try again

Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

-Samuel Beckett

Once I wrote a novel for 10 years. I wrote it at varying degrees of productivity, but still, I doggedly persisted until the bitter end. The end was, in fact, quite bitter. Because even though I finished the book, it was hopelessly flawed. I had written and then re-written each sentence over and over as I went so that by the time I got to the end, it didn’t match up with the beginning. The book didn’t work as a whole.

On the upside, I did craft some really stellar sentences.

I never sent it out.

More recently, I finished another novel. This one only took six years. (In fairness to my timelines here, it should be noted that I had a baby during each of these novel spells.) I wrote this one all at once in a horribly messy draft to figure out the story. Then I went back and rewrote another draft. Sent it to writing friends. Rewrote. Sent it to writing friends again. Rewrote. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s gone through no fewer than 14 drafts total. And still, now that I’m “done”, which is maybe more to say ready to move on, I don’t really want to send it out.

It isn’t perfect.

But in looking back to my first imperfect novel, I wish I’d had the audacity to send it to a few agents anyway. Because why not? And that’s what I’m telling myself now.

Is my novel perfect? No. But I’ve taken it as far as I can and I think it’s good. And if done is better than good, then isn’t good better than perfect?

Today I sent it to an agent.

the process

This is an embarrassing writing selfie I took last year at an outdoor café in Cambridge. It’s part of my process, which goes something like this: Sit down to write, get up and make tea. Sit down to write, check my email real quick. Sit down to write, take a selfie of myself pretending to write. Surprisingly, after a long string of days like this, I actually manage to get an entire narrative down on the page.
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But I’m going out of order. I volunteered to follow Audrey Camp on the Writing Process Blog Tour. Audrey is my Postmasters Podcast co-host, a phenomenally poetic essayist/fiction writer, and basically one of my favorite friends of all time. You can read her process post here. So:

What am I working on?

Short stories. I’m writing new ones and revising old ones and trying to imagine them fitting together in some kind of collection. This fall when I hit the alone-time jackpot and both my daughters head off to school, I plan on revising a novel I drafted last year about a young girl with epilepsy growing up in rural Montana.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Mostly, I just pillage material from stories my mom tells me. And since I can safely assume no one else is listening to my mom’s stories, it makes mine different. (Love you, Mom!)

Why do I write what I do?

Pam Houston, in her book A Little More About Me, says: “There is only one story of our lives and we tell it over and over again, in a thousand different disguises, whether we know it or not.” So I guess I’m just getting that story out.

How does your writing process work?

As I mentioned at the outset, I’m a distracted writer. It’s difficult for me to write that necessarily terrible first draft. To convince myself to not give up writing entirely and learn to make scented soaps to sell at the farmer’s market instead. But if I keep showing up at the notebook or the computer, despite my many tea & toast breaks, something very satisfying emerges—usually a year or so later, but it emerges. I send it out to a million journals to see if someone will publish it, give myself the day off, and then it’s right back to that beautifully painful beginning.

Up next on the tour:

Yasmin Ramirez at And Then…

Sarah Shaffer at Everything Rhymes,

& my lovely poet-friend, Andrea Beltran.

wonderful introductions

I’m always regretting I didn’t have some kind of fanatical literature buff to have guided my reading education when I was younger. My mom—herself and avid reader—constantly tried pushing books on me but I shrugged them off. I thought everything my mom liked (oatmeal, talking to strangers in checkout lines, reading?!) was totally lame. Oopsie. So maybe what I actually regret is that I wasn’t open to having a literature-buff-guided education as a younger person. 

In my adult effort to catch up, I’ve recently come across the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, where authors are invited to read and discuss stories from the magazine’s archives. It’s an absolute delight. So if you—like me in so many things—are late to this party, now you know. Merry Christmas to all!

P.S. As a starting off point, I highly recommend the Maile Meloy reads Laurie Colwin’s “Mr. Parker” podcast. My favorite so far.

P.P.S. I was looking for an old picture of my mom and I in matching one-piece puffed-sleeve floral jumpers to illustrate how I didn’t always think things she liked were lame. But the ol’ scrapbook is nowhere to be found. Rain check, folks. Because it’s a true vision of wonder.