Monday, March 3, 2008

documenting change: ten.

writing weather. what's my temperature?

Months are passing by so quickly. Here it is March, and it feels like I quit my job yesterday – like June ’07 was just yesterday. It’s hard to believe it’s been eight whole months! Shouldn’t I be on the verge of giving birth to something (haha.)? In that spirit, I’m trying to evaluate how it’s been going.

I’m happy about my freelance writing gig with Country Roads, and I feel like in the next few months, I need to step it up and get myself into some other publications. I'm actually doing a piece this month for a new art criticism publication in Baton Rouge, but it’s not a paying job. In the sense that art is a subject I’m interested in writing about, I guess it pays – in experience and in creating evidence that, in fact, I can write on the subject. So.

Money, however, is important, like it or not. Letting go of my big fat salary (which wasn’t really big and fat in the grand scheme of things, but in the scheme of my life, it was pretty big and fat), has been a strange challenge. We’ve felt it here and there. It hasn’t been as if we’ve felt it sharply, but we’ve felt it in a few intense pangs. Last month we had a lot of pangs, and this month we’ll also have a lot of pangs. I’m sad to say that when I quit my job, we were free of credit card debt, and now we’ve actually maxed out a card. Not to an amount that feels unmanageable or too overwhelming to pay down, none-the-less, it’s debt we didn’t have before, and neither of us likes having it one bit.

I sort of wish, looking back, that we’d sat down with one of those free debt management people for some guidance on how to manage our money once we didn’t have my income anymore. On the other hand, we weren’t really in crisis mode, and I suspect those kinds of places are for people in crisis. I also suspect that this is something we’re supposed to be able to figure out ourselves, being two intelligent adults. But who knows. The world is full of intelligent people who aren’t good at managing money. Lately, I find myself brainstorming work I could do that would be worthy of grant money – I’d love to apply for a grant that would enable me to work on a project. One thing I am learning is that, as a writer, I’ll have to get creative and proactive about earning income if I don’t want to be nine-to-fiving it.

About my short stories and publication. I’d intended to submit work to journals, but I have to admit, this has been my weakest point of development. It’s helping me to do my job for the poet a., so I try to remind myself that becoming/being a writer is a journey. And as long as I’m not being lazy or complacent, it’s okay if I get a little off of my timeline (or if my timeline shifts and evolves). The struggle for me is always – do I write something new or do I edit? I’ve been answering my own question on a gut instinct – and the answer is continually: write something new, write more. That being the case, I don’t feel like any of my work is finished enough to submit. At some point, I’ll have to be satisfied with the amount of work I have and plunge heartily into editing/revising, so that I can actually submit to journals. The work with a., at the very least, gives me exposure to journals I’ve never seen, and I’m learning how she organizes her submission process. I’m sure that I’ll borrow many of her techniques. For this, I’m grateful; submitting work has, in the past, felt overwhelming for me.

I’ve had the pleasure of observing how helpful freelance writing is to my fiction writing. I notice that it plunges me into situations and conversations I would not ordinarily experience, and as a result, I have rich characters, dialog and subject matter swirling around in my head. Last week, I started working on a story that I’d begun quite a while ago. I’d written one paragraph, and then I filed it away in a “Working Stories” folder that I keep. This folder is something I go fishing in when I’m ready to begin something new and I’m not having any brilliant new ideas. It’s full of one-paragraph intros that I couldn’t make go anyplace at the time I began them. From that folder, I pulled out a story about a search and rescuer who was working during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. My recent interviews with farmers gave me a lot of ideas for how to develop the search and rescuer character’s voice and persona.

I also, in working on this hurricane story, did something totally new yesterday. I’d been reading the blog Vroooooooom, in which the author, Natalie, talks sometimes about her work as a hospice volunteer. It suddenly hit me that I want my character in the story to do this (it’s a thing that would seem out of character for him, but he’ll do it almost as a coping mechanism for what he’s seen during the hurricanes). I asked Natalie if I could speak to her about this work. Yesterday, I interviewed her. I’m also going to interview a friend of mine who is a search and rescuer about his experiences during the hurricanes. I know that interviewing people for freelance work is making me more comfortable with the idea of interviewing people purely for research related to my fiction.

I’ve also learned a few things about my writing process and personality. About my personality – I must be a poster child for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’ve noticed through journaling and through this blog (also two new things I’ve added to my life since embarking on a writing career), that when the day is dreary, my mood is downright shitty. When the day is lovely, I am suddenly high as a kite. And my moods absolutely contribute to the ease or difficulty with which I am able to write for concentrated amounts of time. Likewise, related to weather, I find that, without question, my FAVORITE place to write is outside among trees, birds and sunshine. When I am outside (as I am now), my mind quiets, I can tune out distractions and random thoughts, and I can get to work.

I’ve also learned about my writing process that I need to spend a great deal of time on how a story will begin, and I need to find the ending up front (unlike one of my writing idols, Flannery O’Connor, who has said she never knew how a story would end). Once I’ve begun a story (i.e. begun introducing a character), and found how it will end, I can begin the real task of developing a story. This doesn’t mean that my endings don’t ultimately change, but I need to have some idea of an ending that I like before I can really begin. I suppose that learning about my moods, preferred writing environment, and actual story-writing process, is invaluable.

This is where I am for now. I don’t know if any of this is the metaphorical equivalent to birthing a baby, or being one month away from birthing a baby. But it does feel like progress, I suppose. And truthfully, as much as not having money is stressful right now, I’m not anywhere close to experiencing the degree of stress I was experiencing every single day as an urban/rural planner. For that I am grateful and happy.

At the end of a self-evaluation a person is supposed to set new goals, re-prioritize old goals, etc. I’ll have to think on this. I have ideas, but I’m not ready, just yet, to commit them in writing. Maybe I need a better idea of the ending first – Maybe knowing what the ending is supposed to be, more than anything, is having a clear vision for the future. And, as in a story, it’s okay, if along the way, the vision changes; but up front, having that vision is a great guide for the steps a person needs to take.

A few links:
Here is a link to my latest story for Country Roads. It's one I am proud of, so I hope you'll enjoy.

Here is a story that ran in the New York Times last month about Flannery O'Connor and her southern gothic landscape. The photo above (of her writing desk) is from the article.

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