Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Erika Lutz, sublime author of The Edge of Maybe, talks about her writing life cycle

The Edge of Maybe, the phenomenal new novel by Ericka Lutz, is about the earthquakes in a happy life when a past indiscretion comes calling. I loved the book, and I always follow Ericka's Solo column at Literary Mama, so I am now thrilled to host Ericka on my blog!

Ericka is also the author of seven non-fiction books for parents and teens, including On the Go with Baby and the bestselling Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting. Her award-winning short stories and personal essays appear in books, anthologies, journals, and online. Thank you, thank you, Ericka!

My Writing Life Cycle
by Ericka Lutz

I've published eight books and a lot of other stuff, but I've never written the "right" way: writing daily as a discipline, preferably in the hours before dawn (then drinking myself into a Hemingway-esque stupor). No, there's a lot of time when I'm not writing. Not just days or weeks, but months and sometimes even (though I'm embarrassed to admit it) years.

Here's my rhythm: nose to grindstone until my nose is ground flat, and I have to grow a new nose. Or, as translated into a handy graphic:

Ericka's Writing Life Cycle

At this stage, I don't write, I won't write, please shut up about it. I read. I go to garage sales. I take a flying lesson. I catch up at the day job. Get a new puppy. Refuse to write. I deny that I feel sucky about it, or maybe I don't feel sucky about it at all. Writing? Why in the world would I want to do that?

Then, at some point, I decide I'm going to write again. Ha. Wish it were that easy. One summer, I told my husband I was working on a novel. Instead, I was gardening – feverishly, obsessively. I learned how to lay my own stone paths. I got muddy and strong. I spent too much money on plants. The garden looked great. I looked great. The novel languished on her daybed, pale and weak. "Gardening IS writing," I said. (Was I really pretending? I didn't know I was on the verge of a short story filled with gardens, weeds, and the beauty of poisonous flowers.)

After pretending awhile, I return to Not Writing. I volunteer at the zoo and learn about hyena-care. I read my bio-grandfather's letters from 1919, fresh out of the army, full of himself, studying at Cal, and living in the Berkeley YMCA. I remember how we got drunk with our realtor after we closed on our house, and her telling us about her ex-husband boiling himself to death in an Indian sweat lodge. I stand on a ladder to change a light bulb... . And I realize I want all this in my next novel: hyenas and sweat lodges and light bulbs and long dead grandfathers, the thinning of the veils in times of grief and craziness, our responsibility to our relatives. I decide I want ghosts.

"I'm writing another book." I say the words out loud, and so then it's true! This is the fun part, before the plot happens and I can make it a thriller! A mystery! An historical novel! My favorite part is here, before the writing, the in-breath of possibility before the output of reality. I begin to take notes on character. I go to a homeless shelter and plan a visit to my long-dead grandfather's grave.

It's scary. I want to do it but I don't want to do it. So I write down a line when I'm not looking. And another. I keep a notebook by my bed, and jot down a fragment of a dream… and it's just that, a fragment of a dream. I go to my freewrite group and do unrelated exercises. I stretch the muscles. Get ready.

And… then here it comes…. The Binge! I take three weeks at a writer's colony and barely come down for meals. The challenge of Nanowrimo? Ha! I write 50K words in 24 days without breaking a sweat. I live in two world, the Real and the Written. I write and edit, get feedback, write and edit. Months go by. Years. I'm done. Exhaustion.  Collapse. 

Submission rejection submission acceptance edit reedit launch promo. (Or: submission rejection submission rejection submission give up and move on.)

And then it starts again. I don't write, I won't write, please shut up about it.

1 comment:

Clea Simon said...

I love this - it's so true for me, too! I read at some point that in the old Westerns, they made the horses look like they were shot (in cowboy/indian battles) by tripping them. I think that's what I have to do to myself: run full steam ahead and trip myself into it.