I sat down a few months ago to watch Stuck in Love, which I thought I’d like because it’s about writers and I like romantic comedies. Well. I enjoyed some of the actors’ performances, but one particular aspect of the film made me wish I hadn’t watched it, because I don’t like to get mad.
So what was it? First, the novelist dad in the movie is so successful that he lives in a beautiful, fancy home by the sea. Okay, fine. I’m sure Stephen King and other authors with his type of success have oodles of money with which to live ritzy celebrity lives. But this man has two children: a daughter and a son, both of whom are in their late teens. And the daughter’s first novel has been accepted for publication, maybe because of her dad’s name, maybe not. That smells like lies to me, but it gets worse when we see her champagne-filled book-launching party, and it gets horrid when her book sells well and she looks like she’s on the path to richness and glory, too.
And then, at the end of the book, the seventeen-year-old son writes a story that somehow gets to Stephen King, who calls him and tells him how awesome a writer he is. Gaggy McGaggerton.
This movie makes writing look easy. This movie makes writing look like anyone can sit and write a million-dollar book in a couple afternoons.
I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. every day this week. I start my day with coffee and three hours of Vermont College of Fine Arts-related work—writing and revising essays; listening to faculty lectures on objective correlative, ways to convey emotion, and exposition, all on the wonderful VCFA database; reading chapters on point of view and exposition in craft books; and revising my experimental (for me) new novel that I’m writing this semester under my advisor’s guidance.
I squeeze a T25 (great workout program, by the way) workout in there, walk Bella and feed her, and eat breakfast, and then I hit the laptop keys for two more hours. I spend those hours revising AND THE BLACKBIRDS MOCK, which I thought was perfect two months ago. But because I workshopped it during my first residency and received another important nudge-and-critique on it, I now see all the ways in which I can improve it. It’s hard to sit down every day and re-think my manuscript yet again, but once I get going, it’s the most absorbing, exhilarating, and rewarding thing I do. I love that I’m learning the art of revision.
After lunch, I read. I’m usually reading three books at a time: ten books every four weeks for VCFA, plus books that I hope help me with my BLACKBIRD revisions, plus a book that I choose for myself. Always a book I choose for myself. This amounts to about five books a week. (I have 47 books on my roll-top desk alone, plus a whole wall-to-floor bookcase full of them.)
After that, I write some more, whether it’s new work for the new novel, BETWEEN PRIMROSE AND FOXTAIL, or more revisions for BLACKBIRD. One of the best things about VCFA is that I have this large, amazing class, and five of them have agreed to critique BLACKBIRD as I revise it in the next few months. This means that I revise a chapter and send it off to them, wait for a response, and then revise again according to the response. I’m also helping them by critiquing their work, so I set aside time for that.
And of course, I have a husband, so I leave my desk to spend time with him before he starts school next week. And I have friends and family to call, and Bella to pet and try to pick up. But I’m this busy and I haven’t even started my job yet—I’ll start part-time work in late September and pray that I can make myself wake up at 3 a.m. so I can work on my writing and leave the house by 7 a.m.
And guess what? I love what I do. I have times where I feel like I write crap. I have times where I know what I’ve written is strong. And every single day, I realize how much I have to learn, and that energizes me more than anything. I used to think that writing wasn’t too hard and that it would make me rich like the characters are in Stuck in Love.
It won’t make me rich. I’m not J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. But it will, and it does, make me say to myself every day, “I love this. I will do this for as long as I am alive.”
I hope that everyone I know and love finds work that makes them say the same thing, even if they have to hold other jobs and wake up hours before the sun in order to do that work and live that dream.