Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.

Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.

Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.

Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.

So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

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Day … Two?

Writers often advise other writers to just get the words on the page—hammer it all out, don’t worry about format, grammar, whatever. Hammer it all out, and don’t bother reading until the story is done. I am incapable of this.

Regardless of the type of project, be it an academic assignment, a poem, an email, I mentally compose a few lines,write a few lines then read them back, then edit/revise, then write a few more. My writing is a task of fits and starts.

The index cards have been shredded. At least two notebooks are full of messy strike-throughs and scribbles, and I have added all of one thousand words to the word document begun on Day One. Now I’m rewriting half of what was written on Day One.

That first person present is still nagging. I’ve worked out a tentative plan to soften the worst of that, but there’s still the problem with lack of setting and those sweet little details that flesh out a character. Holly doesn’t like those, and I am so set in my ways that I can’t stop rereading and worrying over the flow.

Thank God I have this place to come to, where I can whine, bitch and moan in print, because no living person wants to listen to me. Even Oliver, my trusty pup and bff is hiding under the bed with his paws over his ears. I probably over did it with the apologies to him after writing a brief but gruesome, heartbreaking scene in which Holly discovers a child has been gnawing on the family pet. Oliver doesn’t want to listen to me prattle on about my writing projects anymore.

Housekeeping

Do you keep an organized office? I don’t.

Well, I’m good at organizing, and very good at cleaning, but a few days later it’s a bit difficult to testify to that. Maintaining tidiness is a huge problem. When caught up in a writing task, I don’t take the time to neatly file away papers. In fact, I eventually end up eating breakfast at the desk, tossing papers in the floor, and before I know it my work area looks like a Hoarder episode.

So, before I begin The Second Writing Project, I should probably do some cleaning.There are index cards and paper clips around here somewhere, I’m sure of it.

I Have A Confession To Make

Yesterday when I said out loud in print that I was going to finish … I may have been just a wee bit high on caffeine.

Yes, I have been very productive over the last five days. Incredibly so. But I have to admit that trying to edit and revise so much is beginning to shut my brain off the possibility of creating new work, and this project is in need of some new work.

In hopes of opening the tap a little, I sat here for an hour listening to music and making notes last night. It’s been a long, long while since I’ve done that sort of thing. Music is very inspirational. The inspiration yielded a poem, a crappy poem. Crappy in the sense that it’s way too confessional, way too expository. Had a nice rhythm, though. So, I’ve created a new file entitled “The Scrap Pile” and tossed that sucker right in.

Which …. and this causes me to groan … made me want to begin organizing all my files and perusing old dusty ones page-by-page. Really? Really! Ugh. I had to force myself to turn off the light and go to bed.

I’ve got some pressing responsibilities today and tomorrow, so I’m well aware that I won’t be writing for hours on end again until Sunday night. What I wish I could do during this next couple of days of non-writing is hear from dozens of productive writers about how they get the work done.

Oh, sure, I’ve read all about the process that various celebrities swear by. I probably know way too much about celebrity writers. In a totally uncreepy way, of course. I want to hear from people like me. People who must leave their writing every day to put dinner on the table, do the shopping, pay bills, walk the dog, medicate their mother-in-law, go to the day job. I want to hear from people who, despite all that, get the work done. You get published. You’ve self-published, or have actually had lengthy conversations with your very own agent/publisher. Y’all exist, right?

This is where my head is at…

I’ve been hired to write two articles each month. My instructions are to neither write about my personal life, nor write about a specific current event. Nevertheless, the articles should be engaging, of an editorial nature, and get immediate positive feedback. Or else, I’m fired.

This is what I was dreaming. I woke up frantic for the feel of the keyboard beneath my fingers. The instructions came from a stern female voice, yet I knew each word and spoke along with her. Our voices mingled, me speaking in first person, she in second. It was almost musical.

Last Wednesday I was laid off from a job I began January 7, 2014. My medical benefits kicked in October 1, and from there business began to slide down hill. The phones stopped ringing altogether during the month of December. The company can no longer afford extra office staff—that’s me. As soon as I got through traffic to my home I filed for unemployment and contacted a previous supervisor to ask for any work she had available. I’ve heard nothing from either application.

I have been outwardly calm, reassuring hubby that we have plenty of money to last through the end of the month. He didn’t have the heart to ask me, “what about March?” And I haven’t had the heart to broach the topic.

So, I’m dreaming about unlikely writing jobs.

Which, of course, brings up countless insecurities and internal arguments. I cleaned my oven Thursday. Paid bills Friday. Wrote a poem Saturday. Last night I set the alarm to wake me at 5:30 a.m. so I could walk the pup and take a shower just as if I were preparing for a work day. Now all I want to do is try to tackle this ridiculous work assignment. Pressure is mounting. I’ve never written an editorial piece in my life.

The Best of Intentions

I am a day-planner junkie and failed perfectionist.

No one really notices, unless they read between the lines of all my bitching about my messy house, or my ridiculous schedule. Most people probably think I’m just a slob who has no real sense of time or direction, who only beleaguers lack of order and style because she envies all the other women in her life.

A friend of mine theorizes that society has put way too much pressure on people (women in particular) to do it all, and to do it all stylishly without breaking a sweat. The dangerous end result of giving in to this societal demand, one might imagine, is a population of haggard, exhausted, self-loathing women, of which I might be one.

I don’t exactly fit into that category of people who feel the need to meet societal demands, though I do recognize (at least from soccer mom talk shows and runway ads) that such strictures exist and have horrifying impact. Truth is, my society is rather small. I am, admittedly so, a very self-absorbed person that doesn’t really give a fig about the latest decade of trends concerning How To Have The Perfect Life.

After a very long time of personal examination, it’s apparent that the only one putting demands on my time is me. With at least two exceptions. One being the exception of modern day reality… you know, that difficult choice of whether to work outside the home for a paycheck or subsist on congealed ramen noodles and imaginary cable TV in a poorly insulated refrigerator box living room just behind a dumpster. I have to work. If the fact that I want an apartment with carpeting and a dishwasher and a wireless flatscreen TV makes me materialistic, so be it. That’s the least of my problems.

Another exception is the fact that I chose some years ago to marry. And, as some of you might also have realized, when one lives with a spouse that spouse occasionally makes demands on personal allotments of time. This can be enjoyable… or annoying. It depends. Even if that spouse is undeniably adorable and has been a great help in acquiring carpeting and a wireless flatscreen, one might feel on rare cloudy days the need to go buy a bus ticket to the edge of the planet for just a few freakin’ days of solitude. Maybe. It depends.

Yes, I married for love and not for money. See how unbound I am from societal demands?

There was a time when we lived on fast food and chose, mind you, chose, to hang black trash bags over our windows because we slept during the day and thought it ridiculous to waste perfectly good pizza money on unnecessary things like real matching curtains. Hubby came home one day, shortly before my thirtieth birthday to discover that I had gotten a day job and celebrated by buying fabric remnants that I made into matching curtains. I really don’t know what came over me. The next week I bought a vegetable steamer and a crock pot.

Ten years later, I woke up with stories in my head, a job I hated, a new hometown I hated, a perfectly lovely yard that I loved, and a severe craving to go to college. Here begins the ridiculous schedule. Since 2009 I have juggled work, school, housewifely duties, puppy care, amateur writing, occasional home care of a relative or two, and every year, my mind gets cluttered with more and more Things I Want To Do.

I want to host dinner parties, visit the siblings every other weekend, go back to college full-time on campus after I finish all those applications for scholarships and find a way to pay off a ton of student loans of which I am sure there is a way if I would just sit down for days and do the research, read every classic novel I haven’t yet read, publish all my stuff, babysit my little sister’s toddler weeknights because she is an absolute delight, go to the movies with hubby every weekend, help moderate a writing community, redecorate the apartment, keep my new car clean, take the puppy to the vet and on weekend jaunts to the dog park, actually spice up my tumblr and twitter and blog and make regular posts, dig up my old camera and start photographing landscapes, or maybe do weddings again, learn how to cook an amazing casserole and the perfect ribeye, find an affordable grill and patio furniture, get Grandma Carmen’s paintings properly hung, have my lip waxed and nails done once each month and find that terrific lotion I used to buy out west because these are all things that make feel delicious, find some decent walking shoes, go walking everyday after work, master spreadsheets, watch all the seasons of Californication, Orange is the New Black, Justified, and Game of Thrones, clean the oven because good lord, finally go visit the local museums, see a play, that play, plan a real summer vacation, set an appointment for a physical, and get up each morning at 4 am so I can write for 90 minutes before the MIL needs her meds.

What I really want to do is write.