Monday, December 21, 2015

Seasons Grumblings

As we creep steadily closer to the holidays and nightmares of how much money isn't in my bank account dance through my mind, I'm turning my focus instead to trying to break into the writing field -- big honking surprise there, I know, but it's that or resign myself to a Christmas season spent celebrating by gnawing on a straight-jacket in a padded room somewhere. What makes this most recent spate of determination different from all the others that have burned bright in my heart and then withered into nothingness is that I finally decided to quit lying to myself about how I want to go about a writing career. I figured I would do the adult thing with my writing passion and go the route of copyediting and technical writing, and doing freelance blog submissions. No big, right? It'll be easy to snag one of those, right? They probably don't even need you to have a bunch of experience or education in the field, right?

Ha frickin' ha. I signed up for an email newsletter to tell me about shiny new freelance gigs hanging out in the ether, because tracking them down myself was a sure-fire way for me to never accomplish anything. And it was cool for awhile. Every couple of days I'd go through several of these newsletters and cull out the jobs that seemed like a thing I could do, and sit down, write a cover letter of sorts and email it off to the good folks at and hope they got back to me. Can you guess how many did? I'll give you a hint: it was less than 1, but more than if I had fallen into a wormhole that created a time vaccum in which I somehow submitted negative applications.

Zero. The answer is zero people got back to me. I can't even really blame them, is the worst part. Most of these websites calling for writers on a freelance basis still want the applicants to have a minimum of 2 years experience, which I don't and can't even embellish with half-truths because a literal second spent Googling me would bring up all the many articles I haven't written. So that was starting to look like a big steaming pile of wasting-my-time and I was getting bummed, and as tends to happen whenever I am feeling the slightest bit insecure about my writing, up pops a well-meaning adult to give me all the wrong advice and make me feel even crappier despite their best intentions, assuming of course that they had good intentions to start with. I guess I appreciate where everyone's heart is when they try and counsel me, but all anyone wants to talk about is applying for jobs and writing gigs that are in no way suited to me and my personality and why I even got into writing, which is to make myself happy and create ridiculous and often-depressing stories that are utterly fictitious. I didn't start writing with the intent of becoming a leading political pundit or a star marketing rep and making oodles of money while siphoning off pieces of my soul with every paycheck and bathing in the blood of children, or whatever PR execs do.

"Teresa, make sure I have time after my 2 o'clock for the ritual goat slaying in honor of our Lord, Satan. And get Sanderson on line 3."

After finally confessing this to the last adult who wanted to offer me succor -- and receiving the by-now familiar blank look of someone trying not to make it obvious that they think I'm a naive child -- I decided, y'know what? To hell with freelance. To hell with copyediting. To hell with writing about other people's causes or feigning an interest in their hobbies or writing technical copy for a major company who manufactures appliances. God. I can't think of anything more gross. And then one day not long after coming to this realization I was combing through another of the freelance newsletters and noticed that at the very end of the list, the guys who puts all this together had started adding submission calls for ezines and creative writing publications. Not all of them work for what I write, or they had deadlines I couldn't possibly make, but I felt a burgeoning sense of hope anyway. Here's something I can do. I have ideas for short stories. At least, like, five. And I feel like I never had a chance to do anything with those ideas because I'm always dedicating my time to my stupid novel that stupid isn't stupid done yet because it's stupid. So here's my chance, yes? I'll just push my energies into this, and anyway, this makes more sense. Authors always talk about how they got their start writing pieces for newspapers and magazines and what-have-you. That's one of the ways in which you build an author-platform for when you launch your big project: get your name out there with smaller pieces and get people talking about you. People are more likely to spend money on a name they already know they like, so get them to know and like your name and you're in. Theoretically. You think the jacko's at Uline Tech. are gonna give a crap about the fact that someone in their technical writing department published a fiction novel? No. No they will not.

I realize that I can still get rejected just as easily as I had been turned away from the freelance jobs, but the difference here -- for better or worse -- is that these editors have to actually read what I give them, instead of dismissing me out of hand based on my lack of experience, without a thought given to whether I have any talent. And while it seems like this wouldn't  be any more encouraging, I find I look forward to getting rejections because it will sure as hell beat hearing nothing at all and feeling like I'm yelling myself hoarse into a mosh of voices where no one will ever hear me. At least now they're listening, even if they still don't want what I have to offer. I can always come back with a better story; I can't do anything productive with silence.

So here's to someone out there reading one of my stories and agreeing to publish it and maybe also giving me money. 'Tis the season, after all.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Good for What Ails Ye

Well. Ummm...(looks back across blasted heath of several post-less months.) Right. So, it would be great if I had a good reason for the long radio silence. Like perhaps that I was taking time off to finally get my story published, or wasting away from a flesh-eating virus. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened and my absence is entirely due to writerly bullshit, and not even good bullshit. My life in the last several months has changed in immense ways and I haven't really known how to put any of those changes into words. For starters, this blog was always supposed to be about my journey to getting published, and while that premise has been stretched wafer-thin at times, it has always in some way come back to that. (Except the post about the Hobbit movie. That was just anger.)

I feel conflicted then, digressing too much to talk about my personal life because every advice book for writers says that your blog has to have a central "theme" and if you deviate from that theme even a little then no one will read it and without a reader base you will never publish real things, and will probably die alone. I don't know when getting published meant running your own marketing campaign before the manuscript even gets to the publisher's desk, but apparently that's what it takes now. And even beyond the practical concerns of writing a post that has nothing to do with aforementioned "theme," writing in general has been endlessly frustrating. I’ve had writer’s block for months now, except “writer’s block” doesn’t really cover it because I wonder at times if anyone actually understands what it is. So I’ll get a little creative. I have had brain-constipation. That’s what writer’s block is, anyway, but at least I don’t sound like I’m suffering from a very pretentious strain of herpes flare up that only the likes of Hemingway and Toni Morrison could comprehend. Brain-constipation, as the name implies, means I have ideas. Plenty of ideas! Truckloads, in fact. Or, if not concrete ideas, I have the desire to write. Stuff is there, swimming around in my brain. But it can’t figure a way out in any useful capacity and it gets to the point where I think bashing my head into a wall might be the best route of egress for all this lovely inspiration. The worst part of this most recent bout of brain-constipation is that I’ve done it to myself. I am the agent of my own creative back-up. It’s a bummer.

The issue (irony abounds) is my attempt to carve out a manuscript from my story. Editing is tedious and frustrating on the best of days but when I hit a brick wall with that on my third rewrite, I stopped writing altogether. To the point that, even when I had a new idea or just wanted to experiment to see where something went, I would think, “What’s the point? This has nothing to do with my book, this won’t help me get published or make any money. It’s just a dumb idea that won’t turn into anything worthwhile, so why bother?” That is a dangerous idea to have, as a writer. That’s how you get brain-constipation. The pressure to create something “worthwhile” and my guilt over not being able to made me lock down my writing impulses and view every instinct I had to just mess around and have fun as a waste of time. My brain resents being told not to have fun and it has been punishing me ever since. The good news is that Ireland is the Ex-Lax for my brain-constipation, apparently. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Another element to declogging my neural pathways was moving. Oh yes! I live all by my lonesome now. No longer do I have roommates whom I must share the bathroom and the TV and the milk with! Now I have only myself to blame when the toilet paper runs out! All the hair that collects in my bathtub drain is mine, and no one else's! Truly, this is what it means to be free. The move itself was insane and a bit  traumatic, since I've never done such a thing before and I am biologically required to do everything the hardest way I can find, at least the first time around. So yeah, good times for all. I was a wreck to the point that my friend Dani, who has known me for years and is well aware that I am a cracker-jack nutjob, was legitimately worried about my mental state. It wasn't a great day. But it got done, I sacked out at my folks' place because we had used all my bedding to cushion my nice wood furniture in the moving truck and now they had dust and grease from the truck bed ground into them, and my sibling got me back to my new home the following afternoon where I was then left, by myself, for realsies.

Good times. I only cried, like twice. After I was dropped off, that is. I cried about fifty times the day of the move. I am hiring movers next time, by God, I don't give a damn how much it costs. Seriously.

The next big thing was that I went on a trip to Ireland for a week with my friend and former roommate Lucy. I've done the abroad thing before. I lived for three months in Rome during my senior year in college, a living arrangement so trippy for a non-EU member that it might be hard to get your head around but trust me; you can get bored of living in Rome. It's the tourism, I think. That and the dog shit. 

"You think my owner will clean this up? This isn't the Vatican! Have a free souvenir, stronzo!"

I'd even done a weekend trip to Ireland where, admittedly, we spent most of the time in Northern Ireland, though we did have a day in Dublin. But so limited had our time been and so not-adventurous had I been that upon deplaning in Dublin two weeks ago, nothing looked even remotely familiar. The sun was shining and it was a balmy 72 degrees, so I was pretty sure for a while that we were actually in the wrong country, but no. Contrary to common belief, it doesn't rain every single day in Ireland. At least not during the summer, with the exception of course of the summer Lucy and I took our trip. Everyone there was water-logged and slightly crazed, desperate for news of less drippy climes. So many people kept coming up to us and asking us where we were from and what we thought of all this goddamn rain. When Lucy and I told them we'd actually anticipated this because we thought it rained year round in Ireland, they would just laugh the laugh of someone who hasn't seen the sun in months and plod off through the puddles. But other than a severe vitamin D deficiency, everyone in Ireland was lovely. It was gorgeous and homey and welcoming and I honestly wish I was still there.

I'm not going to mention a trip to Ireland and then only show you a picture of a dog taking a crap. I'm not a monster

 What I had hoped, somewhere tucked in the back of my head, was that Ireland could fix me. That I would go there and come back and all the words that had eluded me would just come flowing out. And I then I would feel awake and relevant and worthwhile again, and my manuscript would continue apace and I could finally start achieving my dreams. Well, I don’t know about all of that flowery crap, but I am here, writing this right now, so I suppose this is something of a victory. On a ferry boat bobbing just off the coast of Galway Bay I stared at the sunny blue stretch of the Atlantic while storm clouds rolled and gathered over the mainland behind me and I had a moment to think. Not of anything in particular, and I didn’t have any epic epiphany. I just asked myself, “What am I doing? What is my life?” and the answer was water sluicing up on the deck and soaking my shoes. Which is basically life in a nutshell, I feel. So I don’t know if my writing is back, precisely. I haven’t worked any heavy creative muscles since I got back. But I am trying to find more time in my day-to-day life, and I’ve even started looking into writing conferences and retreats. Maybe even one of those stipends where people straight up pay you to write so you don’t have to muck about with a job like a real person. That would be great. Only time will tell. However, I do promise to try and be better with this blog from here on out. Avoiding my writing certainly won’t get any of it done, and even if no one is reading this anymore, or ever to begin with, I’ll find more things to post about in the hope that someone, somewhere will offer me an absurdly lucrative book deal. 

You gotta aim for the stars. But make sure you keep one hand on the rail and don’t stand too close to the prow, or you’ll end up with cold, squishy socks. And that’s almost as bad as brain-constipation.  

That sign depicts how the island of Inis Or suggests you get back to the mainland.

"The Cliffs of Insanity!"*

*Fun fact: those are the Cliffs of Moher, just south of Galway Bay near Doolin, and that spot was actually used as the Cliffs of Insanity in Princess Bride

Screenshot from the actual movie. They added the bit up top to look more...cliffy, I guess.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The night is dark and full of pompous pricks

So I don't really know what it is, but evidently there's something about my face that just begs people to tell me how to live my life. It's baffling, and if I knew what was causing this phenomenon you'd bet your ass I'd have it tweezed or sanded down or lopped right off because seriously. Or maybe it's not my face so much as it is my career choice, as the topic always ends up being my aspirations to get published and almost nothing else. Now I'm no stranger to people disdaining my goal. Plenty of people have felt the need to give me "reality checks," as if all I needed to snap out of this tomfoolery was their two-cent degree from the School of Hard Knocks and Also Blowhards. Well joke's on them! That's not even an accredited university! Other common reactions include condescending attempts to "humor" me, and blank expressions followed by a pointed silence, as though to say, "Yeah, okay, and?" Why it's actually anyone's business has always been the part that confused me most, or why any of these jackaroo's are so invested in my future that they go out of their way to try and save me from the precipice of poor life choices I am clearly Leap Frogging next to.

However, the tale I have to tell you is slightly different. It was a totally new experience for me. Rather than scoff at my dream, for once someone else took it seriously. So seriously, in fact, they felt inclined to tell me all the ways I am doing it wrong. Let me set the scene:

On one Sunday night this past January, my roommate and I were down at a German pub near where we live. It’s a nice sort of place; interesting d├ęcor, stained-glass windows and weird figurines hidden away in shadowy nooks. We fancy sitting at the bar rather than the tables. There just happened to be a gentleman at the bar as well that night. He was youngish and already well into his cups, having reached that plateau of drunkenness where it seems insightful and alluring to stare bleary-eyed at people, rather than just super creepy. 

I hear ladies find uncontrollable drooling attractive. Is it working?

So after doing my damndest to ignore staring-droopy-eyed-guy for the better part of twenty minutes, he decided to open up a conversation with us. It started off banal enough, and despite a questionable taste in music he seemed inoffensive. Until I dropped the word "hipster." Which prompted a long-winded dissertation on the ineffectiveness of such a term and how it has lost all definitive meaning in the cultural zeitgeist and blah blah blah, but his stupid argument wasn't the point. There is only one kind of person who nit-picks semantics with strangers in a bar: an Asshole, in particular the species Pedantic Douche-Face. Pedantic Douche-Face proceeded to pontificate on the necessity of a graduate school education while in the next breath venting how much his own program makes him miserable and all a Masters degree really proves is that you can read and focus real good, and how it’s otherwise pointless for someone going into the humanities. But never mind that; my friend and I were obviously wasting our lives by not being as miserable as he was.

This was all annoying, sure, but being young comes with certain burdens, one of which is anyone even five years older than you assuming you know nothing Jon Snow!* It careened 
head on into unbearable when I made the miscalculation of telling Pedantic Douche-Face that I’m a writer, and that I am working on getting published. Well, whaddaya know? This asshole happened to know everything there ever was to know about that, too. He was a treasure trove of information I didn't want and never asked for, but he was going to impart some goddamn wisdom goddammit because I was clearly far astray and already messing this entire enterprise up with literally every move I've made thus far.  Here he'd found this lost lamb alone in the dark, frigid wilderness and he was going to save me.

Alright. Okay. Fine. Let's forget the part where I have planned to be an author since the 6th grade. Let's set aside the fact that I have already done extensive research into getting published and am working on a plan of attack, as slow moving as it may be. Let's overlook the reality that I have been writing stories since I was old enough to recognize the concept of a narrative (in this case, 7). Blank slate, yeah? We're all on the same page? Fantastic.  I don't care if you're a frustrated writer who never managed to do anything with your passion and are projecting your insecurities on me. I don't care if you've read Stephen King’s On Writing and are now a goddamn authority on everything publishing. And I absolutely don't give one dusty crap how many hours a day Mr. King was able to write, or how many pages, or how much he edited his stuff. That’s amazing for him, really. He obviously met with some success. I. Don't. Care. How. Other. Authors. Did. It. We are not the same person, we are not writing the same stories, it is not the same economy or literary landscape or even generation as when Mr. King started writing. I'm not so arrogant I wouldn't listen to a successful author’s advice, and I’m not saying I already have all the answers. I don’t. Most of the time I have no clue what I'm even doing. Listening to another author's list of Do's and Don't's is like any other thing in your life: take it with a grain of salt. Yeah, they've been where I am, they know how it goes, they did this that and the other thing and now presto! They're a success. Awesome.

But there is no guarantee that doing exactly what all these other people tell me to do is going to end in my success, especially when so many successful authors have contradicting approaches to their own work and even how they define "success." I'm sorry if the fact that I don't have 4-6 hours a day devoted solely to writing makes you think I'm unfit to do this, but I work 8.5 hours a day and I would sort of like to eat and sleep at some point. I'm sorry if you think my inclination to edit my work instead of just "going for it" seems stifling and perfectionist to you. What does "go for it" even mean? Do you mean I should just send my book out to publishing houses as it is? Okay, fine, but I don't even have chapter breaks in, like, half of it and it is rife with typos still and in no way resembles a manuscript but hey, I don't wanna be a square! But be sure you're on hand to explain it to me when every publisher from here to Shangri-La throws my book on a fire and douses the embers in Courvoisier while chortling through their walrus mustaches.

There is a lot of thought and preparation and diligence that goes into this endeavor, okay? I'm not some delusional waif with my pie-in-the-sky dreams that I fully suspect to be realized when I wake up tomorrow. Much though that would be awesome, it isn't happening. And maybe I'm slower and perhaps not as diligent as I could be, but I have a full time job and student loan debts and a desire to feed myself occasionally. My life is sort of busy. I am doing this the best way I know how. I write when I get the chance, or if I feel inspired. I edit when I can force myself to give a crap about that. I tinker and twist and reshape and start over and keep working out this ridiculous project until I get it right for me; until I can look at it and say, "Yes. This is the book I wanted to write, this is the story I wanted to tell and I can be proud of this." At which point I'll send it off to editors who will likely tear it to pieces if they even look at it to begin with. But that's a totally different hurdle to jump, and I'll get there when I get there. This isn't always easy, and I don't always love being a writer. It is tedious and hard work and many times feels like an Sisyphean slog to Nowheresville. Pretty obnoxious, to be truthful. But it's not like I have a choice. This is what I am, this is what I do, and it doesn't matter how I feel or what anyone else thinks about it. I will continue to do this regardless.

It's small wonder Pedantic Douche-Face was drinking (alone) at a bar (alone) before attending a movie (alone). Go fall down a dry well, dingleberry. I've got my own life covered.  

*Secret Game of Thrones Refernce