I looked forward to May all year. Teaching, taking care of Ambrose, and trying to keep myself stable left me with almost no time to write. In May, Ambrose was in school M-F from 9-3:30, and I did not have any teaching-related responsibilities. I started doing the math in February: That was 22 weekdays Ambrose was in school. Subtract 30 minutes of each day for eating something and an hour right before kindergarten pick-up to come out of my writing haze by exercising or doing yard work so that I was present again as Mama, and that gave me 110 writing hours. My goal was to look through my short fiction, throw away a lot, considerably revise other pieces, and generate enough new material to come out with a strong story collection.
In the interests of my future self and anyone else who finds themselves with a jaunt of free writing time they haven’t had in a while, I’ll tell you what happened and what I learned:
New stories (or old ones with at least 75% different words): 2
Major revisions (40-75% different words): 4
Minor revisions: 3
Stories discarded from collection: 5
Stories still in need of major revision: 2
Stories I didn’t cut from the collection but probably still should: 2
New stories I should write after more cutting: 2
Looking at this and cross-referencing it with the general feeling I have going into June gives me the assessment that I did pretty well, but really needed another month or a smarter, more inspired brain to get this collection into the final shape I wanted it to be. I generally set goals for myself that are too high and this, generally, pushes me harder. It helps me accomplish, perhaps, not what I wanted to accomplish, but at least what I needed to accomplish in order to take my life as a writer seriously.
I am genuinely excited about the work I have done, and, though the stories are not literally linked, there’s a cohesion in sensibility that wasn’t there before. I renamed the collection Better and Happier People. I like that title. It speaks to a core desire the characters in my fictional worlds keep trying to achieve (without, of course, much success). I also, as I tend to do when writing anything, slipped into uncontrollable poetry mode several times over the past month and generated some new poems worth saving. That said, I’m thinking about what I needed and what I could have done without this May . . .
Rule # 1
Coffee should be made very strong, in a French press, and poured into a small cup. This pleasure keeps my mind a little strange, and also gives me two reasons to get up from the computer: restroom breaks and coffee refills. I write upstairs and keep the coffee downstairs, so I’m getting some kind of movement. Studies from organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research urge people who sit a lot to make sure that every hour they get up for 1-2 minutes for some kind of exercise. Ah, so many benefits of coffee.
Rule # 2
Decide what to work on the night before. There are enough decisions to make in the morning; where to start shouldn’t be one of them. Making this decision before bed also informs my dreams so I wake up both more focused and more flexible. Dreams are strange for reasons.
Don’t clean the house, but feel free to do yard work. It was May for a whole month! Go outside already. This is what it looks like out there:
Rule # 4
Using facebook, etc, in the evening or when I’m just waking up and too tired to really be productive is a good thing. It reminds me that there are real people out there who are living their lives. Some of these people are in more of a mess than I am. Some of them are more beautiful or patient or more interesting. Some of these people ooze talent from their pores and are riding crazy word publishing waves. In small doses, this knowledge keeps me both humble and hungry.
But flipping between facebook and Word in the middle of my writing day creates the illusion that I’m both working harder than I really am, and having a much better time than I really am. I think Facebook is kind of like smoking. In fact, I think facebook releases instantaneous dopamine almost as well as nicotine. But, if you do it too much, you feel like crap. Some scientist should check into that.
I am sure there’s more rules. If you have any to add, I’d be happy to hear them. Next May, I might want to try and write a novel . . .