One of my long-time best friends in Portland has worked as a contractor for decades. He does incredible work—basement to attic, wiring to tiling to cabinetry, back decks and porches to French doors. Over the years, I’ve recommended him to everyone I know, and if I could afford it, I’d ask him to build me a sweet cottage from scratch—in France. (In fact—I did try to convince him to do this when I lived there in the late 90s/early 00s, but it never happened. We both just fantasized.)
Point is: I trust this friend’s work down to every nut, bolt, drain, and vent. He brings quality and style to everything he touches, and he builds and remodels responsibly—maintaining the integrity of older homes in Portland and tinkering with new trends in design. It goes without saying: He’s a green builder.
Now, I know there’s a joke about how contractors often let their own homes (and yards) fall into some state of disrepair. One year, friends of my contractor friend got together to mow, weed, and tidy up his yard. The house he lived in at the time was on a corner lot in a popular high-traffic neighborhood, and I guess his friends got tired of barbecuing in waist-high grass. That same year, his neighbors complained about the dumpster he had parked in front of his house for more time than is allowed (or tolerated). I don’t remember the details, but I do know the city came knocking at his refurbished front door and threatened to fine him.
I also know that every house he works on in the city turns out stunning—within months—while his home remained a work-in-progress for a very long time.
My friend is so busy because he is so good. And so what if the window in the bathroom off his kitchen might never get trimmed out.
Why am I thinking about my friend, Chris, and his building history in Portland? Why, today, am I treating myself to a mental slide show of all the projects I visited him on—to pet his dog, to drink an after-work beer out of a cooler, to ooh and aah at a backsplash or how he tossed some schoolhouse-red paint into the concrete mix for that old backyard studio before pouring the floor and damn, wasn’t that smooth and pretty?
I’m thinking of Chris because I miss him, but also because this past year I’ve been the writer version of him, somehow. That is, I look at this blog on my professional website and see that the last time I posted was when softball season 2016 was in full swing, and here I am, having just attended my first practice of 2017.
Worse, my own fiction and poetry have been sitting on the bench since then.
Okay, I took a wonderful poetry workshop and had one poem published last year. An excerpt from my not-yet-agented novel, one that won a prize in 2014, made finalist status for another prize last October. But, I have been so busy writing and editing for other people—working on their basements, attics, nuts, bolts, drains, and weeds—that my own body of work is in shambles. If my literary friends knew I hadn’t written so much as the first sentence of a new short story in over a year, I know of at least one who would come to my front door and threaten to fine me.
The thing is, 2016 was a great year (well, no, not entirely, I had to put my cat of fourteen years down on November 4th and four days later, our nation elected a hateful clown) but, professionally speaking, 2016 marked the official start of me saying YES to the most amazing people and projects ever!
One of the clients I wrote a marketing book for asked me to stay on as his blog/newsletter ghostwriter, and an article I wrote for him got shared more than any other article on the website he was guest blogging for. Currently, I’m guiding two of my memoir clients through their query letters and synopses, and I’m working with my first autistic client and my first transgender client on developmental edits.
What I’ve learned this year is that I love editing almost as much as I love writing. I can see what’s missing, what needs to go, and how to pull the pieces together. I am not a cheerleader (grrrrl, please), but I do keep the fire lit and despair at bay. I can doctor books that would sink a person if published in their current state.
I’ve learned that when I work with memoir clients especially, they inevitably have those moments—at the outlining stage or midway through the project—where they feel their story isn’t worth telling: “This wouldn’t be/this won’t be interesting to anyone else,” they say.
And I say, “Your story is interesting, inspiring, and necessary. Let’s rock.”
So, what about my own stories? Why am I not cheerleading my own damn writer self? In addition to ghostwriting, editing, consulting, and book doctoring, where does the time I could be spending on my own writing go? What the hell am I doing?!
- Wasting too much time on Facebook
- Falling in love
- Learning to make the bomb pie crusts
- Playing pétanque—I participated in two tournaments in 2016, winning a bronze medal in my first, just two days after learning how to play—BRAG!
- Keeping a bullet journal (which is supposed to help me better manage my time, but is basically an excuse to buy fun stickers and pretty Washi tape—why?!?!)
- Finally watching Parks and Rec (Leslie Knope is my soul sister, energetically and neurotically.)
- Re-watching GoT S1-6 with the man I’ve fallen in love with, who had only watched a few episodes sporadically
- Being taste tester for all the delicious meals above mentioned man makes
- Exercising away said delicious meals
- Caring for my animals
- Taking well-deserved too-short trips to beautiful places
Yes, folks, this is your brain on life
and this is my brain on a zillion different writing projects in various stages of development.
But hey, I’ve got a big brain and I’ve stated before that the “OMGhelpI’mSObusy” mantra bores me. Step away from yourselves, ye who are freaking out on being so busy, in order to sit with yourselves.
as the kick-ass writer Melissa Febos suggests, think about what you want to be known and remembered for!
When I work with clients, their book is often not their #1 Priority—which is part of the reason they hire me. It is my job to make other people’s books my priority. And I love my job—I know how to manage it. I don’t need to cut back on the work I’m doing for others, but on the excuses I’m making to myself. I do have the time for my own creative work—I just have to make better use of it and practice what I preach.
In the cabinet next to my writing desk, I stash heaps of notebooks filled with random thoughts. Okay, some of these thoughts I cannot decipher because my penmanship is terrible and sometimes I just don’t understand what I meant when I scribbled witch lady living in basement has a party, or have the chipotle conversation. But, browsing these old notebooks on a Saturday afternoon is not a waste of time. There’s gold in them thar hills, and it is mine to mine.
A book or a story, like a home, is a space people can live in. I hope, whether you consider yourself a competent builder with words or not, you take the time to tend to your abode and invite others inside, to share your lived or imagined experiences.