe not finish finish, but I’m going to finish my draft and send it off to victim beta reader.

I have a sinking feeling that my next editing technique should be to read the whole damn thing out loud. (God help me.)

What’s your editing advice? What should I do while DP is gone (that doesn’t involve illegal substances or breaking my marriage vows)?

Don’t Write, Don’t Revise

Don’t write about your family when you’re on your way to see some of your oldest friends. Don’t write that same day because you want to be calm rather than sad. Don’t write on the anniversary of a parent’s death. See above.

Don’t submit when you’re tired and you hate everything you’ve ever written. Don’t read twitter, because that will remind you that writers you love and respect are getting published all over the place. Don’t follow their links about publishing because they’ve been published in magazine X 10,000 times and are feeling nostalgic about it.

Don’t feel bad that you’ve been rejected by magazine X 10,000 times and have never even had an editor say anything about your work. Don’t go on facebook. There lies racism, corruption, and puppy pictures.

Instead go one state to the north with your dog and your man. Visit old friends. Swim in a lake. OK, don’t swim if you hate swimming. [Management: Jesus H. Christ, Indy Clause is difficult.] Sit on the fucking dock and get your feet wet, okay? Okay.

Hunker down. Don’t get eaten by bears. Or mosquitos. Or overenthusiastic four-year-olds. Eat good food. Drink tea if there is no coffee. Hope your friend’s mom will make cherry pie with the cherries from your very own tree. Ne freak out pas.