The Tricks You Play

I’m working on an important something-something.

I’m close. Close now to the finish. This week it’s all I’m working on.

But I am also only human.

I have urges.

Urges to distract myself to oblivion.

So… at E’s suggestion, I’ve been turning off the wifi access on my laptop before I go to bed so when I restart from sleep first thing in the morning, the internet isn’t reachable. It reminds me not to check my email—or anything else*. I shower, come back out, and still don’t turn wifi back on. I leave the apartment—not having checked email or anything else*—I go to my café, and I write there for some time without allowing myself to go online at all—and then I go to my writing space and do the same, no sense if I have any emails, no sense of anything else*, and this torturous not-knowing goes on for as long as I can stand it—usually until noon. Then I go nuts reading random shit in a burst of speed until I turn the wifi off again. Some days I’m better than others. Today I lasted sans internet till noon on the dot, then spent an entire hour doing nothing worth telling you about. There have been sad days when I click on the wifi to see if any important emails came through during the hours I was away and… zero. There have also been distracting moments, too, where I click it on for, I tell myself, five minutes, and then the emails need answering, freelance jobs calling and otherwise, and I start in on that and then time has passed and I look up to find I’ve followed a labyrinth of links off Twitter and I don’t know who I am anymore.

It’s best to keep it off entirely when I can, so that’s what I’ve been doing. So far, no one has noticed when I disappear. And, so far, I haven’t taken too long to answer an important email that I ended up missing out on something significant.

So you’d think I’d realize how unnecessary it is to be online, right? How it doesn’t matter. How I can answer that email tonight just as well as I can right now…

Right?

Ugh.

How did I get like this?

Sometimes I think constant access to the internet is pretty fantastic: I’ve made real, lifelong friends and connected with other writers; I researched and found my agent; I can look up anything I want for inspiration or research at any time; there is so much to learn online, so many ideas to be had… And yet.

When I first started writing we didn’t have all this. I had a dial-up modem during grad school that used the only phone line in the apartment and it wasn’t fair to my roommate to clog it up with a busy signal, so I really wasn’t online much. I never wrote and stayed online at the same time, never. Can you imagine?

Damn, I mean I’m so antiquated, when I was in college looking up MFA programs, the web did not exist in the form we know now… I had to look up the names of those programs in a big book in the basement stacks of the library and mail each school a letter asking for a catalog. Same with sending stories to magazines and looking up literary agencies—you had to get a book for that. You had to really want something to go through the trouble of getting all the info you needed.

Don’t I sound cranky and jaded?

I like the world far better this way, yay internet!, but I wonder if I could get more—and better—writing done if I went back in time, say, I dunno, fifteen years for a few weeks. (This is obviously why people go to writers colonies.)

Anyway, with the wifi off? My something-something is becoming something-pretty-freaking-exciting omg. Back to it.

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* Anything else = blog feeds, tweets, status updates, gossip posts, book reviews, publishing updates, pokes and pictures and invites and free first chapters and the whole entire universe, which is out there on the internet for free and can keep you entertained and not-writing your own novel for hours, if you let it.

Surreal Moments in Book Publishing

I realized this morning that I can’t fathom it. I can’t yet see my book as a book. I can’t imagine people—more than the handful who have—reading these pages. To be honest, the idea of people reading this book I’ve worked so hard on thrills me and scares me in equal measure. To put it simply: It FREAKS ME OUT.

This feels like the first book I’ve ever written.

Honestly.

In that it means that much to me.

It feels like I’ve never published a thing before this.

In that it feels new all over again.

Believing that this manuscript will become a living, breathing book is like believing in Santa Claus, who I have no memory of believing in, ever, as I mostly remember staying up late at night to *be* Santa for my baby sister, which was the best part of our half-Jewish hey-maybe-we-should-be-celebrating-Hannukah Christmas over the years, and now I wonder if my mom liked it because she enjoyed having me wrap all the presents, huh?

I’m not sure when you start believing in a thing like this. When you hold the book in your hands? When you see it in a store? On the shelves of the library? When you duck and cower at your first book review? When someone you’ve never met tells you they’ve read it?

I wonder when publishing a book will seem normal. Maybe never for me.

I feel like I’m living on a fantasy island right now. Me and Santa and a Leprechaun. It’s that ridiculous.

Finding the End of a Novel: Should We Just Throw Our Characters Out the Window?

How do you know how to end your novel? Do you have the end in sight before even sitting down to write the beginning? Or do you find your way there by writing to it? Do all the scenes you write inform your end so you can’t end your story without putting down each scene that came before it? Or does your end surprise you? Can your idea even be a true, real idea if it doesn’t have a tightly tied end? Is a story not a real story if it dissipates into nothing because you can’t think—don’t yet know—how to end it?

For the first novel I ever wrote, one you will never read called Bardo, in a way it didn’t have a true end. Its end could have been pushed out year after year, the characters growing older and older, and this is just one of the reasons why that novel failed. Its story wasn’t a story. It was just characters living a life, and books don’t get fatter and longer with age. They end, so you can close them and move on to the next book.

For the second novel I ever wrote, another one you will never read called An Irresistible Pull of Gravity, it knew its end from the very start. In fact I wrote the final scene very early on and spent all my years of working on that book writing toward that final scene. It was so vivid in my mind, I couldn’t imagine any other place for that story to stop. And yet, somehow, maybe being so rigid with that end point made me lose my story in the middle. Because that’s where so much of the book got lost.

Technically the third novel I started is Imaginary Girls, but a fourth novel snuck its way in because I got the opportunity to write it. I didn’t have a chance to angst over its ending since I had not so many months to write the whole thing. That’s Dani Noir. It ended where it ended, where I guess it only could have ended.

Back to Imaginary Girls, it found its end before the full manuscript was written, as I wrote a synopsis first. That shape helped me write to an end point that, though it did change from the synopsis, still has the feeling I imagined in its final moment so long ago. The mood and the scene was set from the beginning, even if the content in the scene changed after the book was written.

I am right now trying to end something new in my mind. Trying to find that magical final note before it’s written. Last night, after working all day, I collapsed on the couch to watch a movie. The story in this movie had developed into deep, troublesome waters, the characters all tangled up in each other and then, suddenly, the end came when one of the main characters let herself fall out of a window and died. That was it. The movie quickly tied up after that. I mean, the antagonist threw herself out the window, so I guess there wasn’t much more to be done with the story. This could be the end to everything I write from now on when I can’t think of an end: Deep, complex family drama… then someone falls out the window. Fantastical adventures up the mountaintop… then someone falls out the window. Haunted, chilling events that fold you up into their mystery… until someone falls out the window.

If only it were so easy as pushing someone out a window and typing THE END at the bottom of the page.

Still searching for my end… It will help me greatly if I know how a book ends before I begin the bulk of writing it. Even if it changes, it helps form the shape and keeps me in line. How do you find your end?

How to Crush the Blahs

How do I say this? I’ve been silent for a while because I haven’t had the words to talk about it… But truth is, I’ve been having a tough summer. There. I said it. Things are not all rosy and perfect after diving into writing full-time + wonderful new book deal. How is this possible? Aren’t book deals supposed to solve everything? WTH!

Joking. Really, I didn’t expect this to solve everything.

I can’t talk about what’s going on, but I do look forward to the days when I can celebrate book stuff for my new novel, as I expect to be very cheerful then and maybe you’ll like me better, but also maybe in the meantime it’s realistic to see how lots of everything else is sort of falling apart all around me even though the book stuff is going on. Maybe there’s something comforting in that?

So here is me: stressed, and worried, not feeling well, but being down and stressed and worried about the future does not help the present, you know? It only makes it harder to get beyond it. Here are two things to crush my bad mood:

I read a brilliant book. It was such a good book that it leaped over all the other books I’ve read over the years and has taken its rightful place among my lifelong favorites. I am shocked that I never read this book before—how is this possible! I loved the book so much, I immediately went out and got it for my sister for her birthday so she could read it, too:

I love this city. We came home from a short trip away the other night and it was late and we were hungry and so we stopped at a pizza place a block from our apartment. I loved that it was so close to home and open and fast and waiting for me with a fresh pie out of the oven. That slice of pizza just hit the spot, you know? It was perfection. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

Yesterday I had a terrible, horrid headache, but I’m recovering now. So if I haven’t pushed all my friends and blog readers away by my grumpy silence, do tell: How do you crush your blahs?

You Know I’m Writing When…

…when I eat like I’m eight years old.

…when I drop and lose things (just yesterday, an important piece of paper, hope I find it).

…when I put off cleaning the apartment.

…when I have to cancel lunch plans so I can focus during prime writing hours. Some people understand that, and some don’t. The ones who do understand happen to be editors or other writers. Interesting. :)

…when I don’t blog. Sorry! I’ll be back soon enough, but in the meantime here are a couple distractions:

L.K. Madigan has a great post on spaces where writers write. (You’ll find mine there, too!) Do you need a door?

Editor Molly O’Neill reveals why she is one of the most inspiring humans I know with her call to “Give Yourself Permission” as a part of the free online writing conference WriteOnCon. (WriteOnCon is going on right now, btw. It’s great! And everything’s saved in the archives so you can be a part of the conference whenever you want.)

I love writing. Even when it takes time. Back soon!

In Which the Past Comes Back to Haunt Me

Apologies for any confusion over the blog posts from long ago—from 2006 to be exact, a very difficult and dramatic year for me—suddenly making themselves known in your RSS reader if you happened to notice that this weekend. I have *not* been reeling from an awful rejection (which one of those posts seems to indicate)… in fact I’m not even out on submission right now.

So, all this is to say: Please don’t worry! I am okay and whatever you may have read is done and gone and I lived through it. Maybe that’s interesting in itself. Those moments of rejection, those horrible points when you feel so low and don’t know if you’ll ever make it through? You can live through them. Turns out I did.

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p.s. Thank you especially to my kind writing friend who sent me a worried email this morning, concerned after reading one of the old posts about rejection. She’s wonderful!