Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

8 Signs You Might Be in “The Dip” and How to Write it Out

Winter hike writing setbacks
Frustrated Writer

Photo by Don https://www.flickr.com/photos/fallingwater123/

I was stuck inside for the third day in a row, planning which blanket to cover up with before watching the seventh hour of The Voice. I scrolled through Facebook and read a post from a fellow writer offering hope to another writer in the doldrums.

“Poor thing,” I thought. That couldn’t be me because I’ve been on a straight path upward, no detours or setbacks. Since I got the guts to call myself a writer last spring at the non-ingénue age of 48 ½, my signs from the universe all confirmed that I’m not wasting my time on this whole writing thing.

I clicked on author Kristen Lamb’s blog post and recognized myself in the photo – a dark-haired writer with her face in her hands. The recognition called me to read on about the “span of suck” that is “The Dip” and how it might not be such a bad thing.

What are some signs this might be you?

  1. Everything’s been going your way and then it’s not.

This would be the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” scenario. I’d had a lot of mini-victories but then a few rejections came my way.

  1. You’re not actually writing.

I was back to talking about writing. Reading about writing. Not getting much writing done. A recent blog tour I’d signed up for ended and I didn’t have fresh material for my blog. Worse, I had no desire to create fresh material.

  1. You’re current project seems impossible to save.

The second draft of my WIP was under way but I suddenly became sure I didn’t have the talent or creativity to figure out plot issues, add interesting characters or finish it.

  1. You begin Fraud-Fretting.

Maybe it’s the alliteration but I loved this term. I was all of a sudden positive that having sold a few pieces, gotten a local byline in the paper, finished a first draft of a novel all added up to something other than being a writer. Maybe it meant I was a plumber?

  1. You withdraw socially from your writing peers.

Whether you’ve been connecting online or in person, all of a sudden, you don’t want to face the people who are really doing it. You begin wondering if cable will air old episodes of The Voice or American Idol which will help to take your mind off what you’re not accomplishing.

  1. You stop showing up.

You haven’t been at your desk in days. Your laptop is fully charged and you intend to conserve energy by not turning it on. You’re all thumbs so don’t even try to pick up a pen or pencil.

  1. You pray for the cold snap to continue so you can remain covered on the couch with a semi-plausible excuse.

Those talent shows are not going to watch themselves.

  1. Your hair has been in a greasy pony tail for days and you have food stains on your sweatshirt.

This could be more serious – rely on your family for indications.

How do you get out of it?

  1. Give yourself a break. Kindness works. Don’t berate yourself into a deeper dip.
  2. Set a time limit. “I will give myself 3 days to wallow,” etc.
  3. Hold a pen or pencil (do not point the sharp end at your heart) while watching The Voice or Idol.

    Winter hike writing setbacks

    Winter hike – Fresh air tonic for the writing blues.

  4. What have you been dying to write? If it’s not the WIP or that’s too scary to face, write something for fun. Send a raunchy email to your BFF gossiping about that horrible woman in your office.
  5. Call a mentor, coach, teacher so they can tell you how normal this is. Do not call your mother who will either tell you how beautiful you are (having not seen your greasy pony tail) or will give you the number of her friend that can get you a good job.
  6. Confess your doldrums to your best social media friends. Sit back and watch the inspiring quotes and memes roll in.
  7. Revisit what made you want to do this in the first place. Successes? Bylines? That poem that made your friends cry?
  8. Breathe. Move. Fill the well. Go to a movie. Dance to your favorite song. Have sex! Eat chocolate! Re-read your favorite book.

I tried all of the above. Not necessarily in order. Number four gave me the start of an essay I’d been holding inside. Yesterday, a trusted mentor confirmed that my fears were shared by “real” writers at all stages. Intellectually I knew this, emotionally I needed to hear it.

Staying in “the dip” isn’t an option. Nature doesn’t work like that. Setbacks become permanent only if you quit. Something better is coming. Will you be ready for it?

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “8 Signs You Might Be in “The Dip” and How to Write it Out

  1. Kristen Lamb on March 3, 2015 at 10:18 am said:

    Thanks for the shout-out and this made me laugh. Love how you riffed with it. We ALL hit this place. Sometimes it’s just knowing it goes with the job that helps. It isn’t permanent.

    • Lovely of you to comment, Kristen! Really enjoyed your blog. Happy to say I was up and writing this morning. Thanks again for stopping by!

  2. barb armstrong on March 4, 2015 at 8:52 am said:

    Yes I am your Mom and I understand the doldrums dip, believe me! However, It would be a shame for you not to wallow a day or two and then continue on with your fabulous self because I am sure you give other people a lift most of the time. They really look to you to boost them up and cheer them on so snap out of it and get to work and always remember that I am sure you were put here to make the world a better place and you do!

    • Mother!! Hello and thanks for telling it like it is (or how you think it is :-)) I was hard at work this morning, so there! Love you!