Finish the Damn Thing (or Don’t)

I was ruminating on how many writerly things I get in my email inbox every day. I’m signed up for notices from Poets & Writers, Goodreads, Writerland, and She Writes, not to mention the writing blogs I follow. Daily, I get posts exclaiming “50 Contests with Deadlines This Month,” “The Latest on Literary Magazines and What They’re Publishing,” “Top-Five Must-Reads for Spring” and “How to Balance Your Writing with Everything Else.”

Blog1For the most part, I completely ignore all of them.

Why? Well, time, of course; if I read everything that came into my inbox I’d be completely overwhelmed.

And then there’s, you know, guilt, shame, and discouragement. I feel sometimes like all of these emails, well-meaning as they are, just serve to outline further the uphill battle I’m waging as a writer. I don’t want to read about how to balance my writing with everything else; I’m the expert on (not) balancing my writing. And I’m not calculating enough (organized enough?) to look at what lit mags are publishing and then write for them. I never have been. I write what I write, then I send it out. It may not be the best strategy, but it’s the only one I’ve got. And whenever the word “agent” appears in one of these posts, I get the heebie-jeebies and have to do a breathing exercise.

But I have to confess that I did read this article, on She Writes, by Gemma Burgess: How to Finish the Damn Thing.

The title totally cracked me up, and I thought, maybe she’ll have an insight for me, me who is now on her 40th revision of a memoir that is really, seriously, almost—but not quite—done. Her two solutions are:

1. Astonish me–introduce a shocking element; and

2. Sit down and do it (you jerk). [I added that part about the jerk.]

The first piece of advice really interested me. But since I’m not writing a novel, and I can’t really introduce a shocking element, like, say, that Ben is really a woman (he’s not), the first piece of advice didn’t help me. (But if you’re trying to finish a novel, by all means, go for astonishment.)

The second piece is, of course, the best advice of all: “Once you’re sitting down, don’t do anything else. Don’t tweet. Don’t blog. Don’t Pin. Don’t go on Facebook. Don’t read. Don’t watch TV. Don’t cook. Don’t make social plans. Just turn everything off, throw something unexpected into your manuscript and stay there till your characters have dealt with it.”

Great advice. Now see above, “How to Balance Your Writing with Everything Else.”

Liebster Award

I’m back after a (somewhat unplanned) week-long hiatus with the news that prolific and engaged blogger The Living Notebook nominated me for the Liebster Award! (You can read the post here.)


In full disclosure, I was nominated once before, but heck, I’ll take it again. Thank you, TLN!

Per the award’s guidelines, I’m supposed to tell you five facts about myself, then nominate some other blogs. Here goes.

Five Facts:

1. The first poem I ever wrote was in third grade. We were supposed to choose a “kind of weather” we really liked and write an acrostic about it. Here’s mine, to the best of my memory:

Beaufort scales, let out your flags!

Really blowing, the breeze never lags.

Every blade of grass quivers and quakes

Every tree shivers and shakes.

Zesty breeze wakes the world.

Early morning, the breeze has purled; purled itself into a net of wind.

(Nevermind that this sounds more like a gale-force wind than breeze, but hey, I was eight. And did you catch the knitting reference?)

2. I am an epic sleeper. I can’t really sleep on planes or buses or in cars or through excessive noise, unfortunately, but I can close my eyes at 10:30 p.m. and not open them until 9 the next morning, given the right circumstance. My family calls me “Snoozin.”

3. I am a true ophidophobe. This means that I don’t just fear snakes, but I really really really don’t like them. According to Wikipedia, “A typical ophidiophobic would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures.” I looked this up a while ago, when, watching a snake program on TV while eating dinner, I became physically ill and had to turn it off.

4. I adore this e.e. cummings poem, especially the last line: nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

5. When I first visited California, I felt like I had been there in a past life. When I actually moved here, I stopped feeling it altogether. About twice a year I feel it again, in places like Big Sur or Monterey.

Now, onto the nominees! I am giving the Liebster Award to three fantastic blogs.

1. I’d be remiss if I didn’t nominate all the fine ladies over at popcorntheblog (including myself). I was so fortunate to be asked to join this collection of writers and blog once a month on topics writerly. I’m not really giving this award to myself; I dedicate it to the other seven talented writers who make up the popcorn collective.

2. bussokuseki. bussokuseki may not even know I’m reading, but I am: he (?) writes beautiful haiku and blogs about “the buddha’s footprints in an everyday life.” As someone new to meditation, I seek out wisdom from places like this quiet, contemplative, beautiful blog.

3. Momaste. “The mom in me bows to the mom in you”–so clever! I just discovered this very honest blog about parenting. Since I’m no longer writing my Momming blog, I need to get a fix somewhere and Momaste gives it to me.

Congratulations, nominees, and thanks again to The Living Notebook.

Plug: Bookish

A friend turned me on to this new Website called Bookish, which works a bit like the Netflix algorithm that says to you, “You may also like…” after you’ve watched a movie and rated it highly. In other words, you plug in a book you like, and Bookish recommends five or ten others you might also like. There’s even a “more like this” button, so you can hone in more closely on a few gems.

I tried it out.

When I typed in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Bookish recommended:

  • Learning to Fly, by Steph Davis;
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson;
  • A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson; and
  • The Expats, by Chris Pavone.

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder yielded these suggestions:

  • In One Person, by John Irving;
  • Before I Go to Sleep, by SJ Watson;
  • Seven Types of Ambiguity, by Elliot Perlman; and
  • The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown.

I haven’t read any of the above books. I guess before I can really recommend Bookish I should read one or two and see how well they did, but I love the concept.

One catch: Bookish, so far anyway, is definitely geared towards new releases. I typed in two of my favorite Modernist classics, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. To the Lighthouse wasn’t even in the database. House of Mirth was, but no suggestions came up. They say they’re adding new books every day, so maybe they’ll get some classics on there, too. I hope so.

Hey, speaking of algorithms, Netflix keeps telling me to watch “The Queen of Versailles.” The cover photo completely turns me off, but Rotten Tomatoes gives it 95% and five stars. Anyone seen it?

Losing Ourselves

I thought it was really interesting that two blog posts today were about the immersive (I think I just made up a word) world of fiction. The Living Notebook writes about Absorption today, about fiction that “brings us further into [a] dream, overwhelming our senses until the dream seems real.”

And over on popcorn, Karen McHegg discusses books that “create a world different from the one [she] lives in.” You can read about those books here.

It made me think: which books have most absorbed me in recent years? My first thought was Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel Room. I also felt immersed in the strange world of Karen Russel’s Swamplandia and the more-real-yet-also-quite-strange one of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

Which books have absorbed you lately? Head on over to popcorn and tell Karen McHegg.

And me? Today I’m immersed in three-year-old land. L. had a touch of pinkeye, and I knew I’d get the stink eye if I sent him to school.