100 Ways To Not Write Your Book
100 Ways to Not Write Your Book
For many, many years, I was convinced that I would never write a book. I was good at spelling, I kind of knew how to use semicolons. I'd even had paying work as a journalist at three separate newspapers. Not The New York TImes or anything, but still. I mean, if the check clears and they spell your name right, that counts. Also, I'd been writing fiction since I was in second grade. Fifty-page short stories in fourth and fifth grades, with a spy novel completed in sixth.
I even did one draft of a novel in college. Because my writing teacher Sophomore year was pissed off at me for missing two classes in a row (new boyfriend) and asked me to write up why I was absent. I had 120 pages by the next week's class. Manual typewriter. Man, I could NEVER do that now.
My mom used to tell me, when I got older, "well, you're smart and everything, but there are a lot of geniuses in the world. What counts is doing the work, and you have no follow-through."
My junior-year English teacher in high school gave me a prize and told me I should be a writer when I grew up. I told him I wanted to go into advertising, since I was sick of being poor. Yeah, that worked out. Not.
I'm still amazed I finished my first novel, and that it got published. I credit having a crappy marriage that was getting crappier, having a kid whose special needs finally precluded me from returning to full-time work unless it paid well enough that I could have hired a full-time parent to replace myself at home--even if there had been any for a newly arrived English major in the San Francisco Bay Area, following the dotcom crash in '01--and just generally feeling exhausted and sad about all kinds of crap that I didn't see my way out from under, ever. I'd just been laid off from an editorial job at one of those dotcoms that I'd had for five months, along with everyone else who worked there. Highest pay I'd ever earned, great people, wonderful work. Oh well.
I hit craigslist hard and sent out roughly 400 resumes over the following six months. I heard back from exactly one place--a boiler-room stock operation that was shady as hell. I failed their math test, go figure. Probably kept me from doing jail time.
Finally I started branching out from the job ads--after realizing I ALSO couldn't get hired as a waitress, a car saleswoman, a medical data-entry clerk, or even a receptionist--at least that year in that place.
I looked at other sections on craigslist, and finally landed in "Arts." There was a guy in Berkeley who wanted to start a mystery writing group, so I said what the hell and emailed him.
Seven of us met at a Starbucks in Berkeley, the following week. I volunteered to be the first person to submit writing, two weeks later. Halfway through the two weeks was 9/11. We decided to keep going anyway.
I'm the last member left from that original group, but there are still seven of us and we've been through amazing shit together, over the last nine years. Two new babies, one divorce (mine), at least three major surgeries (not mine, though I did spend two months in bed with anemia), one coast-to-coast move that forced us to adopt Skype for our meetings (that would be me, again) two of us got agents, one of the agents died. I got published and lost one editor to the business and one to cancer.
We've arranged dinners with many fabulous writers (whose brains we picked about publishing), one private detective, one super mystery fan who explained conferences to us (she was our first dinner guest, actually), and we've done road trips to cop bars, Oakland Homicide, and the jail and courthouse in San Francisco. I think we're all going to get published, eventually. Especially as our kids get more hours in school, for the younger ones among us.
I've met the most amazing people, as a result of all this. Kind, snarky, funny as hell. Did I mention kind? Seriously, this is an amazing tribe, and I want to stay part of it. I love readers, and I love writers. These are my people, in the deepest possible sense, and it feels really incredible to have come home to that at long last. But to get to continue hanging out with The Best People in The Entire World, I have to finish this fourth novel, which has been kicking my ass around the block for well over a year now. Which is shameful.
And also, all I have for Plan B, income-wise, is to try to become a greeter at a rural New Hampshire Wal-Mart, and I don't think I'd really rock that job even if I could land it.
I think I finally maybe maybe maybe have some decent momentum going, which is A Good Thing since my latest deadline extension is for October 1st. Which is next week. Eep.
Sometimes I think it can be important to think we suck, as writers. It keeps us humble, and it keeps us honest, and it makes us work harder. Sometimes it can be paralyzing, though. You have to also believe that you're the most amazing wordsmith who ever lived, every once in a while. Otherwise we'd all be accountants. (Okay, NOT me, since I would fail the math test. Ahem.)
I have a friend who calls this the "I am God, I am wormshit" cycle. That pretty much nails it.
Too much wormshit, though, and you will pretty much find it impossible to open the Word file, much less type anything into it.
Trust me, there will be 100 things that seem like a better idea than trying to write, when you're in that state of mind:
1. The laundry
2. Painting your dining room chairs a different color.
3. Reading other people's status updates on Facebook.
4. Figuring out how to make Indian Pudding in the crockpot that you got for free at a garage sale.
5. Skulking around garage sales in the first place.
6. Watching Project Runway on your computer.
And HELLO, I would totally kill to have Tim Gunn critique my WIP and tell me to make it work.
7-20. I should probably drop the second-person pretense here and just admit I ended up watching entire past seasons of Weeds, Biggest Loser, Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, Cracker, and all SEVEN seasons of West Wing on your--I mean my--computer.
Plus Netflix online and probably some other TV stuff that I don't even remember now, so let's make that #70-30, which is probably a lot more realistic.
31. Googling ex flames.
32. Oh, and two seasons of Toddlers and Tiaras. Which is just embarrassing. But I'm trying to do that whole First Step "We admit that we have no power over our addiction to trashy television" thing here. But I never watched any Real Housewives or anything about New Jersey. I have some self-respect. Albeit not much.
33. Reading. This one is okay, though. You HAVE to read if you want to write.
34. Looking at real estate listings in places I will NEVER live. Even though if I had 3.4 million bucks I would totally buy this place:
Right on the ocean, water views from every room. Hella nice rhodedendrons, too.
Even looks damn fine in the winter:
35. But if I could buy something where I actually would like to live next, it would be this:
Because a duplex in the West Village would be kind of awesome, if I could dump the track lighting and ugly mirror and get some better curtains.
37-40. The south of France, the Bahamas, Big Sur. You get the picture.
41-50. Driving to my daughter's campus when she has forgotten her:
Or just needs Ibuprofen.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
51. Wondering not why I got divorced, but how I ever married that guy in the first place.
52. Wondering if I will actually die alone, surrounded by 27 cats.
53. Wondering if I can find a pair of armchairs on craiglist that are NOT:
Excruciatingly hideous wingchairs
54. Wondering if I will ever be able to afford the armchairs I actually LIKE from IKEA, even though they no longer have the slipcover fabric I want in stock. But I already have the red sofa:
55. Re-reading all of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels, because it's going to be so goddamn long until season four of True Blood.
56. Talking on the phone when friends call from California or New York.
57. Doing a Mad Men portrait of myself
58. Ditto South Park:
59. Online Mah Jong. Trust me, I won't even give you the URL.
60. Looking at funny things friends send me by email:
61. Asking Tiffany if they still have Grandaddy Read's crest ring design on file.
(Yes they do.)
62. Googling dead relatives
63. Googling the places dead relatives once lived and here though the last time I saw the latter there wasn't that hideous stained glass ceiling, but also they were selling it for only $400,000 and my sister and I were in college and couldn't figure out how to buy it. I put it in a book, though. It's where Lapthorne lived in A Field of Darkness. Actually, I put the first place in Field too, only I moved the house from Purchase to Centre Island, New York.
64. Googling myself--which can be damn depressing or kind of great:
I think this was something a kid had to do for language arts class. He made me very happy.
65. Googling pictures for blog posts. (This is REALLY fun...)
Okay, I admit it, trying to get to 100 is just too embarrassing, even though I could totally do it.
On the bright side, I got fifty pages written this week, and some of them might actually NOT suck. Like maybe three of them.
And now I'd like to turn this over to you guys. What do you have to try to avoid when you need to get things done? How the hell do you manage it? Is there such a thing as a self-administered Taser I could set off when I turn the internet back on?
p.s. and here's something really cool I found out about two weeks ago on a writing forum:
Freedom--a software program you can download for $10 that will lock you off the internet for up to eight hours at a stretch. Check it out HERE. You can get versions for Mac or PCs.