I had the summer all planned.
MAY: Submit the next draft of the Maud novel after an incredible ten days doing social media for the National Reading Campaign’s Reading Town in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
MAY to JUNE: Prep for backfilling a course for six weeks and prepare for an inspiring ten day writing retreat and alumni-mini-res at VCFA where I was workshopping a new piece with a writer I had always wanted to work with, Cynthia Leitich-Smith — who really is made of awesome and kinda wanna be her when I grow up.
JUNE to JULY: Teach for six weeks, while also spending ten days making a literary around the Mid-West U.S. with a good friend, meeting with kindred spirits, visiting all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites and doing things like:
And then speaking about Almanzo Wilder as the Perfect Man at Laurapalooza, a conference that focuses on the life and work of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
It was going very well. I had submitted my manuscript on time. Classes went well. The trips were transformative and nurturing. I am really grateful that I have created a life where I surround myself with supportive friends, who could tell I was not exactly myself and was willing to listen to all of the fears and anxieties that come after the contract is signed and you’ve submitted the draft and you’re waiting.
In Vermont I drew a plot graph of my next novel and wrote a Writer’s Manifesto (which now hangs over my monitor).
In South Dakota, my travel companion and I read Betsy Tacy books as a bedtime story. On the way to Walnut Grove, I read Oy!–the Judaic, punk, family drama, grief narrative YA novel I had started at VCFA—to my friend out loud. There is actually something really helpful in reading one’s work out loud to an audience. I highly recommend it.
AUGUST was where it all kind of fell apart…
The plan was to revise before I headed back into teaching in the fall where I would be teaching Digital Writing in a new Professional Writing and Communication Certificate I had the opportunity of helping to organize. I had some planning to do, but I was in a good place with it. With summer classes done, I was tired, but also ready to get going with the LMM book. I had also decided it was time to get myself an agent and revise Oy! so that it would be ready for submission. (Which isn’t overwhelming at all…)
But that is the thing about planning and expectations. Things don’t quite always go the way they wish to and I found myself with ALL OF THIS FREE TIME.
Now, most people would be probably thrilled to have all of that free time. Perhaps relax, maybe even take a holiday. And some people might have used the time for new projects (the option I’m most comfortable with).
To readers of this blog, it shall come as no surprise that I have big expectations of myself. But around my birthday, after taking in that I didn’t get the grant I had applied for, or that the agent I met with during the mini-rez didn’t jump at the chance to work with me (not that I had really expected her to, but it was the first time I had shown Oy! to an agent and it was scary), I wondered if I had failed. If I would ever get the book published, or find an agent, or that it was all a big colossal mistake. (I didn’t say I was being logical).
So I made a list:
- Work on my two other novels
- Submit proposal for L.M. Montgomery and Gender conference
- Write the extra materials for the LMM book
- Make a list of agents, write my amazing query letter, and begin the scary process
- Revise Oy! some more.
Truth. I didn’t get very far.
The second week of August I had come back from a two-day trip in Charlottetown, PEI to do some website work with the L.M. Montgomery Institute (it is going to look amazing, just wait for later this fall), and spending some quality time with a good friend. We stayed in a lovely B&B, and I had the most exquisite room called, The Witch’s Nest. Honestly, it was rejuvenating.
Truth. I was exhausted. Heading for burn out. I would go to take a fifteen minute nap and sleep for four hours. I would sit down to write and the words were shit. This isn’t me just saying it, they really were. If I listened to my intuition all I wanted to do was read books and watched a lot of BBC miniseries, like North & South and Poldark, and binge watch Switched at Birth.
I couldn’t decide if this was procrastination and avoidance, or was it me saying to myself:
“Mel, your overachievy self is exhausted. For four years (or more) you’ve been working and writing and it’s amazing and awesome. And, yes, you have more to achieve and you will achieve it. But, you won’t be able to do it unless you slow down, refuel, “refill the well” and sleep. Think of it this way. Maud wrote about being tired and steeping herself in the books she loved to refuel. She also loved Elizabeth Gaskell, so she would probably approve of you are watching Richard Armitage (see above). Do what you need to do to feel better or you won’t be the Best Mel You Can Be for yourself, for your students, for your partner and your family and friends.”
So I took long naps. I stayed up until 3AM…without that much guilt. I reverted to some former self from my student Montreal days and it was glorious. I did my freelance work and worked on my courses for the fall and joined Query Tracker, and submitted that proposal to the L.M. Montgomery conference, but I kept it low key.
Truth, I didn’t do much creative writing. I wrote in my journal and took paper and pens to a cafe and wrote something completed unrelated to what I was working on. Who knows, maybe it will eventually become the beginning of something. Maybe it won’t and that is okay.
I met friends DURING THE DAY for matinees and ate scones at my favourite neighbourhood bakery, Baker and Scone. And took day trips to Stratford to see two plays with a good friend who seems to get EVERYTHING. And we looked at swans and talk about how we’re both so over Hamlet (she says it best.)
I played with my cat.
I caught a cold. The last of whatever I needed to work through, forced me for one whole weekend to sleep. The overwhelming need to have it all done by the end of the year, by a certain age.
This week I received a book in the mail. A collection of essays about L.M. Montgomery’s life in Ontario, L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911-1942. I started writing my essay, “‘My Pen Shall Heal, Not Harm”: Writing as Therapy in Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes are Quoted,” during my second semester of VCFA and it was presented in the Leaskdale conference that same year, 2011. It is my first academic publication and it was challenging and sometimes depressing, as I would be writing about grief in the dark afternoons of February. But now it is here…in my hands. I’m grateful for the tremendous amount of work the editors, Lesley Clement and Rita Bode, put into this. I might be biased, but I think it is pretty beautiful.
I love essay writing. It is a skill I’ve been diligently working at since high school. I’ve been challenged by teachers, told I was too “colloquial,” and to “not write as I talk,” and a myriad of other things. Some of it was good advice, some of it wasn’t. I worked hard, studied, wrote draft after draft after draft to get that “A”–to make it perfect. It’s why I’m very sympathetic to what my students are going through, because on some level I’ve been where they are.
It is a fallacy to think all of it is easy, would be easy, or even get easier. But, I cannot help but put myself into everything I write, including my non-fiction. Even when I’m intellectualizing, it is emotional and personal.
I kept going. I keep going.
And slow down because we all must.
Be compassionate for where I am in the process.
And be okay, too, celebrating when the final product arrives. Be comfortable with celebrating. (Yes, I might have carried the book around with me the next day and showed a few people and was blushy when my students clapped.)
Yesterday, I spoke in front of my Humber colleague as part of the Sixth Annual Liberal Arts & Sciences Interdisciplinary Conference: A Better World and I think it went well. I am getting used to speaking in front of people and the work around the Perfect Man Archetype is developing and becoming something larger than anything I had expected it to be.
Now, I have had my editor’s notes for a few weeks and been working through the comments and the many, many line edits. It is easy to default into all of the things that are wrong with it, (and therefore me); that I can’t believe they haven’t woken up and realized they made some kind of terrible mistake. But I also underlined the good things that were said. It is part of the process of writing.
Now, it begins again. I have (of course) made plans. Some habits are hard to break.
But…BUT…I am doing better. I am feeling better. I am cautious of how long I’m sitting and the importance of a break and the need to take walks and take care of myself.
Reminding myself it won’t all happen the way I planned. In fact, things might actually be better.