I spent the weekend at a location somewhat north and west of home, out in the country, at my brother and sister-in-law’s farmhouse, on a little retreat. A writing retreat to be specific; although I wrote very little.
In truth, I’m all written out.
So I leaned heavy on the retreat aspect of this weekend’s potential. Last Thursday, I sent the final revisions for Francie’s Got a Gun; next step: copy edits. I worked on the dedication and acknowledgements this weekend. I re-read the project that had been set aside during these several months of revisions. I re-read my old notebook, too. Napped a bit. Walked. Picked tomatoes from my sister-in-law’s garden and made a salad. Stayed up late talking and reading stories with my writing companions (who got lots of writing done! Yay!).
I’m home again, now. A new week before me, and how strange not to have Francie waiting for my attention. Of course, I felt elated upon finishing. Relieved, delighted, stunned. But emotions are complicated. Today, I also feel tired, a bit worn out, depleted, anxious about what to focus on next, pretty sure I need to give myself a break, and hoping I’ll be kind to myself during this transition to whatever’s next.
Maybe I’ll try to dream up a ritual or a plan or some structure — stepping stones? — to bridge the uncomfortable gap between projects. What’s your survival strategy, to enjoy life and reset and stay calm and present between projects?
Checking in here with an update on the revisions for Francie’s Got A Gun.
My editor replied back last Friday on my “revisions of the revisions” and as I type this out, I realize this may be why it’s so challenging to reflect on the revision process, or try to answer a common question: How long did it take you to write that book, or a variation of that question, How did you write that book? The answer to the latter question is: Magic? Witchcraft? I’ve totally forgotten and have no idea and fear I’ll never be able to do it again? The answer to the former question is: Years? But also: An hour every morning, from 6-7AM for several months. And then bursts of intense days, as my life allowed. But also intense weeks. Waiting, setting it aside, attempting other projects. And then more weeks, intense and wonderful. And now a trickle of back and forth, a week, days, hours. At various points in this process, I have felt energized, confused, worn down, hopeless, thrilled, manic, exhausted, possessed.
I wrote a first draft of this book, by hand in my notebook, after my second concussion when I couldn’t look at screens at all, in 2017. It bears little resemblance to the tightly crafted draft I worked on this past week, on-screen, marked up with queries and comments back and forth about details that are getting (mercifully!) finer and finer.
It’s getting close.
So, here’s my update on my latest efforts to revise: This past week, I worked on the revisions of the revisions of the revisions. Aaaand … we still have a round or two to go, to tighten and respond to some challenging bits. Deadline next Friday.
Here’s what I’ve been reflecting on this week: I love doing this work. It’s all I really want to do. I seem to have a bottomless appetite and energy for it, every part; I want to learn, and the urge to learn, that sense that I still have more to learn, feeds me. Some elements come more naturally (grammar, use of language, experimenting with structure); others require enormous effort (timelines and plot, to name two). It’s been such a joy to get to pour my energy and my admittedly somewhat obsessive personality fully into pursuing this work: writing fiction. Full-time. I’m gobsmacked and amazed that I get to do it. I walk the dog around the block after dinner, letting myself soak in the novelty and surprise of getting to do this work that I love.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have bleak moments, or guilty ashamed moments, caught up in treacherous ego and attachment to outcomes; I spent most of the “revisions of the revisions” wading through exactly that ugly, tiresome swamp. Berating myself for my efforts. Bleak with a feeling of worthlessness. I’m sorry to say it. I wish those feelings and thoughts never came. But they do, as I’m sure they come for most of us. So I kept on doing the work that was before me, despite being consumed with self-doubt. I rejigged the timeline (excruciating!) and revised and revised and revised and sent the draft back for more comments. I also talked to a therapist (art therapy, in fact). I’m telling you this because it’s important to name the supports that keep me afloat. Continuing to work kept me afloat, my little writing group kept me afloat, early morning exercise kept me afloat.
And the joy returned, the gratitude returned. Instead of you suck and you’ll always be a mediocre writer, I heard: This is your work, and you’re able to do it; what more do you need? And the answer is, honestly, nothing. This is my work and I’m able to do it. Whether it’s good or bad or middling, well, that’s not for me to decide. It’s none of your business, as Lynda Barry would say.
It’s Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend. Sending out heaps of gratitude, with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing, and pie for dessert.
Today, this month, I turn and return to gratitude. I’ve been looking for poems about thanks and thanksgiving for a church service I’m helping to plan, and I’ve noticed the poems that draw me are tempered with grief, there are many colours woven into the fabric of the experience of thanks they describe. I’ll post one, by Jane Hirschfield, below.
Monday morning thank-you list:
1. Kasia’s yoga class this morning, and her invitation to greet the day by saying, “Good morning, I love you,” to ourselves. (Wow! That changes the wake-up script!)
2. Enough time to work on revisions. Solitude.
3. Invitations to speak. Connection.
4. New projects, old projects, ongoing projects.
On the “new projects” front, in addition to the novel, I’ve got a couple of creative non-fiction pieces being published in anthologies, this year and next. Both are very personal, and a bit raw — “In This River” has just been published in an anthology called Impact: Women Writing After Concussion. Here’s me talking about my concussion (oh, soccer!) and reading an excerpt from my piece. I also “composed” and played the music that accompanies this video (“composed” in quotation marks because it’s just pure improv). A strange after-effect of the concussion: I was able to improvise very freely on the piano; more to do with rhythm than melody, almost as if some interior barrier had been breached.
video edited by Jun Kim
(Monday morning thank-you list, cont.)
5. Stretching myself, learning new skills … like the opportunity to make the recordings, above.
As I think about my relationship to my writing life, I am aware that publishing is a piece of it, and that means a different kind of work and effort and engagement with the world: presenting, public speaking, sharing. Looked at from one perspective, publicity work terrifies me, I’ll be honest. I’m terrified of feeling exposed, of being drained, of being judged wanting, of feeling ashamed. But looked at through the perspective of thanks, everything changes. Good morning, I love you! What if THANKS were the baseline I returned to many times each day?
Thanks brings me closer to wonder and admiration. Thanks brings me closer to patience, calm, the ability to pause. Thanks brings me closer to others. It’s a lens of perspective that gives me a different relationship to time and to self.
(and one last thank-you on the Monday morning thank-you list)
I love these things because they make possible my engagement with everything else. I don’t want to live an entirely interior life — I love that part, it comes easily for me; but I want to be in the world, I want to connect, share, respond, serve, workshop, teach, coach, relate, cradle, hold, feed, nurture, offer of what I’ve been given. You know? It’s a short life. I want to live in it.
"When Your Life Looks Back," by Jane Hirshfield
When your life looks back —
As it will, at itself, at you — what will it say?
Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool.Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from.Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many.
Your life will carry you as it did always,
With ten fingers and both palms,
With horizontal ribs and upright spine,
With its filling and emptying heart,
That wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return.
You gave it. What else could you do?
Immersed in air or in water.
Immersed in hunger or anger.
Curious even when bored.
Longing even when running away.
“What will happen next?” —
the question hinged in your knees, your ankles,
in the in-breaths even of weeping.
Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in.
Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face.
No back of the world existed,
No unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for.
This, your life had said, its only pronoun.
Here, your life had said, its only house.
Let, your life had said, its only order.
And did you have a choice in this? You did —
Sleeping and waking,
the horses around you, the mountains around you,
The buildings with their tall, hydraulic shafts.
Those of your own kind around you —
A few times, you stood on your head.
A few times, you chose not to be frightened.
A few times, you held another beyond any measure.
A few times, you found yourself held beyond any measure.
Mortal, your life will say,
As if tasting something delicious, as if in envy.
Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.
For the past five weeks, I set-up an automatic response on my email that went something like this: “I’m on a writing sabbatical.” I was tempted to keep it forever, but on Tuesday of this week, I turned it off, at least temporarily. This is the week between writing sabbatical and actual holiday (but how to tell the difference between those two amazing and lovely states of being?!). My writing sabbatical felt like a holiday except possibly even better, because it felt so purposeful. I felt so purposeful within it, doing the work. This week of errands and catch-up and to-do lists has been distinctly unsatisfying, by comparison.
To update you on my current project, I spent five weeks working daily (with the exception of most weekends), revising this novel called Francie’s Got a Gun, which is scheduled for publication next summer (2022). Some days got a bit chaotic and I couldn’t stop, working deep into the evening hours, while others had a more orderly rhythm and pace. But overall, I kept returning to the idea of patience, and inviting patience into the process. It’s hard to explain, maybe, but once I get rolling it’s very difficult to stop. My challenge, once working, is to find a way to stop, to detach myself from the work at the appropriate hour: to rest, to relax, to let the thing be.
So I practiced. I stopped to eat supper with my family almost every evening. I went for walks. If my 13-year-old knocked on my door for a dog walk mid-afternoon, I always said yes, no matter where I was at. And I forced myself to take real breaks on weekends, to see friends and family, to take a few (small) trips, to socialize, unwind, or simply just to remove myself from the work.
I practiced taking breaks away because I knew it would benefit the work. Toward the end of the process, I was hugely tempted to pull an all-nighter to finish everything all in one fell swoop, but I stopped myself. Patience, patience. My eyes were tired, it was already late, my brain was addled. The writing would be better in the morning, after a rest. (And I’m sure that it was.)
One of the places I worked, at my youngest’s swim lessons, sitting outside under a tree near the pool.
I’m not a big believer in balance (seems like a concept designed to torment the person attempting and failing to achieve it); but I do believe in focus. I believe that to go deep and be present, I need to set up the conditions that allow me to focus on one thing at a time. Dog walk with son. In-depth revisions. Backyard picnic with friends. This is easier when I have sufficient time to focus on the things that matter deeply to me. What made it possible to ease away from the book on the weekends was knowing I’d be able to focus full-tilt the following week. And this all falls apart when my week-days are split between a bunch of must-dos, errands, meetings and external responsibilities, the disruptions and lack of sustained time prevent focus from ever happening in the first place. Disappointment, disillusionment, derangement is the result. That’s why the conditions need to be deliberately set up, revisited often, and maintained; that’s why I might actually need “I’m on a writing sabbatical” as my automatic email response in perpetuity.
During this week in-between, this liminal week, I’m reflecting on what life will be like with fewer children living at home this fall (only two!!!!); and I’m daring to look ahead a few years and invite some dreaming about what I may want, as the house empties out. (So far the biggest issue has been that I can’t calibrate my cooking for a smaller group; the leftovers my meals create is a legit problem!)
What’s next for Francie’s Got a Gun? Within the next few weeks, I expect to hear back from my editor with comments and notes, and I’ll set up the conditions to get further revisions completed before the manuscript goes to copy editing. There’s a timeline, and it’s a real pleasure to work within it. Comforting. When that work is done, I’ve got more work planned, more projects underway, more reasons to protect many hours of each day to write (and research, and revise).
I almost wrote “just” to write. But no. Why tamp down the fire? Why minimize the desire, the joy, the pleasure I take from this discipline? It’s enough. It’s enough. It’s enough to fill to the brim this one small and precious life.
“Little Things” with full cast; illustrations by Tarunima Mittal
Well, in truth I can hardly remember what happened yesterday, let alone these past few months, but apparently, during the blur of lockdown and walks around the block and waiting, a few remarkable things have happened, of which I’ve been a part.
The X Page Workshop is completing its season three run TONIGHT (July 7th, 2021) with a live performance on Zoom! Tickets are free and you can register to attend right up till it starts at 7PM. I am truly in awe of what’s been accomplished by this group in 12 short weeks … on a compressed schedule … in a virtual space … Live online means accepting that some unknowns are out of our control (like, should I start worrying about a massive thunderstorm that shuts off the power? Okay, just checked the Weather Network and it’s calling for light rain over that time); but we’ve done everything we can to prepare those elements over which we do have some agency. And I think that’s the key to life, isn’t it? Prepare, and also let go. Let it be what it will be.
And here’s what it already is:
Sixteen women from the community, writing, editing, and polishing their own original, personal story.
Rehearsing it, vocal coaching, staging it, practicing it in small groups and at home.
Learning framing, lighting, how to angle the camera, troubleshooting tech issues.
Negotiating with children and pets and housemates to create a stage on which to present.
Choosing photos, props, outfits, hairstyles.
Supporting everyone else on the team and in the cast with collaboration, creative ideas, presence, encouragement, cheers. Such generosity!
Not to mention all the behind-the-scenes work to create a slideshow, program, original artwork, cohesive script, extra rehearsal time, tech support, and clear communication to keep everyone rowing in synch.
And on a personal note, there’s more work in the works, for which I am over-flowing with gratitude. As soon as this project ends, I’ll be diving into revisions for my new novel, with a planned pub date of next summer. It’s called Francie’s Got A Gun, and I’m starting to believe it will be a real thing … but you can ask me again in a month or so, when the first round of revisions are due. I plan to dive deep and stay deep till that work is complete.
I’ve also received a second grant toward the project I’m working on with my grandma. Much of the research is complete, and writing has begun; but I will be setting it aside temporarily to finish Francie. One thing at a time. One big project at a time, anyway. (I think I can keep cooking dinner and fetching veggies and doing yoga and other good summer things.) At times, it feels like I’m half-asleep, working in slow-motion, digging my way through deep tunnels, burrowing into what seem like dead ends, and then I surface and wake in wonder at all that is being accomplished, even if the pace seems whimsical, even if I lose some of the good stuff underground. I don’t know how much time I’ll get in this life, but I hope to use it all up, and make (and discover) some beautiful things along the way — ephemeral as a performance, strong as a connection, life-giving as a community, sustaining as a story, well-told.
Hope to see you tonight. And if not there, then somewhere, sometime, virtually or in real life, soon.
I laughed out loud when I heard that Donald Trump quit his blog because no one was reading it. As someone who has been tapping out and publishing blog posts for — eep! — 13 years or so, I would have been happy to predict (for free!) just such an outcome for Trump and his marketing team. A blog is old-school. It’s of the past. That’s probably why I like it so much! It’s like a dream journal, but with an option to press publish. It feels both personal and anonymous (maybe that’s a bit of fiction I use to allow myself to keep posting, but that’s honestly how it feels). Connections are made that seem random and serendipitous.
Other tech platforms have replaced blogs, but so far I haven’t felt compelled to move from this medium that’s as comfortable now as a worn-in pair of jeans. I see creative people posting videos of themselves journaling out loud on Instagram, or streaming on YouTube, and of course TikTok provides a dynamic platform that seems to vault some into viral sensations, something no blog could ever do. Those are visual and aural mediums, where personalities and characters can make a sharp, quick impact on the senses; and a blog is mostly composed of the written word. Of course, the blog has also been largely replaced by the subscriber-based newsletter. And the Instagram feed provides a platform for mini-posts that feel quite blog-like: photo + words.
Where am I going with this rambling reflection on digital communications? Maybe I’m trying to figure out what this blog means to me, and why I keep returning, when other, more popular self-publishing platforms exist. I think I come back because it feels easy. The pace is calm, based purely on my interests and time in any given week. There’s no expectation that something needs to be published on Friday morning, or Sunday night; no endless stream to keep feeding, to try to be seen, noticed, liked. It’s just me and this comforting box on the screen, into which I’ve been typing words for many years.
It doesn’t feel like I’m “creating content” here.
I’m just being me, in the comforting ways that this medium allows me appear.
I would appear as someone different, somewhere else, at least a little bit, and while that could be just fine, and maybe I will experiment and grow into different ways of presenting myself, I like the me that gets to be here, at least for now.
More later …
PS Do you blog? If so, tell me why in the comments and please link to your blog.
Wherever you've come from, wherever you're going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause. Thank you for stopping by. Your comments are welcome.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm a fiction writer, reader, editor, dreamer, arts organizer, workshop leader, forever curious. I believe words are powerful, storytelling is healing, and art is for everyone.