Why I Stopped Taking Editing Clients, For Now (Maybe Forever)

CC License_TheCreativePenn_stopped Editing
From Flickr user TheCreativePenn CC Attribution license

I think it’s always been that people believe they’ll write a novel and get rich. My friend Jamie wrote at least one blog post about this, and we freelancers often bemoan our shared plight of wannabe writers chasing that gravy train.

My world seems to be shrinking around the edges with the slew of people who have produced a manuscript after a long, lucrative career as something else, or during a lucrative career, or who believe that all people who’ve written and published a work of fiction are as stinking rich as Stephen King (which is not true. There’s him and JK Rowling. The rest of us are teaching or waiting tables or both to pay the bills).

I recently had a facebook convo with a grumpy mid-list author (who wishes to remain anonymous) and, certainly out of jealousy of the economic freedom to while away the hours, obliviously typing convoluted absurdity after stilted dialogue after overly obscure or pop allusion and then to pay someone to read it, we groused about having to schlep through tomes (that sometimes read like 70s performance art) in order to fund our writing.

Why, Lord?

When I say what I do, I never say, “I’m an editor.” I just don’t. I say, “I’m a writer.” Sometimes, if people ask if I make enough money at that, I say, “well, I also freelance as an editor.” Because, love or hate it, editing pays.

But my soul lathers whenever I read a beautiful book. I can barely make my typing fingers rest until I can get to a keyboard or a notebook. The words are in me. They thrum to get out.

And editing sucks out all my creative energy.

And it’s frustrating.

And I’ve been working so hard at writing for so long.

And I feel like an imposter already. I can’t handle clients with less than half my experience being graceless with my feedback just because they have money and I do not. I don’t have any more space inside for shit.

I dislike the power balance when the uninitiated, naive writer (regardless of his or her life stage) is signing the check and I am assessing the work.

The expectation is that I am being paid, not only to read the work, comment on its effectiveness, find its typos, fix its grammar, style, and usage, all without letting the writer’s voice get gobbled up by mine, but to respond thoughtfully to  long, defensive emails or to listen to a client yak on the phone for an hour or two; and frankly, even after drawing clear phone boundaries, I just don’t have time.

What my clients paid me for was my expertise, my experience, my felicity with grammar and style.

What they got was a little piece of my soul.

I know that sounds insane and melodramatic, but I’m in graduate school for writing. Editing is one of the many things one can do with a graduate degree in creative writing, but I need to hone my focus. I need to be the guy with the manuscript for a while. I am the guy with the manuscript.

And I am smart and I have every right to have a manuscript.

This is my story. I’m tired of helping with yours.

I guess a gal can only muster so much cheer and helpfulness.

And maybe I’ll get back to it someday. Hell, even though I said I wouldn’t, I’m proofing a romance novel now. Just one toe in the door.

I’ll see ya’ll at AWP, or after. My next post will be all about that.

Phony, Imposter, Jerk, Poseur, and other nasty names I call myself

From Flickr user Cea, used under Creative Commons attribution license
From Flickr user Cea, used under Creative Commons attribution license

The mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Is it? I’d like to waste that bitch sometimes.

I’d like to extract my mind from myself, the artist’s plague, and shoot her dead. Or strangle her. Or perhaps torture her for a time, like she’s tortured me as long as I can remember; perhaps that would be a more satisfactory end for this piece of me, is it the Id? The Uberself? The built-in cynic with a penchant for the soul squash? My masochistic inner other.

You’re not good enough.

I know.

You never should’ve stopped writing those five years, when your kid was small.

I didn’t. Not entirely. I blogged. Badly. 

It’s too late for you now.

I know. I’ll get my MFA when I’m 34 instead of when I was 29. 34 is practically retirement age when you’re a woman. I should just give up. I’m out of time.

You’re a phony.

I’m very good at tricking people. It’s just because I know a lot of words.

People like you don’t get to do this.

It’s true. I’m a brokeass from a brokeass family. I could never afford the luxury to create, to commit my whole self to what I make. I will always be lesser because I am poor, because I have always been.

Also, you are a mother.

That, too. Mothers’ writing is the worst, nobody cares about dirty nappies and what it really feels like to breastfeed. People care about war.

You will never go to war. Also, you will never publish your essays.

I’m afraid of losing the people in them. The ones who are really important. Much more important than my writing life, my artist’s soul.

The truth

Perhaps it is bold to say that we are all constantly pushing hard against those conversations. I picture myself between two tiled walls, my back against one, my feet flat against the other, pressing till my face is red, till my gut is herniated, till the muscles in my thighs lock and ache. Keeping that sacred space between, the place where I get to breathe deep and free and feel alive because I am making. Perhaps other artists face lesser negative self-talk. Perhaps other artists feel like it is their right to do what they must, to create.

And when I’m feeling rested and healthy and positive, which is more often, I am able to recognize all of that for what it is: fear. Not just fear of failure: fear of judgement, of self, of what happens when we let it out? Does it get lost? Do I get it back? If I let my mind really fruit, the ante will be upped, I will push myself to do better next time.

As it is, everything I write sucks as soon as it is down. The process of printing exponentially increases the suckage. The more I work on it, the better I see it is with my rational mind, the more it sucks. How can I live with everything I write forever and ever, published or in a secret journal or on some disk somewhere or in a drawer, sucking. Letting it out means it sucks. But I can’t keep it in!

And it doesn’t suck. Not always anyhow. If I were left to myself alone, I could never believe that.

So, as much as writing practice is alone, alone, alone; I prize my weird and wacky and mostly long-distance community of other writers and artists. These are the people who’ve helped keep me from lobotomizing that cunt who lives in my mind. The ones who teach me how to quiet her, how to shut her in a room with meditation. These are the people who will read this post and nod and feel recognized. These are the people who help me to know that I do not suck, my writing does not suck, and I have every right to pursue my passion.

So when the self-hatred begins to mushroom and permeate and threaten my very will to live, I remember that awful/wonderful movie, LADYBUGS, and I shout over the din, YOU ARE GREAT! YOU ARE WONDERFUL! EVERYBODY LIKES YOU!

You are, too. What does your self say? What do you tell it? How do you shut it up?

WTH Femme Files: Mothers without men and movies without women

CC License_classic_film_WTHFemmeFiles1
From Flickr, used under Creative Commons attribution license. Flickr user Classic_Film is the owner of this image.

Most of us who are mothers have enjoyed a man, if only for a few minutes.

One of the things I do with my current man (he is worth it) is to (very occasionally) watch awful movies. The most recent? PACIFIC RIM. Really, Guillermo? My man said, “Yeah, he did it so he could get enough money to do something more interesting.” Somehow that doesn’t fly with me, even though it should: I wait tables so I can do something more interesting (write, read, grad school, general thinky awesomeness). I want artists who get paid livable sums of money, however, to be above all that.

The upsetting thing about PACIFIC RIM was not the poorly written screenplay, the wooden characters, or the insane, bullshit, lazy names for types of immense badass creature/robots. I mainly expect these things from CGI action apocalypse movies (I know, I know, there are one or two great ones, but pointing that out every time somebody mentions the general badness of the genre isn’t really doing anything to elevate our culture, is it?). The upsetting thing about PACIFIC RIM was that there was only ONE female character. Screen after screen of literal oceans of dudes. One of the halves of the Russian Jaeger team may have been a woman, but I couldn’t tell, and if she was, she got blown up sometime during act one.

Which leads me to the wonderful article by Geena Davis about making Hollywood less sexist. Take a minute and giver a read. You won’t be sorry. But in case you don’t have time, she suggests taking half of all male characters in any screenplay and making them women. No other changes, just played by a woman.

Which wasn’t actually where I intended to go next at all. I wanted to tell you about this NPR story I heard about Black Twitter that brought up a thing that makes me feel my privilege in a way that is, if more aware, certainly uncomfortable. Go listen to this NPR interview with Meredith Clark who’s writing her dissertation at UNC about Black Twitter. Or read the transcript. In the middle of a conversation about influential hashtags, specifically #solidarityisforwhitewomen, here’s the quotation that made me THINK: “#Solidarityisforwhitewomen when conversations about gender pay and the gap ignore white women earning higher wages than black, Latino, and native men.”

Yeah, howzabout that, anyhow? How can I help make solidarity for people of all colors? How can I be a better, more thoroughly informed ally? How can I do that without alienating good white male feminists? Or even just the white men I care about? Should I care if I alienate them?

Which leads me to this short French film called “Oppressed Majority where men are cast in typical women’s roles and women are cast as men–even pissing in alleys and running without shirts. The director is Elanore Pourriat. It’s only about five minutes long. If you’re like me, you’ll be all, Why did that make me sooo uncomfortable? The intro to the film is right–we stand for this very stuff every day when the roles are “traditional.”

Which makes me wonder why it does not make me uncomfortable that out of the thirteen short stories about motherhood I recently read (from a book called Stories of Motherhood) twelve had men who disappeared like the Russian Jaeger pilot, who were dead, or who were only in the stories peripherally, who the women in the stories seemed quite happy to be without? Of course, a short story is a different thing from a film, and in each piece, the absence of man/father worked to develop the conflict between mother and daughter (or son) and mother and motherhood. But why do women write stories about motherhood without men?

Which makes me wonder, too, why I tell other women I think they’re pretty when what I should say, and what is nearly always as or more true is, “I admire your mind. I am glad I know you.” Why do I tell my own daughter that she’s pretty more often than I tell her she’s smart? Why do I, sometimes thoughtlessly, passively participate in these age-old tropes, rhetorics, and massive piles of sexist bullshit that affect all of us women, the ones Justine Musk hints at when she describes the process of finding her Deep Yes in her TEDx Talk?

Any of you routinely getting your mind blown by your obsessions?

Anything to share or add?

Submitting is Worse than Online Dating and Applying to College

some of these things

Reading Between the Lines (in the Ivy League)

As with trolling online dating profiles, you’re looking for the best.

You do not want to hitch the future of your essays to any old mag.

There are two Ivy League pubs if you write essays: Creative Nonfiction (out of University of Pittsburgh) and Fourth Genre (out of Michigan State U).

But sending work everywhere is a giant guessing game.

You grab a copy of a journal you want to be in at AWP, or you send for one (they usually sell old copies for less money, but new copies more accurately reflect the current editorial sensibility, which you’ll want to obsess over). Sometimes you subscribe by entering your work in a journal’s contest, killing two birds with one $20 bill. You were going to subscribe to the journal anyway, right? Why not?

Then, as if you’re scanning MartiniGuy1351’s profile to see if he’s alluding to James Bond or really a fan of gin, you wonder if placing this affecting, tragic poem about the death of a bumblebee before a humorous essay by Roxane Gay means something about the editor’s latent feelings about women. You worry that the journal is saying it’s 6′ 5″ when really it’s 5′ 11″, and hoping to hell you don’t notice, or doesn’t care if you do, or is a psychopath who will hack you to pieces with a set of rib cutters.

And there’s so. Much. Help.

Like when you’re sixteen and all you really care about is whether Mom will lend you her car on Friday so you can do something she believes will endanger your sobriety or virginity or both, and you start getting piles and piles of glossy college catalogs in the mail, which you think about using to paper the bathroom in order to communicate to your parents, guidance counselors, and all those smiling, encouraging teachers how little you actually care; there is no end to the information and advice about sending work to lit mags.

Your mentors will offer advice.

So will the internet. And your rejections, sometimes.

So will your peers, the only other people on this whole planet who get you because your brain works like a writer’s and most of the time people stare at you like you’re barmy whenever whatever is coming out of your mouth. Because you process not like a person who feels a part of the world, but like an artist, who FEELS, and is not always sure she is a person at all.

But you will do it anyway. You’ll slog through the piles of words on pages, you will shave your essays and stories by thousands of words because of a fascist limit. You will have eighteen files apiece on your hard drive, with titles in a code you only sometimes remember inventing. Since you’re only using it right part of the time, it is useless except to remind you how unlovable your words are to everyone besides you.

You will click endlessly after getting the newsletter from The Review Review, you will make a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet! You will consult the spreadsheet whenever you receive rejection. You will learn to categorize rejections: soft, hard, welcoming, fuck off.

You will seek affirmation and encouragement from others. You will share Facebook private messages with other writers. But there is shame in rejection, so you won’t talk about it.

But you should. Because it helps. Rejection’s part of the thing we all do.

So let’s do this together, you and I.

So far this submitting season, I’ve received rejections from Slab Magazine and from The Baltimore Review. I’m certain more will follow. And if one or two do not, maybe you will celebrate with me.

Share your rejections or thoughts in the comments. I’m thinking about starting a Facebook group to celebrate rejection as part of the process, for solidarity, and to share the rarer joy of acceptance.