The Hours

I am attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference TODAY. Excited. Nervous! I haven’t posted here in a while, party because I have spent the last few weeks preparing. I… wrote a 1-page synopsis of my novel. Wrote out a three-line pitch and went over and over and over it. Chose stories I’ve written to bring to the workshops (whether I have the courage to actually present my work and be critiqued by a bunch of total strangers, that’s another story). Spent much too long going through my wardrobe and assembling an outfit for each day…

I haven’t been doing much actual fiction writing. This worries me.

dance tix

A couple months ago I went to see two dance performances: Alvin Ailey at the Arlington in Santa Barbara, and the Trey McIntyre Project at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Both were gorgeous. I especially liked the Trey McIntyre Project’s adaptation of Titus Andronicus, one of my favorite Shakespeare tragedies, in which Titus coerces his enemy to eat a pie made out of her sons. I saw my first Titus when studying abroad in London, as a groundling at the Globe, and I was so close I got to rest my elbows on the stage and actually saw one of the actors slip a capsule of fake blood between his lips! In this performance, the three dancers used flowing red fabric to symbolize the deaths, and the female dancer stuffed a stringy, play dough-like substance into her mouth.

When you’re a dancer, you put in a lot of time practicing. I danced in high school, on my high school dance troupe, and we practiced every day after school. Plus weekend rehearsals for performances. Other girls, more intense than I, took additional classes at outside dance studios. An easy estimate? 10-20 hours per week. A professional dancer? I don’t know, but I could easily guess 40-60 hours per week. (“Black Swan”? It’s not just a profession, it’s an obsession.)

Dance Troupe

My high school dance troupe sweatshirt and worn-in ballet and jazz shoes.

So when I take a break from fiction writing to do synopsis writing, and pitch writing, and sometimes no writing, even though I’m working toward the very writerly goal of attending and making the most of a writers conference, I get worried. Worse, I log my hours when I do write fiction daily and realize I only write for 6-10 hours per week.

When I spoke to my mentor recently, he said it sounds like I’m getting things done. It seems like I’ve got a good groove. And it’s true—on a normal day, I wake up and write in the morning. Creative writing only. I don’t let anything else get in, for at least an hour. Then I go to work, and then come home and eat dinner and walk the dog. Evenings are for marketing, blogging, emails, research, etc.

Except when I’m doing something like preparing for a conference. Or building a website. (More on that to come—I’ve decided it’s time for me to have a real author website with a domain name and branding and so forth. Yesterday I had a photo shoot for my author photo!)

But, no matter how much I accomplish, there is this niggling feeling that I should be doing more. No matter how much I write, I always feel I should have put in more hours, another thousand words. Like a professional dancer, shouldn’t a professional writer work for 40-60 hours per week? How will I ever become the writer I want to be if I don’t put in that kind of time?

One beautiful day stands out in my mind, when I wrote for 5 hours straight and didn’t notice the time passing. Another day, where between writing, reading, and critiquing, I had a full 8-hour day of writerly life (this blog post). Why are these so few and far between? Could I, even if I had the time and the money, write for 8 hours a day? Or write for 4 and do the rest of the necessary stuff for 4?

And, regarding the conference, have I prepared enough? Am I going to make a fool of myself? Botch my editor/agent meetings and any other important encounters? Is it really time for me to attend a conference? Perhaps I need six more drafts of this novel.

I wonder if I will always feel like I should be doing/should have done more.

But I suppose a writer must strike a balance between what she wants and what she is capable of, just as she must strike a balance between writing and all the other aspects of life. Perhaps I’ll find some answers to my questions over the coming days, as I immerse myself in workshops, panels, and lectures, surrounded by writers.

Dance sweatshirt

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Santa Barbara Writers Conference

In just under two months, I will be… attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference! Six days of workshops, panels, lectures, and socializing with others in the writing world. So excited. Guest speakers include Sue Grafton, of the alphabet mystery series, and Stephen Chbosky, who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and also wrote and directed the film adaptation.

SBWC logo, from their website, sbwriters.com.

SBWC logo, from their website, sbwriters.com.

After completing Draft 4 of my novel, I told my mentor it felt very close to “done” (at least, I felt, I had written what I really wanted to write) and I thought after one more pass I’d be ready it send it out. He reminded me that while he gives me suggestions, the final choice is always mine as the writer. And if I really wanted to start putting it out there, one potential way to do so was to attend conferences. Meet people, get feedback. Meet more people.

Of course, upon deciding my manuscript was “ready” I immediately had severe doubts. No, I must revise it at least ten more times! Draft 5 is “done” and of course, now I am finally seeing the potential “triumphant” end. I see how I might be able to make it work, after so much tribulation. I think I should write it. I want to, I think. Of course right now I am revising my query letter again, and feeling like it needs more work than I know how to give. So, research!

Revise, Rewrite, Rejuvenate

Last week my mother and her two sisters went to New York for a funeral, leaving me to take care of my aunt’s 6- and 9-year-old boys and our grandmother. In five days of mothering, I was able to squeeze in a grand total of ONE HOUR of writing. If the kids’ bedtime tantrums, remembering my grandmother’s pills, feeding three other people, hustling all over Los Angeles to basketball games, Cub Scout meetings, tennis lessons, play dates etc. etc. etc! wasn’t enough to drive me crazy, that threw me over the edge.

So I am lucky that this week, I am in beautiful Santa Barbara playing catch-up, and I am writing and reading up a storm. Today I revised a short story and part of my novel (2 hours), reviewed short stories and novel chapters for my writers’ group (2 hours), attended my writers’ group meeting online (3 hours), and will be reading a novel before bed (1 hour). That is a full 8-hour day of writerly life! Not to mention blogging and reading an article about e-publishing miracles.

Sandpipers

Sandpipers dart along the shore at East Beach while sailboats tilt in the background.

Also not to mention waking up early, meditating, rollerblading on the beach, hanging out with my dog, and eating my mother’s incredible cuisine. Ah, if only all my days were like this one!

Santa Barbara Weekend

            Spent a long weekend in Santa Barbara to celebrate myriad events: my sister’s birthday, my father’s upcoming birthday, Passover, Easter. Ate lots of good food, spent wonderful time with friends and family, relaxed in a min-vacation, did the things I love to do in SB. Hiking, walking on the beach.

Above, a gorgeous view from my house, and below, another gorgeous -sunset- view from my house.

            Amidst everything, yes, I managed to write. The novel goes. Slow as ever. Yet steady.
It was inspiring to spend time with my sister, who is transitioning from a steady, pay-check culinary job to full-time painting. Talking with her is reminder of everything I’ve gone through to get to where I am, and a reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing.
The incredibly delicious birthday cake my sister made. She sent the leftovers with me to LA – I was supposed to give them to my writers’ group, but ended up eating it myself!

 Above, my boyfriend and my dog taking a moment to rest during our hike. Below, the Easter goodie-bags my sister made for her birthday picnic.

Being there also made me think a lot about my life. I have always jokingly said that my plan is to sell this first book and move back to SB to revise. I have an incredible life in LA, one I’d be reluctant to give up, but being in Santa Barbara made me want to be in Santa Barbara. I was reminded of how much more productive, healthy, and relaxed I am there. The question is, as ever, how to reconcile my lives?