Having people read your stuff is, sadly, invaluable

As an update to my last post, I sent my book to three friends. One of them read it and got me comments within three days (I KNOW!) and without hours of reading her comments, I realized how to fix the problems I was having in the book. FML

It’s just so annoying. I never send a book to a friend until I think it’s perfect and complete, and they almost always immediately explode my conception of it. I really, really wish it was possible to do without this step, since it slows down the novel-writing process considerably, but sadly I find it difficult.

I think all that having a friend read the book does for me is confirm my secret feeling “No, the book isn’t perfect, and even though it’ll need some work to fix, it’s worth it to put in that work.” That’s it. Usually that’s much more important than any actual recommendations they make. Frequently I read their letter just once, and when I begin revising, I go in directions far from what they suggested. It’s really just that their criticism gives me permission to revise and to keep revising. SO ANNOYING.

Okay, so that’s one thing going on in my life. The other thing is that I have this silly cute adorable little tiny cute tiny grubbley-grobbly milk-face cute widdle tiny foot stompey cute little baby. And I wouldn’t say these things are an immense amount of work, but it is not easy to write or really to do anything productive while you’re caring for them.

We finally got a childcare solution in place, and it’s been incredible–I’m free to work Monday through Friday, between nine and five p.m., which is a lot better than most mothers can say. But it is a weird experience to not be able to work whenever I want. For most of my life, my amount of free time has far surpassed my desire to work. And that’s still true, sort of, but only on a global level. Locally, on any given day, it’s entirely possible that I might want to work, but be unable to!

Lately I’ve been working on what I call my “sexy assassin novel”–it’s a contemporary thriller about a sexy trans woman assassin who gets a hit placed on her by a league of local assassins who’re mad at her because she’s just too darn sexy, and they feel like she’s raising stupid expectations, amongst male clients, for what a female assassin should be like.

Anyway, I realized over the weekend that the last fifteen thousand words I’d written weren’t quite working, so I needed to throw them out. And I wanted to immediately write something, but I couldn’t, because: baby.

Lately I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration and emotional support by reading about the travails of past woman artists. I read Parisian Lives, by Deirdre Bair, about the twenty years she spent as the biographer first of Samuel Beckett and then of Simone de Beauvoir. It was great! An intimate look at the process of artistic creation, both in terms of the professional, the artistic, and the personal. Man, she had to put up with some bullshit. Like with her fucking department, at the University of Pennsylvania, who were always putting her down and dicking with her over fiddly little stuff related to tenure.

And now I’m listening to The Equivalents, which is largely about the friendship between Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, but which also encompasses the lives of a cohort of other women–all mothers–selected to receive Radcliffe’s inaugural Bunting Fellowship (meant to encourage mothers to return to academic professions they’d dropped in order to bear children).

My wife laughed at me for talking about the kinship I felt for other women who’d been both mothers and writers, and it is slightly laughable. For one thing, I’m married to a woman, and thus the gender norms re: childcare are different from in many of these relationships. We also have help and are financially well-off. But…to be honest that’s true of most of these women! Many had supportive partners, childcare, and were well-off. But they still struggled. I know, I know, it’s peak white feminism. But the concerns of white feminism speak to me. To this day, two of my favorite books are The Feminine Mystique and The Second Shift.

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