Monday, September 17, 2012
Well kids, summer is over. My calendar says there are a few official days left and the weather in Seattle is as nice as it ever is but still, the sun is going down earlier by the day and I want to wear boots all the time. Fall is here. Meanwhile I have 340 pages of a new novel which seems to be the answer to the question: where the hell did my summer go?
If you've noticed that the internets have been almost completely Andrea-free since my last Chasing Thirty post on the Gloss (and this one from May) please know that I am not locked in my closet with a bendy straw plunged into a bottle of wine and bad case of writer's block. Actually, I've been quiet for the opposite reason: lots of writing and not so much wine (sadly, no bendy straws either).
Here in the final stretch of my first draft, I'm remembering how good it feels to just obsess over a book, to disengage a bit with the outside world and get lost in your work. I take the escapism that comes with writing fiction for granted sometimes. And really, something about having a big pile of pages to make the experience tangible is so satisfying. One day you're staying at nothing but a blinking cursor, the next you think 'holy crap I wrote a book.'
For all that I worry about the business end of it, I forget sometimes that I actually really do love to write. That that has been the point all along.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
I visited New York for the first time almost exactly nine years ago, during the May of my junior year of college. I met him about a month later in Seattle where we're both from. In both cases I was pretty much hooked immediately and it's fair to say that neither one has made it all the way out of my system yet. The fact that I'm saying goodbye to him on the street corner on this sunny Tuesday is but one way that my past and present collide so hard in this place that it's almost unbearable. It leaves me with this reeling sensation that time is collapsing around me, that all the things I've done in the past nine years didn't really happen, or even if they did, they don't really matter.
I am back in New York for a few days for work and this visit feels much better than the last. Last time was only a few months after I'd moved away and it was too soon. It was also in July, which is generally a terrible time to visit New York. April is one of the few times of year (May, September and early October being the others) that you could really be convinced that New York is the most idyllic city you've ever seen, with all of the restaurants opening out onto the street and people eating and drinking and looking happy all over the sidewalks at all hours. There is nothing I miss more about New York than the restaurants.
Actually, I miss my friends even more. I had dinner my first night in town with three publishing girlfriends who I've known since we were all assistants. Back then we were excited to be working around books at all, now they're editors and the head of an agency respectively and we had lots to celebrate, including one freshly minted bestseller. In ten years, I tell them, we'll say we knew each other when.
Being back, I can't quite fathom how I ever lived in a place so cramped and so loud with so many people (does that make me sound old? I did just turn 30), how did I write here? How did I sleep? But I did live here, and I did love it.
I'm so glad I came to New York. Maybe just a little more glad that I left.
Friday, February 24, 2012
this is a serene lake. do not throw your laptop into it.
These past two weeks, I've been immersing myself in the collected blog works of Jen Dziura (for work purposes! My job is the best sometimes). I highly recommend doing this if you are feeling that late February lag that so many of us go through when our well-intentioned New Year's resolutions begin to feel like distant memories.
In her post a couple of weeks ago, Jen wrote about overcoming perfectionism and it got me thinking about all of my own not-quite-completed to-do lists.
I have a long list of goals for 2012 and I set a monthly reminder to myself to check back in on it. Have I done all of it? Good God, no. Have I done some of it? Well, yes, I have. So do I get a gold star or am I big fat failure?
I only got about half of the things on 30 before 30 list done before other things in my life took over my time, but that half included spending a month in Argentina, learning Spanish, reconciling with a friend I hadn’t talked to in years, getting in great shape and losing fifteen pounds, landing a column on my favorite website and publishing my book. Pretty great, right? It's hard to look at it as anything but a wild success when I put it that way.
If you cross off all of the items on your to-do list with ease, the list probably wasn't nearly ambitious enough.
So how does this apply to writers?
Never have there been so many options available to writers to build a platform and promote their work, but to say it's overwhelming would be an understatement. I've seen some of the packets my friends get from their publishers about social media and online marketing, and while these packets contain no dearth of helpful information, the sheer scope of what they're being asked to do is unreal.
I'd imagine most writers' ideal to-do list would look something like this:
1. Write book
2. Go and talk to some fans and sign some copies and bask in the glow of nice reviews whilst showing admirable fortitude in the face of any criticism.
3. Repeat as needed.
In reality it goes something more like this (amended to include all you intrepid self-published types):
1. Write book
2. Revise book
3. Revise it again. Maybe once more.
4. Research agents and query/ hire fantastic editor and copy editor to polish book to a high sheen.
5. Find publisher / publish your damn self!
So far so good right? You're now in therapy to cope with all the rejection and should maybe stop drinking all of the vodka and stop eating your feelings but, look at you! You’re an author! Time to bask in the glory right? Wrong! More steps:
6. Start a blog. Blog all the time. Be funny, be interesting.
7. Find other people's blogs and try to get them to let you be funny and interesting on their blog.
8. Tweet. Follow. Hashtag! Learn what IMO, DH, LMFAO mean! Be clever, be informative. Be snarky but funny snarky, not mean snarky. Not one likes mean people on Twitter. Be self-promotional but not, you know, too self-promotional. No one likes that.
9. Facebook! Have a page, get some fans! Tell people to 'like' you and try not to feel weird about that.
10. Don't forget about Google Plus, and Reddit and Digg it and...and....um, Pintrist? Isn't that a thing now?
11. Something about Google analytics!
I could go on. Oh, could I go on but I'm guessing your brain when into Sad Macsomewhere between 8 and 9. And so this is what follows:
12. Decide you are a big fat failure who cannot adequately promote their work.
13. Throw mobile devices into the lake.
14. Maybe you join a monastery. Those monks look really calm.
So what's an author to do?
It's not just important for authors (even traditionally published ones) to maintain a presence online; it's crucial. So by all means set the bar high, but don't freak out when you don't quite reach it.
Repeat after me: I will never do everything I could have done to promote my work. Never. It is impossible. Choose a couple of things you can do to help support your work and focus on those; take time to keep refocusing as you go along. Didn't blog for two weeks? Don't waste time beating yourself up, just go write a killer post! Been neglecting your Twitter? Spend an hour on there re-tweeting people at the end of the day on Friday when you’re too tired to do anything else.
Take it from me: A dieter who resolves to eat nothing but kale and work out seven days a week will still see success if he works out three days a week and incorporates greens regularly; sometimes “close enough” is plenty.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Ah late January when it feels like it will be 45 degrees and raining for all the rest of our lives. When our early enthusiasm for shiny New Year's resolutions has given way to feelings of 'I want to stay in and eat/ drink the contents of the cabinets including the baking chocolate and the vermouth that's leftover from the time we decided to get into martinis even though we don't like them.'
Readers, I don't want to get up in the mornings to work on my novel. Any more than I want to do any of the long list of ambitious and worthy things I laid out for myself as goals when I was on vacation in the desert right before new year's. It was warm there guys! And sun-shiny! And planning to do things whilst drinking a mojito by the pool is way easier than you know, doing them.
But something other than this mid-winter inertia inhibits me too, I realize as I roll over to smack my snooze button to high heaven every other morning. Fear.
My new project is set to be a bit more ambitious than my last few novels because it's going to be good deal more personal. The relationships and experiences that inspired and fueled my past novels were fascinating ones in my life but ultimately fleeting. Now I mean to write about something that cuts much deeper. I can only imagine all the nerve endings I will hit along the way and I must admit, I'm a little scared to go to that place. Even though I know I'm ready, even though I know it will be cathartic, even though it's only fiction and I'm not naming names.
I want to know from those of you who've done it: how, how do you survive the experience of writing a memoir?
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Ah, writer's block. The chupacabra of literary types the world-over. But is writer's block a real thing or just an excuse not to write? What do we even mean when we say writer's block?
Writing regularly takes a lot of discipline and few of us are so perfectly dedicated that we don't go through periods where we don't write as often we should (if you do, kindly keep it to yourself). But when you have those times when you just can't put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking), what exactly is it that's stopping you?
I recently had lunch with my very wise mentor Patricia Geary (whose work you should all go read immediately) while on vacation in California. We discussed the usual things: what we were writing, what we weren't writing, who I was dating, how her family was doing. I had a lot to share about my adventures in self-publishing, but had to admit that I had not been as diligent as I wanted to be about working on my novel this past year.
I have a pretty typical publishing sob story: I've written a couple of novels, had an agent, experimented with self-publishing (just e-books, not the hard POD stuff). That's all to say that I've had my close-calls and disappointments, my ups and downs, all of it adding up to many, many more pages written than people who have read them. Pat knows the story, of course, and she pointed out that having been through all of this makes it difficult to sit back down and get going on a new book. At some point the sense of “am I really going to sit back down and write yet another book that no one will read?” can get overwhelming. “That's what people mean when they say they have writer's block,” she said.
It rings true. Sometimes I skip a day (or ten) of writing for the same reason I might skip the gym: laziness, inertia, plain old just-don't-wanna. But sometimes it feels like something deeper. I mean I know why I go to the gym; the benefits are obvious and evident. The why regarding writing (of the creative rather than the paid variety) is somewhat less obvious and asking myself why am I doing this? can leave me not so jazzed about it and feeling downright fearful. That said, this fear cuts both ways--I've worked with plenty of writers who feel paralyzed trying to live up to a past success.
I've never been blocked in the sense that I couldn't find something to write about, couldn't pull characters or plots from my imagination that interested me. If I can get my butt in my chair for an hour a day, something will come out, it's just that sometimes that chair is the most terrifying place in the world. This is part of the reason I write when I first get out bed in the morning: there's no time to let the doubt set in. Plus, my thoughts in the early morning tend more towards mmmmm, bacon than toward existential dread.
What do you think about writer's block? Inevitable burden or mythical beast?
Friday, January 6, 2012
because Fridays are for pictures of puppies running
Hey. It's the first Friday after the holidays, how much does it suck to be back in the office?
Sorry, I wouldn't actually know the answer to that question because I work here and it's pretty consistently awesome but I remember what it was like to be stuck in the office on a Friday.
My point is, you probably need something to burn through the remaining painful hours until quitin' time so may I humbly suggest you read chapter 11 of my novel here on the Gloss? While you're at it, read everything else on the Gloss because it is the very best thing on the internet. Or you can always do what one reader did and download my whole book (here or here) to read on your iPhone in the storage closet if that's how you roll.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I called my gym (which has odd hours sometimes) to make sure they were open on Monday. 'Oh, we're open,' the woman said, 'all the gyms are open today. And packed.'
Right. New Year's. Every year around this time, the number of people in my gym triples for three weeks before it inevitably goes back to normal, and by normal I mean 'works out in jeans guy', 'stinky hipster guy', 'sings along loudly to his headphones guy' and all of my other favorite weirdos. It depresses me not because I mind sharing treadmill space with these resolution-havers but because I know that not many of them are going to make it. It a vivid reminder of how difficult it is to make a real change in your life.
New Year's is an especially bad time to resolve to change your habits. Who on earth is motivated in the dead of winter? Bright shiny calendar year or no, this time of year all I want to do is sit on my couch watching Happy Endings and eating pie.
It's also true that none of the big-ish things I accomplished this year--self-publishing my novel, getting fit (and losing fifteen pounds), confessing long-held, unsaid feelings--had anything to do with New Year's resolutions. I did these things because I was genuinely, deeply compelled to do them, and that just doesn't come from the turning of a calendar page.
So, best of luck 'I'm going to take out all of my feelings on this elliptical' lady--you're going to need it.
What did you accomplish in 2011 that you're proud of?