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Why Is Writing Getting Harder Instead of Easier?

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Why Is Writing Getting Harder Instead of Easier?

A decade ago. I quit my full-time job so I could write a novel. Then, in the span of two months, I wrote one. It was terrible, but it was pretty easy to write. I guess it’s easy to do something badly.

Luckily, I recognized that the novel was bad. So I enrolled in an MFA program, thinking this would teach me to be a better writer. And I suppose it did, in it’s way. I got pretty good at writing literary short stories. Got a bunch of them published in literary journals that no one reads. (See here.)

After graduating with my MFA, I tried to write another novel. This time it was harder. I was much more aware that I didn’t know what I was doing. (Because, truth be told, my MFA taught me NOTHING about writing novels.) As I was writing, I started to hate the novel, but I forced myself to finish.  Then I stuffed it in a drawer, never to be looked at again.

Then I took a hiatus from writing and went back to working full-time as a high school math teacher.

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As a high school math teacher, I had a pie thrown in my face during a school fundraiser.  Ahh, teaching.  Good times!

 

For two years I hid behind a teaching job that sucked away all my time and creative energy. I didn’t tell anyone I was a writer. I wasn’t writing anything anyway. I was afraid of trying again and failing.

But then I turned 30 and told myself to get serious. I quit teaching and made the decision to focus on writing. I started reading books on how to write and plot novels. (In hindsight, I probably should have done this from the get-go and saved myself the thousands of dollars I spent on my MFA. Of course, then I wouldn’t have met a lot of my awesome writer-friends, or gotten to go to Spain and Mexico through my MFA’s study abroad program. There’s good and bad in every decision, yada yada.)

Anyway, I started writing novels again. Now that I knew the basics of plot, I understood better what I needed to do to write a satisfying novel. The first one came without too much of a struggle. (Although I spent the next three years revising it.) The next two were harder to write, and they weren’t very good either.

Still, I thought, I just need to keep trying. The next one will be better.

And I have continued to try. But here’s the problem: the more I learn about how to write a novel, the harder it gets to actually write one. I find myself practically paralyzed with the knowledge of all the things a novel needs to contain. I find myself stopping before I start, and when I do finally start, I find it nearly impossible to keep going.

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Will I EVER get good at writing novels??

 

Oh, how I pine for those days of blissful ignorance when I just sat down at my computer and let the words come flowing out of me, not worrying about character motivation or where the story was going or what the climax might be. Now, I feel like all this knowledge I’ve obtained is blocking me from actually writing anything. I brainstorm and outline. I make charts and plotting diagrams. I sit at my desk and stare out the window.  But I can barely manage to eek out a page of prose without second-guessing what I’ve written and wondering if I should scrap the whole thing.

Back when I didn’t know how to write novels, I could write them with seemingly little effort. Not that I know (in theory) what to do, I find it agonizingly hard. And I’m getting really scared. I’m scared that I’m going to keep failing at this, and that’s making things even harder.

I’m not sure what to do.

Somehow I need to find a balance. I need some of that un-self-conscious, open-to-the-muses whimsy I had ten years ago. I need a part of myself that can stop judging my own writing for a minute and just let the words flow. But, I also need to make sure my novel has a decent plot and the sorts of things agents and publishers look for in a book.  (Because that IS my goal — to get traditionally published.)   So I need the planning and judgment aspect as well.

Perhaps most importantly, I need to stop being afraid because that’s making everything worse. In fact, maybe it’s not the knowledge that has been blocking me all this time. It’s been my fear. The fear that came when I learned how hard writing a good novel really is and started to worry I wasn’t up to the task.

My conciliation for now is this: if writing bad novels was easy for me, maybe writing a good novel will be difficult. Which means it’s okay for me to struggle – the fact that I’m having a hard time doesn’t mean I’m not cut out to be a writer. Maybe all this difficulty I’ve been having means I’m finally getting to the place where I’ll finally be able to write something good.

Eva Langston

I can’t let this professional writer headshot go to waste, now can I??

 

All of this reminds me of something Mary Kole says in her book Writing Irresistible Kid Lit:

“ …people trying to master something move through four stages, from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious incompetence,” to “conscious competence,” to “unconscious competence.”

I guess I’m trying to move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.  It’s not easy!  (You can read more about this idea here and here.)

Scuba Diving & Exploring the Dimensions of a Story

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Scuba Diving & Exploring the Dimensions of a Story

Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Lake Phoenix, a “scuba park” in Virginia about an hour’s drive south of Richmond. The lake bed is an old quarry filled with crystal-clear, algae-free water, and there are interesting things submerged at the bottom for divers to explore, such as a school bus and a helicopter.

Not that I scuba dive. As a person who has had two lung surgeries and who harbors a healthy fear of deep water and the things that dwell within it, scuba diving is not for me.   But Paul loves it.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have anyone to dive with, and scuba diving is one of those activities where you kinda need a buddy. The plan was that he, me, and my mom would drive down to Lake Phoenix on Sunday morning. Hopefully, Paul would find a buddy once we got there, and if not he’d just swim with me and my mom.

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Lake Phoenix in Rawlings, VA.  Photo by Margie Langston.

 

As we drove down the pothole-ridden road towards the lake, an anxious feeling began to blossom in my stomach just thinking about how terrifying scuba diving must be.  If I were the one about to go diving, I’d be sick with fear by this point.

“Are you nervous?” I asked Paul.

“I’m excited about diving,” he said. “I’m nervous I might not find someone to go with.”

Luckily for him, when we pulled up, the dive shop was crowded, and right away Paul found a guy named Trevor who said, “yeah, sure, you can come with us. We’re going right now.”

Right now.

Then began a frantic thirty minutes of Paul trying to buy his tank and assemble his gear as fast as he could. I watched him securing his tank to his scuba pack and felt the butterflies in my stomach multiply. By the time we had lugged all his equipment down to the lake’s edge, Trevor and crew were already in the water, ready to go.

“I’m coming!” Paul shouted to them, struggling into his wet suit. It was about a million degrees in the direct sun as I helped Paul into his hood and boots and watched his face turn the color of a ripe tomato. I was worried. I was worried they were going to leave without him, but even worse, I was worried that in his haste, he would forget something important that would compromise his safety underwater.

Paul pulled the zipper to his boot and the zipper popped off. “Oops,” he said. “Oh well.” He strapped on his air tanks, and I handed him his weights which he stuffed into pockets on his scuba pack. The sun was beating down on us, and my heart was racing. I felt slightly dizzy. Suddenly, I was seeing white spots, and my mom said the color drained from my lips. I knew if I didn’t get out of the sun and lay down immediately, I was going to faint right there on the shore of Lake Phoenix.

“I gotta go,” I mumbled, shoving Paul’s flippers at him. I hobbled up the hill towards a shaded wooden bench and lay down. I didn’t even see my husband’s decent into the deep.

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Paul and some other scuba divers.  Photo by Margie Langston

 

So, obviously, I’m not cut out for scuba diving. But after I recovered from my swoon, my mom and I went swimming in the clear, cool water, and that was really nice. An hour later, Paul came back to the surface, and as we ate lunch he told us about his adventures at fifty feet below.

One of the things Paul says he loves about scuba diving is that, underwater, you can move in all three dimensions. Instead of on land where we can only move on the axis of forward-and-back and the axis of left-and-right, underwater you can also move on the axis of up-and-down. It might not sound like a big deal, but Paul says adding this new dimension to your choice of directions can be both mind-blowing and exciting.

After lunch, Paul went for a second dive. My mom and I read in the shade and then took another swim. When Paul came back up, we all swam together then headed back to Richmond for dinner.  Despite my near-faint, it was a lovely day.

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My mom and me.

 

In other news, I’ve started working on a new book. Right now I’m writing to get to know the characters and explore the story possibilities. The stuff I’m writing now might not even make it into the final draft, and furthermore, the story might morph to something totally different from what I think it is right now. I’m still brainstorming, basically. I’m trying to figure out in which direction to go.

Normally this stage frustrates me because I feel like I’m not making progress. I want to start writing the actual chapters and feel like I’m getting somewhere, but I’m learning to embrace the exploration stage where, instead of moving forward in a straight line towards a finish, I’m fanning out in different directions from the starting idea, testing to see what works best.

This stage is really important, because often our first idea is not our best or most original idea.  (In fact, often our first idea is something we’ve actually seen or read somewhere else.)  Instead of just going with the first thing that pops into my head and running with it, I want to explore all the different directions I might go and then pick the best one.

As much as scuba diving terrifies me, I think there might be a link here. As I write, aren’t I diving down into my subconscious? Looking for submerged treasures?

And I wonder, is there some other direction I could take this story that I haven’t even considered? An up-down dimension, perhaps — something nearly impossible normally but possible in the realm of a fictional story?  It’s interesting to think about.  I doubt I’ll ever scuba dive in real life, but as I explore the possibilities for my story, I want to move in all three dimensions.  I want to be unafraid to go deep and see what I can find.

 

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Paul found a skeleton at the bottom!  Photo by Trevor Mireles.

 

I Have No Words About the Violence in Our Country

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I Have No Words About the Violence in Our Country

I have no words. And words are the one thing I usually have.

I look around and see my writer friends blogging and tweeting their outrage about the most recent shooting (take your pick which one), and meanwhile I’m posting on my blog about the Weezer concert or my summertime tan. And I think, my god, the stuff I’m writing about is meaningless. Who cares about my struggles getting a middle-grade novel published when people are getting killed for no good reason?

But I don’t know what to say.

I really don’t know what to say about all of this. Horrible isn’t a strong enough word. There is, in fact, no word that can express how awful I feel every time I hear about innocent people dying, whether it’s at the hands of the police, or a sniper, or terrorists, or because somebody’s two-year-old accidentally picked up a loaded gun. It’s awful. It’s ALL SO AWFUL. And I don’t even know what to say.

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There’s a lot of this and that to beware of these days.  :-(

 

I’m writing this post on Friday, the day after five Dallas police officers were killed by an angry sniper in response to the deaths of Philando Castile of Minneapolis and Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge –black men who were shot and killed by white police officers only a few days earlier.

I usually only post on my blog once a week, on Wednesdays, and for a moment I wondered if it made sense to wait until then to post this. By Wednesday, I thought, there will probably have been another shooting or attack to be heartbroken about. It’s a horrible thing to think. And even more horrible because there’s a good chance it’s true.

The violence and hate going on in our country right now… Again, I have no words. I try to tell myself that history is always violent, and that every generation believes they have it the worst. But I don’t quite believe myself. It really seems like things are getting worse. Besides, we should know better by now, people! These things that are happening, especially these hate crimes in which Americans are killing other Americans, they should not be happening. There is absolutely no excuse for any of it, and it makes me ashamed of my country.

And I just… I just… I just don’t know what else to say.

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In a way I feel guilty that I spend my energy writing fiction and silly blog posts. Shouldn’t I be using my writing skills to somehow combat this needless violence?

But I don’t have the words to write about it. Luckily, other people do, and they can say it far better than I ever could.  For example, this, or this.

And the thing is, at some point you have to take a break from reading about the violence. My husband watches cat videos to cheer himself up after reading the news. I read the news in the morning, but then I read novels at night — so I don’t get nightmares. Of course you should be informed about the terrible things going on in the world, but at some point, I think, you have to take a break from the sadness and fill your mind with something more pleasant and positive. Give yourself a reminder that, despite everything, there is still good in the world.

So that’s my job, I suppose. I don’t have the words to write about the bad stuff, so I’ll write the stuff you read when it’s time to give your heart a break; when you want to remind yourself that there’s more to this world than violence.

And meanwhile, kudos to all the writers who tackle these difficult subjects with intelligence and passion. May your pens be mightier than the guns and may your words help inspire others so we can have some much-needed peace and understanding in this country of ours.

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I wore this patriotic outfit the other day, but I must say, I’m not altogether proud of being an American right now.

Review of Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age, by Katherine Ozment

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Review of Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age, by Katherine Ozment

Since 1990, more and more Americans have been leaving their churches and synagogues, and today nearly one-fourth of Americans claim to have no religious affiliation at all. In the thirty and under crowd, it’s a full one-third who categorizes themselves as nonreligious. In her new book, Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age, Katherine Ozment examines this cultural shift away from organized religion and investigates alternatives for finding community and spirituality in the secular world.

I was really excited to read Grace Without God because, like Ozment herself, I consider myself spiritual but not religious. Ozment says that before she and her husband had children, she thought they’d “raise them in a colorful blend of religious pluralism – a little Zen Buddhism here, a visit to a Quaker meeting there, a smattering of secularized Christian and Jewish holidays throughout the year from which they would learn the basics of their heritage.”

That’s pretty much what my husband and I have been saying for the past few years, too. We figure we’ll have “spiritual time” with our kids each Sunday in which we’ll read a Bible story or a Greek myth or some other spiritually-minded text, talk about how to be a good person, then do a little meditation.

 

But, as Ozment explains, “vague plans are hard to enact.” When their kids were born, she and her husband forgot about their ambitious plans: “We held no bris or baptisms. We neglected to sign up for Hebrew school or seek a friendly nondenominational parish. We skipped most religious rituals all together.”

And then, five years ago, her eight-year-old son was watching as the parishioners of the Greek Orthodox Church across the street performed a Good Friday ritual, and he asked, “what are we?”

“We’re nothing,” she said. This answer sent Ozment into something of a crisis. In that moment she “felt at a loss to describe who we were, what we believed, and where we fit.” She decided to go on an exhaustive search to figure out the answer.

Ozement’s book is both a diligently-researched and highly-personal account of how she went about trying to make sense of religion, spirituality, and belief – both for herself and for her children.

Grace Without God cover

 

The first half of the book examines why people are leaving religion and the voids this can leave. Religion gives people a community and a sense of belonging. Religion gives people a value system and an opportunity to volunteer their time or receive support in times of need. People who have left religion often report missing the rituals and traditions that made them feel part of something larger than themselves. And lack of religion may be affecting the values of young people. According to Ozment’s research “two-thirds of children today think it’s more important to pursue their own personal happiness than to be good people.”

And when we try to create secular communities, rituals, and value systems, it can be difficult to do without the history and tradition that the major religions are rooted in. “Without religious belief,” Ozment writes, “we have to redefine what is sacred and then commit ourselves to nurturing and maintaining it.”   I felt the book got redundant about this point. Over and over again Ozment emphasized how religion provides us important things, and how it can be really hard to develop a sense of community and spirituality without it.

That’s why I was happy to get into the second half of the book in which Ozment stops agonizing over the problem and begins offering solutions. She describes alternatives to mainstream religion such as secular humanism, atheist groups, and secular rituals. I enjoyed learning about a Buddhist coming-of-age ceremony, the gift circle at the Ethical Culture Society, and nonreligious funerals. It was interesting to read about all the options out there for people who are looking for something to replace religion.

Reading Grace Without God made me re-think the vague plans my husband and I had made about “spiritual time” with our children. Maybe, before we have kids, we need to get clearer in our beliefs and values and figure out the best ways to provide our children with community, ritual, and opportunities for spiritual growth.

Perhaps that’s why my favorite two parts of the book came at the end. There is a large section of resources at the back of the book with questions to ponder, books to read, and websites to peruse.

And I loved the Epilogue, which is Ozment’s letter to her children. In it she sums up what she has learned in her years of research, and her advice to them is both poignant and practical. “Grace,” she says, “comes from knowing that to be alive and conscious in this world is a rare gift. If we are open to it, we can see that there is grace all around us, with or without God.”

tlc tour host

I received this book for free from TLC!

A Far Cry from the Concerts of My Youth

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A Far Cry from the Concerts of My Youth

I grew up going to see bands. At the age of fourteen I saw my first show:  the hardcore band Fugazi. For some reason, I had brought my backpack with me to the tiny venue where they were playing. I stashed it in the bathroom and spent the night in the mosh pit, jumping around with a bunch of sweaty, tattooed dudes.

A big part of my high school life was going to shows. Since not too many bands made a stop in my sleepy hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, my friends and I used to drive to Richmond and other nearby cities to see punk bands like Against All Authority, The Bouncing Souls, Anti-Flag, and our favorite: Less Than Jake.

In the summers, we headed to DC for the Warped Tour. We’d spend the long, hot day seeing our favorite bands and getting free samples of Yoohoo for sustenance.

I loved going to shows because it was a chance for me to jump up and down, scream really loud, and unleash my emotions in a way that I didn’t get to in my regular life of being a straight-A student. I crowd-surfed. I jumped on stage and screamed into the microphone. I threw my sixteen-year-old body into a sweaty sea of other sixteen-year-old bodies and let the tide take me over.

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Me and my friend Melissa with Roger from Less Than Jake, circa 1999

 

I always dressed the same way for shows: jeans, a t-shirt or tank top, and sneakers. Wearing anything else was stupid. My friends and I used to make fun of the girls who showed up at the Warped Tour wearing flip-flops or skirts or, for God’s sake, high heels. What were they thinking? You can’t crowd-surf in that. Your toes will get smashed in the pit. And purses? Forget about it. After the backpack incident, I never brought anything with me to shows except a few dollars tucked into my back pocket. What else could I need? All that mattered was the music.

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I wrote something about this concert last week, too.  See here.

 

Skip ahead to the present day.  On Friday, my husband and some friends and I went to see Weezer and Panic at the Disco at an outdoor amphitheater in Northern Virginia. I was excited. I’d never seen Weezer before, and it had been a while since I’d been to an outdoor concert. I was imagining we’d picnic leisurely on the lawn in between bands then enjoy a big Weezer sing-along at the end of the night.

The day of the concert, my husband came home early from work and we got ready to go. The weather forecast was clearly calling for rain, so we packed two umbrellas and our raincoats. I stuffed a cooler bag with strawberries, cut-up watermelon, cheese, granola bars, and two leftover banana-walnut pancakes.

“Should I bring a book?” Paul asked.

“If you want.” I tossed some bug spray into my bag then went upstairs to find the foldable camp chairs. I considered my outfit. I was wearing a sundress and sparkly white sandals. Should I change into jeans and sneakers? It was hot outside. I decided what I was wearing was fine.

We loaded up the car and began the forty-mile-but-three-hours-because-of-traffic drive to Jiffy Lube Live.

As we drove through the parking lot, I was surprised to see so many teenagers. With Weezer as the headliner, I’d assumed it would be a bunch of thirty-somethings like us.

What is that girl wearing?” Paul asked, nodding towards a girl in high-waisted shortie-shorts. “Her butt is hanging out. Do you think her parents let her out of the house dressed like that?”

I was more impressed with the fact that none of these teenagers were carrying anything with them. Where were their umbrellas? Weren’t they concerned about the impending rain? Most of the girls weren’t even carrying purses. They just had their cell phones tucked in the back pockets of their shortie-shorts.

We parked and got our stuff out of the car: two camp chairs, my purse, a tote bag, and a cooler bag. We looked like we were planning to live at Jiffy Lube Live for a week.

“We’re older,” I said as we walked towards the gate. “We require more stuff now.”

As we neared the entrance, a teenage boy in a neon green Jiffy Lube Live t-shirt stopped us. “You can’t bring those chairs in.”

“But the website said we could,” I protested.

“Sorry, that’s the rule for this show. No chairs. And they’re not going to let you bring all those bags in either. One bag per person.”

Annoyed, Paul and I rearranged everything into my purse and the cooler bag, and I trudged back to the car to put away our chairs.

As we neared the entrance for the second time, the same teenager stopped us again. “They’re not going to let you bring that cooler bag in.”

“It’s not a cooler bag, it’s my husband’s man purse,” I said.

“I don’t get it. Are we not allowed to bring in food?” Paul asked.

“You can bring in food,” the boy said. “Just not in a bag.”

“That makes no sense,” I said.

He shrugged. “I’m just telling you the rules. And you can’t bring those umbrellas in either.”

“What the heck? You know it’s supposed to rain, right?” I pointed at the black clouds above our heads.

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The gray clouds over the amphitheater… Photo by Layla Bonn0t.

 

Grunting with annoyance, we took all the food out of the cooler bag and shoved the cooler bag into my purse. Paul put on his raincoat and stuffed one of the umbrellas into his sleeve. I hid the other one at the bottom of my purse. Then, with our arms full of snacks, we made our way towards the front gates.

“Crap,” Paul said. “They’re waving people down with a metal detector. They’re going to think this is a weapon.” He pulled the umbrella out of his sleeve and took off his jacket. Then he balled up the jacket, hiding the umbrella inside it. We went into the line of an older security officer who looked like she didn’t really care about her job anymore. She poked half-heartedly at my purse then waved us through.

We found our friends, who luckily had a blanket for us to sit on, and staked out a spot at the top of the lawn. I had just opened my strawberries when the raindrops started to fall. Paul and I put on our raincoats, but I was hot in mine, and the raincoat didn’t stop my feet from getting wet and muddy.  Suddenly, a drunk girl tripped and fell onto our blanket, smushing our strawberries. It started to rain even harder.

Panic at the Disco was playing, and all around us, teenagers were dancing in the rain, not caring about getting wet or muddy. And suddenly, I didn’t care either. I took off my raincoat and lifted my face to the sky.

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Layla, Eva, and Paul.  Photo by Layla Bonnot.

 

By the time Weezer came on stage, our snacks were wet and smushed, the blanket was wet and dirty, and everything in my purse was slightly damp. I realized it was stupid to have brought all this stuff. I’d turned into someone my friends and I used to make fun of. I’d forgotten that all you should ever bring to a show is yourself. All that matters is the music. I felt old, and kind of lame.

But then Weezer started playing “Surf Wax USA.” It was the slow part at the very beginning, and no one else on the lawn was singing along, but I did, at the top of my lungs: “You take your car to work. I’ll take my board. And when you’re out of fuel, I’m still afloat…”

When the fast part started, I jumped around like I was a teenager in the mosh pit instead of a thirty-something in a sundress. “I never thought it would come to this,” I screamed, thrashing myself about, “now I can never go home!”

It was a far cry from the concerts of my youth, but for the briefest of moments, I felt like a kid again.

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Enjoying the Weezer concert in our own way.  Photo by Layla Bonnot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weezer Traffic Jam, or, Enjoy Where You Are

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Weezer Traffic Jam, or, Enjoy Where You Are

I’m a sucker for a Groupon. Apparently I’m not the only one in my family, since my brother just got back from a Groupon-trip to Japan.

I haven’t traveled internationally on a Groupon (yet), but I have bought Groupons for restaurants, hair salons, wine tastings, Escape Rooms, barre classes, and even the Renaissance Faire.

Back in January, I bought a Groupon for tickets to the Weezer concert that is happening this Friday at the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater. Only $20 to see one of my favorite bands!

But, sucker that I am for a deal, I didn’t take into account that the venue is 40 miles away, and that getting there on a Friday afternoon in the summer is going to be the absolute worst DC traffic nightmare imaginable. My husband estimates it will take us three hours of stop-and-go hell to get there in time for the opening band. Sort of gives new meaning to the idea of tailgating before a concert…

But I’m trying not to let this impending traffic doom get me down. “Oh well,” I keep saying, “it will be fun once we get there.”

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The iconic Weezer blue album.  Absolute essential listening.

 

In other news, it was almost a year ago now that I lost my literary agent, and since then I have been on a frustrating, stop-and-go journey to try to find a new one. I’ve sent queries and participated in Twitter pitches and even met one-on-one with agents at conferences. I’ve had a good number of agents request the full manuscript. I’ve gotten some no’s, some positive feedback, and I’m still waiting for five agents with my manuscript to get back to me. Sometimes it sort of feels like I’m stuck in a traffic jam.

I keep thinking I’ve got to endure this frustratingly slow crawl towards publishing, looking forward to the day when I finally get “there.”

But the thing is, this part of the journey might last a long time. And to be honest, I’m beginning to think that the reason I haven’t found a new agent isn’t so much because I’m not lucky or well-connected (although those things are true, too), but because my book isn’t good enough. Maybe I’m not quite “there” yet as a writer.

Maybe I still have a lot to learn and a lot to improve.

I’ve been trying to rush through this stage – this pre-agent, pre-published stage. I’ve been feeling antsy and frustrated at my lack of progress. Maybe I need to stop looking ahead and start focusing on where I am right now. Stop worrying about getting an agent and start looking for ways to improve my writing. Stop shopping around this old book (which I wrote four years ago) and start writing a new book with some of the skills I’ve learned.

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This is what the DC area looks like… pretty much always.  But it’s worst on Friday afternoons in the summer.

 

I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to not be (too) negative about the drive to the Weezer concert on Friday. My husband and I will have a chance to chat. I can load up my ipod with some good podcasts for us to listen to. I can bring a delicious snack. We might as well find a way to enjoy ourselves on the road, because lord knows we’re going to be there for a while. Instead of it being a frustrating means-to-an-end, I’ll try to think of the drive as part of the fun.

And as far as my writing goes, I think that’s the key as well: find a way to enjoy this stage of the process. I’ll get an agent when I get one. I’ll get published eventually. Best stop worrying about when. Best to enjoy myself where I am. Because lord knows I might be here for a while.

Cross Country Trip 111

Enough Is Enough (Again), or, How to Know When You’ve Written Enough

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Enough Is Enough (Again), or, How to Know When You’ve Written Enough

Since it’s summertime now, I am reposting an old entry about writing and sunbathing from several summers ago, when I first started this blog.

My only follow-up comments about this post are:

a)  This is the first summer of my adult life that I don’t care so much about getting tan.  (OK, fine, I want to get a little tan, but I’m not going to be a freak about it.)

b)  I still, four years later, worry that I’m not doing enough writing each day.  I still feel guilty and worry that I’m being lazy.

c)  The other day I sunbathed for the first time this summer.  (Only for an hour, and at 4pm instead of mid-day.)  And, you know, at least when I sunbathe, I read.  I figure, as a writer, reading is part of my job.  So technically, I’m working in the sun.

Anyway, here’s the old post, first published July 30, 2012.  (Nearly four years ago!)

Enough Is Enough!

The past few days have been rainy here in Cape Cod, so today, since it was actually going to be sunny, I decided to go to the beach for some good, old-fashioned sunbathing. (Right now my mother is screaming in horror and making me a care package of SPF 50 and a giant, floppy hat.) I know, I know, it’s very bad for me, but I like to lay out in the sun. It feels nice to have a blanket of solar heat against my bare skin as I drowsily read and listen to the waves. But, I must admit, I do it in large part for the vain reason that I think I look better tan.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten much more concerned about wrinkles and skin cancer and unsightly moles, so I don’t sunbathe as often as I did, and when I do, I take more precautions than I used to. For instance, now, when I go to the beach, I wear a hat, and SPF 50 on my face. My chest and back and stomach get SPF 15 or SPF 30, and they may or may not get a reapplication, depending on how responsible I’m feeling that day.

My legs, more often than not, get nothing. That’s right. Nothing. I think my legs look better tan.This habit is probably why the following conversation occurred when I visited my friend Dawn and her husband, Scott, in Philly a few weeks ago:

Scott: Eva, are you wearing pantyhose?
Me: What? No.
Scott: Are your legs just that tan?
Me(Secretly delighted) What? Yeah, I guess so.
Scott: They’re like a completely different color from the rest of you.

Which I guess is true. My legs are a few shades darker than my arms, which are a few shades darker than my face, which makes me look sort of like one of those 1-2-3 Jello Parfait desserts:

jello

 

It all begs the question: how tan is tan enough? When will I be pleased with my level of leg-tan and stop feeling the need to go to the beach every time it’s sunny?  The answer, it seems, is never.

I am by no means tanorexic like the disturbingly-tan mom who was accused of bringing her 5-year-old in the tanning bed with her, but I’ll admit that I sometimes plan my day around finding the optimal time to lay outside and tan. I’m always pleased to see my tan lines in the shower, but no matter how tan I am, I always think that maybe I should get just a little bit tanner.

*  *  *

This morning I told myself I would write until lunchtime then go to the beach in the afternoon. After all, I hadn’t sunbathed in a while, and heaven forbid my legs lose their tan! I spent the morning alternately writing and slacking off. And when I mean slacking off, I mean doing things that aren’t writing. My slacking off included:

-booking a plane ticket to Ohio for a wedding
-vacuuming and mopping the entire house
-finishing The Psychopath Test (awesome book – I highly recommend!)
-eating various snacks

However, despite all this slacking off, I managed to write nine and a half pages on my novel. Still, I wasn’t sure this was enough to warrant the treat of going to the beach in the afternoon. “I don’t know, Eva,” I told myself. “You could write more. Joyce Carol Oates would scoff at this measly bit of writing.”

The question is: how much writing is enough for one day? Because no matter how much I write, I always think that I should do just a little more.

Cape Cod July 2011 013

Me on Cape Cod.  I’m sun-safe, see? I’m wearing a big hat!

 

I guess that’s true with a lot of things. When do you know when to stop? When you’ve done what’s expected of you? When you’re tired? When you’ve gone on a three-week-bender and written an entire novel on scrolls of paper ala Jack Kerouc?

When I first got to Cape Cod, I set myself the goal of writing five pages per day. But now that I’m routinely exceeding that goal, I’m not sure when to call it a day. Last night on the phone, a friend told me  I haven’t set my goals high enough. But what if I set them too high and can’t reach them?

The thing is, we can always do more. I could always get tanner. I could always find more things in the house to clean. I could always write more (and maybe I should). For other people, they can never make enough money, run enough marathons, buy enough clothes. But “enough” is a relative term.  What’s enough for one person might not be enough for someone else.  At some point, you just have to decide what “enough” will be for you, for today, and make it be true. On the other hand, if you have something you’re working towards, maybe it doesn’t hurt to keep pushing up the bar a little bit, making what counts as “enough” just a little more as time goes on.

After my nine and a half pages, I ate lunch, then rode my bike to Crosby beach. The bike path smelled like jasmine, and I realized that it was good to get out of the house, away from the computer. I walked along the beach. The tide was really low. I spread out on my towel and told myself: one hour of laying in the sun. That’s enough. And it was. Then I came home and wrote this blog post. Because I’m not Joyce Carol Oates, and I think I’ve worked enough on my novel for today.

crosby beach

Crosby Beach on the Cape.

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