Thursday, June 27, 2013


I am writing, I swear it!  Actually, I have also started a part time job as a postal worker in a tiny postal outpost inside a local bike shop.  More to come about that soon.  In the meantime, you can now access my blog on Bloglovin'.  Have a good Friday!

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Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Become a Professional Writer

Now that I am what I hesitantly call "a writer," I have had to think about the fact that I am not just doing this for fun, and that doing something else is somehow cheating on writing. And I'm not even talking about overcoming my well-known tendency to procrastinate. I'm talking about real stuff like vacuuming, cooking, and making the girls' beds.  I have begun to look under every literary rock to see how the other writers do it, especially the successful ones (meaning the ones I've heard of) so I've  been reading a book edited by Mason Currey, called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which is exactly what it sounds like, a compilation of the daily habits of working artists, composers and writers.  Now, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and I am always ready to read something like the How I Write blog featured on the Books section of the Daily Beast. I'm also quite the stalker of the Brain Pickings site, because they often feature writers discussing the creative process and how they have harnessed it to suit their work. 

See, Jane Austen took breaks... from Jane Austen info page
The problem with reading about all of these routines is that none of them say anything really helpful, like "...and then, dressed and coiffed by ten a.m.,  Jane Austen arranged the day with the household staff before she went out and gathered flowers from the conservatory garden. When she came back into the manor house, her writing had neatly completed itself and was piled cleverly in chapters on her escritoire."  Or "Sartre and De Beauvoir sat sharing cafe au lait and croissants, discussing the existence of existentialism, while the typewriter clacked merrily away in a darkened  corner of their pied-a-terre. In the late afternoon, fortified by more pastries, they argued playfully and drank some wine while their writing checked itself for grammatical errors and philosophical inconsistencies."  

Lots of cafe time for Simone & Jean Paul here
Perhaps you sense the nature of what I am really hoping to find: some magical, mystical incantation to perform over my lap top so that I could get my housework done, read to the girls, then sit and read a novel over a scone and a latte, while my writing writes itself.  Apparently, there is no such thing.  Let's all hang our heads in disappointment for a moment, shall we, because then I have to take a deep breath and get to work.  My research about writers of the well known variety confirms this truly unfortunate state of affairs:  To work as a writer, you must actually work as a writer.  You have to get your butt in the chair and write.  Like, all the time. 

But here's something that may surprise you, if you've been to my house: when the house is a mess, I don't feel like writing. (If you know me, I know you have to be thinking "she must never feel like writing!")  More to the point, I don't feel like I should be writing. I feel like I should be cleaning. But I know that cleaning doesn't make me a writer, because we've just learned, apparently, only writing makes me a writer.

In fact, to a person, every single creative professional to offer advice about things such as writing and creating and making art, insists that one must actually show up, work hard and then work hard some more if the art is going to happen.  But first, even the productive writers have to get some things out of the way, like washing and grooming.  Many of them even mention getting kids off to school. So Currey's book and all of those other providers of details about how to get your butt in the chair, so to speak, have been helpful to me. This is because, in every case, the writers reveal that they do a couple of things, like brushing their teeth and getting caffeinated and even getting the kids to school, but it is all in the service of getting to their work.  No one mentioned housework.  No one mentioned cooking.  They give themselves permission to ignore those daily tasks and get to work.  Isabelle Allende put it well:

The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.

And even though I don't really need to cite anyone else, I have to mention that Cheryl Strayed, writing as Sugar, the sensible dispenser of sensibility at The Rumpus, gave this simple advice at the end of a long answer to a young writer who wanted help getting out of her own way so she could write:  "Write like a motherf@#!er." Now, despite years as an enthusiastic participant and proponent of both parts of that colorful compound epithet, I've never really embraced the word for personal use. But here, it makes sense to me.  When I think about what that means for me, I know it's about sitting down and writing, even when I feel I should be doing something else.  So that's what I'm going to try to do.  For those of you who come to my house in the next few months, don't mind the motherf@#!ing mess-- take it as a sign that I am taking myself seriously as a writer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Indescribable Me

First, the good news-- well good for me, at least.  I submitted a piece from this blog to a cool online/soon-to-be-print magazine called The Equals Record and they not only accepted that piece to publish, they asked me to write another one, about books, so they could publish that too.  Pats on the back for me all around-- and don't think I'll be too shy to inform everyone when these will appear.  I'm positively giddy in my own quiet way. *

Yep-- we are the choices we make.  But is that all we are?
Of course, as we cynics often suspect, every silver lining has a cloud.  One appeared for me when the editor at Equals asked me to send a picture and a "short bio" to put on the site with my work.  Easy peasy, right?  Yeah, not so much for me.  I've written here on the blog about my issues with having pictures taken, and how I feel that none of them look like me.  Because they all look, you know, awful.  And there I was, having to not only send in a picture (which the editor graciously let me out of) but write about myself, and suddenly, I didn't know what to say, how to describe myself.  All that came into my head was a bunch of negatives, "I'm not this," "I haven't done that," etc... And this was when I was happy about having gotten something accepted to be published.  I should have been able to write something clever and, more to the point, positive and straightforward, about who I am and what I do.  The problem is, I'm not sure.  How to say who I am, that is. 

I don't think my self esteem is as low as this must make it sound.  In fact, I don't think my self esteem is the problem at all.  It's the esteem of others, especially others who might be meeting me for the first time, that I am concerned about-- way more than I like to think.  To myself, my husband, even my mom, sometimes, when pushed, I can boldly say things like "I own my choices.  I am responsible for where I am now."  I mean it.  I do think that.  Thanks to my firm belief that we can't control everything that happens to us, I can claim the choices I've made about the things I could control.  And I will honestly tell you when those choices were good and when I royally screwed the pooch on decision making.  But the editor asked me for a "short bio," not an exhaustive existential examination of my entire life.  My problem is how to cut to the chase without being allowed to explain how some things happened so that I can make sure that others understand and hold a fair opinion of me.  (Mental note to dig deeper into why I care so much what other people think...)

If I am the choices I've made-- or more to the point, the result of the choices I've made-- I should be able to describe who I am by listing what I've chosen to spend my time learning and being and doing.  So, mother and wife make the top of the list because these are the two most important things I am.  I'm writing, that's obvious, but am I a Writer?  I'm not sure.  Not yet, probably.  I make jewelry, but I'm not a jeweler.  I have a law degree, but I'm not a lawyer.  I have a philosophy degree (a degree and a half, if you count that completed, but languishing, Master's coursework) but I'm not a philosopher, either.  I'm currently unemployed, so do I call myself a job seeker?  None of this captures anything essential about me anymore than telling someone what town I live in, or where I was born, or what I had for lunch.

As I write this, it is getting clearer to me that the problem is not describing myself. It is trying to describe myself by what I do and what I have chosen.  Really, it is the force behind those things: my thoughts, my beliefs, my will, that make me who I am.  That essence, that "selfyness," (a made up word-- you heard it here first) is what I have trouble getting down on paper, because one essential part of who I am is someone who likes to get things like this exactly right. So round and round I go. 

I know I am over thinking all of this, but that's what I do.  Maybe I could write that down:   EBK Riley is a wife and mother who currently lives in Scottsdale where she thinks things to death  on a daily basis while providing her family with clean laundry and nutritious home cooked meals.  See, I know that a "short bio" is about where I'm from and what I do and maybe even what I had for lunch, but I also know that this doesn't really give anyone a clear picture of who I am. 

I am so much more than a burrito-eating blogger born in Los Angeles. 

How do I briefly capture my true self?  Maybe I don't. This is just a few sentences after all, so I just need to offer a quick overview.  And really, what I have to do is just be who I am, not question myself so much, and not worry about what other people think.  

Hey, throw in a "carpe diem," and rousing chorus of "if you want to love what you do, do what you love,"  and I just wrote a commencement speech.  I may not ever nail this "short bio" thing, but maybe I'll just keep writing and when my book comes out and Oprah can't be everywhere at once, those universities will come a'calling and I'll be ready.  I hope I won't have to have my picture taken...

*The book piece came out on 31 May, in case you haven't seen it yet. 

Choice image here.