Writing and Eating — or Eating while Writing

 

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To sit down cold with nothing to eat or drink never feels right, so it’s usually coffee. And a glass of water. An hour later: toast. Or Coffee Nips. Or raw almonds. Gum is a regular at my desk. Orbit. In my twenties it was Bazooka. Something about the chewing and typing really gets things churning. But then the gum loses the flavor and it’s time for another piece. But by then I might be on my way, no longer in need of my feedings… Of course when the writing isn’t going well, I go downstairs and make tea or cut up an apple. I’m hoping something along the way (the cats? the mail?) will propel me in a way that the gum did not.

At night I like little treats at my side–broken up pieces of chocolate, M&Ms. Just last night I had a favorite from childhood–vanilla ice cream with Sanka (yes–you read that right) crystals ground into it. This was back in the 70s. I used to make a bowl of it and settle in for Friday night’s amazing t.v.–Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett. Or was that Saturday?

Does the food work? I don’t know. It does something. It’s like a safety blanket, a hand holding on, saying, Don’t worry, You’ll be O.K. You’ll get on the right track. And then when you don’t even notice, you’re flying. All alone.  You look down at the strewn M&Ms, reds and blues, and think, Wait! I need you! But your fingers are flying across the keyboard, trying to make sense of the clouds in your head that are suddenly parting for you! Hallelujah! It’s a story! It’s a novel! It’s… it’s…. a sugar rush.

 

“I’d write if I just had the time.”

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There’s never enough time! I’ve scrawled on scraps of Chipotle napkins at red lights.  I’ve plugged in my computer in the lobby of my daughter’s math tutor. I’ve written nonsense at Starbucks (which I hate, but sometimes it’s the only coffee place close enough). The point is, It doesn’t have to be a perfect location and a bright new notebook. The “perfect” setup only adds pressure, as in, “Here I am, in the perfect writer’s environment with the perfect writer’s tools and I can’t think of anything to write! I’m a loser! I actually can’t write after all!”

You can. Just try it when you only have ten minutes instead of two hours. And don’t expect it to be great. Or even sort of great. It’s just the beginning.

What are you waiting for? Take the plunge!

 

 

Doubt. Or thinking everyone else knows better

 

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A big time New York agent accepted my novel way back when I thought that THE LIES WE TELL was complete. Back then it was THE BOX OF SECRETS. She sent it out and sent it out. Editors suggested certain things, like, “You should change it from the 1970s to the 2000s.” And “You should make your main character fifteen instead of thirteen.”  I did everything they suggested.  I changed the book so much that I didn’t even recognize it, which started to remind me of beginning writing workshops when you incorporate everyone’s edits because you believe that everyone else knows better than you do.

Which is a problem. Until you decide that you actually do know better since the main character has kind of been living inside you for the past fifty years.

Revising, revising, revising. Or: Wringing the Towel

 

IMG_7705That’s what I see: the drenched towel, flung over the shower rod, dripping. So you wring it out, but then there’s all that other water trapped in the towel and so you start higher and wring that out and then squeeze it all the way down to the bottom until not a drop falls. This is when you think the book/story is good. Is great. Is basically done. Then the towel starts to drip again and you have to go to the top again and squeeze several times, all the way down. Each time you do it, more water comes out. More of the crappy writing: gone. Keep wringing. There’s gold in the revision. There’s also a dry towel.

I’m Self-Publishing my Novel!

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People have been suggesting it for years and I admit, I was snooty about it, feeling that I needed to go the traditional route. I needed to be picked, plucked from the pile. Well, yeah. Now I feel differently. It’s time. It’s beyond time.

My book, The Lies We Tell, will be available on Amazon as a print book as well as Kindle. Coming soon!

 

I could edit FOREVER

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I got the page proofs for THE LIES WE TELL. I pictured this process to be one where I sat on my couch and skimmed it, nodding my head, yes yes, ok, good, great!–until I’d reached page 200. Turns out it was quite a different experience, one that proves to me that I never tire of editing and revising. I tore into it, hacked away at it with a mechanical pencil, then picked it apart with a thin black Roller tip.

 

Kill Your Darlings

IMG_1322There are some stories or characters or scenes that you hold onto just BECAUSE. Even if your best reader, in the nicest way, says, “Ahmmmm, Jamie? Maybe this character is too pathetic?” No. Not even that works. You’re determined to keep the pathetic character because somehow even your best reader doesn’t seem to get how the pathetic character will change over time. Once in a college writing workshop, I wrote a story about my family. A fellow student commented, “I didn’t really believe the mother character would be that mean.” Nodding, I said, “She was.  Believe me.” The teacher was like, “Yes, but just because it happened doesn’t mean that it makes good fiction.”

Sometimes you have to find a new way to present it.

For years my daughter held onto the giant sunflowers that I’d painted on her walls until one day last year she said, “Let’s paint over them and see what happens.”

Exactly.

Submitting Short Stories

 

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I have a black and white composition book that I’ve had since 1991 or so–when I first started sending out stories. I was so diligent then, making charts with thick lines dividing the title story and the date and the magazine I sent to and the date of response. Blank rejections slips for months. Years. But then I started getting a few slips with scribbled notes on them–”positive rejections,” like “Send us more” or “We’d like to see more of your work.”  That was huge. On the chart that kind of reply got a star. Then I got more stars. Then a few people said, “Yes!” Then won Antietam Review’s fiction contest. Things were looking kind of good for a while there. Then I had my girls and turned my attention to them. Then I wrote my novel and now I’m writing another, yet am also getting back to the short stories.

So I opened up the composition book recently and noticed that the five stories listed in that photo above have all been published. Not bragging here–just noting PATIENCE and willingness to revise endlessly and submit. And revise and submit. And…

My First Love: Raymond Carver

photo-19When I first started trying to write short stories, it was the mid-eighties. The minimalists really appealed to me, especially Raymond Carver.  One year I tore out a photo from Esquire and stuck it in a frame I’d bought for ten cents at a yard sale. Years later, while doing freelance photo research, I needed to get permission to reprint a photo. I called the photographer, Bob Adelman, and as we got talking, I learned that not only had he once photographed Raymond Carver, but he’d worked with him to create the amazing book, Carver Country: The World of Raymond Carver.  The pic of Carver with the cigarette is a favorite that Adelman sent to me.

A year or two later, in yet a different magazine, an article about Raymond Carver appeared and, included was a short poem from late in his illness. After I read it a few times, I knew that I wanted to keep it somewhere close by. It’s been taped to the frame for about twenty-five years and is now totally illegible, but it doesn’t matter. I know it by heart.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth