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The title of this post is a nod to Dani Shapiro’s excellent book, Still Writing, which shares a title with this piece.
Recently I got off the phone with a friend — an abstract mathematician whom I generally consider to be the only true genius I know, and someone I’ve known since elementary school. He’d just finished reading my first novel, which had been terrifying for both of us. Aaron had been afraid that he wouldn’t like it, and, being an individual who doesn’t mince words when it comes to quality, he’d then have to tell me so. I, too, was afraid that he wouldn’t like it; I still remember the time he read a short story of mine and said, “This is completely meaningless,” in response. And that had been a 20-paged story that I’d spent two months on, not a 250-paged book that had taken four solid, grueling years to write.
I’m going to be heading to Hedgebrook, a writers’ residency, for the entirety of April. According to the letter I received last month, I was one of 45 fortunate writers to receive a place out of a pool of 1500 applicants. Hedgebrook is a residency that believes strongly in comfort and in solitude. Cell phones are discouraged; warm cookies and fresh flowers are provided in our private cottages on a regular basis. They tell us, the arriving writers, that one of the hardest things for Hedgebrook residents to deal with is, at first, the solitude — the silence of being told to write and read alone, in the woods, for weeks at a time — the inability for us to use the Internet without going to great lengths. We are there to write.
And so I’ve been preparing, beginning now in late February, for the April I’ll spend away. I know what I’ll be working on: a second book, which will be a memoir of sorts, about schizoaffective disorder. I refer to it as TCS. I will bring my notes and my laptop, and for the first time in months, I’ll be face-to-face with my own writer’s self, which I’ve been holding at a distance for the last year as my novel — the one Aaron just finished reading — makes its rounds. Holding my breath, I’ve found, is not a particularly effective technique while waiting for a book to find a home; and yet that’s what I’ve done with mine. I spent four years working nonstop on it. I went down the creative rabbit hole with that book and, in some ways, neglected my family while living so deeply in the process. I suppose the thought of doing that all over again, while not knowing what will become of said novel, pained me too much to launch fully into working again.
But, I’m reminded, that’s what writers do. If I am indeed a writer, the fact that I must continue to write is a reality and an imperative. Without the work, I lose myself. Without having a project living in a corner of my mind, I stop paying attention, stop tucking away details, stop noting the particular way in which the butcher weighs and wraps a pound of livers, or the way the air feels in the aftermath of a neighborhood tragedy. I float. I lose my perilous grounding.
The last week has felt like a homecoming of sorts. I’ve been dreaming about both my business ventures for 2014 and about my literary writing career. The illnesses that I live with have taken center stage for months, and I want to feel like myself again; I am beginning to feel like myself again.
Editing services are opening in March. I won’t be working in April, and at least one rare March slot has been filled. If you’re a visionary entrepreneur intrigued by editing services, I recommend that you visit this newsletter for more information — I look forward to meeting you, and to championing your work and the legacy you hope to build.
As for Aaron and my book? He told me that it was beautiful. “A work of art, Esmé,” he said.
I go on. I keep writing. I am, indeed, still writing.