Five Years After the Leap

yaddo coffee 2010

About five years ago, I was under deadline to complete the first draft of a contracted novel and stressing the hell out over how I would finish on time while working my full-time job as a senior production editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. I had somehow sold my novel on proposal and agreed to a deadline that had seemed very doable at the time (in my haze and shock and delight, when the book was sold). But this was a serious, demanding day job that required eagle eyes and a very sharp mind, and I am a perfectionist at my jobs, so I could not phone it in. By the end of each week, I was exhausted and had little interest or energy in looking at any more words, even and especially my own. At the rate I was going, I would finish my novel in three years, and it was due in about four months. And to top it all off, after years of slowly working my way up in the publishing industry, the company had to consolidate offices and the children’s department moved into the same building with the adult imprints, giving us far less space than we had before. For me, this meant I had just lost my window office for a cubicle, which somehow made the job feel even harder.

I was facing a terrifying decision: Should I quit this day job so I could finish the book on time? Was that stupid? Too much of a risk?

While I was contemplating this and holding it in quietly in my new cubicle, I got a letter in the mail. It was from a famous artists’ colony up north that I had applied to on a crazy what-if whim, never expecting to get in: Yaddo. They had accepted me, to my shock, and given me a month-long residency.

I remember thinking this was a symbolic form of communication from the universe. My day job would not allow me to take four weeks off to go away to write. If I went to Yaddo for those four weeks, I could not have this job.

Was the decision made for me?

Is this stupid? I asked myself again. Is this too much of a risk?

I knew what I wanted. And, deep down, I knew that I would not be able to keep myself from taking what I wanted. It was a now-or-never moment, and if you know me at all you know I took the leap.

mansionfarther copy

Let’s be honest. It was stupid, and it was too much of a risk, but I did it anyway and gave my notice at HarperCollins a week later. By the next month I had become a full-time writer (who still did some copyediting freelance work on the side), without health insurance and without a net. I wrote my heart out for the novel that you may know as Imaginary Girls, and I did turn it in on time, and I did go to Yaddo, and health insurance did come later, as did other opportunities, wild and exciting, including other artists’ colonies and books to write and teaching opportunities, and I know, looking back, that I would have done it again.

My life has been a series of leaps like this: chasing dreams, chasing better situations, falling flat on my face, getting up again, thinking I would regret it more if I didn’t try. It’s been kind of romantic and, I’ll admit, very irresponsible. But I’ve had these five great years, and I’m grateful. No regrets? Well, mostly no regrets.

I remember going to my first Teen Author Drinks Night here in New York City and sitting at a picnic table in the outdoor patio of a bar, admitting to some authors that I had just quit my day job. This was my first time meeting all of them. Barely anyone knew me. I’d published one book before this that no one had read. I don’t drink, so I sipped a nonalcoholic glass of juice and ice I’d snuck at the bar, feeling like a child at the adults’ table. One author, a successful male YA author with many more books under his belt, said he didn’t quit his day job until he’d published three novels, and the undercurrent of the conversation was that I’d done the most idiotic thing in the world.

I asked myself: Did I just do something horribly stupid?

I had a growing sense that I did.

Then I remembered Yaddo. It made quitting seem a little less insane, and I know how insane that sounds.

As I write this post it is a little more than five years after I gave my notice at HarperCollins, and I am about to leave for another residency at Yaddo, just like I was then. I haven’t been back there since. Going back now, of all moments, feels strangely, frighteningly symbolic. I feel like a chapter of my life opened with that first Yaddo letter, and I am not sure if it’s now about to close and a new chapter is getting ready to start.

Yaddo is in Saratoga Springs, New York, a city I slipped into The Walls Around Us before I knew I would be going back. Did you know “Yaddo” is meant to be pronounced like the word shadow? One of the founders’ young children named the estate this nonsense word, before dying soon after, which makes it seem all the more like a dreamland to me.

That’s where I’m headed, as of early in the a.m. on Thursday, for the rest of December. I will be trying to stay offline as best I can. This will be easy, because there is no wifi in the rooms or studios. I will be trying to keep a quiet space in my brain. If I don’t answer emails, please wait for me to return to the real world in January.

How I’ll Miss You While I’m Away

Bye, blog readers and random strangers who might happen upon this blog and wonder who I am. I’ll miss you.

This is the post where I really and truly log out and leave this time. I mean it. It’s time to go! As of crazy-early o’clock tomorrow morning, I’ll be throwing myself from my loft bed, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything, probably forgetting something anyway, hugging E desperately, going back and hugging him once more, and then lugging my human-size duffel on wheels down four flights of stairs and into the waiting street, where I may or may not get a cab, depending on how late I’m running for the train.

Actually… that duffel is pretty enormous. I will need a cab for sure.

And I have a feeling E won’t let me go to the train station by myself.

If you’re idly curious about what I may have packed for the writers colony, in my enormous duffel on wheels you will find:

  • 8, possibly 9 if I slip one last one in my backpack, books
  • 13 pairs of mismatched socks, 14 including the ones I’ll be wearing
  • 1 pair of writing slippers, bought from a glamorous bin off Canal Street
  • 3 pajamas
  • 3 sweaters
  • 5 notebooks
  • no movies
  • 1 umbrella
  • 1 itty-bitty flashlight
  • 1 pair of pink sunglasses (Annika, you know which ones!)
  • plus lots and lots more

My bag:

(I am considering unpacking some things because it’s so heavy. Beautiful Creatures, I want to read you, but you are too damn thick!)

Why am I packing so much? For those of you who may have missed it, I’m heading off to spend four weeks in a magical place among other writers and artists, where all I’ll need to do is write. Just write. There will be a chef to feed me and a room of my own to stay in—all for free—and my time will be my own to do with what I want and… it doesn’t sound real, does it? It really doesn’t!

But the place is called Yaddo. I swear it exists. Look, Wikipedia says so.

(I hope it exists, as I’ll be arriving there off the train with that enormous bag and nowhere else to go!)

I won’t be online much while I’m there. You can reach me via email if you need to, but it might be hard to reach me. I’m sorry in advance if I get swept up in the writing and let anything sit.

I’m sorry to abandon this blog for so long, but I won’t be blogging my time while I’m there. I also won’t be logging in to Facebook or Twitter, and I’ve turned off all notifications, so I won’t see messages or DMs until I return.

Thank you to my supportive other half, E, who is not happy that I’ll be away for so long but is being so amazing about it (and who will be getting a lot of pages to read once I get home). And to my agent, whose support with my new ideas has me so excited to dive in while there. And to my great friends, who are helping with the nerves. And to Yaddo, for awarding me this residency in the first place! I’m so honored. I’ll make great use of it, I promise.

So that’s it from me for the month.

Have a wonderful and inspiring April! I’ll be back May 3. 🙂

And Then the Phone Rang

I’m going to tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, I had a job. It came with a window:

My window office no longer
My window office no longer.

But I lost the window.

And—far worse—the door.

And I was being a big baby about it.

Because I knew I should just be grateful to still have a job.

Everyone says that.

So it’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my new office.

Which is one of these…

A C-word
This, for those who don't know, is called a cubicle. I call this particular cubicle my "lounge." The photo is flipped backwards, but I'm too lazy to fix it, so try to imagine.

…and then the phone rang.

I don’t like getting phone calls in the cubicle unless it’s one of two people (my agent or e).

It was e.

[I would insert an adorable photo of him here, but he would kill me.]

He was home, and had come in from checking the mail.

He said, “You just got in to Yaddo.”

I said, “What????!!!!!”

He said, “Yaddo!”

I said, “Are you joking?”

He read me the letter over the phone.

I said, “Please tell me you’re not joking.”

He replied by sending my cell phone this:

Yaddo acceptance letter sent via cell phone because I refused to believe it had actually happened
Yaddo acceptance letter sent via cell phone because I refused to believe it.

I was in shock.

I mean… it’s YADDO!

Sometimes I feel like I’m in here:

Door to nowhere in the High Line park, NYC
Door to nowhere in the High Line park, NYC

And someone just opened that door.

And the fall isn’t as far as I thought it’d be.

Not so far at all.

So, to all my concerned friends, my first week in the cubicle was A-okay. Who cares! I GOT IN TO YADDO! Can’t hardly believe it!