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I am a writer

by Justine Blank

My name is Justine, and I am a writer in the good company of so many others who write for love and hope for validation. I have had a love affair with the written word--both writing it and reading it--since I got my first diary ... you know, the cheap white one with the secret lock on the front that my pet parakeet could have cracked with a single beak-tweak. I am a former flight attendant, marketing manager, graduate student (didn't finish out of sheer boredom), aerobic dance instructor, digital art photographer--in other words, an ADD employment history. The only constant in my life has been writing and reading ... well, and my husband of 39 years because I can't remember what happened before him.

I am a writer. Okay, I have no credits to back that up. I’ve never been published. Well, I’ve only tried once so far.  But for the first time in my long life of writing, I can say those words out loud, “I am a writer”, without the self-deprecation that used to follow—like “but I’m not very good” or “it’s just a hobby”. And I no longer say things like, “I’m a struggling young writer”, mainly because I haven’t been young for a very long time and “I’m a struggling old writer” conjures up an image of a drooling crone in a wheelchair with a legal pad and a Sharpie, muttering and scribbling. 

I fantasized that my first novel was going to be published and made into a movie starring Ellen Page.  Then it was read by a well-known author and editor who told me in no uncertain terms that it was not publishable. Believe me, she did not equivocate or make any attempts to spare my feelings.  However, she did say that I could definitely write. Those were her exact words, “. . . you can definitely write.” I hang on to those words like I hang on to my blood.  Anyway, she suggested that I shelve that “starter novel” and begin a new one. That’s exactly what I did, and she was right. This one is pretty good.  I can feel it—so can my writing group. It’s half finished and I’m now in the middle of getting bogged down in the middle, and I live in fear of losing my mojo. But in actuality I think I will not only finish it but also publish it. I believe there are readers out there who will love this book.  How’s that for confidence?

So right now, while I’m stuck in the middle (I refuse to call it Writer’s Block), I find myself daydreaming about a nebulous time in the future when I will be interviewed by Charlie Rose who will call me the next Erma Bombeck. I can only daydream about such a thing . . . I do love her writing.  I imagine Charlie Rose asking me what advice I have for other writers. Of course, Charlie Rose will only let me say half a sentence before he interrupts with his own ideas. I respect and admire Charlie Rose, but he has an exasperating habit of interrupting. It’s so frustrating when he has on a guest that I would love to listen to, and instead I get to hear is how well-informed Charlie Rose is on the expert’s subject. But he does have exceptional guests. 

Anyway, I would say something very modest, like no one should do what I do, that they should do what works for them, yadayadayada. But that really is the truth. No one should do what I do in the process of writing—at least not according to all the how-to writing books I have read.  Here’s what I do that’s all wrong:

I don’t write every day. Some days I write for six hours until I feel barnacles growing on my fanny and some days I do laundry. Some days I write for an hour, and some days I go for a hike and then watch Project Runway.

I don’t have a designated space for writing. I often write perched on my super comfortable Fake-Tempurpedic mattress, laptop propped on my thighs. But I also write in the black recliner in my bedroom (when Louise the cat isn’t in it), or in the overstuffed chair and ottoman in the office (when my husband isn’t in it), or on the chaise part of the sectional sofa downstairs (when the TV isn’t on), or on the guest room bed (nobody goes in there). I never ever write at a table or desk, because I can’t think straight unless my bottom is on a cushion and my feet are up on something.

I don’t write at the same time everyday. I write mostly in the afternoon, because I am not a morning person—just ask my husband. But sometimes I write late morning, sometimes early afternoon, sometimes late afternoon, sometimes at night after my reality shows are over.

I don’t write a set number of words or pages everyday. Sometimes I write twenty pages and some days I write one page or nothing at all. 

I don’t write the whole story first and then go back and rewrite. Okay, I know this one is tantamount to literary construction blasphemy, but for some reason I just can’t move forward knowing that the last chapter I wrote is so blatantly bad. So I write a chapter, then I go back and fix it, then move on. When I say fix it, that doesn’t mean I don’t rewrite again and edit after it’s all done.  On the contrary, I will rewrite and edit the poor thing to death because I am a perfectionist, and it will never be perfect no matter how hard I try, but I try anyway.

I don’t have a designated group of pals to read my stuff. I will let anybody read it.  If some random person says, “Oh, how interesting . . . I would like to read something someday,”-- you know, just to be nice, well, I’ll give it to them right then and there. The problem with that is that afterwards I pant and pace and plead with the phone to ring, waiting for the feedback that may not come for months and wondering why that stinker couldn’t drop the rest of her life and read my story so I can know what she thinks of it. Of course, if I don’t hear from her within 24 hours I’m certain she found it disturbing, and not in a good way, and doesn’t know how to tell me, so I’m devastated before I ever hear from her.  My husband reads my work and then says things like, “Yeah, it’s okay.” He reads Robert B. Parker. I should never let him read my work, but I can’t help myself because, as I said, I let anybody read it.

So I’m sure you agree, I will most likely not ever be asked to write an instructional book on writing, unless it’s strictly targeted to people with Adult ADHD, which is a diagnosis I’m pretty sure I qualify for now that I read this. 

I recently sent a short story to Glimmer Train for the first time along with my $15. It was an agony of technological angst because they do online submissions now and I’m not very good with online anything. For one thing, I’m too old, and for another I am so right-brained that my son says he fears my right brain is eating my left brain. Anyway, it took months to work up the courage to give their online submission process a go and when I finally did, I found that it was quite simple, just like they said it would be. In my defense, past wrestling with online uploads, downloads, and overloads have not been simple, especially when they said it would be, and have led to disaster. Now I check Glimmer Train everyday to see if my story is still there or if they have already read it, made gagging noises and threw it into cyberspace. So far it’s still there because they aren’t even going to read it until after the deadline which isn’t for a week yet. I know that, but I still check everyday.

People always want to know how a writer comes up with ideas, and I’m sure Charlie Rose will ask me that, so here goes. The idea for the book I’m writing came to me in the middle of the night while I was visiting my son and daughter-in-law. I have a new grandbaby and at the time she was only a few months old.  So the kids were still up all night and exhausted with tending to her.  Having already done that when I was their age, I went to bed and left the middle of the night baby-tending to them, but anyway I couldn’t sleep. The quirky name of my main character jumped into my head for no apparent reason and then her sisters’ names quickly followed, then their last name, then the father’s name, and it went like that. The names were the catalyst for building a storyline and by the time I returned home I had a weak outline for a plot, which has since changed four times. So I guess I’ll have to tell Charlie Rose that ideas just magically appear in my head, because that’s what happened.

The one piece of advice I will give is—don’t try to be humorous. Whenever I try to be amusing, it’s an embarrassing failure, like a bombing stand-up comedian. I’m not a particularly funny person in real life, but I think the world is pretty funny and, for some reason, I can write about that.  But if I try to be humorous, it’s a disaster and people misunderstand what I was saying or they get confused. If you can write humor, it will come out on its own.   

I asked my youngest son (the one with the baby) if he thought the first two chapters of my book were funny.  He looked at me with Zombie eyes and said no. I have forgiven him because at the time he hadn’t slept in two and a half months and was in that foggy new-daddy place where they continually ask themselves, “Why did I ever agree to this?” I never should have forced my book on him at such a time, but you now know that I have no boundaries in that area. 

It remains to be seen where this second novel of mine will go. I am confident that it will not go on the closet shelf with my first one, but I have no idea what that means. Will it be rejected so many times from agents and editors alike that I give up and fall into a deep depression requiring drugs? Will I land a $100,000 two book deal? Will I self-publish just to avoid the shelf in the closet? All I can do—all any of us can do—is keep on writing, crank up my mojo again, finish the book and put it out there in the world.  Really, if The Situation from Jersey Shore can get a book published, I don’t see why I can’t. Charlie Rose may not have The Situation on his show though. He’s very particular who he interrupts. 

Of course, I want to be published. If you ever hear a writer say, “I don’t care if I get published, I just write for the love of writing,” believe me, that person is lying up his wazoo. We all do it for the love of writing and we all want to get published. Those two things are the conjoined twins of writing. So, I will keep trying, and if any of you out there happen to know Charlie Rose, see if you can get a word in edgewise long enough to put in a plug for me—when my book comes out.    

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