Digesting Disillusionment

digesting disillusionment

I bought a cool backpack on my summer vacation at the end of last month. It really came in handy for hauling around water bottles and any little things my wife and I happened to purchase.

Hemp backpack

Today I brought it to work for the first time because my best friend wanted to borrow my copy of Against the Day since his is in one of a dozen tubs of books in a storage unit temporarily. Of course, I obliged.

Normally I bring a canvas messenger bag to work. In it I store my planner and usually a folder or two. It’s fairly thin, though I can easily squeeze in one, sometimes two novels. But if you’ve ever seen Against the Day, you’ll realize that it’s a thick book, at not quite half a million words (about a Descriptions of Heaven’s worth shy of the half million actually). So, I thought this was a great time to use my new backpack. And while it made carrying Against the Day much easier, I totally forgot to transfer the folder I keep my latest handwritten dialogue in over to it from my messenger bag.

The reason I’m telling you this? Well, I didn’t get a chance to type up the dialogue I wrote. In other words, I wrote it, stored it, and haven’t thought about it since early in the week. And now that I’m at work from 7am to 11pm on the last possible day to announce the completion of my next dialogue, I have to admit I’m only guessing at the title. I think it’s Digesting Disillusionment. Although I might be a little off. So, just to clarify, it’s the working title. So if it changes or is published by somewhere under a slightly altered name, you know why.

So, with that said, leave your comments, questions, and stories about your own writing mishaps below.

disillusioned bride

In this dialogue, a woman drunkenly snapchats her friends while wearing the wedding dress from the wedding that never happened. A friend goes to visit, but the ex-bride-to-be won’t open the door.

Personal Update

Callout31

When I accepted the opportunity to have Descriptions of Heaven published by Harvard Square Editions (rejecting two other small press publishers who wanted the rights to print the manuscript) I set aside a new novel I was working on at the time. I set it aside so I could devote my full attention to, at first, editing my debut and, later, marketing my book.

After Descriptions of Heaven came out, I wrote the first drafts to half a dozen short stories or so. As I like to say, all these story ideas were backed up, blocking the creative pipeline. That pipeline is a little clearer now, and I’ve begun work on my novel-in-progress again.

I’ve been working on the novel in the new library. The old library was one of the small bedrooms and did have the advantage of a small balcony where one could enjoy a book and a view. However, long-term plans finally reached fruition when my best friend, Mike Convery, moved in. I believe he owns more books than I do. So, Libby and I moved out of our large bedroom and into a smaller room, which had until then functioned as an office. I rather like our new space. It’s cozy and, for some reason, I sleep much better there (my love of tight spaces perhaps?). There’s an entrance to an attic bedroom too from the new library. Since Libs and I gave the room over to a communal space, it opened that bedroom up for her sister to move into last month, just in time for Abby to begin her first year of college classes here in Sioux City.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


My writing desk is now located in the library since there’s now no dedicated office space. I must say I don’t mind writing while surrounded by all our books (sans those piled in our respective bedrooms, plus a sole bookcase—built by my great grandfather—that sits in the living room, filled with matching hardcover classics).

As some of you know, I spent most of my summer writing at the Blue Cafe. I will admit, between sorting and shelving books, vacationing with an artist friend in Virginia, and a belated honeymoon with my wife, I did not make it much to the cafe during the months of July and August.
Sept7writingdeskAnd, as you can see, my desk is lined with post-it notes. They’re organized and essential to have for reference while writing my novel. I simply cannot take all the notes with me to the cafe. If I wrote my first draft on a computer rather than by hand (the pile of paper on the left is the hand-written manuscript) I could use the sticky notes function. However, there’s another reason that I must write here at the desk: the cafe is open only three hours during the day. Yes, I spent most of my summer writing short stories during a measly three hours. With so little time actually writing, I found myself editing at home, reading on the porch, and going on frequent walks and picnics with my new wife—all time spent well in my opinion.

But now it’s crunch time. I’m back to writing from morning until early afternoon, usually six hours (including a short lunch). The first thing I am doing is reading through what I’ve written. I have about seven chapters typed up. I’m now reading through those chapters, doing light editing as I go. At the time of composing this blog, I’m in the middle of chapter 4.

Ah, but what about those short stories? Will they be seeing themselves in print soon?
To answer that question, I’ll say that I still plan to go to the Blue Cafe once a week. You’ll find me there on Thursdays (the only weekday Mike works, which leaves me a little too lonely—I work best in a “studio setting” with the presence of others nearby). At the cafe I intend to work on my short fiction and other non-novel writing, submitting it and editing it, maybe even writing new stories should the impulse to compose be strong enough.

Some days I will also spend time on other writing-related work. But not every day. As much as I like the fantasy of a hermetic life of writing, my reality is that I have a lot more in my life to fill up my time. I write, yes, but I also do most of the household cooking, take on the major cleaning projects, keep the houseplants alive, and am essential to shopping excursions. I am a bit of a den mother—even the new members of the household have that figured out already.

I’d rather my plate be emptied of some of these duties (essentially the cleaning, as I do love cooking), that way I’d have more time for reading and studying. But, really, I don’t have any concrete complaints. My new roommates have picked up some of the chores. My cooking is now appreciated by more than just Libby and myself. I’ve found I have plenty of time for great conversations with Mike that only supplement my enjoyment of art and books. Somewhere along the line about an hour a day has opened up for me to begin studying Latin again—which is a joy for me because I’m not a natural when it comes to languages, and I love the mental challenge.

So things are going well. They’re going great. I have more time than ever to work, learn, and play. My house is full of people I love. My blind dog has more sets of hands to pet her than ever before. And my next novel is well under way.
Spet7Selfie

**************
**************
**************
**************
**************
****************************

(How To) Quit Your Job & Write

Callout1

I am starting this blog nearly a year to the day I quit my day job to write full time. This post isn’t actually so much a step-by-step “how-to”; rather, this post is about under what circumstances this may be an intelligent move and I filter this through details about my own decision-making process. I assume that a lot of my readers here have themselves contemplated this move away from the daily grind in order to pursue a novelist’s career. And, if this isn’t you, it will give you a little background about me and about the risks we writers face in order to chase our dreams.

 5895385878_5c3f77913b

Should you quit your job to write?

No. Don’t do it: quitting your job is a stupid idea. You’ve got car payments, a mortgage, kids to feed, student loans to pay, a family who—until now—was fairly assured about your sanity.

Yes. Do it ASAP: quitting your job is a wonderful idea. It’s work that’s stupid. All it does is get in the way of you and your Great American Novel. Without a job, you’ll have time to write your masterpiece.

I’m not a huge fan of relativism, but when trying to decide if quitting your job to pursue the career of prosateur or poet is a smart move, you’re going to need to look closely at your own life and situation before putting in your two weeks. That being said, I really feel work is stupid if it’s unfulfilling. An artist is better off making art full time than being jailed in an office cubicle, wasting talent mopping factory floors, or faking smiles to fulfill the expectations of the craptastic customer service industry.

So, I can’t tell you to quit your job or even if it’s a good idea for you in your own particular situation to quit your job. I can only tell you about my own experience in quitting my job.

Let’s start out with this plain and honest fact: I’m not unemployed. You see, I hope to someday make money at writing, but I’m one of these novelists (to paraphrase Flaubert) who can spend an entire morning putting a comma in and then spend an afternoon taking it out. At this pace, I simply can’t make a living as a writer doing articles for magazines or wing out enough short fiction for the New Yorker and other paying venues to keep my debts at bay. That’s why, when I decided to quit my day job, I first sought out another job to replace it. This new job, though, had to have this one important difference: it would allow me time to write, either at work or more time to write outside of work. I ended up getting lucky because I found a job that gave me both.

How do you know it’s time to quit flipping burgers and time to pick up a pen? That’s a tough one. For me, I needed more than one reason to make writing my fulltime vocation. When I quit, I had over three years of tenure. It was a fairly good job, paying well for the area. I ranked highly and was liked by my co-workers. But, the company forced me to transfer to a new position—it turned out to be a position I just didn’t like. Now, I already didn’t actually like my job, but it was bearable (most days). This transfer though involved a lot of technical knowledge of a major video game platform, which was not a good fit for me.

Was this enough to quit my job and pursue writing? No. It might have been enough to find a comparable job, one not involved in any way with tech support or knowledge of the latest first-person shooter, but with equally awesome benefits. What tipped the scales from workaday life to writer’s life was this: the start of a new novel.

Let me set the scene: when I first moved back to Nebraska after many years in South Dakota—most of them spent as a university student—I began working on book. I set out to start writing a short story, but it went past the normal limits of the genre and it grew to be a novella (the longest thing I’d ever written at that point). My first drafts of this book, Descriptions of Heaven, were written between 2012 and 2013. After this, I worked on short stories and further revisions of my novella. Then, in 2014, I began working on a really cool novel, which (had I finished it) would have been a kind of cousin to Derrida’s Glas, except it would have been fiction and quite possibly still a readable document. It’s painful to admit this but. . .this cousin to Glas was a ‘malformed neonate’ and its health was failing as fast as I was writing it. In despair one day, I picked up a blank piece of paper and started writing the first lines of what is now my novel-in-progress. This was gutsy, if only because these lines were the start of a book that had been gestating inside my brain for over seven years. I didn’t know I was ready to write it until I saw that I had actually penned out the first few lines. After the first page was written down on paper, I knew that I had to devote myself as wholly as possible to this book.

The first thing I did was math (an unnatural act for me, which is why I rechecked my work several times) and decided that I could afford to quit if I could get x-amount of pay at another job and if this other job allowed me to devote x-amount of hours to writing every week. And, as I mentioned above, this meant working less hours or a job where writing at work was possible. I’m not going to credit myself with any brilliance in picking out my new, writer-friendly vocation; I got the idea from my best friend, Mike Convery, who had worked at a hotel one summer and normally spent most of his working day deep in a book. Luckily, in the Sioux City area, the majority of hotels and inns are located all in the same general vicinity. I went out on a Thursday night right after work to pick up applications, turned them in on Friday, and had a job at the one closest to my home by Saturday.

Did I vacillate? Yes.
Did my long-time employer beg me to stay? Yes.  🙂
Did I stay? No.
Why? Because, my new job offered me a schedule I couldn’t resist. I work only two days a week. I grant, they’re sixteen-hour shifts, but that’s not bad considering the payoff, which is tons of time to pursue writing. And, really, it’s often slow enough at the front desk for me to be able write, read, watch cartoons. . .or even blog (now that I’m a blogger).

writerguy

So, do I—in general—recommend quitting your job to become a writer? Yes, but do it smartly; you might already have the perfect balance between day job and writing desk (you might just need some time management skills to utilize that balance). Or, maybe the workaday life is holding you back. For me, it was a mix of the muse, a poor fit with a new position, and the presentation of a perfect opportunity that led me to make writing the main focus of my working life.

How about you? Would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and concerns about quitting your job to write the next Great American Novel. Comment below.