Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

“Poetry and consumption are the most flattering of diseases.”

- William Shenstone

Last week, one of my fellow writer-bloggers, Rebecca, wrote a post about her new, fabulous schedule to keep on top of her writing and life*. Then her cat got sick and all of her plans flew out the window. She was down on herself, so I wrote a pep comment.

I could identify with her plight. After all, on the days I was without a sub call, while I didn’t spend it watching soaps and eating (what’s the cliché?) Bonbons, I knew that if I created a schedule, I would be more productive.

If I had to describe my writing productivity, I’d have to admit that I do it in spurts. When a new book idea comes to me, I spend every waking (and sometimes, sleeping) moment writing or planning. It’s like I’m possessed. Rough drafts often take about a month from start to finish. Then comes the editing process. After that, it’s time to show it to others and edit again based on their feedback. Next, the dreaded querying. If I get comments from the rejections, I must devote more time to editing. The process seems never-ending.

With some manuscripts, I have an idea for a series. I write a rough draft of the second (and once, third), and they just sit. Waiting. For. The. First. Manuscript. To. Find. A. Home. So far, no homes for my manuscripts have been found, so these second and third parts of series feel like a waste of time. I know they’re not because any writing makes me a better writer. But it also means that when I receive rejections, it’s for multiple manuscripts waiting in the wings. I know I should wait until the first one lands me an agent so I don’t take it too hard, but when those characters and stories gnaw at me, I want to get it all down while the ideas are fresh.

Right now, there are two new projects on the burner that have been simmering for weeks. Maybe months. At this point, I think it’s beyond simmering and on to boiling over. But as another writer-blogger, Old Kitty said, “Make that writing sparkle! Polish it up again and again and again until you can see not only your reflection but the colour of your eyes in it!”** Now I’ve decided only a certain amount of time can be spent writing my posts, commenting on other posts, and critiquing other manuscripts. Those are all important, but it’s easy to keep me from using others’ recent critiques to fix my manuscripts and from writing anything new.

The other day, I announced to my husband that on my days off, working on my own pieces was going to be my priority. I knew it was vital to be perfecting my craft in order to get out of this slump.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve had back-to-back colds since February 13th. My cough sounds like a Victorian woman dying from consumption. I’ve been dragging, which isn’t amenable to creativity, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I vowed to at least go through my critique group and manuscript exchange partner’s comments.

Yesterday, I woke up ready to go (albeit slowly) after it was clear that I wasn’t getting a sub job. The laundry and ironing were caught up, and I didn’t have to cook dinner, so I had no excuses. Then my daughter had symptoms seemed like a urinary tract infection (UTI). She had a sleep over that night and I didn’t want to leave this over the weekend. She and I have never had one, but I’ve heard that they’re painful.

So, I called the doctor’s office and made an appointment. Then I drove my son to school and my daughter to the doctor. After a short wait, she was examined and I was given a cup for her to pee in. She could not pee. It was my fault because I had her use the bathroom before we left the house. (I know; I’m an idiot.) And it didn’t occur to me to have her drink something before we left. (More evidence of my idiocy.)

Getting something to go into that plastic cup became a quest. I turned on the sink faucet for her to hear the sound. I sang silly songs about peeing. I made her drink six or seven cups of water. I got impatient with her. There's nothing like pressuring a seven-year-old to pee to make a mother proud. To make matters worse, I dropped the cup into the toilet.

I had to tell the nurse I'd contaminated the cup and ask for a new one. My daughter and I sat in the little room for a while, waiting for that water to make its way through her body. When some time elapsed, we returned to the bathroom. Nothing. I was calmer this time. It had to happen some time, right? I dropped the cup into the toilet AGAIN. Scooping it up and rinsing it out, I decided it would have to be fine because I was NOT telling them I’d dropped a second cup.

Then I told my daughter to take a break and wait for me while I grabbed her drinking cup, hoping some more water would do the trick. When I returned, she gleefully exclaimed, “Mommy, I have to pee!” “Are you sure?” I asked. She was sure. And she did. It wasn’t much, considering how much I’d forced her to drink.

The whole ordeal took an hour to find out that she didn't have a UTI. Driving her to school, I wondered how many times she’d have to use the bathroom during the rest of the morning.

By the time I returned home, I was beat; this new cold forced me to nap. When I woke up, I got some commenting done, checked e-mail, ate lunch, and edited a partner’s manuscript. Truth be told, I didn’t have what it took to work on my manuscripts. It takes more of everything to work on my own pieces. The rest of the day was filling with errands.

I’m not going to beat myself up, just like I told Rebecca not to beat herself up. Instead, I’ll dwell on what I need to do next time. I’m a mother, a wife, and I have a part-time, erratic job. The condo’s roof needs to be replaced. My husband and I are starting the process of looking at houses and setting up a pre-approval. All of this takes time and energy. Instead of dwelling on how hard it is to be a published writer (1 in 6,000)*** and what I haven’t accomplished, I’ll just have to vow on the days that a child doesn’t have to be rushed to the doctor and I don’t have consumptive cough, I need to make time for what matters to me****.

And writing really matters to me.

*Rebecca’s post:

** From comments section of this post:

*** The Antagonist’s sobering information from a conference:

**** Karen G’s fifteen reasons why an author needs confidence:


  1. Hi Theresa, I have total sympathy with you, sometimes it is virtually impossible to write anything but I am also a believer that we couldn't write anything if we weren't immersed in real life.
    It's funny I wrote a blogpost about the same thing a while ago, have a look if you get a spare moment, wrote it while I was nursing my youngest with chickenpox, hope you feel better soon,

  2. Brigid, I just came back from reading that hysterical post and left a comment.

    I agree, we need to live in order to write. But we need to write in order to live (A little dramatic). What a paradox.

  3. It's hard enough to pee in cup when you're the one doing the peeing and holding the cup, but having to hold the cup for someone else is definitely a skill.

  4. I can relate to where you are with your manuscripts. I have two that I'm editing and two that I have ideas for. I really need more time to polish and query, and then even more time to start writing the new ones in case the first MSs don't find homes. But what do I do with that time? Blog, of course, among other things. Hope you feel better and find time to write!

  5. Oh, but all of these experiences, particularly the one with your daughter and the cup, provide wonderful writing topics! I know a blog isn't a novel, but you are still writing!

  6. Sheila, that's true! I've never dropped a cup when it's been just me.

    Shelley, blogging is my salvation and a time-waster. Writing each post takes a couple of hours, plus commenting on other blogs.

    Good luck with your manuscripts.

    Edie, thank you. I agree that it's still writing. In fact, I think it makes my fiction even better.

  7. Oh Theresa Milstein!

    First, a big PHEW that your daughter doesn't have UTI. I hope she's ok now and all peed out. Oh my goodness - I was going oh no!! when you dropped the cup twice...!

    Second, you poor ill consumptive creature! I do hope you are taking things easy now and are finding time to rest! You sound completely and utterly exhausted. How you still keep it together and go teaching and doing all sorts is really admirable. I can only go "wow", you super woman!!!

    I like how you've prioritised as well - how you seeemed to have decided a time and a place for what matters to you - you and your family!

    It really galls me beyond galling to see all these "celebrities" get publishing deals just like that - most likely ghost-written - and yet here are writers like you and KarenG doing their best to multi-task and be a writer too and be flamin good at it and still get knocked back for six by the industry.

    But everytime I get annoyed I think of all those writers who have struggled for years to make it and then do! So I have everything - everything possible - crossed for you and your dreams to come true.

    Take care

  8. In theory, writing sounds so easy, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. I thought this way at one time and boy, was I naive. It is hard. Without any other occupations or responsibilities, it is difficult. Add family, career, and home to the mix, and there's even more to contend with. I'm actually so thankful for the other elements of my life because when the writing world becomes too harsh, I can turn to the people who love me for support and encouragement. I hope you get over that cold soon, Theresa, and I also hope you find some time for yourself.

  9. Thanks for your lovely comment, Old Kitty. I'm impressed by Karen G; with two published books and a third about to come out, while she's got a WIP. And you have a piece about to come out in US from the, 100 Stories for Haiti book (I'm waiting for the e-mail when it's available). In addition, you have two jobs, all while starting over. Don't minimize how much you're accomplishing.

    Celebrities getting published upsets me to no end. They get huge advances (five and six-figure deals), while most are lucky to get 5k on an advance for a first book. One can't live on that.

    Thank you, Roxy. My husband and I discussed this topic last night. I'm going to put four hours aside each day that I don't get a sub job. From 8am-12pm, my job is to write. I think this is going to make a big difference in my progress and frame of mind.

  10. I understand where you're coming from. When I get a brillant idea, I am all over it for some time and then... just nothing. It's so easy to get wrapped up in everyday things (especially since you have children, wow!). You will get there, though, keep at it!

  11. Thanks, Tiffany! You're juggling subbing, working at Target, and graduate school, which can't be easy.

  12. Hi Theresa! Thanks for linking my post! I was reading this and thinking several things: 1) You're an incredibly prolific writer to have so many mss. going on, plus blogging, plus commenting on a lot of blogs. That's really something imho. 2) Your husband sounds very supportive. Mine is, too, and it's such a blessing. Although he does think writers are "weird" and "freaks." Only he feels bad when he says it lol! 3) It's really hard to pee in a cup, I don't care how much you had to drink.

  13. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got (which came from my friend's agent) was to not start a sequel until the first book was sold. Instead, do something totally different, so you can have two manuscripts out there instead of one sitting at home waiting.

    I do the exact same thing with my days at home. I think I should be able to get so much writing done, but once the day begins, I have a hard time getting back into writing mode. I do my best writing before anyone else is awake. Once the day starts, life just gets in the way.

    I remember doing the same thing with trying to get my son to pee in a cup. I'm sure the people at the lab see that sort of thing all the time.

  14. Thanks for the compliment, Karen G. I think for awhile, my husband didn't know what to make of my writing and the business, but now he's very supportive.

    When my daughter found out she had to pee in a cup, she wasn't jazzed about it. I told her, "You have no idea how many times I had to do this when I was pregnant."

    Susan Fields, too bad I didn't follow that writing advice. Hopefully I've learned my lesson for the future.

    I'm hoping that my 8am-12pm plan is going to make a big difference in my progress. A lot of writer-mothers write before their children get up, but I can't awaken any earlier and I'm usually too beat in the evenings.

  15. I wouldn't beat yourself up at all! I don't have children and I can find many many MANY reasons to procrastinate. I should flog myself daily.

    And peeing in a cup is never easy. Performance anxiety and all that!

  16. Talli, thanks for the comment. I'm glad you found my blog. I just tried to leave a comment on your blog, but word verification wasn't cooperating. I'll try again later.

    Don't flog yourself!

    Yes, my daughter definitely had performance anxiety.