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Watch me talk about my debut as an author, Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays, in this Q&A with my publisher Thought Catalog Books

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

I'm not a full-time writer, but I aspire to be

What do I tell those questioning souls who email me for advice? I tell them all the same thing and, oddly enough, not one of them has ever written me back to thank me. I guess I didn't tell them what they wanted to hear. But here is what I tell them: read a lot. Read everything. Read in the genre you want to write, yes, but also read outside of it. And write. For the love of all that is holy, write your ass off. Don't write erotic romance because it's the hot new (old) genre right now. Don't write horror because you have a lifelong crush on Stephen King (I did and I do). Don't write children's books because they're short and therefore must be easy to write. Write what you love to read. Write what inspires you and makes your heart go pitter-pat. Write the story you're carrying around in your secret heart even if it doesn't fit into any genre category. Write without thinking about the money, because the money might be years in coming if it comes at all. Hell, write without thinking about who might read what you're writing. Write to please yourself. To turn yourself on. To scare yourself with how far off the deep end you've gone. Write with your real name at the top of the page, to remind you of who you are, not who you want other people to think you are. Forget about finding an agent or submitting your manuscript to a publisher until you actually have a manuscript to submit-- a manuscript that has been written, edited and proofread, then read by a few trusted souls and edited again. A beautiful, as good as it can get manuscript that is representative of your very best work as a professional writer. Don't have that yet? Then you're not a writer.
I love Kristina Wright's post at Erotica Readers & Writers Association, where the quote above comes from, and the kicker is at the end:
Oh, and one last thing: that word-- aspiring? It's bullshit. You either are a writer or you're not. Which are you?
Actually, part of me hated it, because she's dead right, and I saw my failures writ large there. Who the fuck am I to call myself a writer when I only do it when I "feel like it?" When things get rough I open another document or window, to the point that my boyfriend was horrified at how slow my computer was moving. "You should only have five Word documents open at a time. Macs don't like Word." Mine must despise me because a typical day means 12 open Word documents, about 20 open Firefox tabs and 5-10, sometimes more, in Safari. I'm a greedy hoarder in every aspect of my life. One is never, ever enough. Focus? Ha ha ha. Give me some Vyvanse and then maybe we can talk about focus, but that would require health insurance, which I hope to have again one day soon, but I have more pressing financial concerns right now (see below).

I never thought I could be a writer, not really, and back when I was young and naive and didn't know a thing about work or interest or the cost of living in New York City or what lawyers did all day, back when I was all of twenty years old, I decided to go to law school. How else would I afford to live in New York? That wasn't actually what I thought--I really did want to be a law geek--but it became the reality. Almost 16 years later, I still have no idea how I can afford to live in New York. My rent was due yesterday and I will tack on $25 because it's late as I wait for checks and payments I hope are coming soon. No matter how many books come out with my name on the cover as editor (it'll be 50 by the end of this year), I am still paying and learning, figuring it out second by second.

Many days? I'm so NOT a writer it's not even funny. I may as well take a hammer to my laptop, destroy it because I am not even attempting because I'm so damn positive I'll fail. I have 90% finished stories, books, essays, that are effectively dead, because I killed them by never sending them in. That makes it hard to hear words coming out of my mouth in public, as I will do tonight at Bluestockings and did Saturday at ASJA. Talking about writing is a surefire way to induce guilt when you're not writing but are supposed to sound "smart" or "successful" or anything you're supposed to project but don't believe yourself to be in that moment. Don't get me wrong--I work hard...sometimes. When I want it bad enough. When I'm excited enough. When I can shut out everyone and everything else. And those times are rejuvenating and make me a believer in myself as a writer again, but when those times are less and less frequent, when I don't sit my ass in a chair and stay the course when it's not easy, when I don't want to be there? That's a flighty hot mess right there, and makes me visualize failure more than I ever could success. It's like warring factions, the part of me that wants to "make it" (whatever that means, though I have a few goals) and the part of me that, apparently, doesn't. I'll hear myself saying, to strangers or friends, "I have this idea for..." and then balk at the emptiness of those words I've said in about a 10:1 ratio of actually doing anything about them. Lurking beneath them is a certainty that someone else--anyone else--will do it better, smarter, faster, so why bother?

But the thing is, even if it's just in my fantasies, I love writing. I love the coming up with new ideas. I love the pair of shoes or kiss or subway station or airplane waiting room or nail polish cover or orgasm or scream or bite that inspires the start of a story. Maybe it's the title or the setting or an image. So maybe I lied and I just love the beginning, the brainstorm, and the rest I slog through. I don't know. I just know it feels amazing to see that initial vision through to completion. I'm reading Jonathan Gottschall's The Storytelling Animal and I love his reminder, so far, about how universal the need for stories are. I don't know why I need to write them, but I do, and I know I feel hollow and disgusting and unworthy when I have those ideas and deliberately don't write them.

So I'm the last person to ask about being a full-time writer. I have no idea and cobble together each day moment by moment. I have an event I'm going to that I hope pans out, because I can already see that story in my head, but it's journalism, so in fact, I have to erase that story I think I want to tell and empty my mind and sit and listen, as hard as I possibly can. To use all my senses and not create a story but figure out what story is being told to me. Sometimes that's my job, and once in a while, I'm good at it. I hope to up that from "once in a while" to "enough to go to bed happy and proud every night." And maybe that's what my current "job" is, in between the blogging and editing and finagling and book mailing and all the other things that are not writing. I love those things too, but they can't supplant the words.

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