Jane Recommends “Four Types of Creative Writing Careers” via CATAPULT

An excerpt from “Four ‘Types’ of Creative Writing ‘Careers’” by Tony Tulathimutte:

Writing literature and having a writing career are entirely separate things. A writer is an artist whose work may be informed or influenced, but never overdetermined, by the pressures of making money, publishing, and building an audience—that’s a writing career. Writing is pointless if you don’t get to write what you want, even if it’s obscure, difficult, or non-lucrative. But there’s also no reason to assume you’re not clever enough to make a career out of it too.

*

Jane says: Tony Tulathimutte offers sage advice to writers. The pearls (in my humble opinion): always get paid and only social media if you want to. As he mentions in the essay’s close, I’m working different paths—equal parts traditional and stealth, hoping to build a sustainable life freelancing. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed, fingers crossed.

Considering 2015, Jane Resolves

“White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” —Roald Dahl

I wouldn’t call 2015 a draw between me and my resolutions. I won, narrowly, thanks to high scores in the Always-write and Start-a-writing-group categories. I made a lot of progress, but the lofty list of goals frazzled me by October.

On NYE, I resolved to focus my energies. It has taken me sixish weeks to decide on the key day-to-day elements I must improve to inspire notable positive change, momentum, results.

Find a Way to Sustain a Creative Life

If you follow my blog, you know that balancing work and writing is a constant struggle in my life. A perfectionist and hard worker, it’s difficult for me to do anything half-heartedly. Either I need to find a job that gifts me room to be creative, or I need to find a job that nurtures my creativity. Because I have done the full-time thing and didn’t write, and I have done the part-time thing, which became a full-time thing, and wrote, and when I finished both, I was standing in an eerily similar place; even though I made progress, the matter of a couple drafts, I was another year older and still working on the same things.

Actually Finish Things

When you’re creating, it’s hard to gauge success. Even though the novel manuscript is fully drafted, I’m revising a lot: adding scenes and the much-needed lick or two here and there, deleting darlings here and there, while cringing at—and editing—the remnants of the first draft I wrote in the last 15 months of grad school, which almost murdered me. I have moved so many damn commas that many pages look like they are hemorrhaging or someone’s triplets took Crayolas to them, but I am getting closer.

I am closer than I have ever been, but I curse my honey-slow pace. And time constraints. Money. The general state of things. During one of those life-sucking Twitter holes, I found an essay on the incubation stage of creativity, and it reminded me that books take time. Junot Díaz’s third novel, This is How You Lose Her, took 16 years. Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night took 14 years. Right now I am at 8 years, and that’s okay. It has to be. Because I’m not ready to let go of it yet. But I am ready to let go of parts of it. Of the 290 pages, I feel confident in 38 of them. Then I think, Moving that chapter-six paragraph to the opening might solve all of my problems….

Read Better

Last year, I finished 32 books, a personal high, which naturally makes me want more, more, more. Usually I read organically, one book leading to another, so I thought the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 reading challenge would force me out of my lazy river, give me some structure, force me to consider the uncracked or favs already on my shelves. At the same time, the list (below) only consists of 12 books, so if I read 33 books this year, I will have 21 opportunities to float.

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

To the readers and writers who are vowing and working towards bettering themselves, please share your resolutions and reading lists with me.

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 Case for Writing a Story Before Knowing How It Ends” via THE ATLANTIC

An excerpt from “The Case for Writing a Story Before Knowing How It Ends” by Andre Dubus III:

What writing asks of us is the opposite of what being in the American culture asks of us. You’re supposed to have a five-year plan. Young people now are so cautious. Oh, we can’t get married until we have a house. Oh, we can’t have a baby until we have 20 grand in the bank. These crazy, careful people! You know, look: Life is short if you live a hundred years. Better to die naked and reckless and with passion—and not be afraid to fuck up and fail.

*

Jane says: A lesson on craft becomes a lesson on life.

Jane Recommends “Imposter” via CATAPULT

An excerpt from “Imposter” by Alexander Chee:

I had sublet often in this life, but this time was different. In previous sublets, I’d been around other people’s things, but here I was with my own, and I found I liked my things in this apartment in some way I hadn’t before. I hadn’t been much for possessions, never had spent more than a few dollars on any particular piece of furniture because what was the point of having things if you couldn’t write? You would only sell them in order to write, as I’d learned early on in New York, standing in line at the Strand to sell a few used books just to get lunch. The books on my shelf after all this time have withstood at least a thousand moments when I scanned them, deciding which ones I could or could not turn into money in order to eat if this or that check failed to come through. A library of survivors.

*

Jane says: I think I’d be darling at being “writer rich” and sitting in the dazzling light of a crystal chandelier:

I think writers are often terrifying to normal people, i.e. non writers in a capitalist system, for this reason: there is almost nothing they will not sell in order to have this time. Time is our mink, our Lexus, our mansion. In a room full of writers of various kinds, time is probably the only thing that can provoke widespread envy more than acclaim. Acclaim which of course means access to money, which then becomes time.

Jane Stuffs Her Mattress Amid Truth Bombs

“Oh, shit. I can’t do this.” Diane Cook, on a full-time employment opportunity

Toni Morrison infamously said that no one works on Fridays. The last weekday is―surprise―”an unproductive day” and, at my day job, the living queen of fiction is on point, per usual. It’s Aloha Friday, and the office is oh-so-quiet. People are taking thirty-minute shits and two-hour lunches. I edit my novel manuscript openly at my desk. The cool group, who lunches in the community room Monday through Thursday and dines out every Friday, asks me to join them for sushi. “No, thank you,” I say. I’m flattered by the invitation, but if I am blunt with myself, I can’t afford friends. In one hour, I can edit approximately three pages, test the integrity of about 78 sentences. I note the scalp-scratchers in the margins, reserve them for my next editing project: the read-aloud draft. I know the sentences need steeping, and I don’t have that kind of time now. I intermittently text Waylon, my one-and-only friend and boyfriend. I skim paragraphs of a favorited Twitter article in doses.

Joan Didion insists, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Here are some things I tell myself:

  • You are still writing.
  • Some former colleagues who work full-time don’t write a lick.
  • You’ll get to where you want to be, eventually.

But my heart is smart. The day job, technical writing, gets the best parts of my time and, unquestionably, the better brainpower. Sometimes, too exhausted to write at night, I resent almost everything that sucks time. Like Emily St. John Mandel reveals in her article, Working the Double Shift,” featured in The Millions and so many other artists who divide their time between their debts and passion, my dream day job is to be a full-time hardcover writer.

My crooked top knot should have been the first sign. The backwards dolman shirt the second. The third: I had been using Waylon’s deodorant, and two Dasani bottle caps to disinfect my contacts overnightfor a week. I finally cried at my desk. Minus a hobo purse here and a sundress there, the luster of cash has vanished.

Crying at my desk is not a new thing. I don’t have the skin or teeth or soul for an office job. For the first six months of employment, I am usually grateful. Grateful that Fed Loans isn’t hunting me down. Grateful that once in a moon I can treat Waylon to dinner or surprise him with a specialty deuce. Grateful that my credit lines are increasing and my minimum balances are shrinking. Grateful that if I cracked a canine on a Gobstopper or bought a plane ticket to Jamaica my savings account isn’t busted. It has been 26 weeks and I am still thankful for all of these things, but you either are or you aren’t (someone who can work for the weekend). And I am not. On good days, I don’t feel anything. In fact, I have to check my pulse to verify that I’m still alive. On bad days, skyscraper-high cortisol levels, and tears. The tears flow suddenly. As suddenly as my light-footed office mate rounds the corner of our shared space. I reach for my desk drawer and squeeze eye drops into my ducts. As the anti-red solution and teardrop mix river down my face, I know my secret is safe by blaming allergies for my state.

I knew when I accepted my “part-time” gig that I would have to let go of things. The hardest thing to let go of were those beautifully open mornings and afternoons, where creativity was free to happen. Where I could ease into writing by getting lost in a book, jog until a plot point worked itself out, stare at the sky. Where I could write all day and ease into adulting: the cooking, the laundry, the paying of bills. I knew it was just a matter of time before my part-time job evolved into full-time work. I am contracted for another three months and I count down the days but, truth is, I have no guts. I could quit tomorrow. It wouldn’t be financially smart, but I could quit tomorrow. What stands between me and my dream job is that I don’t know if I can run from the student loan police and write a novel at the same time, and the student loan police aren’t the only people I owe money to. I can only bear so much anxiety, but when I clock out, what really stands between me and my last day? It’s me, the coward.

When Gabriel García Márquez wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude, he was pancake broke and the town brought him food. No one’s bringing Jane food because she couldn’t fork over her lunchtime to make nice. I already scrimp and I could scrimp more, but in my old, fragile age, I can’t return to the ramen noodles that got me here.

Some people hide behind the stories they tell themselves in order to live:

  • They would write, if this.
  • They would write, if that.

Truthfully, I write. I write in my car on the way to work. I write between editing documents. I write between edits on a single document. In meetings, I write, or at least take shorthand notes of what to write later. If I see someone who gets paid double what I gross sleeping at their desk, I write spitefully or revise spitefully to accrue a little more value. I write while Waylon watches TV after dinner. But, truth bomb: if I didn’t have this job, I would be writing much, much more. Painfully more. Where do those words go?

Despite all of these feels, I will not quit now, so I stuff my mattress. I stuff my mattress for my eventual unemployment. I stuff my mattress so I can buy organic apples, gift presents or travel when I am selfishly underworking for the man to write. I decided that if I could commit to this short-term life of working a lotas long as I am working towards not working a lotI will fund myself. A free place to stay in the Pacific Northwest for four nights and five days has arisen, and I am awarding myself that writing residency (flight and food) that no one else will currently grant me. I am flying to that foreign city, where I have zero responsibilities and wonderfully open, wiggly mornings and afternoons to read, write, edit, explore, get lost, find myself.

Jane Weighs the Pros and Cons

Never forget that the truest luxury is imagination, and that being a writer gives you the leeway to exploit all of the imagination’s curious intricacies, to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too.” ―Andrew Solomon

I like lists. I like my thoughts organized and my heartbeat even. In the case of greener grass, I miss having fresh Tuesdays for pantlessness and writing and reading into the night. The strict budget didn’t bother me. I got used to living with mostly necessities because wanting less felt as if I was making more. I wanted what I had: time to write, and health and love―always health and love. But when my money ran out, I insisted on returning to work because student loans and student loans and student loans. Here are my top three pros and cons about returning to the cubicle.

Pros

  • Office supplies – Binder clips and clasp envelopes and steno pads, oh my! Highlighters and Sharpies and Post-its, oh my! Legal pads and paper clips and white out, oh my!
  • Money – I bought a dress. It wasn’t on sale. I didn’t die.
  • When it rains, it thunderstorms – For some reason, when one person wants you, they all do. They come shimmying out of linoleum cracks and wood paneling and cakes so, in what seemed like overnight, I transformed from unemployed to basically full-time with volunteer things and other things that pay in addition to the things I want to do: read and write and revise and see things and wash my hair once in a while. If I didn’t have the job, I would have crap so, in fear of it all disappearing overnight, I am doing all of the things!

Cons

  • Weekends – Saturday and Sunday have become Thursday Jr. and Friday Jr. They’re more enjoyable than Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but they are still work days. But at least it’s my heart’s work. And at least there is Baileys in my coffee.
  • Restlessness – I felt it as I did the dishes tonight: I probably won’t sleep; I will wake at 2 a.m., thinking about writing. To calm myself, when Waylon turned the lights off and climbed the stairs, I wrote for an hour―for peace, for sleep, because do I have a choice?
  • Existential crises – Last week, I ran errands on my lunch break. I drove to the good grocery store for whole wheat cous cous, hazelnut coconut milk creamer and the face wipes I like because there is an Office Depot in the same parking lot  and I needed to mail a fiction submission. As I slid the envelope across the desk, my eyes asked, How much? She said, “Oh, we don’t send envelopes. We only ship Fed Ex packages.” She started to explain where the nearest post office was. I lied and told her I wasn’t “from here.” What I meant was: it’s not my part of town. But already the music was playing in my head. My plan was ruined. As I drove an extra three miles per hour back to my severe desk, I felt the beginnings of tears, a steering wheel slap tingling in my fingers, a “Why?” in my throat, but I took a deep breath and mentally added the stories to my Friday to-do list with all the other stupid uncrossed things.

Sometimes all writers feel like frauds, right? I did at my last job. I revised, but because I wasn’t writing anything new I felt like I had broken up with writing. It was self-loathing. It was avoiding my eyes in the mirror. It was spontaneous tears. Writers, like other creatives, need to make things and I felt, at best, a wordsmith. But that was then.

Everyone’s different. What’s right for Bill, may not be right for Murray. But I, Jane, need to write four times a week to not spiral into madness. And I have been able to―so far―maintain momentum (knock on wood). If I fell out of my routine, I submerged myself into the TBR list for inspiration and soon found my way back to the blank page. So this time around, the day job isn’t so bad, but let’s be real. It’s for the mynah birds, and the bills (gratitude). Temporary temp work. Not the dream.

On days when the everything seems like a little too much (everyone else is publishing, finding agents and beingblurbed by lit stars), David Foster Wallace eases into my ear, “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.” On days when I feel like I am not making any movement, I seek out artists who have scorched a path, like Rainer Maria Rilke who voices:

To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquility, as if eternity lay before them.

Everything is moving very fast right now, but I’ll keep writing as if I have an eternity.

Jane and the Partly Grown-Up Job

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” ―Gertrude Stein

Week 1

There are 4 abandoned bras within 15 feet of my front door, and all I can think about is how it used to be. I still wake at the same time, but instead of stumbling downstairs to chug juice and cook breakfast I’m washing away eye boogers so I can prime my eyes to apply eyeshadow then eyeliner and―when I remember―contacts to, you know, feel human. Instead of parking my pajamaed-ass in front of my beloved Mac, by 8 a.m. I am at my desk, not the one I adore, but the new Steelcase one that I have disinfected twice yet it somehow still feels filthy. My tear ducts ache, and I blame it on my suddenly regular make-up and the ancient dustballs tumbleweeding across the desk’s surface. No one can recall who occupied this space last. I’ve asked 12 people, wondering if I need to burn sage or at least switch chairs with another down the hall when no one is looking.

Despite this disruption to my creativity, I have promised myself to write regularly, and the fact that I haven’t before nags me more than any overbearing mother could. My word-desert lurks in the back of my mind while I read “welcome” literature, while I am fitted for mandatory accessories, while I sit through orientations and hyperlink after hyperlink of training, while I fax things I rather not fax to people I will never meet, while I try to remember names, faces, and log-in passwords. This finger-on-my-shoulder past is why I remain part-time. Last week I worked four days, and I forced myself to write three days; I totaled 674 exhausted words.

When my best friend asked how my first week went, I didn’t think about the job and whether I liked it or not, my fattening résumé, the approaching paycheck and luxuries of employment (an occasional latte, a hardcover book). I jumped straight to the barely writing AKA the hardly living. I bemoaned the 674 words, and she consoled, “Seriously, writing anything is a success when you’re beginning a new rhythm.” I nodded emphatically and zipped a response back, even though I know there’s no such thing as writer’s block, that “writer’s block” is simply not writing, and only I’m to blame. I’m fluent in the responsibilities of friendship, that dance. I can recognize a verbal pat on the back, the “Oh, honey . . . ”

When I couldn’t write, I read. I finished one book, then another, and snacked on short stories and poems, demolishing them like Funyuns.

Week 2

Until the creative triggers are blasting from my bra straps, I chase words and pin them down in my Notes. My heart pitter-patters. Sometimes something in there clenches, and I freeze, until it passes. As Joan Didion avows:

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

My efforts in creating a “mundane routine” follow:

  • When I arrive at work, I do something creative, so I knowbefore anythingI am a writer.
  • I write in the back pages of my legal pad while I’m waiting for meetings to begin, working on the computer; making the water fountain, coffeemaker, refrigerator, bathroom, xerox machine journey.
  • I steal sentences on my iBooks app while reviewing programs. I slide some flash fiction into a manual to rest my eyes.
  • When hallway traffic lulls and my officemate is absent, I transfer scribbled notes into my phone, adding words, sentences, sometimes a scene.

Yesterday was my Friday, Waylon’s hump-day. Our morale low, after work we scattered to gather pizza rolls and six-dollar bottles of Cabernet before meeting at home to become one with couch cushions and dissolve into purple-mouthed grumbles. We half-heartedly twittered while Fresh Off the Boat premiered. When the second episode began, we abandoned our phones. We raged against our body clock’s bedtime. We raged against eleven. We submitted at midnight. We raged when our alarms sounded. We raged against the first snooze, the second and third then, after coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I wrote 1,689 words.

Looking Back, Jane Resolves

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” ―Maya Angelou

Aloha-Goodbye 2014

Every New Year’s Eve, I fashion the same resolution. No, not to lose ten pounds. I vow to be a better version of my present self. If that includes losing two pounds and lifting weights, I abide, but as a Type A, anxiety-ridden ex-grad student, resolutions are a tricky thing for me. I take them heart-attack seriously. But a resolution of continual self-improvement seems to keep things yoga-positive.

As 2014 progressed, I adjusted the bullies and huddled new goals under my umbrella intention. Last fall, after packing and unpacking seven waist-high boxes of literature, I resolved not to buy new books until I finished all of the unread ones I own. (Of course there are ways around this. Loaners and gifts from friends and Waylon.) I resolved to support indie bookstores, so I bought albums, bookmarks, and postcards as I dog-eared my way across my collection. I resolved to participate in NaNoWriMo, to bring the hibiscus bush in the front yard back to life.

What you love says a lot about you. Last year, I fell in love with Diane Cook, Joan Didion, and Celeste Ng. (Before October, I was a Didion virgin; I like to make myself feel better by insisting every writer has a writeror threethat they’re embarrassed to admit they haven’t read.) I also fell in love with podcasts: Make/Work, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, and Between the Covers. In 2014, I searched for inspiration in womenwild women, unique womenwho are unabashedly themselves, beautiful, smart, courageous, ferocious women. I yearned to witness other creative lives and how those artists made/make art happen and, semi-importantly, how they subsist. Because I’m a literary-nobody, I wanted to know all these things from the experienced. How can I create while paying my cell phone bill and credit card minimums? After the corporate world, I was thirsty, thirsty for everything I had missed, craved, needed.

Aloha-Hello 2015

Of course, I want to keep my life, relationships, and spaces positive and nurture them through being true, present, and generous. Without this, I cannot be a good writer. With that bedrock in place, I have organized my resolutions into three categories: writer work, money work, and extracurricular literary things.

Writer Work

  • Finish things – Because of my former job and over-commitment problem with perfectionist tendencies, I am sitting on a lot of abandoned projects circa grad school. I have sent out stories in haste, and most of them have returned to me swaddled in a form letter. I resolve to quit comparing myself to peers, who seem to publish at Nascar and shooting-star speeds, and work at my own pace. My stories aren’t going anywhere because they live in meonly I can tell my stories. I must finish them with honesty, patience, and tenacity. 
  • Always write – Even in the depths of revision and editing, I resolve to write new words. While working full-time, my novel was my first priority, and, in over a year, I completed virtually no new writing. My writer chops froze up, and it became so easy to say nothing.
  • Use my freshest, caffeinated, and inspired brain cells for creative work – Too often I jump straight on Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram because as Caitlin Horrocks insists (and I agree), “Everything else feels easier than the blank page.” I resolve to disable the internet more.

Money Work

  • Allow large spaces for creativity (to be mold on the couch, reading) and living (to drink in moments by abandoning everything) – I resolve to only work part-time, which means making the most amount of skrilla in the littlest amount of time to free-up more creative writing minutes, hours, and days. Last year, I volunteered once a week. Even though the experience was valuable and rewarding, I realized how much one lost day steals from my creativity. Almost every week all week, I would resent that one day I had to spend away from home. I dreaded it how some people dread church. Part-time employment sounds luxurious, but, being a writer, I have AP homework for the rest of my life and I am pinching-nickels, returning-bottles, no-401k poor, but a happy and healthy heart makes it worthwhile.

Extracurricular Literary Things

  • Wander – Since September, I’ve been visiting the library, but in my current self-absorbed writerly state, I venture to the library like a spoiled American. I have books driven in via the Request a Book Online tool. My TBR list tells me exactly what’s next. I resolve to spend more time in my library, browsing the aisles until I happen upon something that interests me (an out-turned cover, a mysterious spine) and open it only to fall for the epigraph, the first line then sentence then paragraph then page until I take it home with me to devour.
  • Start a writing group – I resolve to get eyeballs on my work: colleagues, friends, beta readers, agents―in whatever order they’ll have me.

With that said, after five-ish months of full-time creative writing, I return to work next week. I didn’t come countries within finishing my novel or finding an agent. (It took Junot Diaz 16 years to write This Is How You Lose Her, so I rather just do like Junot and get it right). But I accomplished more than I could ever imagine, and the hibiscus bush is making a comeback.

Essentially, this year has taught me that I cannot live without writing. Kim Addonizio states in Ordinary Genius that being a writer is a commitment to writing, whether that consists of 30 minutes three times a week, or one hour five times a week. Even if I’m working on deadlines and ordering take-out every night, this ass must meet my chair because writing really does choose you, and, as Zora Neale Hurston says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Please check back to see how the office/creative-life balance is happening!