I haven’t written a lot about what I’m doing writing-wise lately. I’ve immersed myself in art because it is soothing my soul which has been troubled by not writing. I have finished some fun art projects like my quote art journal and the art journal for my 15 words or less poems and begun my work on the Sketchbook project where I hope to combine words and art.
But writing. I’ve jumped around a lot lately, which is my normal process. For now my focus is a book of essays about the 14 dogs I’ve had in my life. I have no contract, not even a publisher in mind. I’ve been told by a couple of agents and a couple of publishers that it is going to be a hard to impossible sell. I’ve been told writing books that aren’t teaching an aspect of craft don’t sell unless you’re famous. I’ve been told collections of essays by not-yet-famous people don’t sell.
I’ve been told a lot of things that should discourage me from spending time on this project.
But here’s the thing. Working on this book makes me happy. Seems like a good enough reason to work on it for me.
As long as I can remember I have turned to books to learn how to do something new. Eventually I would have to dig in and get my hands dirty with whatever it was but I always, always started with reading a book about it first. So it should come as no surprise that when I came to writing, I did the same thing. Long before I bought my first Writer’s Market I was a member of the Writer’s Digest book club. I didn’t have a lot of money back then but I would scour the flyer for the best combo deal so I could build my writing bookshelf.
When the books came in I would devour them, cover to cover, in no time at all then go back through them again, a second time, mining for nuggets. I was sure that the secret to writing success was in those books. Over the years I added many books to those shelves. When I moved cross-country (and back again) I weeded out lots of other books but not the writing ones. I kept them all. Until now.
Lately I’ve been rereading all the books on my shelves, making sure that they still speak to me and therefore deserve some shelf space. While we have a lot of room for books, it’s not unlimited, most especially the shelves in my office. There are some favorites I know will never grow old for me, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, Take Joy by Jane Yolen and Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider. A few craft books that I return to again and again, but as I go through the shelves, rereading one book a night, I find I am ready to let go of a great many of the books I have carted back and forth across the country.
I used to think those books contained the secret to creating my writing life. That I would read them, learn things, absorb things and then, miraculously, be living the writing life of my dreams. Now, as I reread many of them I find my stack to trade in at Powell’s growing and the number of books staying on my shelves shrinking. Some I’ve outgrown. I’m no longer a brand-new writer with questions about manuscript format and query letters. Some have been displaced by the Internet (which we didn’t have when I first started writing.) And some just don’t speak to me anymore.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have learned a TON of stuff from reading those writing books and I will continue to buy new ones to read and learn from going forward. But all this rereading I’ve been doing has reminded me that reading the book is only part of the solution to building a writing life.
You still have to do the work.
Get the words down on the page. Show up every day and write a lot of crap and then come back and revise a lot of crap and then keep on doing that until the crap turns into a decent story and then, then you let it go. You don’t hold on to it for fear it’s not perfect yet. You do the work. You do your best with the writer you are at that moment in time. And then you send it out to the publishing world and move on to the next project.
It’s easy (at least for me) to get caught up in the stories of other writers on the pages of all these books on my shelves. And I start to second guess and third guess and forth guess my process, my ideas, my every little thing about MY writing life that doesn’t match up to someone else’s writing life. And that’s so wrong.
When we read a book we love or a poem that moves us, we don’t say, well, the author used a process I don’t approve of therefore I can’t allow myself to enjoy the book or the poem. That would be crazy, right?
Guess my writing family just got a bit bigger, eh?
I have now been away from the day job for a little over 2 months. During that time I was sick for 4 weeks. I also installed our native plant garden, front and back yard, worked more with training Cassie, finished up a bunch of work-for-hire projects, read some, worked on the budget 101 times, wrote a partial – the first 20 pages – of Flyboy for critique at an upcoming conference, and, oh yeah, did Christmas.
I felt like I was racing through each day to get to the next but with no master plan of where I really wanted to go. All of the sudden it is January and I am wondering where the time went.
Several people told me that after leaving the day job it would take a year to feel comfortable in my own skin again, a year to know where I wanted to go with my life. I didn’t understand it at first but now I do. I am racing less now, trying hard to be here, be now – to enjoy the moment. But I know I am not "there" yet.
I can feel my writer brain kicking on again. That might sound odd when I know that I have actually done a fair amount of writing in the past couple of months but this is different. Last night I was going through my books on the craft of poetry and found my pulse racing once more when I pulled Wishes, Lies and Dreams and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, both by Kenneth Koch, off the shelf. I spent a few hours looking through old manuscripts and getting excited about some of the ideas. I opened my WIP and greeted it with joy rather than worries that I didn’t know what I was doing.
We are in horrible, crazy-making financial times. I haven’t sold a trade book in years. I’ve been out of the loop so much online that I have lost a lot of the networking that I had worked so hard to build up. Many people are filled with gloom and doom about the publishing business and yet. . .
I feel like a writer again. It is enough, for now.