Saturday, June 17, 2006

Let's speak about the unspeakable. (Yay! Let's!)

There's a thing that writers won't talk about because the very mention of it might bring it on. We're a superstitious bunch. Like baseball players, but without a tan.

I'd never heard anyone admit to having writer's block until I was in college, when I was waiting for office hours with my favorite professor and the woman before me, whom I could hear through an open door, was explaining that she couldn't do her paper on time because she was "suffering from terrible writer's block." I can't remember what Professor Tayler said in response -- he was never insulting, unfailingly polite -- but I remember thinking, "You asshole. Do the effing work. Writer's block, my ass." Which is undoubtedly what Tayler was also thinking, but he didn't get to be Mr. Super Favorite Professor of Everybody by nakedly speaking his mind. A skill I could stand to learn. But I digress.

I remember hearing someone -- maybe Toni Morrison -- but definitely on WNYC -- who was asked about writer's block, and she said, "I disavow that term." Oh, I loved that, and I used it. Her point was that even when you feel blocked, your brain is working, and it'll all come out in a big blob at some point, sort of like when you plateau on Weight Watchers for like three weeks and then all of a sudden, kaboom, you lose like 6 pounds all at once. It was a nice notion, but I've never actually experienced the -- what. The diarrhea of prose? The torrent of backed-up verbiage? I never got a spurt of creative payoff after a dry spell.

I've had few dry spells, knock wood. But the one I'm in is a doozy. I've owed book proposals to my agent for over a year at this point, and I can't make myself do them because then I'll have to write them. In addition, a very nice woman with a very cool project has asked me to write a series proposal for her (yes, for pay). When we were discussing it, I knew exactly what she wanted, and I got really excited about it... but I've been cravenly dodging her calls for weeks. Why?

I tell myself because I wouldn't have ownership of the series, and I know in my heart I don't want to be a writer-for-hire anymore. But that's not true, and I know it. The fact is I just can't face the prospect of sitting down, inhabiting these characters, and writing them. It feels like death to me. Death! Writing! How could this be?

So given that knowledge, I should call her and say "I can't do this project because I need to work on my own series proposal." But guess what? That feels like even more death!! It's the weirdest thing: I crave working on these books, yet there's something in me that equally, or more powerfully, is repulsed by the idea of them. When I think of South Jersey, I feel a pull to go there and immerse myself in research, and a simultaneous soul-level core of knowledge that I can not, will not do that. It feels like an illness. It feels like something bigger than me, that I can't understand, is working in mysterious ways. It feels horrible.

This is why people invented the idea of muses, capricious creatures who strike or don't strike, and thereby explain days when you can't produce. This is why people blame writer's block when the culprit is surely a more complex cocktail of depression, fear, and irritation. This is why people invented the Internet: so they'd have a reason not to throw their laptops out the window when they can't write.

Muse! Oh, Mu-use! If you're out there, could you slap me? Soon? Thanks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oh for shit's sake.

Here's a quote from the New Yorker magazine, May 22, 2006 (yes, I'm way behind in reading as well as writing):

Soyinka ... reveals that, after winning the Nobel Prize, he came down with writer's bock, "overwhelmed by the futility of everything I had ever done."

That's Wole Soyinka, people, the Nigerian playwright and activist. After he won his Nobel prize, he felt too futile to write. What the... WHAT IS WRONG WITH WRITERS? Do we ALL hate ourselves? And if he feels futile, what the eff am I doing with my fingers on a keyboard?


Monday, June 12, 2006

So far today I'm on track.

If only I could manage this every day. I got up this morning, put in about an hour of house-organization, and sat down to pitch. Excitingly, I did something I have NEVER done before: pitched a story cold, to an editor I do not already know. It was for a magazine that I've never worked for, but would LOVE to (not the least because I would fiiinally not be trying to relate to sex-obsessed 23-year-olds). So I'm reeeally hoping to hear back, but -- eh. Trying not to hope TOO much, as my Friday pitches are so far unanswered.

It just feels like so much wheel-spinning, because I don't get paid to pitch.

Another editor asked me to fill out a pitch I had made to her, and I've been doing that -- chasing down leads and getting some preliminary interviews -- but it also feels hollow, because this same editor asked me to do some research for a story for her last issue (she comes out quarterly), and I literally put in days at the New York Public Library poring over an archive that sounded interesting to her. I made the classic freelancer error: convinced there was a story in it, I did a ton of work for free, and when, in the end, she decided there wasn't enough for a story, I just ended up feeling resentful and awful.

Now, again, she asked me for story ideas and picked one to be fleshed out; as I interview people and chase down leads, I wonder if this is more enforced-volunteer work. I really have no patience for this crap. Having worked on a masthead, I know from experience that the best story ideas, the ones that fit into the lineup, are the ones generated in-house and assigned. Just give me the effing assignment, that's all. Don't take weeks of my life and drain them of earning potential. If I had that kind of time, I'd be spending it writing my novel, not asking searching questions about loft parties in Bushwick.

Ah yes, the novel. I had a revelation this weekend: I could do a three- or even five-book arc with the story that's been cooking on my back burner. In fact, I think it would work loads better if I spent more time on various aspects of my heroine's life that were glossed over in the original version. To write it well, I need to take a couple field trips down to South Jersey and really commit four hours a day to teasing out the storyline. For that, I need a genius grant...

Ugh! I don't mean to sound like a writing-pussy. You know: those people who say things like "I have a hell of a book in me if I could just find the time." To those people, I usually point out that Stephen King wrote Carrie on a manual typewriter that he balanced on his knees in a closet of the trailer he shared with his wife and small children, in the two hours of the morning (5-7) before he went to his job as an elementary school teacher. The old pull-yourself-up-by-your-typewriter-ribbon story, the Great American Novelist's dream. Oh, but it's hard to follow through on when it's you in that closet with the Underwood balanced on your kneecaps (figuratively, natch -- I have an ibook named Blanche). The myth inherent in this parable is that if you're a writer, you write, because you must; but in fact, sometimes you really need to clear your mind and have (emotional) room of your own before you can get the good stuff onto the page.

I'm so full of shit. If I just stopped blogging and started writing, I'd have a coupld chapters banged out by the 4th of July. I hate myself.

Anyway, the point is, today I got up, did work, did Yoga, and made myself lunch, which is how it's supposed to be. And yet I'm still filled with self-loathing. Good lord, what is the point, and why did I not go to law school?!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hey! Maybe I have a brain disorder!

So thanks to Anna David's excellent writing blog, yesterday, I learned that "working in the highly competitive, glitzy and sexually charged atmosphere of a celebrity-driven fashion periodical" pushed super crazy-o Peter Braunstein over the edge.

The hell you say! Maybe that's why I'm so unsatisfied with my freelance career. Maybe I became addicted to the glitz and sexual charges when I was working at a women's magazine, where my main responsibility was finding new and innovative ways to make fun of celeb paparazzi shots. I have a brain disorder! I won't be right in the head till I'm back on staff and referring to Tom Cruise as "Sir Hunky Nutcase."

Based on this self-diagnosis, I'm going to hire a lawyer and sue People Magazine for a spot on their editorial team. Watch me!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The tragedy of the unpaid invoice

What's a girl to do when she wrote a story over a year ago, but her editor left before it got edited?

Or the magazine folded before she got paid?

Or she's invoiced like three times to no avail, and her editor is too "slammed" to look into it?

According to my spreadsheet, I have $6,245 in unpaid crap from 2005. I remember, from when I was an editor, that all you want to do is get your copy in, and since you get a regular paycheck, you really don't think of things like how the check will get from you to your freelancer. I also remember that I had enough to deal with, what with office politix and deadlines and pitch meetings and brainstorming meetings and meeting meetings ... I didn't deal with the business end if I could help it.

But I'm dyin' here.

It's time for my dream gig to make an appearance. My day-job in shining armor and a 401K. I don't have the energy to pitch anymore; today I ran every errand on my list just to stave off having to think. Okay, so it was raining and I'm notoriously unproductive in the rain. But still. I crave a routine, a predictable day, a job that I can sink my teeth into without the distractions of chasing down the next gig and the last check at the same time. Woe is me! Meh!