Deadline vs. Life

My deadline for the revision of my 40,000-word work-for-hire manuscript is this coming Friday, April 25. Even if I tried to keep working on this all day today (Saturday), and then all day tomorrow (Sunday), and then all through the week—keeping in mind I leave for my day job at nine in the morning and get home, at the earliest, at six at night—I still do not think I could physically manage to finish by Friday morning. If you saw the notes on the pages plus the additional notes in the revision letter, I think you would agree with me. It’s a matter of concentration, levels of energy, panicked inertia, and just a lot to do.

And yet…

Yet I’ve had plans with family this week. My mom came in Wednesday—we had a blast. It was worth missing a morning of writing, for sure. I want to spend time with e—we went on a walk to the pier last night; it was wonderful. And tomorrow I have a day trip to see my little sister; we’ve been planning this for weeks. I haven’t seen her since December.

On the one hand I have a deadline.

On the other hand—and it is the hand I happen to be favoring right now—I have a life and I want to, like, I dunno, try to actually live it. I want to see my sister tomorrow!

I think, seeing as it is very likely I couldn’t make the deadline of Friday, April 25, no matter how hard I try that I should still go see my sister.

Please say you agree. Would it help if I tell you that they haven’t paid me my first half of the advance due on signing yet, even though I sent the signed agreement back in February and I was counting on it to pay my taxes and I ended up having to temporarily pay the taxes on a credit card because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to pay rent?

I’m going back to work on the revision now. Outside it’s a beautiful spring day. I want to live! I just have to finish this revision first.

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First Book Contract Stupor

Today, while I was at work, my book contract arrived at my apartment. I was fifty blocks away and couldn’t see for myself until after 5 o’clock. E called the moment it was dropped it off. He described the contract, read me choice bits. My name is there. The name of the novel. A plot summary. For ages 9-14. My wonderful editor’s name listed at the bottom of every page. The contract was many paragraphs, much longer (and on longer paper) than the work-for-hire “agreements” I am used to.

Soon, the more he read from it, the more my head was spinning.

Wait, I said. It’s really real?

It’s real, he said.

To be waiting this long for something to happen and then to have it be happening… I came home, sat at the table, paged through the contract, was quiet for a long while. E said I was acting strange.

It’s real, is what I was thinking. I’m not sure if I truly believed it until today.

Out of Practice

I haven’t written for two days. The past two mornings my alarm went off at crazy-o’clock so I could get in some writing before hopping on the subway for the day job and I, with full consciousness, reset the alarm so I could sleep. But those two days of no-writing also became two days of a monstrous mood that followed me home after work and… enough said. I think the lesson here is that if I don’t make some effort to write, even if I only have a spare hour, I become that person you don’t want in the room with you—you know that person. Even I want to avoid me.

Maybe I’m all off because I’m in limbo. I am still waiting on things out of my control to either (1) revise the work-for-hire project or (2) continue the novel that will be due soon, so I am on my own at the moment, free to write whatever I want to write. You’d think that would make me dance around the room or leap through a meadow, but all I feel is a bit scattered at the moment. There are just so many things I want to do…

So, this morning, I got up and am attempting to work on a fellowship application. I don’t know why I keep applying to these things—I’m nothing if not persistent. Or is it naive? Problem is, I haven’t gotten much done on this application. I keep thinking back to my dream early this morning of being forced to be back in high school, and hours late, and not sure where I was supposed to be because I’d misplaced my schedule, and some girl was mad at me and I was afraid of sitting near an open window because I thought she’d, like, do something to me during class and… Ugh, high school dreams.

Also, I don’t think there’s a shot of espresso in my drink. Also, I have to leave for work now in 10 minutes. Also, I found out how much I owe the IRS and realized I don’t have enough to pay it until my advance-on-signing check comes in… and the contracts department is taking forever for no reason anyone could explain to me, even though I sent in the signed contract on February 16.

I’m a little bit in trouble about that, I guess.

Am I becoming that person you don’t want in the room with you, already? It’s not even nine o’clock!

Maybe I should try and write during lunch.

They Pay You to Do This?

Scene: Italian cafe, near-empty on a Sunday afternoon. I sit alone at a table near the window.

Elderly busboy with unidentifiable (though most certainly not Italian) accent approaches when I ask for the check. The waiter will be just a moment, he tells me.

Then, motioning down at the stack of manuscript pages I am reading, he says: What is that, work? You do work today?

Me: Yes. I work every day.

Busboy: What is this you do for work?

Me: I work in an office all week and then I write on weekends.

Busboy: You are a writer?

Me: Yes, I am a writer.

Busboy backs away, giving me two thumbs up.

Then, thinking better of it, he returns to the table, to ask a question.

Busboy: What do you write, stories or novels?

Me: Both. But right now a novel.

Busboy: And let me ask, they pay you to do this? People pay you money?

A pause while I realize how to answer.

Me (with honest surprise): Yes, they actually do. Can you believe that?

The busboy gives one last thumbs-up, then walks away quickly before I can ask him if he writes too. And to tell him it’s not about the money, really, it never was, it never will be. To tell him I’d be here with these pages, scribbling these scribbles either way. For not a penny. For no readers. For a boxful of rejections. For no reason, and for every reason. It’s what I want to do every day.

Books and Unicorns

Reading is such a personal vocation for me—revealing what I really think about a book feels like flashing my underwear—which I guess is why I don’t do book reviews here. I finished a book I had a love/semi-annoyed relationship with recently and thought of posting about it, then didn’t. Maybe I’m afraid I can’t be articulate. Maybe this is the real reason why I haven’t taken the GRE subject test to apply for a Ph.D.

When I was a kid, I was staying for a bit at the house of my parents’ friends. I recall a trip to their local mall, and a visit to the bookstore, where I was told I could pick out a book, any book I wanted. After great studious inspection of the shelves in the children’s section, I selected a book I normally wouldn’t have read, since I wasn’t big on fantasy (I’m still not big on fantasy, which is why—flash of underwear—I have not read the Harry Potter books). The book had a white cover; it was all about unicorns. Was it even a story? I don’t remember. I just remember showing them this book as the one I wanted, though it wasn’t really the one I wanted, I remember that now, it was what I thought they’d want me to want. What I really wanted was probably something trashy, something aged older than I was (Sweet Valley High?). Anyway, I said I wanted the unicorn book. They looked at my choice and were perplexed: You don’t really want that book, do you? they asked. Yes, I insisted. I don’t know why the lie. Once I had it in hand, I didn’t want to read it at all, though I pretended to, to be polite. I never did end up reading it.

As I get older, more and more I want to keep my opinions to myself: I’m not saying what novel by one of my favorite authors I have tried again and again to read and cannot get past the first chapter, what I really think of Hemingway or Juno, what emo musician I adore, what happens when I watch the Lord of the Rings movies, the depths of my true feelings for the spare scenes by Jean Rhys.* I could never be a critic, I guess. I’m just an observer. I’m the person who looks at art, watches it, reads it, swallows it whole. Everyone needs an audience, right?

I’m just remembering that I’ll be taking part in a writing workshop this summer—it’s been a long while. I have to remember how to critique stories, how to be helpful, how to express an opinion coherently, in physical words. As long as there are no unicorns, I should be fine.

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* E knows, of course. He keeps all my secrets.

Absolutely No Reason to Be Awake This Morning

Folks, I finally turned in the first draft of the work-for-hire novel I was writing that had been driving me batty. I was two weeks and one day late from the original deadline, how mortifying. No feedback yet—though my heart, head, and gut are telling me I didn’t do such a good job, as this was not the book for me to be writing, but my head, heart, and gut are known to be immensely insecure so I am not sure if I should listen or not. I’m waiting for revision notes… so I can’t work on it right now.

I have no other freelance projects to work on, not a one. Such a relief, actually.

And my first real novel is awaiting notes on the outline, plus the contract, so I shouldn’t really continue writing that either.

Which means that there was absolutely no reason at all for me to get up so early this morning. I could still be sleeping! So what am I doing here, all set up at my weekday writing spot, plugged in and raring to go?

Habit, I guess.