Is It Done Yet?

In the movies, when someone finishes writing a book, it’s with a huge fanfare. The camera pans in on an index finger explosively hitting the last key, then the writer throws back the chair and throws his hands up in the air. Finally! Music plays. Success.

In real life, it doesn’t happen like that.

Yesterday, I had a great writing day. Mostly I was proofing, but I also wrote a few new paragraphs and moved some things around. I did a quick scan for the changes I’d made. Then it was time to get L. from school, so I put the computer down and went into dealing-with-tired-preschooler-mode. A couple of hours later, exhausted, my forehead in knots from having stared at the computer for eight long hours, I walked to get sushi with some friends. Halfway there I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and cocked my head to the side.

Holy cow, I thought. I just finished my book.

Image from mpclemens, whom you can find on flickr

Image from mpclemens, whom you can find on flickr

Actually, that’s the elevator pitch version. Here’s the whole story:

1. Three falls ago (three!), I thought I had finished my book. I sent a completed manuscript to a friend’s agent. She said no thanks, and her explanation of why made me realize there was a problem with the way I’d written the story. Back to the desk.

2. That following summer, I tried again. There was some interest, but no one fell in love with it. One agent told me, “I think you need to dig deeper.” I decided I agreed.

3. I dug deeper.

4. I gave the manuscript to my writing group (again).

5. Thanks to their feedback, I wrote a prologue. I also changed the title.

6. I tinkered for another six months.

7. Yesterday, I had a great writing day. Mostly I was proofing, but I also wrote a few new paragraphs and moved some things around. I did a quick scan for the changes I’d made. Then it was time to get L. from school, so I put the computer down and went into dealing-with-tired-preschooler-mode. A couple of hours later, exhausted, my forehead in knots from having stared at the computer all morning, I walked to get sushi with some friends. Halfway there I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and cocked my head to the side.

Holy cow, I thought. I just finished my book. Then I had a beer with dinner.

Part of me wanted some fanfare, I must admit. I kind of wanted to slam my finger onto the last key, give a giant whoop, and pop a bottle of champagne. Instead I’m sitting in a coffee shop drinking a cup of joe and thinking I should probably give it another proofread before I send it out. It’s a little anticlimactic, but honestly, I’m not sure it could be any other way.

One Perfect Day

Parental readers will understand the import of the fact that for the next three weeks, I am on school vacation but my son L. is not. In other words, for the next three weeks L. will still be at school his usual 21.5 hours per week (who’s counting?) but I don’t have to work between 15 and 20 of those hours, as usual. I’ve been looking forward to this break for a month. I have no plans to actually vacation: I’m going to knock out a writing to-do list a mile long.

There’s a lot of pressure when you’re a writer faced with very few obligations besides writing for three whole weeks! Each day counts, and of course, each day a nagging voice says to you, “why don’t you just knock off today and go to the beach instead?” Monday night, as I was falling asleep, I was thinking nervously about the long Tuesday ahead with a manuscript to read/edit and blog posts to write and all sorts of things to accomplish. Then I had my brilliant idea: why not make the day a kind of holistic writing retreat?

TeapotWritingSo, after I kicked out L. and B. around 8:45, I began the retreat. I started with as many sun salutations as it took to get me feeling very warm and invigorated. Then I meditated for ten minutes. Then I made a pot of tea and spent the morning reading aloud and making line notes on my now-really-almost-finished memoir. Around 11:30, I took a break and walked slowly and thoughtfully to the coffee shop. When I returned, I picked a salad from the garden and made a nice lunch (you know how they always advertise “beautiful organic food” on retreats? Well, I planned to deliver). Then it was straight back to the manuscript for more line notes. Around two, I shifted gears and started using the computer.

There’s something about being alone in a house, without distractions, that just makes you feel alive. I think I’ll declare the next two Tuesdays writing retreat days. Why not?

Plug: California Prose Directory

I got an advance copy of the California Prose Directory 2013: New Writing from the Golden State, edited by my pal Charles McLeod. It’s a solid red brick of a library of California’s finest essays and short stories. To quote the back of the book, here are some of the gems you’ll find within: “A Vacaville rodeo. Hollywood quid pro quo. A verbal altercation at a Buddhist retreat. Nearly starving to death in the farmlands of Clovis. The Santa Anas blowing fire through the SoCal foothills.” (There’s quite a bit more, too.)

California Prose Directory amidst California poppies

California Prose Directory amidst California poppies

I’m just starting to read it, and so far, it’s a nice slice of life in the Golden State. It reminds me how, whatever you feel about California, you can’t deny the diversity of experience in a body of land as large as this one. Vacaville and Hollywood, for example, are worlds apart, despite being in the same state. I enjoyed the first short story in the book, “You Are Not Here” by Andrew Foster Altschul, which is set in San Francisco, in neighborhoods and on bus routes with which I’m intimately familiar, because I used to live there.

The Directory features writing by well-known and emerging writers alike, including Stephen Elliott, Vanessa Hua, Jasmin Darznik, Tom Molanphy, Erica Olsen, and Anthony Seidman.

Locals, please note that several writers from the anthology will be reading this coming Sunday, May 19, at 5:00 p.m. at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco (on 24th street near Folsom).

Summer Reading Redux: Recommendations?

Last June I posted a list of summer reads, and I thought I’d do the same this year. Looking back, I realize I did okay with my list; I read Wild, All the Pretty Horses, Operating Instructions, and Look at Me, but not necessarily all during the summer, and I ended up bailing on the New Yorker entirely (I finally let my subscription lapse).

What I hoped, readers, was to hear from you. What’s on your summer reading list, or what have you read recently and loved? My acupuncturist got me inspired to read some Jhumpa Lahiri; The California Prose Directory 2013 is on my nightstand now (and I’ll be plugging it next week), and I hope to finally tackle The Big House. I’ve also been pondering going through a Murakami phase. But other than that, I’m a wide-open book (ha!).

What do you recommend? I’ll compile a list, to be posted by summer vacation time. You’ll have to take care of your own beach umbrella and sunscreen.