Thursday, December 21, 2006

Finding My Voice, Mark II

I've been trying to put my finger on exactly what my writerly problem is, and I think I had a moment of clarity. Sort of.

When I started taking writing seriously, in my mid-twenties, I was doing a lot of work that required me to mimic -- something that seems to be innate. I have a natural ear for voice (augh! and a natural gift for mixing metaphors!). This came in handy when I was ghostwriting middle-grade fiction for three different series, and helped a lot when I was freelancing or trying to get on staff at far-flung magazines. But when the time came to write for myself, I didn't know where to start. What was my voice? How did I write, when nobody was telling me they wanted x, y, and z, in that order?

It was so hard and awful to give birth to my on-page self, but eventually, out of the mess of journals and personal essays and weird unpaid web-postings, I found that snarkyself: Sassy-inflected, standoffish ironic commentary gently peppered with real feeling. Frankly, I sounded like a lot of my cohorts, but that's because we were all sort of alike under the skin anyway. We weren't being derivative, we were just infected by the same zeitgeist, and that was OK. And I did have my own pool of light. It was pink!

Little did I know that voice had a shelf-life. I'm (nnnduh) not the same person I was when I was 25. The past couple years saw me sort of vanishing, reformatting, growing, changing. The same old snark does not satisfy anymore, and the stories I told then are old news to me now.

Plus, I've got so much more life under my ever-expanding belt. I mean -- I can not buh-LIEVE the things I thought were tragic in my twenties. Had I known then what I'd endure, I'd have actually had reason to crawl under my covers, smoke unfiltered Camels and weep into my Wild Turkey. My skin is thicker now, I'm more tolerant and kinder, free of the tyrannic overcommitment of the insecure, and -- I actually know what I'm talking about some of the time.

Which means the old ways don't fit, the old phrases and words sound tinny in my ears. I have to do it again: write and "journal" (oh god, that does not work as a verb) and blog and dig up pals who curate readings so I can find out how I write -- and what I write about -- again.

It's not bad. It's what separates the Billy Joels from the Bowies. And it explains why I haven't just sat down and written in the past few months. Or so I hope.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Insanely Juggling Alternate Activities

Yesterday I missed my groovy improv workshop because I had to hunker down and do 5 hours of boring edit-y stuff that I didn't do on Friday.

Now I have to do a couple more hours of this editing, which is why I just took the time to post (over there, on the left. your left. YOUR LEFT. down. scroll down. there ya go) my two-years-ago appearance on an NPR quiz show in which I couldn't remember whether Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney had just gone to Iraq; hear my desperate vamping, be amused.

Stay tuned; I have two super seekrit video projects that will surely take the place of any other productive work this week. I've bought out almost all of eBay, people. Oh yeah. It's a big week for procrastination.

Monday, December 04, 2006


holy hypee that was way too long. sorry.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I like to say that I don't have an ego about my writing, and that's mostly true. For one kind of writing. My articles that I'm hired to write and send off to editors who are asking for them? Totally no problem. I send, they say "Change this!" or "I changed this!" or, well, they just change it, and pretty soon it hits the stands.

I barely look at the finished product until I put it in my clip file. I've compared my poor, abandoned/finished articles as discarded lovers to my Casanova: adoringly attended to, researched, fussed over, then forgotten as the next assignment looms into view. Once safely ensconced in my clip file, they can complain about me and find solidarity, I suppose.

When I give one of my articles a look-see, like when I'm about to post it here, I scan it for any sign of something I might have written – one phrase? A couple sentences? Whatever I find beyond my solid reporting is a bonus, and if that cute lede stayed in there, I'm over the moon. But there's no equivalent feeling of loss for all the phrases that didn't make it in. If there's something unbearably adorable that I feel must be seen, I'll send it to friends in an email or post it online here.

I do feel bad when I see a paragraph full of facts I didn't gather, guiltily imagining my editor Googling up some hard numbers after hours. And I never – NEVER – complain to an editor about something I think should have stayed. If an editor is kind enough to show me, pre-publication, what she's done with my work, I'm not going to crap on her by raising a stink over my now-lost agonized-over metaphor. Again, I know what it's like to have higher-up editors making their changes on top of yours, and I know how impossible it is to go back to them and say "The writer REALLY wants to keep XYZ." What? Are you kidding me? Tell that writer to take a fricking hike. Next time hire a kindergartener. Fuck no, thank you kindly!

But when we switch to the subject of my fiction, all bets are off. Probably because nobody's paying much for my fiction, even the writer-for-hire variety that paid my bills for so many years. (Books in which my name never appeared, which I was contracted to write according to storylines generated by committee.) Since I'm not taking orders in the first place, my feelings become much more involved, like veins through organs. Like veins through organs when you're about to get your period. LIKE LOTS OF VEINS IN ALL YOUR ORGANS. Okay, like testicles.

Wait, what?

Why would anyone have to edit me, anyway?!

Anyway: Here is a sad tale of my ego and my fiction. A gal I worked with, and had a sort of girly-crush on, began shining her attention-lamp on me. She said, "You write fiction? I want to see what Amy fiction is like. What is it like? I must know. You have to send it to me. Send me your fiction! I MUST SEE YOUR FICTION!"

I got, like, an email every two hours on this subject. "Have you sent it yet? There's nothing in my inbox. I want to see it. Please? Don't print it out, I've got a printer. I'll print it, just send it!" I didn't want to send it! I told her: It's not quite done. It's not really ready. It's a work in progress. It's crap! But she wouldn't hear of it: "Oh for god's sake, just send it already! I don't care, I just want to see it!" So I attached it and hit "send."

And then, silence.

Days, weeks, a couple months of silence. Finally, swooping out of the clear blue sky, she called to say she'd been invited on a press trip, she needed a pal, she knew I needed cheering up, I had to accompany her. (She can be quite the demanding gal, can't she?) I went on the trip and on one particularly chummy (read: drunken) night, we were out with some other journalists, and she made some sideways comment about the fact that I write fiction, and I teased her about never writing after she read my book, and she rolled her eyes and said, "When I asked to read it, I didn't realize it was going to be a young adult novel."

Italics hers, and dripping with disdain.

I am ashamed to say I was absolutely devastated. I didn't think of that novelette as YA! And what's wrong with YA? And what the HECK?

I've had people call my articles stupid, silly, fluff, sexist, and a raft of other insults. I've been the subject of a months-long thrash on the bulletin boards regarding an article I wrote in Maxim. (Or Stuff, I forget which.) I am usually spoiling for a fight when it comes to that sort of thing, and happily wave my paycheck in the face of all who mock me. But any word about my fiction makes me pout like a second-string cheerleader. It's so weird and stupid! But it may explain why my fiction's been on the back burner. Why stick my neck out when I have so much else to do?

Oh, but that back burner is bubbling and boiling, the more I try to ignore it. I can't avoid this forever. Shweee.