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You Can’t Be Twenty On Sugar Mountain

Over the weekend, a cousin I only see once a year asked me if I was writing. We were standing in front of the Gravitron at a makeshift carnival on the north fork of Long Island. Parents were mulling about while their kids went on rides.THe smell of zepoles and sausage stirring the still air. In the distance fire crackers exploded. Babies screamed. Couples held hands, carrying a stuffed dog or panda from a carnival game. The barkers in the background: win a prize for your lady, only three dollars, everyone’s a winner. I said  kinda, mostly screenplays, quite convinced I won’t get anywhere. Ha ha. La-di-da. Let’s face it, saying you’re writing screenplays is about as absurd as saying you’re running away with your podiatrist, or you’re seagulling, or taking flossing to the next level.

What about you? Are you writing?

58 Responses

  1. Yes, am writing. That’s what I answered someone who asked what I was doing this summer. Oh, person said, I mean do you have a real job. Good thing you reminded me about the flossing. My dentist will love you.

  2. I’ve had a very exciting week replacing the words “it” and “just” and “and then.” So. Very. Exciting! Here’s to 300 pages of carnival.

  3. i’ve been wondering if simply telling people that i’ve stopped writing for good would be my best bet for now. this way, i won’t feel the urge to give anymore disjointed-kind-of-lying-but-really-just-not-telling-the-whole-truth-because-i’m-still-trying-to-figure-out-what-i’m-working-on bullshit answer.

    i imagine it to go like this:

    whoever: “what are you writing these days?”
    me: “nothing.”
    whoever: “oh–taking a break?”
    me: “no, i stopped.”
    whoever: “stopped writing?”
    me: “yep. i quit. no more writing–not a word. i’m not even sure i remember how to spell…you going to eat that last fry?”

  4. I’ve been flossing the next level of my seagull’s podiatrist. During breaks, I’ve been working on the rewrite of a collection of short stories derived from my experiences in the wacky world of law, lawyers, “support staff” (i.e., servants), criminals, and other lambs who have gone astray.

  5. Y’know. I am! But it is the most dawdling, padding, piss-ant excuse for keeping busy I’ve made to myself in about two years. I totally blame the meds. I’m like phobic about moving forward.

  6. I am actually – first time in about ten years! I gave up after so many false starts and swore I wouldn’t bother until something hit me out of the blue. And hit me it did a couple months ago. It’s how I ended up following this blog!

    I will completely deny this to anyone who asks outside this blog though. There’s just no nice way to discuss the writing process with politely interested people.

    • As a matter of fact, I’m a teacher, so people keep asking, “How’s your summer? What are you doing?” And my answer is always, “Absolutely nothing.”

  7. I stopped writing nine months ago when I sent my agent the second revision of my second novel. I knew she would dump me. She did. I was relieved because how she handled the first showed me she wasn’t the right agent but I was too much of a wuss to let go. I knew I would be relieved about that. What surprised me was my relief that I could be free not to write. Nine months. The mock-pregnancy’s over, the book finally getting the revision it needed, relatively minor after all, and the third taking shape.

  8. Between us, yeah, I’m writing! I cleared my mind at the edge of the earth, the great nothingness of the northern most point of land you can drive to in Europe. It was fresh and clean and rugged, but a lack of guardrails and the possibility of being pushed over the edge of the narrow road by a tourist bus and exploding at the bottom of a 500 foot ravine was a mind enema. The ideas started popping and I’m drafting an outline of a new novel this morning. Am I writing as far as everyone else in concerned? Maybe not, since I’m still fending off open job postings for English language instructors and the unspoken word LAZY. Some words do not have to be said out loud to be heard. I have to stop thinking about this now, or it’ll quash the excitement. And turn off my phone.

    • Oh yes, the “L” word.

      I know my neighbors wonder what the hell I’m doing here all day long. Ironically, I’m often wondering that myself.

      • I hear you, Teri. I was at a family dinner and my sister in law and her partner started making fun how the other should quit their job and write a book so they could make millions. It was a real hoot. Living here, it’s quite obvious why Finns have the highest suicide rate in the world. If there are any Finns reading this: eat me. You know I’m right.

  9. I’m writing like crazy because I’m in a strange twilight zone between getting an agent, who sent my book out, and hearing back from editors. Everything went very quiet, so I wrote and wrote. I’ve never been so productive as I have been in the last month – it would be a shame to interrupt it with a load of rejections or a book deal, either of which will dry any creativity up.

    • Rebecca – you and I are in a parallel here. I’m with you in that strange twilight zone – got the agent, book sent out and like you – everything has been quiet for a couple months now. In the meantime, I’ve written my second book – finishing the final pages this week. I’ll send it to the editor I work with in a couple weeks after I polish it up some. Good luck to you – stay productive. It’s the only way to cope with this crazy wait – isn’t it?

  10. I completely agree. I just finished a screenplay, actually, my first, and the few times I’ve talked about it with someone, I felt like Michael Scott. Of course, screenplays must be written for films to be made, so why does it sound so ridiculous to say: I’m writing a screenplay?

  11. Yes, I’m writing. However, I’ve trashed, slashed, re-written and revised my novel-manuscript so many times I’m considering changing the title from Alastair’s Daughter to The Neverending Story. Oh wait, that’s been taken.

  12. Yes. I am.

    But first, I feel the need to floss.

  13. Am I writing?
    Hahahaha, la de dippy do da. Ask me if I’m breathing why don’t cha.

    I’m committed to writing my column, (yes committed is the correct word). I would list everything else that’s done and being submitted, but if I do I will start to whine and it’s too early for ‘wine-ing’.

    My writing is squeezed into every waking moment not doing something else. The only time in my life I have been more productive…I was having babies.
    Screenplays…never tried them. I’d have to get a degree in quotation marks.
    You know, I feel for you Betsy. I’ve learned that no matter how accomplished we are, each time we put something out there we are as ‘at the mercy’ of the gatekeepers as the writer who has never been published. Our angst is the same, out lack of confidence, our sense of… is this shit worth it.
    Well, yea, it is.

    But you, my dear, as a screenwriter, have an up we don’t. It seems to me that screenwriting is NOT affected by the whole e-publishing thing. It is, what it is, and super-in-demand.
    With the way you weave words, hahahaha, la de don’t sweat it, write the damn thing and enjoy the process.

  14. Yep, I’m writing. I’m taking a summer course in writing essays, so it’s kind of required.

    • Ain’t writing essays the best?

      It’s like keeping a diary you don’t mind your little brother reading, or your mother, your father, your boss, minister and priest, your kids, teachers, the cheerleader bitch you hated and the football captain you wanted to …well you know you wanted to, and maybe you did, and now you get to write about it.

      I’ve published over a hundred. My 9 to 5 may be my meat and potatoes but essays…strawberry shortcake after every meal.

  15. Writing, yes. I am quiet about it. Mostly I’m not asked if I’m writing so that doesn’t come up much. But, yeah, talking about writing with someone who isn’t a writer always makes me want to wince. I dunno, somehow talking about something while you’re doing it and you have yet to sell anything–I kinda have a superstitious take on all that as if discussing it before it’s done and in the hands of an agent somehow might doom the project. So the long and the longer of it is I keep my writing under wraps. Keep it mum, my head down, and just do it. Don’t talk about it. That’s my preferred approach. This is me: running as fast as I can in place. Not going anywhere, but damn, am I building stamina.

  16. Yes, a Christmas story. It’s getting easier—the highs this week are only low nineties. I’m looking through the window at my sun-baked lawn, picturing snow and reindeer and crap like that.

    • Funny you should say this… It was so hot last week and when the family insisted on grilling, I literally rebelled and served the burgers & dogs on my cherished, flea market Currier & Ives Christmas plates. Staring at that winter scene, longing for gray skies and sleet and crap like that, got me through the day. Thanks for reminding me.

  17. Betsy,

    Have you heard of John Truby? He graduated from Princeton and has this massive screenwriting instruction thing going. I went to one of his week-end lectures/events many years ago, and I feel like I never ever learned as much as I did by listening to him. I still have his audiotapes (“Truby’s Comedy Class”) right on the bookshelf and I’d love to hear them again except who the hell has a tape recorder?

    Not that you need to learn anything — it’s just fantastically interesting to hear him analyze story structure, etc.,

    (I finished in the top twenty of the Nicholl Screenwriting Competition one year, after Truby trubitized me — have you entered that comp?)

    Jody

    • Jody, I have the equipment to get those tapes on CD if you want to convert it. You’d have to risk sending them to me, or you could just come on down to St. Auggie and bring ’em with you.

  18. Having a once-a-year cousin ask you (innocuously) if you’re writing isn’t nearly as bad as having someone, anyone, cock an eyebrow and ask (mockingly) if you’re STILL writing. Yes, dammit, I AM. And y’know, I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that a top-notch agent, and already-published writer of some acclaim still experiences the same pangs of insecurity and angst as we poor peons who haven’t yet gnawed through the concertine wire around the publishing world. Reassurance that it’s okay to feel this way, or depressed that the feeling may never go away.

  19. Yes. Thank you for asking. I just rewrote (for the 5th time) the beginning of my memoir, going more with a description of the old neighborhood and better times instead of jumping headlong into a crisis. It has potential, got me excited and provided a kick in the ass when I needed it, things feeling stagnant and all. And, if this counts as writing, I’m thinking of changing the title to 3 words that seemed clever at 5am.

  20. Based on my reply to Rebecca above…yes I am. I’m wrapping up the second manuscript, and ready to start the third. Writing is the only way I feel like I can have some element of control. It’s the one thing I can do to reset my “hope meter.”

    Writing while hoping for a chance at publication reminds me a little of the athletes who train for the Olympics for years, most from the time they were children. Then, when it comes time to perform, it’s all on the line, right then and there. The difference is, they know immediately if they aren’t going to make it the team or win a medal. They aren’t left hanging for months on end for a score or a time, waiting to see if the years of work they put in will pay off. And…it’s not subjective, there is no gray area.

  21. In between the watching and the listening, after reminiscing in painful detail all the wrong life events, often along the margins of other meeting agendas, I write. And sometimes, all those little notations share their magic to become much more.

  22. Am I writing. Mmm, I’m getting ready to write. I’ve got a dot-to-dot outline laid out, a story that fires me up and a solid cast of characters, but for some reason I’m having trouble getting back on the pony.

  23. »Let’s face it, saying you’re writing screenplays is about as absurd as saying you’re running away with your podiatrist . . .«

    I will not face it. What’s so absurd about it? People watch movies, movies require screenplays, screenplays require writers. Such a phenomenon is practically Presbyterian in its non-absurdity.

  24. I tell my friends I’ve written more than 700,000 words since I sold my first book. I tell them about poems and journal entries I plan to be proud of after I’m dead, and they say “Uh-huh. Write a book why-don’t-cha?”

    I tell my friends I’m laying fallow, and they ask, “Who’s Fallow? Write the damned book.”

    I tell them I’ve finally found ideas and characters that rock, with an inciting event and plot points harrowing enough to stand hair and erect nipples and they say “Right. Show us, then?”

    So I’ve got to write a book to get these people off my back. And I think I owe ’em a few drinks, as well.

  25. If a writer asks me this question I give the gory details. Wrote for 5 minutes, picked at a scab, changed 2 words, thought a lot about cheese, thumbed through an book by Ethan Canin that I found in the discount bin for $3.99, hardcover, but I never read, looked up something for the story like tornadoes in Nebraska in the late 50’s or when Utica Brewery first opened. Then I think about the Red Sox Yankees rivalry and wonder what it really means. I try and come up with a new way to describe an eye color that hasn’t been used but I got nothing. Finally I go do the dishes or read a cookbook or cut my toenails.

    If a non-writer asks I say it’s going slow. Then when they ask if it’s a mystery I say no. Then when they ask what it’s about I say families and stuff, which sounds so incredibly lame that I want to stick my head in the oven.

    Either way it’s not pretty.

    • I read Ethan Canin’s “Blue River” a few years ago and enjoyed it. Utica Brewery? Is that where they brew Saranac beer, one of the most overrated beers in the country? Red Sox-Yankees comes down to Babe Ruth. Worst deal ever, the epitome of an incompetent owner making a horrendous trade (the Babe for some bailout money) that every Yankee fan should be eternally grateful for. Eye color — ochre. I like the feel of the word, although perhaps it would be an unsettling color. And it sounds kind of like a slimy vegetable. Cut toenails are kinder to the sheets. And who wants to read about pretty anyway? Keep on truckin’, b4n.

    • When people ask what I’m writing, I tell them it’s a psycho-thriller about creepy people having deviant sex. Then they ask if I’ve read Fifty Shades and I want to stick my head in the oven.

      • You should tell them your book was inspired 50 Shades. Then casually mention that you have a special email list so they can be the first to read the book (before all their friends) when it comes out.

  26. I’m getting ready to start a new project. I love these early days, these first bursts of inspiration and world-building and getting to know characters. God help me. Better yet, shoot me.

  27. “Am I writing?” is like asking am “I breathing? It’s a consistent source of joy ans satisfaction (somewhat challenging at times, I confess).

  28. If you count the carefully worded emails of my job, yes I’m writing. I’ve decided to call myself a bookseller who types. It seems more accurate since instead of writing I’ve been sending laser rays of irritation in the direction of my laptop, which for safekeeping, lives in a draw. The new label is not creatively freeing and does not take the pressure off but it does make me smile ever so slightly.

  29. carved out a week and flew up to nyc to hideout at my parents’ empty nest making the bold declaration that i would not be back until i finished the novel but then all hell broke loose at home so i headed back south to put out the fires…back to the word trickle and state of self-induced chaos to justify it…

  30. Finished the fucker last night.

  31. That’s one of my favorite songs, ever, and the picture and description go with it perfectly. Rock on.

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