Writing Myself Into a Hole

I began this blog as an antidote to cheery self-promoting blogs a billion fucking years ago (in blog time anyway). Today’s post is in direct contrast with the writing articles I’m so tired of that establishes far too much context. Yes we all know what it’s like to write. We all know what it’s like to write alone. (We are always alone.) We all know the eight thousand cliches about writing, just tell me what I want to know about agents. Jesus H. Christ. OK rant over.

Anyway, I wake at dawn, sleep-walk to my computer, try to say something intelligent, and then what? I write something so trite that my writing brain grinds to a halt. I kill my own ability to write at least once a day. Why do I do this?

The only saving grace is that I am learning pattern recognition. Oh yeah I did that thing again. So I back up. What is the soul-killing sentence/paragraph this time? Once I identify it I have a choice. Delete or move? Can I write again after I delete/move? Yes? Well done! No? Repeat.

I delete my way out of a hole, I “NEED TRANSITION” my way out of a hole, I revise my way out of a hole. I write some more. A strange feeling of self-esteem wafts through the room. Then bam. I’m in a fucking hole again. My writing life is not unlike New England roads after the spring thaw.

By my second hole, it’s time to feed the dogs and do paying work. Someone has to fund my therapy bills. There must be a better way to do this.

What’s your worst metaphor for writing?

Like Everyone Else

It’s tempting to say that I don’t write like anyone else, but it’s totally dishonest. My approach to my topics is different than many people’s, and my style is neither linear nor entirely nonlinear.

Querying is about positioning yourself in a market, being like enough but also different.

I was going through a bad patch a few years ago due to [situation], and one of my friends said, “You might see the way that you are [that was partly responsible for getting me into the situation] as a fault, but it isn’t. It’s a strength.” She was telling me that I was not like other people, but that it was a good thing.

I’m working a slightly corporate job right now. Editors are always quirky. But even so, I keep running up against the wall of not being like the others. I don’t want to be (too much) other than what I am. But I’m tired of themes repeating across multiple aspects of my life. Really I just want to get my damn book published.

What are you like?

February Gratitude List

I’m fucking grateful that the snow is up to my dog’s haunches, because it’s a pandemic out there and I shouldn’t be leaving the house anyway.

I’m fucking grateful that I had some nice time off from querying my manuscript only to feel so bad about not querying that I started querying again.

I’m fucking glad I’m Jewish so I can live on a steady diet of competing feelings of guilt. Really, it’s lovely, such a well of motivation. Yes that comma should be a fucking em dash.

I’m fucking grateful that [author redacted] hasn’t written the third book in the series I just started. I really need to stop reading schlock fiction anyway.

I’m fucking grateful some asshole senator from Texas went to Cancun rather than showing some goddamn leadership, because I anger keeps you warm. Although maybe not in Texas.

I am legitimately grateful for those of you who keep reading and urge me to post.

What are you grateful for?

Crickets and Rejection

Let’s pretend I’ve been blogging regularly, so I don’t have to deal with the whiny acknowledgements of all that has happened since October 26. You know what has happened. You were there. I fucking hate blogs that consist of overapologetic posts after long pauses. Who is holding you to the posting three times a week habit? Nobody. No one needs to worship productivity.

My great NaNoWriMo scheme went fine. I wrote every day. I generated some ideas. A lot of my words sucked a lot. But now I’m feeling my way through a new writing project. Starting from the beginning is super difficult and it’s been slow going. There is nothing interesting to say on this subject right now.

I’ve been sending the Fucker out to agents. Crickets and rejection. No one cares about my little story in (kill me now) these unprecedented times. This is sort of fine. People need and want other kinds of books. I am going to take a break and send it out later. How much later? I don’t know.

And you know what? These times are not unprecedented. Plagues and uprisings are the stuff of history. We just like to think we are post-history self-inventing individuals who can manifest their future if only we’re productive enough.

And now I’m going back to my bullet journal (which I have and which helps me get through my day sometimes better than others).

How are you surviving history?

Indy Clause vs. NaNoWriMo

In not-plague times, I usually have a fluctuating number of friends and sisters visiting over Thanksgiving. Spouse and I prepare Thanksgiving for eleventy-billion people and then collapse in exhaustion. The Big Holiday Week is not conducive to writing 1,667 words a day and finishing a novel.

However, we live in plague times. No one is going to visit me. So I’m going to do NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. Am I going to write a novel? Hell no. I’m just going to write.

I know your next logical question. What are you going to write? I have no fucking idea. Current plan is one nice solid essay to submit to overly ambitious places. If I’m a week into this madness and the essay crumbles in my hands? Then I’ll try something else. The point is to write and push myself but not to die of an unholy combination of light deprivation, carpal tunnel, and malnutrition.

Anyone with me?

Querying and Rejection

When I was a wee little 22-year-old poet I was roommates with a journalist and writer in her late 40s. She treated my writing ambitions seriously, and we often talked about writing. When I got my first rejection from a literary journal I called her. I felt good, and she summed it up.

“Congratulations! You’re a real writer now!” she said.

I got my first agent rejection today. It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I had sent the query. When I saw her email my heart jumped. Of course it did. But I wasn’t surprised to read her “not a good fit, best of luck placing it elsewhere” note.

She represents mostly fiction (I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace, which I highly recommend in order to find out what each agent really represents). Her blurb said she was looking for nonfiction, even though all her sales were romance novels.

Resilience is one of the most important characteristics for a writer. I am not always a resilient person in the rest of my life, but I guess I learned young with writing.

Fear, Loathing, and Searching for an Agent

Yup. I finished my book. For real this time. Or at least for real until I’m rejected a jillion times at which time I will have to reconsider all my life choices.

I have a query letter, an outdated synopsis, and a healthy fear of pitches. (I really need to update that synopsis.)

There is nothing like looking for agents to make you think that everyone is better educated, better dressed, more cultured, and far prettier than you.

(It goes without saying that everyone is more glamorous than me because I live in a farmhouse devoid of right angles. Pastoral mystique? Perhaps. Thoreauvian charm? Of course. Ghosts of chickens? Maybe. Glamorous? Not ever.)

I gotta take a break and let the self-hatred die down a little.

How’s by you?


How Not To Use the Word American

Editorial Rant

Do not begin your magazine or newspaper article with “As Americans…” if you are talking about race.

“As Americans seek to learn more about Black history….” No, Vanity Fair. You do not mean Americans in general, you mean white Americans in particular.

The New York Times is particularly guilty of this. “As Americans read books to understand racism…” Actually, Black people understand racism quite well. What you mean is white Americans.

(You can say the words white and Black to refer to people without being racist!) But actually it brings up another point. I have seen Asian Americans on my particular sphere of social media talk about trying to understand anti-Black racism. So actually maybe what we should say is”As non-Black Americans try to understand racism….”

This centers Blackness, which would be a nice change.

Everything Else

A couple of you lovely human beings actually come here to see how I am. I am still employed as a full-time editor (after having a mostly amicable breakup with my freelance career). I am healthy of body if not of mind. My dogs are still cute.

Earnest Plea for Something to Read

Also I need things to read. What’s your favorite book about Black history or a memoir by a person of color?

Stay well, my friends.

Black Lives Matter

There is a lot of hand wringing about what white people can do to help dismantle white supremacy.

The first is to acknowledge that it is there. Acknowledge that every single decision your average white person makes about where to live, go to school, entertain themselves, date, etc., is affected by race and yet we don’t even acknowledge it, because whiteness is perceived as the default “normal” in our society. (Read this.)(And this.)

I’m just one white copyeditor living in seclusion. Here are some things that your average  editor can do to dismantle white supremacy:

Donate some of your hard-earned money to people who are doing work on the ground.

If you’re the (now former) New York Times opinions editor, maybe you should read your fucking controversial opinion pieces before you publish them. And maybe you shouldn’t publish editorials based on race science either. [Total aside: As an Ashkenazi Jew I found the latter article almost as offensive as the former.]

If you’re not the (now former) New York Times opinions editor, you can still do work! If you’re a craft-book editor, perhaps you should not use “flesh colored” to mean pale peachy pink. (I wish I could tell you that I haven’t seen that TWICE in my copyediting career, but I’d be lying.)

You can question if your publication uses only images of white people.

You can question whether your publication is using middle-class as a default. You may not have the power to ultimately make these changes, but you absolutely have the power to make an author think and rethink her assumptions.

You can read your work from a perspective that is different than yours in terms of race, ethnicity, class, religion, disability (pick one!) and see if that changes things. One might be tempted to praise Bon Appetit for addressing racism with an article that says “How to check in with your black friends.” And yet it assumes that the reader of Bon Appetit is white. It does not say “What to cook to take care of yourself as people who look like you and people you love are killed by the police over $20.”

You can think about various problems with having a majority white publishing industry (i.e., racism). You can think about how white supremacy is not just tiki-torch-waving assholes marching down the University of Virginia Lawn. It’s not just Klan members. It’s the fact that default normal is seen as white. It’s the fact that I can waltz into my new publishing job looking the way someone expects a copyeditor to look (white) and a black colleague might be treated with surprise at best. It’s that a black woman and a white woman of similar educations and work experiences have radically different experiences moving through our world.

If you have power in your organization you can hire, promote, and amplify the voices of people of color. If you are a regular Joe Schmo, you can still amplify the voices of people of color.

You can do something. (Another place to start.) What are you going to do?


Writing: A Timeline

6:00: Alarm goes off. Plan to get up and write.

6:30: Get up, but don’t write.

6:50: Household dynamics require that dogs be fed and taken outside before Indy Clause gets her coffee. Truly she can’t write without coffee. On the bright side she has read all of the morning’s grim news and can clear her mind to work. Or so she hopes.

7:15: Dogs and coffee are all sorted out.

7:16: “DOG 2, WILL YOU STOP CHEWING UP PAPER?! Sorry, Dog 1, I know that was loud. Everything is okay.” Give dog 2 a toy and reassure dog 1, who is a beautiful, sensitive poodle with many feelings.

7:20: Open document and despair.

7:25: Use Self-Control to kick self off internet. Twitter does not in any way comfort those in despair.

7:30: Despair.

7:35: Find one problem that needs to be fixing. Rewrite paragraph. It turns out that writing banishes despair at least for a short while.

7:55: Look up and realize that 20 minutes have gone by and productive writing has occurred.

7:56: Surely this merits a blog post.

Hits publish. Takes coffee to desk to start on paying work.

How do you get anything done?