Jane Writes Like Her Boyfriend Is Out of Town

“Don’t stop for sunsets.” —Roald Dahl

While Waylon is gone, I don’t watch a single Sex and the City rerun. I don’t comb my hair, I don’t shave, I don’t wear clothes fit for public because other than work I don’t venture into public places, but even my work outfits are questionable: t-shirts stuffed into pencil skirts, no bra. I eat embarrassing amounts of canned chunky vegetable soup. Library books, To-do lists, calendars, and manuscript pages litter every surface of the house. The dishes pile. I use paper plates, wooden chopsticks. Before the new blog post collects dust, I draft a new one and I list ideas for future ones, before the dread of never writing another even sets in. I write on lunches. I work the day job until 6 pm. When I get home, I run until the sun sets, circling cul-de-sacs because kidnappers, duh. While lentils simmer, I shower. I edit while I eat. When I’m too tired to write, revise, or edit, I read in bed gluttonouslylimbs wild, body diagonaltaking up as much area as I can. If a sentence comes, I record it in my bedside notebook. I give my considerate book light a vacation and blare the lamp. The silence prods me to repeat this schedule daily. My mind is alert, my muscles taut under my red-wine belly. I am well-slept for once, other than one night when Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back forbade me to sleep. I feel on it, living a single writer’s life, getting shit done, crossing all the damn things off of all of the damn lists.

In my thirty-two years, I have learned that if being a writer is an essential part of you, you will adapt to your environment. In the fourth grade, I started my first novel and quit after several pages because it didn’t read like the books I loved and, like a kid, I went on to the next thing. In high school, I wrote poems when there wasn’t a song to sing my feels. In undergrad, I wrote for workshop deadlines. After graduation, I wrote when the words pulled me out of bed, my only alone time during my 55-hour work weeks of bartending and bookselling (the best job combo in the world, feeding free coffee and booze into my gullet as rapidly as lungs need air, always a book in the hand or purse). In grad school, again, I wrote for workshop deadlines. After finishing my thesis, a 300-page novel manuscript, the roughest rough draft in the history of rough drafts, I didn’t write for 15 months, but I revised the shit out of that manuscript, hiding the beast behind spreadsheets and the company browser on my double-screen PC. Then a bout of unemployment, a terror for a list person, which quickly mended my busted writing life. I wrote until days blended together. Sometimes I couldn’t tell you the month, but I could recite word counts and new books and articles I read and podcasts I listened to and new writers I found and, finally, I understood the amount of work it took to be a writer and, finally, I felt like one according to my stubborn, hard-ass standards. When I ran out of time and money, I found a heavy on the part-time technical writing job. Now, I write out of urgency, afraid that I’ll lose momentum, that my days are numbered, that I’ll never finish, that the words won’t return, that I’ll dry and crack in the florescent office lights.

Sometimes the world offers serendipitous opportunities, but mostly you must make them for yourself. Writing is hard fucking work with sporadic strokes of luck. When Waylon has to fly to the Mainland for business, I whine intermittently, but choose to smother-hug the silver lining. I, the president of the Dirty-hair-don’t-care Club, gets to be an even more disgusting human being than I already am.

When Waylon returns, my week without him feels a little like cheating. I sit there thinking, You don’t know the things that I have done. I’m distracted. I’m forever waiting for him to go to the bathroom, call his parents. The second he leaves to stir the contents of the crock or grab a beer I’m on my phone (writing). When I go up to the bathroom or climb the stairs, I pause at my desk. There, in plain view, spreads my other lover, dazzling in the light. On the left, the edited pages are flipped down. On the right, the page I am currently laboring over is on top. Look at me, it says. Touch me, it urges, you know you want to. And I do. More pages wait under it. I pussyfoot. I wonder what’s there. I have time for a paragraph. A line fresh in my head, I inch downstairs. Until we meet again, I repeat it to myself.

Idle fingers trouble me. Weekends are not my own. Even if I enjoy what I am doing (TV, cooking, driving), I devote at least 50% of my energy to writing: reading an article on craft, researching contests and lit mags, listening to writers interview writers, backing up documents, eavesdropping, something, anything, but I’m always waiting for the writing. I do this every workday, weeknight, and weekend until I just can’t anymore. Exhaustion usually sets in around 3:30 pm every Sunday. Depressed another Monday is on deck, I binge-drink with Waylon while binge-watching Twin Peaks and binge-eating slow-cooked chicken and dumplings. But if Waylon takes a shower, there is the urge: whispering in the heart, in the brain, in the soul, in the marrow, muscles and skin.

I don’t like the sneaking around and I don’t like the guilt, but cheating on your boyfriend with writing can be effective. Always submerged in thinking about the next thing: a deleted comma, a stronger verb, an unnecessary “that,” the next phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene, page, chapter. Always turned on and lusting for next time. Always waiting, a writer on fire.

Jane Recommends “My Writing Education: A Time Line” via THE NEW YORKER

An excerpt from “My Writing Education: A Time Line” by George Saunders:

During the Q&A someone asks what Toby would do if he couldn’t be a writer.

A long, perplexed pause.

“I would be very sad,” he finally says.

The room makes a sound that means “Us too.”


Jane says: George Saunders’s timeline displays the slow, determined learning that happens in the foundational years of writing, which for Saunders stretches from 1986 to 2000. This breakdown intrigues me, especially that six-year gap between his good story and first book, and what that says about community, solitude, discipline. Tobias Wolff’s generosity and his insistence on not losing “the magic” is magical. But every time I think about this article sadness snakes in: what happens to Paula, the writer? where are the POC?

Jane Recommends “The Art of Loving and Losing Female Friends” via PACIFIC STANDARD

An excerpt from “The Art of Loving and Losing Female Friends” by Rachel Vorona Cote:

My most aching and enduring losses have not been with boyfriends but instead the fading, fizzling, or harsh breaks with women. But only recently did I confront the paucity of vocabulary available to someone who mourns a broken friendship. Perhaps the issue is not so much lack but a stranglehold on certain words. We can have a friend crush, be totally in love with a new friend, love our friends dearly. But that in love-ness and that love do not seem to hold the weight, in language or otherwise, that they might in a romantic or sexual relationship. Certainly, we don’t speak much of the heartbreak of losing a friend, and there is much less talk of surviving a friend break-up than a romantic one.


Jane says: Let’s talk about this more.