Monday, October 22, 2012

It's My Writerversary!

Because nothing says CELEBRATE like water ballet.

It’s my 4th writing anniversary! Yay, me!

It was four years ago that I returned to writing for, like, real after a five-year hiatus that was brought on by discouragement, confusion, and chronic, kid-related exhaustion.

But, really, I guess you could say that four years ago, I unquit after quitting writing.

You’d think by now I’d have blathered on about this at great length, but I sent my intern roaming through my blog post files and, nope, turns out I haven’t talked much about unquitting other than in my very first blog post.

The short story is this: I wrote and wrote and wrote my little heart out for about three years after getting my MFA and then, after receiving a certain, still-painful-after-all-these years rejection, I thought, I’m just not getting this. I’m not. As much as I’m struggling and trying, I obviously haven’t got IT. I’m done.

Seeing as this realization coincided with the birth of child #2 (aka, Screamy Colicky Monster Baby*), it wasn’t difficult to enact the resolution to stop writing. Actually, I don’t know that I even thought at the time, “That’s it, I’m quitting forever.” I doubt my ego would have tolerated the idea of quitting for good, but definitely during those five years of not writing, I came to believe that writing had perhaps been a youthful folly. Maybe something I’d grown out of and now looked back upon in What was I thinking? horror, sort of like a high school hair-do that might have been very high and very wide and very teased.

But four years ago, it became clear to me that I couldn’t stay away, and I decided to do three simple things:

1)      Write what I love;
2)      Figure out how to improve with every project;
3)      Never give up.

Oh, yes, I said they were simple. But simple is not the same as easy. I mean, running a marathon is simple: You just run 26.2 miles and then stop. The simple but hard items are definitely items two and three above, because they require the acceptance of criticism. I don’t know about you, but I want to accept criticism like I want to pull out my own molars with a dirty plumber’s wrench. But it must be done or else you risk turning into a defensive writing jerk who others quickly tire of. 

So for sticking to my goals and retaining my joy while pursuing them (though not always at the same time), I think my writerversary is worth celebrating.

Now the question is how can I mark this most solemn occasion? Should I:

1)      engage in the usual pants-less, three-day binge of circus peanuts and Chivas in Reno;
2)      release a thousand paper lanterns with inspirational messages designed to encourage writers to follow their dreams;
3)      carry on much as I have been, quietly pleased with my steady progress.

I’m pretty sure which option I’m going to go with, mostly because No.1 is way too hard on the liver, and No. 2 requires a level of earnestness I do not believe I’m capable of.

Have you ever taken a break from writing? How long? Was it planned or did life just get in the way? What brought you back again?

*If you have a colicky baby, take heart! They do grow out of it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Because That's Just How Life Works

I tried to get the husband to watch the Gangnam Style video the other day.

I told him that, like, one third of the planet has viewed this video. It’s a world-wide pop culture phenomenon. Aren’t you curious?


See, there’s a type of person who wants to see what all the fuss is about. Who wants to be kept in the pop culture reference loop so they’re not standing around going, “Huh?” when someone says, “Whope! Gangnam style!”  

And the type of person who’s content to be left out.

There’s the type of person who will stand in line for the iPhone five and half on the first day it’s available.

And the type of person who, on a regular basis, declares that he could get by perfectly well with no cell phone at all.

There’s the type of person who tries to get other people to read, listen to, and watch new things.

And the type of person who doggedly resists reading, listening to, and watching what everyone else is reading, listening to, and watching.

These two types of people inevitably get married. Because that's just how life works.

Which type are you?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are Literary Masterpieces Still Possible in the Digital Age?

The release of J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults last week got me thinking about writerly work habits in the digital age. I haven’t read her new book yet, and I’m not going to get into what people are saying about it. I just want to talk about how it was written.
Not that I know for sure, of course, but it’s been five years since the final Harry Potter book came out, and one assumes that she spent most of that time working on this new one. After all, according to the popular mythology, Rowling took between five and seven years to develop her concept and then start writing the first Harry Potter book. This fact gets cited often as proof of how hard she worked to create an unprecedentedly successful book. In other words, it weren’t no accident.

You know it's got to be good cuz it's huge!
I’m sure editors mention this time investment because they probably get very, very tired of the slapdashery of novice writers who flood their inboxes with first drafts. But working tirelessly for years on a single book—or worse, spending that amount of time on plotting SEVEN books when you haven’t even sold the first one yet?

I doubt many agents would encourage anyone to do this nowadays.

And if they did, there aren’t many professional writers who could afford to do it, because even if there were such writers, at the end of the day, your book might not succeed and then you'd have wasted all that time. Because sometimes more time = your book has wandered way, way off into the wilderness and has turned into a mountain man who is all shaggy and feral and definitely NOT good company.

But the bigger question is, does anyone work like that anymore? These days, does anyone take an idea and incubate it for years upon years before attempting to get it published? Or is that kind of investment gone the way of the fax machine?

Again, I don’t believe that more time necessarily produces a masterpiece, but it sure doesn’t hurt.  

What I think is that the hunger to be published can ruin your chance to write something truly special, and maybe the ONLY opportunity you have to do something like this—ie., take years and years to perfect a single idea—is BEFORE you get published. Not after. So take advantage of your time now, while you can still afford to be great.