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"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, September 30, 2012

As If I Didn’t Already Have Enough to Do . . .

I talked last week about the new shared goal my friend and fellow writer Jenni Moody and I are doing to write our new novels. Our first milestone is 10,000 words by November 15th. I have a little over 1,000 so far. Yes, I realize that’s not very much, but hey, I’m 1/10th of the way there, and I’m feeling really excited about this project. I’m enjoying climbing into the voice of a new narrator, knowing that she and I are going to spend a lot of time together, that we’re going to really get to know each other in the next few months.

And maybe I’m getting overambitious, maybe the fumes from starting my engine to get going on this new novel have gone to my head, but I’ve decided—tentatively, and perhaps I’ll change my mind—to do one last revision of my thesis to submit it to Fence’s new Modern Prose contest. They’ve had a poetry contest for a while now, but this year they decided to create a prose contest as well. Their first prose prize will go to a novel. When I got the email announcing the prize, I felt like it was a sign. Okay, I don’t really believe in signs, but. You know what I mean. I felt like I should do this. I should try just one more time.

The thing is, I had recently been thinking about my thesis, anyway, thinking about how it’s been through who knows how many drafts and there are about 100 pages of cut scenes stagnating in a file on my computer. Most of those cut scenes were probably cut for good reason, but it occurred to me the other day that maybe the “right” form, the “true” form of this novel should lie not at one extreme or another, but at some halfway point between my early drafts and the current version. Maybe, in other words, I should look through those cut scenes and see if some of them should be put back in.

But my new novel is more important to me than trudging through an umpteenth revision of my thesis. I think there is more to be gained, right now, from working on something new, so if it comes down to it and I can’t possibly do both, I’ll focus on meeting the November 15 goal for the new novel.

Besides my two jobs working as a teacher and online tutor, and besides my other “job” as a mom, the reason why I might not be able to meet both these deadlines is that I’ve also taken a new volunteer position as an Associate Editor for Bound Off, the literary podcast in which my work has both appeared and is forthcoming. This new position, by the way, has nothing to do with my new story, Hair, which will be broadcast on Bound Off in a couple of weeks. My story had already been accepted when I started talking to the editors about joining their team.

Like the Fence prize, I learned about the opening through an email newsletter. I thought about it for a week or two, really weighing whether I thought I could handle the workload. Obviously, I decided I could. The job only requires me to read ten stories every two weeks, then offer my thoughts on the stories with a yay or nay vote. I think it will be fun and worthwhile—I’m just itching to get back into the editing game, to tell the truth.

But, of course, now that I’ve committed to this job, reading submissions and working on my new novel both take precedence over my thesis. So, right now, these are the things I have to do:

1.      Perform all the required duties for my two paying jobs

2.      Be a good mama—the best I know how to be

3.      Read and offer thoughts on submissions for Bound Off

4.      Write at least 9,000 more words in my new novel by November 15th

Notice I put the new novel in the “have to” list. I consider this a true commitment. No excuses. I’m going to do this.

And, if time permits (and I hope it will!), I’m also going to work on these things:

1.      Revise my thesis to submit it to the Fence Modern Prose Prize

2.      Work on some stories

The following are things I don’t need to waste my time with, when time is in short supply:

1.      Watch old episodes of Mad Men on Netflix while Amalie naps instead of taking the chance to do something more productive

2.      Stuff my face with candy when I’m feeling overwhelmed (did I subconsciously buy too much candy for Amalie’s birthday piñata so that I could eat it myself after the party? Probably. Damn you, sweet-toothed subconscious!)

3.      Turn on my computer to work and, instead, spend the next hour reading and commenting on all of my friends’ Facebook status updates

Sunday, September 23, 2012

So for the past few weeks, I feel like I’ve been struggling to stay afloat in the new semester. I’m working two part-time jobs—teaching two classes and tutoring online through Pearson---and it’s A LOT, when you add it to being a stay-at-home mom. Damien is also teaching two classes, also working another part-time job (as Managing Editor for New Ohio Review) for about twenty hours a week. Trying to get the hang of the new, busy busy busy schedule has been a handful. And to put it bluntly, I haven’t been writing. Not at all. Not a sentence. Not a word.

We’re into week five of the semester now, though, and we’re finally starting to feel in the swing of things. It doesn’t really mean we’re any less busy, of course. If anything, things are starting to get busier as we’re beginning to collect papers from our students. But we’ve at least started to figure out how to deal with my online tutoring hours in the midst of Damien’s New Ohio Review workload and both of our lesson planning and grading obligations. One of us is always there with Amalie, and for the most part, Amalie doesn’t seem to notice how busy her parents have become, or that she’s spending larger portions of time with one or the other of us (and less time, unfortunately, with both of us at the same time).

And so, I’m feeling ready, again, to start adding a writing schedule back into the mix. And to do it, I’ve enlisted the help of my friend and fellow UAF MFAer Jenni Moody. Jenni and I have both been planning on getting to work on a novel. For me, this will be my third go at novel writing (maybe three times will be a charm?). But even though I’ve written and revised two novels before, I still feel completely insecure at the outset about my ability to do this (who knows, maybe it’s because I’ve been down this road before—a road that has yet to end in publication for me—that I’m so anxious about starting down it yet again). Even though I feel really excited about this idea I have, even though I have a lot of ideas for what might happen in the story, still, STILL I’ve been having trouble mustering up the courage to just sit down and get started.

And that’s where Jenni comes in. Jenni and I have committed to doing a joint goal system for our respective novel projects. We’re both hoping to have a full draft of our novels done by next summer. To get there, we’re going to set goals together and encourage each other—checking in along the way. It should help to make the long, lonely road of novel writing a little less lonely, and it should help to keep us motivated. I know for me, I’ll feel embarrassed if I have to admit to Jenni that I didn’t meet a goal, so the fact that we’re doing this together will push me that extra little bit to really DO it.

We’re starting off fairly slow. Our first 10,000 words are supposed to be completed by November 15th. At that point we’ll check in, hopefully applaud each other’s success at meeting the goal, and set a new goal for the next chunk. I suspect after having the first 10,000 words behind us, we’ll be ready to pick up speed a bit and set a bit more strenuous goal for the next milestone, but even if we don’t, this slow and steady pace should still see us with a finished draft, each, by next summer.

I’m excited to have someone to share the novel writing experience with, and I know it’ll be fun checking in with Jenni along the way. I’m ready! I’m determined! Let's do this thing! Go!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

This week, Amalie turned one. One year old, can you believe it? Today, the day this post goes live, we’re celebrating with a big birthday party, complete with bouncy castle and piñata. It seems fitting, then, that I should take a moment here to reflect on what this first year of being a writing mom has been like.

Labor and delivery were intensive, and immediately after the birth, I got really sick. I was confined to a bed, drugged up, and taking my nutrients in the form of IV for a few days. It was miserable. When they finally let me return home from the hospital, four days after Ami was born, I was exhausted—and still in quite a lot of discomfort.

I didn’t write, as you can imagine, for about three months. Then one day, I suddenly had some ideas, some things I wanted to add into the nonfiction letters to Amalie I had been writing during my pregnancy. I wrote for about fifteen minutes one day, then again on another.

I started planning out goals, and breaking them. I wrote some days, and other days I didn’t, but on no days did I write anything I felt really excited about. Never did I write something I felt stood a chance of eventual publication. I started wondering if I might be suffering from post-partum depression. Started wondering if maybe I’d lost my groove.

But then I remembered something I’d promised myself, right here on this blog, before Amalie was born. I’d vowed that I wouldn’t expect too much of myself as a writer during those first few months after Amalie’s birth. I decided to give myself a break, already. I was in the thick of the most difficult, important thing I would ever do: raising my daughter. So what if I took a year or so off from writing?

As Amalie got older, she got easier to take care of. At first, I thought this would mean I would start having more writing time. Especially now that I was getting a full night’s sleep again, I thought I should be able to ease my way back into a regular writing schedule.

What I didn’t account for was that as Amalie got older, she got more independent, yes, but she also needed constant supervision. When she started to crawl, she started to find things on the floor that she would instantly put into her mouth. When she started to pull to a standing position, suddenly things that a week ago had been out of her reach weren’t anymore.

She’s one now, and she’s going to start walking any day, I’m sure of it. This, I’m sure, will bring with it a whole new list of dangers we can’t yet foresee. Do I have more writing time now that she’s a little older? No. In fact, I have way, way less. I could have been writing during those first few, difficult months. The time was there. All Ami did was eat and sleep. And cry. But still. The time was there. She slept like 18 hours a day or something. I can’t remember exactly. I could have been writing during that time.

But my brain was so fried from the exhaustion of new motherhood, I could barely focus to watch old episodes of American Pickers on Netflix. I was up every two hours with her during the night, and sometimes, inexplicably, she would just cry and cry for hours and hours and I would feel like I was never going to sleep again. I had the time to write, plenty of it, but I didn’t really have the mental capacity.

Now, the mental capacity is there, and the drive. I feel very driven. I have all these ideas just stewing in their own juices. I’m dying to get back into the game, but the time is no longer there. I’m teaching two classes and working about twenty hours a week as an online tutor on the side. On top of that, I’m basically a stay at home mom. I’m on call pretty much 24 hours, every day.

But even as I type that, I know there is still time. Some days, she plays happily with her toys on the floor, and as long as I’m in the room with  her and keeping an eye on things, I can work on my computer. Now I think the real barrier is that I

am

afraid.

Terrified. Because what if I was right during those dark, sleep-deprived months? What if I have lost it? What if I can’t get it back?

But that’s a stupid reason not to try. So try I will. Try I must.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed the past few days. I’m working considerably more this semester and am still in the process of adjusting to the new schedule. I came about this close to just saying “Screw it” to my blog this week, but here we are, Sunday afternoon. Amalie’s taking a nap, and I have two stacks of papers to grade, but I just couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t stay away.

I guess the truth is, blogging is linked in my mind with my writing self, that is, the side of myself that pretty much lives to write. That side of myself has been getting pushed more and more to the back burner lately, with my mommy self, my wifey self, my teachy self, and my watching episodes of Mad Men on Netflix and playing Super Mario Land 3D selves screaming for attention.

I’ve been blogging for several years now, almost as long as I’ve been taking writing really seriously. I started blogging in grad school, shortly after I started developing a strong work ethic as a writer and shortly before I started getting published. I know it isn’t BECAUSE of the blog that I became a real writer and not a would-be writer, like I used to be, but the two things feel very inextricable in my mind. They are woven together and can’t be separated. If I stop blogging, it’s like a statement to myself—I’m no longer willing to do the work to be a writer.

And the truth is, blogging about writing has helped me learn and grow as a writer. Part of the reason why I write to begin with is because writing is my way of thinking about and understanding the world. I can’t always come to terms with things, can’t always decide how I feel about them, until I write about them. Fiction allows me to climb inside the minds of people who I don’t understand and try to see the world from their perspectives. I come out on the other end a more empathetic, more forgiving person.

The same is true, for writing issues, of my blog. I blog about writing topics and obstacles I come up against in my writing life largely as a way of understanding them, deciding where I stand on them, and learning how to deal with and overcome them. I know bloggers get a lot of flak from non-bloggers as being self-indulgent, unoriginal, and wasting time talking about writing rather than actually writing (although writing a blog is still writing, right? Don’t we teach our students that they should take free-writes seriously because any time spent writing is valuable, is still practice?), but I’m not afraid to admit that blogging is really important to me.

So I’m blogging today as a sort of statement to my writing self, I guess. I still care about you. I do! I’ve got to get some papers graded, and my baby will be up soon, but I’ll check back in with you soon, I promise. You’re still an important part of who I am.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

This past year at AWP, I spent the majority of my time perusing the booths and tables in the book fair. Though I actually tend to enjoy panel discussions and lectures—even though there’s rarely ever anything new said at this point in the game—my favorite part of AWP (not counting seeing old friends) is the book fair.

This year at the book fair, I took a slightly different approach than last year. Last year, my primary interest was as a submitter. I wanted to see the variety of places I might submit. While I bought quite a few books and journals, and I bought only ones I was truly interested in reading, I also only bought ones that were published by venues I was interested in submitting to. I wanted to get a better idea of what these particular editors liked.

I believe this is precisely what most people do at the AWP book fair. The journals and presses know it too. They plan for it. They have on the ready printouts with their submission guidelines; they advertise their upcoming contests on glossy postcards.

But when you really think about it, it’s kind of sad. Here you have this huge market, full of hundreds upon hundreds—surely thousands—of books for sale, many of which are difficult to find in brick and mortar stores, yet the people shopping in the market are interested mostly in selling their own wares. There’s this great disconnect between what the publishers want—to sell the customers their books or journals—and what the customers want—to get published.

This year, when I hit the book fair floor, I didn’t do it as a writer, but as a reader. I wasn’t looking for places to submit. I didn’t care about upcoming contests. I just wanted to spend my leftover Christmas money on some good books and journals; I wanted to find some great stuff to read. Some of the journals I bought I would never consider submitting to—like Kugelmass, which publishes entirely literary humor. I don’t write humor, but I thought I might enjoy reading it, so I picked up their latest issue. And I bought books not because I was considering submitting my novel to that press, but because, simply put, the book looked good.

In the coming months, I’m going to review some of the journals I came home with here, on my blog. I decided to do this partly because it will encourage me to actually read the journals all the way through. Also, though, I hope to share my experience reading them with you. If I find a great gem in the batch, I want you to know about that gem. Likewise, if I come across a journal that I don’t think is that great, I’ll tell you why and let you decide for yourself if you want to read it or submit there.