Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Day After

Yesterday. Me on line, interviewed by Jordan Lapp at Everyday Fiction. Wow. I have to say I am extremely excited. It's such a boost to know that after all these years, I actually have something to say that people--writers in particular--just might want to hear. I admit my ego has been deep-tissue massaged!

The trick now is to actually live up to all that "experience" I claim I have. Like any self-respecting self-doubter, I'm a wee bit worried. Notice the "wee." All this attention has whittled "wee" down from "quite." And I'm finally old enough--waaaay old enough--to know I have to ignore that doubt and move on. So I thought I should blog to dust away any remaining detritus of angst. Nothing like the act of writing to make writing easier.

As it turns out, a friend from Goodreads sent me a lovely note this morning. He had a question about my time. I thought I might answer that question here.

He asked: Interested to know how much work you do (A lot of reading too!) – and still bring up kids etc. I’ve got teenage daughters and tend to blame them for lack of production but it’s laziness!

My Answer: I need to clarify about my kids. They are basically launched, though I still get weekly phone calls from my daughter! So I have more time. Not that there aren't family obligations, there are, but they are no longer interrupting me at the computer to ask what time dinner is or to beg me to read an essay due in fifteen minutes.

For years I wrote in whatever cracks and spaces I could find. And I was able to do it by keeping my writing in the front of my brain. This is the trick that Jerry Cleaver discusses in his book Immediate Fiction. He allows that we all have busy schedules and distractions, but suggests even one fifteen minute period with the work will keep a writer in the game.

I wrote in a daze for years, mind cluttered with REAL LIFE, but I still learned what I could about writing and wrote some trite, unimaginative stuff. I taught Freshman Comp at a community college and decided I would never focus on my writing if I didn't quit my job, so I did.

Remembering an old Tupperware axiom, Your intention gets your attention, I promised myself I would get published. And to my surprise, all my years of kind of writing--learning to write, getting better at writing, discovering my voice--and kind of submitting--sending off one piece at a time and waiting six months to be rejected before sending it off again--finally led to seeing my stories in print.

Even though I'm beginning to write decent stuff, I have a long way to go, but I am relishing every little positive thing. And I am so grateful to discover Everyday Fiction because they accept 365 pieces a year. Best odds out there I think!!!

I've grown into the gift of time as I've gotten older. And I am grateful for it.

As for the reading, I'm addicted to audio tapes (free at most public libraries) and since I hate mundane chores (emptying the dishwasher, running to the dry cleaners, exercising) I am usually plugged into some good book. There's something special about being read to. The words come through the sense of hearing and highlight the "music" of writing. Listen to anything by Carole Shields.

Often too, there is cross pollination. If you believe in Jung's collective unconscious, you'll understand. For example, I might be stuck in a story. I've been to the library and just picked up some obscure book because it was THERE and when I start listening, up pops a slice of synchronicity. Something clicks. The author gives me a clue to help me solve some knotty writing problem.

This synchronicity happens with novels, short stories read the regular way, the newspaper or a TV program, but it doesn't happen if I haven't kept my story in the front of my brain.

What the REAL WORLD calls "laziness," writers call contemplation. There can't be any good stuff coming out of fingertips if we don't loll around checking out navel fuzz. My husband was on a business trip last week and I declared to everyone I knew that all I would do was write and to stand off. But I goofed off. Uninterrupted, unadulterated, mostly peopleless goofing-off. And I loved it, my pleasure tinged only with the slightest guilt.

But then I got fed up with myself, got out my egg timer ,and set it for one hour and made myself focus on my novel outline (boring mundane stuff I hate), but I once I got started--it took three one-hour forced chain-gang sessions--I didn't need the timer any more. Suddenly I was filled up with all kinds of solutions. While I'd been lazy, I also had been mulling, trusting in my subconscious to work out the details, aiming all my cells toward the next step in the process.

Now I feel exhilarated about my project. Again. The underlying truth for me is to have faith in my own process. Finally, after all these years, I know I can do it and I will do it. Then I get to feel that glow .

Monday, April 07, 2008

About Focus, Passion, and Risk: RISK

An instructor at UCLA Extension once told me that writers must be risk-takers. I was devastated by this bit of news--in those days I was always looking for an excuse NOT to write--and this comment proved that being a writer wasn't something I could do. After all, I was a coward. I wouldn't even get on a roller coaster. And my survival mode since I was a little kid was to keep everybody--and I mean EVERYBODY--happy, to give them what they wanted which meant the very act of writing was risky.

Why? Because writing takes focus. Writing takes passion. Writers take RISKS. And what about time? What would happen if I couldn't fulfill everyone's expectations in REAL LIFE? What would happen if I couldn't fulfill anyone's expectation in my WRITING LIFE? Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.

Lucky for me, I was reading Natalie Goldberg at the time. I don't remember which book, but she said something about how our fear is greatest when we are about to escape our own orbits. Her advice was to charge toward the greatest fear, face it, and shatter it. I determined this was exactly what I needed to do, confront my fears instead of avoiding them, in life and in writing.

I went to Magic Mountain and rode roller coasters. It was amazing. I loved it. And the most important part is that it showed me that I could conquer my fears. The memory of that first roller coaster ride (I didn't count Space Mountain ) has kept me at the keyboard.

My life has changed through my writing. Striving to write, spending my time alone at the computer, ignoring my family felt selfish, uncomfortable, dangerous. After all, who the hell was I, anyway? But I did it and began to believe in myself and my right to write, growing with each unhappy and discouraging moment, each tidbit of praise.

It's taken me a very long time to learn that success in writing doesn't have so much to do with talent or lack of talent, or being in the right place at the right time, or even knowing what magazines might publish. While these are important aspects to making a living, they aren't important to the writing itself. Success in writing for me must be defined in a larger way: learning to accept myself as who I am, accepting not only that I want to write, but that I don't need anyone's permission to sit down at the computer and spend hours doing it. And it's not only okay for me to write about who I am, how I feel, think, and understand life, but necessary to do so for the work to be good. Once I accepted these truths, I could begin to look outward toward sharing with others.

I'm just beginning to find places that will accept my work and it is thrilling, but more important for me has been my own acceptance of myself. To be oneself, expose oneself, and then face an indifferent and skeptical crowd, that's the risk every writer takes. I can do it. I am doing it. I'm still on the roller coaster and loving it.