Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Portrait of an Artist?

Jennifer Weiner, author of Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and the upcoming Best Friends Forever (and, as we recently discovered on twitter and her blog, generally hilarious person who we may have been separated from at birth and who should clearly be our new BFF), wrote a funny and inspirational blog post about her writing space. Apparently Entertainment Weekly is doing a piece on writers and their writing spaces, and she blogs about how (and I'm paraphrasing and condensing and hopefully not butchering here) she writes on a laptop in her closet, rather than in her fancy office, and how writing is about the margins and the stolen moments, not the ostentatious “arty-ness” of the endeavor. (“Arty-ness” is my word, by the by. Ms. Weiner would have used a much more fitting word. And, you know, probably one in existence. Maybe that's why she's the published one...).

Anyway, it occurred to me, writing not only occupies the margins . . . it shoves other parts of my life right off the page. Consider my legs, if you don’t mind. They are scaly. Reptilian, even. If some Hollywood genius decides to remake the television show V (which, OMG, I just found out is actually happening!), I’m all over it. You might ask, why? (Or, like my kids, you might just say “ew.”) I don’t have time for lotion. Every so often I’ll slather up, but usually, I rush from bed to shower to closet to kitchen to car with no time for extras. If I didn’t spend hours each day writing or researching or outlining, in addition to working and raising a family, I just might have time for a little lanolin love. (Or, let’s be honest, I might just start watching reality TV; I hear Daisy of Love is enthralling). Writing colors my other habits, too. Like the fact that I often can only fit in a workout at lunch, which means I end up practicing yoga in the corner of my office in my underwear on an afghan embroidered with cats. Classy.

Jennifer Weiner is a writer with a capital W. She has published novels and Entertainment Weekly talks to her about her writing habits. Me? I have leg hair so far beyond stubble it's frightening . . . and this is how I know I'm a writer. I don’t write as a hobby or write only according to a strict schedule or write when the house is quiet and the work is done. I write. I write even though I can’t find time for a real work-out and my kids had boxed mac-n-cheese three nights in a row and publishers aren’t knocking down my door. Writing is under my scaly skin. It is part of my soul.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pity Party

Writing sucks and it’s hard. If you have a good idea, it’s really hard to turn it into a proof statement. Then it’s really hard to turn that proof statement into a fluid plot and an interesting story. Then it’s really hard to snowflake that story into the places, characters, and scenes that will make the book a book. But if you manage to do that, it’s really hard to pick the right words, to show the story instead of tell it, to set the right tone, to keep the right rhythm, to vary the sentence structure and not use words like “vomit” fifty times.

But even if you do manage to work through all that and write a good novel, it’s really hard to write a good query letter. But if you write a good query letter, it’s really hard to write a synopsis. Like pulling out toenails or chewing on foil hard. But if you manage to do all of these things, its really hard to wait the months and months after you’ve sent your query package to agents, many of whom won’t give you the courtesy of a response, and the rest of them who will just say no. And it’s really hard to wait 4 years for this process to finally come to fruition. But if do you manage to get an agent, it’s hard to listen to his or her criticism, stay up late making the changes, and then worry about whether they are good enough, whether you are good enough, and whether what you wrote is actually a book rather than thousands of words strung together for your own self-indulgent edification.

And then, when the agent loves your changes and agrees to market your book to major publishers, you think you’ve finally cleared the hurdles and that’s anything but hard. That’s wonderful. But then you wait and wait and wait and that waiting is the hardest part yet, because you’re finally so close to your goal. And then it gets harder when that first publisher rejects the manuscript for reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing. And then it’s a little less hard when additional publishers reject the novel for the same reasons. But then you do something silly like read the blog of a woman who writes mommy lit books about Bunco groups and has published not one, but two of these books and that’s hard. It’s so hard you do something base and unfair and lashy-y out-y like make a caustic comment about this author’s hair-do.

Then you try to let go of the hope that your mommy lit, chick lit, upscale commercial women’s fiction, whatever those ne’er-do-wells in the publishing world want to call it book will be published and you start the second book. And that’s hard. It’s all hard. And it sucks. And I won’t even qualify with a bunch of comments about how wonderfully fortunate I am and that I have my health, a wonderful family, a house, a dog, a very cool washer and dryer, and an express chill function in my fridge that chills my wine in 5 minutes. It’s my pity party and I don’t have to. Writing sucks and I hate it so much I can’t stop.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Updates and Chewing Gum

Update. I don’t know how Webster’s defines the word, because I’m too lazy to get up and get the dictionary off the shelf. defines the word as “an act or instance of bringing a person up to date on a particular subject.” Laura-and-Kris-the-neurotic-writing-duo define “update” a little differently. It’s a six-letter word inducing nausea and heart palpitations; an act or instance of relaying information likely to kill a dream. Okay, so our agent, the lovely Ann Collette of the Helen Rees Literary Agency, is wonderful about keeping us in the loop. She champions our book and sends email updates of editors’ responses, always using the word “update” in the subject line. At first, we tore open these emails (virtually, of course) with gusto. They said things like, “another editor is interested in reading your ms,” or “Editor X makes four editors to ask for the ms.” (ms, by the by, is publishing lingo for manuscript. And, just for fun, the publishing world uses “softcover” not “paperback.” We’re so savvy now. ) Lately, however, when an “update” arrives, we’re inclined to leave it unopened, having already read our fair share of, “Editor Y likes the book but doesn’t think he can market it,” and “Editor Z thinks you are hilarious and the book is well written, but is going to pass.” Hear that? That’s the sound of our dream gasping for air, struggling to hang on. We still hope one of the editors with the ms will come to the rescue, but instead of sitting around praying for that possibility or brooding about the alternative (which we’ve done, extensively, times two), we’re chewing gum. I dated a guy in high school with a fantastic family. Dad watched The Simpsons and wore Hawaiian shirts, mom baked cookies and drank California Coolers, and little sister looked up to me and let me "teach" her gymnastics for hours on end. Mom believed Wrigley’s Spearmint gum was the answer to every problem. Carsick? Chew some gum. Headache? Chew some gum. Didn’t make the football team? Chew some gum. And though mom probably ensured vacation homes and convertibles for the kids’ future psychologists with her gum/denial therapy, there was some merit to her minty madness. In a word…distraction. If you want to stop dwelling on a problem, find something else to do. In our case, we’re not masticating our problems away . . . we’re writing. We finally sat down and started our new book in earnest and it’s added so much joy to our lives. This morning, for the first time in weeks, I woke up and the first thing I thought about was a particular character in the new book. I didn’t even wonder if there was an “update” on my BlackBerry until I was on the way to work. Score one for chewing gum.