Every submission experience I’ve ever had was defined by the two or three (or five) nights before the deadline. I would spend days camped at a coffee shop, drinking drip light roast out of the largest container they had, taking cigarette breaks every hour or two, eating whatever stale pastry was available. Then, when the coffee shop closed, I would walk to a bar nearby, get a pint of cider or a whiskey Diet, and continue typing for as long as I could stay awake.
One coffee shop, a Dunn Brothers on North Hennepin, would stay open for 24 hours. To meet a 2017 ghostwriting deadline, I sat in a corner of that Dunn Brothers for 22 hours straight. I would look at the current barista, look at my screen, and look up again to see that the shift had changed. At noon the following day, I spent twenty minutes in the bathroom, bathing my armpits and groin with a damp paper towel. My stomach was a pool of burnt bean acid and half-digested croissants. My computer was overheated, humming in fits and starts. By the end of it, I was somewhere between a disassociative fugue state and a heart attack, but I turned it in, whatever it was. My friend and I still refer to that time as “the Dunn Brothers period.”
I saw myself as having no choice. Because I had put off writing, I would push my editors’ patience to the limit. When I reached that limit—when the emails would start sounding desperate, invoking the “we’ll have to push the publication date”—that’s when the coffee shop energy would kick into high gear, fueling my fingers on the keyboard through these manic, uninterrupted periods with pure adrenaline. What kind of writing I produced during that time, I cannot speak for, but we have to assume it came from me at some point. Perhaps we could call it a study on the influence of the subconscious, but not in a cool surrealist way. More like a weird chili? Anyway.
Maybe that was part of why, when the product would finally reach the shelves, I felt so disconnected: because I could barely remember its creation. Shame played a part, too. Back then, my definition of success was a well-designed, esoteric text that drew the attention of MFA graduates and the anemic alcoholic men I wanted to impress into bed. The pink-tinted, cursive-lined covers the publishers put on my stories didn’t reflect my Paris Review taste or my punk values, so I would dismiss months’ worth of difficult work as an annoying side gig. That shame, too, is probably why I put off doing the work in the first place. The shame brought me to late nights at sticky coffee shop tables, crawling toward the finish line, barely able to carry the weight of my own mistreated biology. That was the treatment that I told myself such work deserved.
(This draft of) the book is finally finished, and it was an entirely different experience. I sent the file at a reasonable hour on a Sunday evening, having slept a cool eight hours the night before. I’d written all day the last six days, sure, but I’d also had time to work out, make a few dinners, check out the new Jordan Peele movie with my dude. There were a few small meltdowns, namely because this also happened to be the week the students from my tutoring job all decided they wanted meet with me (previous two months of summer: radio silence; now: radio silence), but I got my ass in the chair and lost myself in the task of constructing worlds. I listened to my body when it needed food or water; I took breaks to walk around the new apartment, hanging art; I listened to the new Beyonce album over and over, reading every article I could find that dissected the samples.
What changed? Many little things, probably, within five years worth of journaled reflection, on-and-off therapy, breaking ties with abusive workplaces, forming new daily habits. The bigger change, though, is what I have already written about extensively here, and will continue to write about: my full embrace of who I am as a writer, and who I write for. For that I owe my teachers, one in particular, who made the question the center of his writing pedagogy. For that I also owe a particular strain of feminist critique that has emerged (or at least entered my personal radius) the past couple of years, which insists on a hallowed place for stories about emotions and relationships, mostly those for and about women and queer people. This genre is one of the only places, as Jaime Green puts it for Vulture, “where women’s desires, experiences, and rich inner lives are given value, center stage.”
Articles like these helped me reframe my understanding of what romances did for me as a girl, and what my books might possibly do for people now. Green says it best: “After growing up on Madeleine L’Engle or Louisa May Alcott and graduating into a high-school canon so dominated by men, imagine the relief and delight to read about women. And to read about such adult things — not adult as in sex, but adult concerns, like love and courtship and family strife. To see in those pages possible paths forward, worlds and happy endings to imagine yourself into.” This cultural and personal realization has inspired me to renew and nurture my writing practice, not just for my own mental, physical, and spiritual health, but for my potential readers. More explicitly: I don’t write for men anymore, and the people I do write for, I want to give them something as full and lush and joyful, with as many feelings as I get when I write it. To develop fully on the page, that spectrum of feelings needs plenty of room, nourishment, and most importantly: time.
Lovely perspective– you put into words my frustration/anxiety with writing. I work in science, but writing deadlines and male dominance span fields.
Thank you so much your comment. I’m sorry it’s been a frustrating experience for you, as well, but it’s good to know I’m not alone!
I love this. Wow you have really figured it out. Where is the picture taken?
Sincerely, Sharon Avery