May Notes

Writing Crash: I came back from my residency, which consisted of six full days of me working my brains out, and dived into an editorial project. Then I drove over the mountains to Second Job and hosted people. I have a new write-together group. On Monday morning I met with them, wrote my brains out, managed (just barely) not to express my undying love for all of them for giving me the space to write, and then spent the rest of the day in bed. Never underestimate the importance of a day/afternoon off after intense work.

A Thing: In writing editorial notes for a friend’s project, I said, “This brings up the idea of [heroine’s relationship to intergalactic gargle blasters]. I don’t know if that is A Thing. But if it is, it could be interesting.” And as I reread the notes I imagined someone saying, “Indy! You’re a writer! Words are your business! Surely you can do better than A Thing!”

I really hate it when people post “I did a thing” about things that are important, like writing a book. I know it’s casually understated, but it still annoys me. Claim your work. But one of the things that keeps copyeditors from being raging assholes in real life (mostly) is work-life balance. Do not be that nitpicking person all of the time.

I was giving my writer friend a lot of feedback. I had to quasi apologize, quasi explain about a comment I had made because I was afraid she would think I was insulting her. (I wasn’t, and she didn’t think I was.) “A Thing” became shorthand for “a theme that might be interesting and significant to develop.” Writing is communicating, and she understood what I was saying.

Threes: Humans love lists of threes. No one wants to hear about the weather or my cheerfully scandalous lawn. There are robins and last night I heard a barred owl. The cows have moved back in to the pasture next door, and yesterday Poodlehead stared them down. This year she did not bark at them. But they stared back. I don’t know what was going through any of their fuzzy heads.

(Also I am horrified, depressed, and upset about the new abortion ban and it’s complete disregard for personal autonomy. How to help here and here.)

What are you trying to communicate these days?

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Apprenticeships and Writing Residencies

Someone somewhere (you come here for my incisive grasp of facts, right?) said that it takes ten years to become an expert (or was it just a professional?) in writing. Including my first creative nonfiction class, I’m in my tenth year of writing prose.

I’m on the last full day of my week-long writing residency, and although I miss my spouse and dog, the idea of leaving my little writing studio makes me want to cry. I’m surrounded by practicing artists and writers. The other night, an older poet walked into a room where a younger poet had laid out her manuscript on a conference table.

The older poet casually listed all the techniques a poet can use to figure out how to organize a poetry manuscript. Then she went upstairs to bed. The rest of us just stared at each other in awe and appreciation.

“I mean, she’s been doing this, for what? 30, 40 years?” the younger poet said. “That’s deep practice.”

I’ve gotten so much done this week because I know what needs to be done. Not exactly and not all of the time, but overall. There is so much more to do, of course. But I think for the first time in the [mumble/cry] years I have been working on the Fucker, I have truly been able to see it like a reader rather than a writer.

What have I learned that I think advanced writers need to know? Stay tuned. Or possibly visit my real-life persona blog if that information is available to you.

[This post was drafted a few days ago. I am home now. I survived reentry. Thank you, Paul, for urging me to post.]

 

Surviving the Long Social Night

By 2:30 on the first day of my writing residency, I found myself ensconced in a small but perfect little writing studio. There’s a pretty view, a big desk, a bulletin board, a comfy chair, and hooks on the door so I can decide which of my two layers I need in this typically inconsistent climate.

I surprised myself by writing. I was too scattered to manage prose, so I eased into some poetry. Not too bad! Today at the breakfast table someone asked me what I liked best about writing. It was an excellent question and one I couldn’t answer.

I started to explain that in the late stages of writing a book, it’s all executive function work, which I find hard. But the arc of a poem is so much smaller than the arc of a chapter or—god forbid!—a book. The poem arc is flexible and easy to design: a sparrow, not an airplane.

Dinner was entirely free of scandal to the best of my knowledge. Although it can be harder to spot scandal in a crowd than it is in more confined spaces. The evening was uneventful. No wine-fueled chatter in the living room, which was fine, because I was exhausted.

Daylight paid a 5:30 am wake-up call, and I’ve been sulking in my writing chair ever since. (Minus breakfast, which I did not have to make. And coffee. And some breakfast chatter.) And by sulking I mean reading, writing a blog post, appreciating the thermal powers of my new travel mug (my coffee is still warm!), and thinking about writing.

May your sulks be as pleasant as mine.

And So It Begins

In a few hours I leave for a week-long residency. I have packed my bags (mostly) and done all the dishes (mostly). I have chosen the books I’m taking with me. My current life can be summed up by the two bags the books are in: one is from Tractor Supply and says “I don’t have pets, I have friends and coworkers” and the other is from AWP.

I’ve been told that this is a very social residency. But I’m only there for a week. During longer residencies, a person can dream away an afternoon and take time off for coffee with a new friend. A person can go on field trips and explore new territory. This is one of the joys of residencies. But this is only seven days and it’s in my home state. I’m going to be chaining myself to my desk.

(True story: Louise Erdrich used to tie herself to her desk chair with a bathrobe belt because the knot gave her self-control enough time to catch up with her impulses.) I keep trying to ask my darling spouse whether I should power through a memoir revision, a chapter a day or just go my regular pace.

“Dunno” he replied, although he is a writing teacher and holds an MFA in writing. I don’t even get mad at him about this sort of thing anymore. Instead, I asked my trusty writing friends until someone gives me a more helpful response. In explaining the problem to the ever-helpful Sarah W., I mentioned that I was revising OK in my regular life, but that I wasn’t able to add more.

“New place, new writing,” she replied. Sarah W. has an MLS. Note: Librarians get shit done.

Will dinner wars erupt as they did at a previous residency? Will there be scandalous goings on as there were in another previous residency? Will our heroine get shit done?

Stay tuned.

Revenge of the Small Beer!

I’m doing an event tonight for my beer book. In some ways I’m casual about this sort of thing. I read in front of crowds once or twice a year, although usually it’s poetry. I don’t know why I’m casual about it, because it used to be speaking in front of people terrified me.

It still does, but I have more experience. In a lineup, I’m usually neither the best nor worst reader. I aim for charmingly awkward, and I like to crack jokes. I also have taught four in-person classes, where you stand up in front of people and talk about things you know about. I know writing. I vaguely remember beer.

I wrote an entire, if small, book about beer. And yet there I was yesterday, looking up malts and decided I didn’t have to go into the brewing process if I didn’t want to. In short, I am a total fraud. Except I’m not really. I’m a writer. I write about things. This time it is beer.

The average beer expert wouldn’t give my beer book the time of day, and nor should they. It is written for the layperson. It is written in the vain hope that certain people whose name might rhyme with Saul Sham(ble) will learn to drink something better and more interesting than a Big Bru.

I learned how to write prose, in part, on this blog. I used to think I was too scattered to communicate coherently. I used to think I could write only poetry. But my first book was a small book about beer, and there wasn’t a poem in sight.

What have you done that you didn’t think could do?

Things I Hate on Twitter (Today)

I have a little professional twitter account with approximately 23 followers. Sometimes I like twitter. Often it makes me crazy. But the paper I’m working on today makes me crazier. In honor of my cold fingers and my precarious mental health, I’m going to reproduce my least favorite kinds of tweets so you can glimpse the fun-killing deep cantankerous rot of my soul.

“OMG you guys! I finished my book today after 6 months of work!!!”

“Guys, guys, I did a thing.” [Author tweets her National Book Award nomination.]

“I am so so so so excited to have my work appear in [very small literary journal you’ve never heard of] cry emoji cry emoji cry emoji.”

“@myspouse just bought me a box of chocolates and massaged my feet while I finished my chapter. I love my husband!”

“I’m a new writer. I don’t know anyone here.”

And now my fingers have progressed from cold to icy. I’m going back to work now. What do you hate?

Navigating Social Expectations

I spent part of the morning reading a barely fictionalized short story written by my oldest friend about our childhood. My friend portrayed well the extraordinarily complicated social machinations of our friend trio and the various social strata of our middle school, family, and neighborhood lives.

After some distance in our mid-twenties, my friend moved to the city where I and the other third of the trio lived. That first night we hung out again, she and I stayed late at the bar discussing how out of everyone we knew (including the third member of our trio), she and I had the most similar upbringings. We grew up in similar houses, our fathers had the same jobs, our mothers had similar interests, our class was the same, our parents had similar expectations of us, and we lived in the same complicated place and had the same complicated feelings about it.

In my friend’s short story, our young heroines are navigating the social pressure of middle school and how they define themselves and each other. We (they) were always contrasting our (their) family lives with our (their) school lives. I think this was good preparation for being shacked up and navigating our own social habits and expectations in contrast with our spouses’ families’ social expectations. Certainly all three of us have dealt with that pressure, and when we talk about it we do so with the knowledge that our trio (and select other Old Friends who possibly read this blog) is the basis from which we understand social intimacy and close nonfamilial relationships.

I have houseguests. I was raised to have people over and to be a good host. Sometimes I struggle with the differences between how I was raised to host people (house should be spotless, the hostess does the dishes and makes the beds) and how I host people (er, love me, love my mess, and please give me a hand with the dishes). These are mostly my spouse’s friends, although I like them too, but the social expectations are different than they are with my friends. (And lord knows Spouse had to learn how to hang out with my prickly friend trio.)

Hosting can give rise to old anxieties, and so my friend’s story is all too relevant. My poor 12-year-old self really hoped I would have figured it all out by now. Sorry, kid. I’m doing my best.

Have you figured out social expectations?