Writing About Not Writing

Writing about not writing seems to come easiest to some writers. Here’s a Femail from Betty to her anonymous mentor (hereafter called A.M.), the one she wrote to about not working.


from: Betty

to: A.M.

date: Tues, July 18, 2017 at 11:01 PM

subj: Writing about Not Writing

Hi A.M.,

I meant to write you last week, after I finished the Shirley Jackson biography, which I loved. It inspired me especially AS I was reading it and I often felt I had to choose between reading it and putting it down to start on a few short stories of my own. But it was always easier to keep reading.

Jackson’s husband sounds like he was a huge, pompous piece of poo. At least he recognized that she was a truly great writer and championed her… but at the same time he continuously cut her down with his blatant infidelities. It amazes me the things women (or I guess men too) put up with sometimes. Why didn’t she just leave him? Why let it stress her out to the point where it probably killed her?

I thought Ruth Franklin’s portrayal of her mom was a little harsh though. To me, her mother sounded like a normal mom who was concerned about the usual things. I saw the last photo of Jackson in the book and thought, “Okay yes, if she was my daughter I would also tell her to go easy on the burritos.” I think my mom would do the same. I showed Tom the photo.

“Holy cow she looks like Jabba the Hut,” he said, and I nodded, thinking, “Jabba with glasses.”

I’m starting Brad Gooch’s Flannery O’Connor biography now, which I bought a few years ago. I’ve probably always read writers’ biographies for the wrong reasons though – instead of working hard myself, I read about other writers working hard and hope I’ll absorb some of their focus and discipline, but the only thing I focus on is finishing the book, savoring whatever short-term feeling of accomplishment that gives me.

I feel anticipation and dread whenever I wander into a bookstore (which is rare these days). Anticipation because I love reading and discovering new books and seeing what’s on the bestsellers’ list. Dread because it’s always like walking into a place filled with things you wished you could have made yourself, if only you had the discipline. Now I’ve cut away the word “time” from that excuse. I have the time, I don’t have the discipline.

A few days ago I went to a reading in Ditmas, a faraway part of Brooklyn that changed with each block I crossed. Just outside the subway it looked like government housing, and then a few blocks further – north? South? – on Church it was like I’d walked fifty years into the past into a pleasant, leafy suburb where fresh milk was delivered to the front door. A few blocks more it became less a suburb than what reminded me of more neglected parts of LA, right off the freeways, with wide crumbling roads and lots of auto repair shops. Then boom: it was suddenly just another hipster Brooklyn neighborhood, with a pilates studio, Thai restaurant, a handful of stark boutiques where all the clothes are boxy and white, and finally the bar, Hinterlands, filled with young, white, bearded men and tattooed women in thrift store dresses. I went straight to the back where two dozen or so aspiring and published writers sat in a cramped room, sectioned off with a thick velvet curtain.

I missed the first writer entirely, heard half of the second one, or maybe less, because it was hot and I was thirsty and instead of squeeze in, decided to buy an $8 glass of rosé (I couldn’t decide if this was hipster cheap or hipster expensive). During the intermission I spotted my writer friend who’d invited me along. She was sitting in the first row with another girl from her workshop – someone who was very far along on a novel – and I felt like I should have been working on something too, but I wasn’t.

We chatted until the last two readers came on – this fat guy with a rusty beard whose belly was begging to be let out of his bursting plaid shirt. He brought a chapter of a novel he was working on, several unstapled pages and inwardly, I groaned, hoping he wouldn’t read them all. It ended up being pretty funny but I couldn’t tell you what it was about. Last, a Nigerian/American poet who was recently published in the New Yorker. She read six or seven poems – too many I thought – including one called “how to saw a man in half,” and while her personality seemed cool, her poems were boring, maybe killed by the same lilting measured cadence in which she read them. Poets always seem to read their poems out loud that same way, like when they’re getting their MFA’s some coach comes in and says, “This is the right way to read it.” And they all nod very seriously in their black turtlenecks and braids and go home to practice in front of the mirror.

Maybe they think it makes something sound like it’s rhyming when it clearly doesn’t? I probably should have taken a poetry seminar or two at school to have a more valid view on these things, but the affected reading seems, well, affected to me. Obnoxious. Also, sometimes I’m just like, “Would it kill them to write something that rhymes?” I will always have very much respect for Shakespeare. Maybe if he were around he’d agree with me and wonder why people are just breaking up dry paragraphs into single lines and calling it poetry.

Just me being a hater, as Tom would say.

I guess the point of all that is to say that as usual, I’m thinking about writing. I’m reading about writing. I’m traveling an hour to listen to other people’s writing. I’m just not writing much.

Except for work. Work is going well-ish. Freelance copywriting is like interval training over the course of…however long I keep it up for. Fast! Feel busy! Cool down. Feel lazy. Hot! Cold. Hot! So slooow. I landed a new client last week, thanks to a little blurb in Vanity Fair, on a pair of very good-looking sunglasses. I went to their website to check the prices, and learned that they were based in Brooklyn, had just launched, and that their website had many typos on it. So I fixed the typos, did a little rewriting, and sent my suggestions. The guy wrote back less than an hour later, thanking me and asking to see some more of my work. I met with him last Thursday in the pouring rain, sitting under the awning of a juice shop (I’m going to claim that juice on my freelancer’s taxes) and am now rewriting their website.

They’re really, really small, as in, four people. But I like the glasses and really enjoyed talking to the guy, so we’ll see where it goes. Funnily enough, when I asked him about international expansion, he said, “Probably not for a while, but if we do, it’ll be Japan and Australia. For some reason those markets are very open to things made in America.” So maybe if things go well with them and Tom and I do end up moving to Australia, I can do some sunglass sales as well… my dad will probably never understand what the hell “freelance” means if it comes to that.

Anyway, wedding planning is going alright! Thank you for asking 🙂 We’ve booked the ballroom in Taipei (the Marriott hotel), and there’s not much else for me to do until I get there in September. I still need to rent a dress and find someone to do hair and makeup. Apparently May 26th is a super auspicious day for weddings, so the three “masters” I’ve inquired have already been booked. I’m not too worried though – I might just have to go down to the hole-in-the-wall salon on my block the morning of and have it done there, and do makeup myself… or ask one of my talented Korean friends to lend a hand.

For the New York ceremony location, we have a contender: a secret garden, Tom called it, somewhere in… Soho? I forget, I really love it so fingers crossed that we can be married there. It’s odd – I am not one of those New Yorkers who has that one special spot. I like being home most, being out anywhere with friends second-most. The other obvious locations: Central Park, DUMBO, West Village, I love them too, but they all seem clichéd and done. But if the park wasn’t available, we’d probably go somewhere in the West Village after all. That’s where all my fondest memories are, of when Tom and I started dating.

That’s all the update I have right now 🙂 Thanks for reading, as always.



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