Áine Greaney

Irish Writer. Creative Writing Workshops.

North Shore of Boston via Ireland

Filtering by Category: Inspiration and infatuations

Writing About Past Loves

Is it the advent of Valentine's Day, a holiday I claim to dislike, but that I seem to like writing about?

Is it some Chaucer-ian longing for springtime? Is it middle age?

Whatever it is, whatever has come over me, last week I rather grandly told some friends, "I'm writing a collection of short stories about my exes."

This is only partially true. What I didn't tell them is that I'm writing a collection of short fiction about the pathology and injury of romantic love.  How's that for Valentine's Day romance?

I remember the night this idea started.  Last year, I flew to Florida for a conference,  and, being frugal, I bypassed the officially listed lodgings for something nearby and cheaper.  

Well, you really *do* get what you pay for. That first wakeful night in that gritty motel (which looked nothing like its web photos), I relived one particular relationship that, while brief, was nothing short of madness.

After that sleepless and self-flagellating night, I became intrigued by the narrative, the vertiginous and often willful fall from affection to estrangement. 

So I began scribbling some fictional stories that are very loosely based on my own past dalliances. Some stories auto-emerged in third person; some insisted on a first-person voice. Some are from the man's point of view--which is especially fun to write. 

Note I say the stories are only "loosely" based on autobiographical events.  Like I say, I want to excavate and examine the injury,  not the chronology here.  And anyway, when it comes to writing fiction, the imagination can produce much more exciting stuff than the past ever could (most of the time).    

I'm having great, great fun with this. Last night  I even got up out of my bed to pen the latest story and kept going until 2 a.m. 

Listen, if this all sounds a little grim and revisionist, let me tell you that I have little or no truck with all that "don't let your past define you" malarkey.  Of course our pasts define us.  Our history is the only real narrative we have--and even that's dodgy at the best of times.

So I live in the past. Doesn't every writer?

 

   

For Labor Day: Seamus Heaney and Other Thoughts on Work and Writing

I wrote this exactly a year ago, never thinking that it would become one of many international elegies  for a great poet and wit and humanitarian.

Séamus Heaney's poem, "Digging" has always been my favorite piece of literature about work.

Have a listen to Heaney reading from his poem, "Digging."

Or read the printed version (below).

Random Thoughts on Poetry, Writing and Labor

As an undergraduate in Dublin, I was lucky enough to have Seamus Heaney as my professor and the chair of our English Department. As I sit here now, today, in America, I can shut my eyes and hear him reading to us in that second-floor classroom, to a rag-tag group of 18-year-old undergrads who were too young and too immature to appreciate what we were really hearing.

Years later, just before he became a Nobel laureate, I read an interview with Heaney in some Irish magazine in which he spoke briefly about his then-dual life as a working professor and as one of the world's most esteemed poets. In the interview, I loved the part where he stated that he always considered it his first duty to earn a living and provide for his family.

My father also dug his share of potatoes and turf and God knows what else. Above all else, my father believed in paying his way, in working hard.

In 2011, a year before Dad died, he told me that he was most proud of having produced an equally hard-working family.

Today, on Labor Day, I am proud to be the kind of hard worker who could make my father proud.

+++++++++

Séamus Heaney  (1939-)

Digging

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,

Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner's bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, digging down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it.

- from Death of a Naturalist (1966)

Writing about Tough Stuff (and then getting on with your day?)

I'm writing my first book-length memoir. It's something I thought I would never, ever write--that I would never have the stomach for.  But I am writing it. I feel compelled to write this story about my leaving Ireland at age 24 to come and live in the U.S.  

The story is, of course, about much more than the cultural bloopers, the adventures and misadventures of my early years in America.  

I've just drafted and printed the first 50 pages. I have no idea if it will ever get published.

Last Monday, I flipped back through the "easier" stuff to write and insert a really difficult scene.  How difficult? I, a woman who (mostly) breezes through the transatlantic airport departure lounge completely dry-eyed, sat here at my computer weeping.

Then, this morning, almost a week later, I got up, made coffee and tackled the second-most difficult scene. As soon as I began to write Difficult Scene 2, I instantly sank into another bout of  melancholy.

2013-06-15 11.27.38
2013-06-15 11.27.38

Surely this is a kind of willful psychosis?  Surely, on an ordinary American Sunday, a day when the sun is shining through my writing-studio window, it would be easier and healthier not to revisit or revive the past. To simply stay in the present?

But for better or worse,  I've written both scenes. In doing so, I've committed to typed words one of the saddest and loneliest times of my adult life.

Writing these scenes--actually the whole book so far--has taught me that sometimes, we commit our worst acts of cowardice, our most heinous acts of negligence against ourselves.

So I'm done.    I'm free to get up from this desk and go about the rest of my normal American Sunday.   

Or am I?

Writers dish on balancing writing with work and family

I'm delighted to announce that Alizah Salario, a freelance journalist from Brooklyn, NY, is the winner of my signed book, Writer with a Day Job. All of the names were entered for a random drawing. Check out Alizah's work at her website.

Below are Alizah's tips on writing and you can read all of the tips in the last blog post.

Tips from Alizah Salario:

1) Don’t confuse your job with your career: Because the type of writing that pay the bills and the type of writing that creatively fulfills and sustains me are two separate things, it’s easy to feel like I’m not a “real” writer if I’m not earning money doing what I love. I often remind myself there is no shame in doing something for money in order to do what you love.

2) Find an ally: Even supportive friends have a difficult time understanding the unique rhythms of a writer’s life. Find a fellow writer – through a writing group, a friend, or simply write to someone you admire – who can relate and help you stay on track when it feels hopeless.

3) Create your own criteria: So much of what is considered “successful” on the web is determined by the number of comments, likes, or tweets. Remember that some of the best writing out there gets the least attention, and there are countless talented people who don’t get the credit they deserve. Make your own markers of achievement that don’t have to do with responses from others – otherwise you’ll constantly be looking for external approval.

Thank you to all who shared their writing processes and tips. I know I learned a lot.

Thanks (giving) for my writing life

"It’s Thanksgiving,” he said down the payphone. His American voice sounded woken-up cranky.  "So my roommates are off work and gone home. ‘Like, Thanksgiving's a holiday over here.”  Oh, come on, I wanted to say.  I mean, with nobody getting born or killed or risen from the dead,  just how big could this 'holiday' of yours really be?  The year was 1986. The era: way, way pre-cellphone. The setting: My native Ireland.

But only for one more month. That day, the day before Thanksgiving, 1986,  the American Embassy had issued me a temporary visa. My lucky day. How lucky? I had even found an un-vandalized payphone to call across the Atlantic to one of my expatriate  friends. Now that I had my visa, I needed a landing pad in the land of the free.

I watched the last of my money clink into the payphone slot. “Is there a message?” The man asked.

“Yes,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. “Please tell my pal Mary that I’ll ring again next week. When she’s back from … um … this ... Thanksgiving." “Sure,” he said. Then ... Clunk.

Standing in that phone box, I was one of the 19% of unemployed young Irish people. I was among the estimated 30% of college graduates for whom there were no suitable jobs in our own country.  And we're not talking "dream job" or "creative job." In fact, I didn't even know what these terms meant.

As an unemployed person--then and now--you don’t feel like part of an unemployment statistic or a unified group.  There's just you. There’s just you and your shame and your assumption that everyone else—especially your old college friends—all have jobs. And those friends who have moved overseas? Yup, they have jobs, too. And new jobs mean new friends—the kind of friends who invite you home to their family for secular-sounding American holidays that aren't named for a saint or a savior.

Even more than a job, I needed a place to be—somewhere far away from that damp, November afternoon in Ireland.  Oh, yeah, as I left that phone box to walk through Dublin's city center, I knew it in my soul: I needed a life.

But there’s one big advantage to being 24 and jobless.  Your emigration to-do list is really short.

Get yourself a temporary American visa. Check. Empty your savings for a transatlantic airline ticket. Check.Start saying ‘goodbye’ to your family. Check.Track down an expatriate friend to lend you a couch and a place to stay.

Um … well … I was working on that last one.   But I couldn't work on it until this Thanksgiving thing was over, when I’d scrape up enough courage and spare change to call across the Atlantic again.

A month after Visa Day, I landed in JFK Airport, New York on a freezing afternoon. I had a backpack and a borrowed $200 and yes, a place to stay.

I never did get to California, at least, not to live. From New York I took a Trailways bus three hours upstate, where, as an act of mercy, a family member had set me up with his American friend. That American friend, a man I had never met before, would  pick me up and put me up until I got on my feet.

In America, I went and found me some jobs. I became a waitress, a bartender, a secretary (when we still called it that), a college administrative person, a marketing assistant, a substitute elementary school teacher (quelle disaster!) and ... well, a host of other things. One year, by the time Tax Day rolled around, I submitted a whopping nine W2 forms. I went back to grad school at night. And, even with a strange accent and with substantial holes in my resume, even during the most recent U.S. recession, I managed to stay (mostly) employed.

But did I really like any of my jobs? Did any of them feed me or my vague, dreamy hope of one day being a writer? As an immigrant and as a child of working class parents, there were many, many years before I even let myself consider these questions.

My writing and editorial skills led to better and more fulfilling jobs. Almost at the same time, I began submitting my writing to literary magazines. Suddenly, the rejection slips were intermingled with a few "we'd-like-to-publish" notes. Eventually, and still with a jittery disbelief, I found myself with a dual career as a creative writer and as communications professional.

kitchencounter
kitchencounter

Yesterday morning, as I prepared for my 25th Thanksgiving in America, and before I left for my office and job,  I took my cup of coffee to the kitchen counter.

In my iPhone, I went through my last minute Thanksgiving list:

Turkey? Check.Cranberries? Check. Sweet potatoes? Check.A really good writing life?  Check. Check.

--

For Labor Day: Seamus Heaney and Other Thoughts on Work and Writing

I wrote this exactly a year ago, never thinking that it would become one of many international elegies  for a great poet and wit and humanitarian.Séamus Heaney's poem, "Digging" has always been my favorite piece of literature about work.

Have a listen to Heaney reading from his poem, "Digging."

Or read the printed version (below).

Random Thoughts on Poetry, Writing and Labor

As an undergraduate in Dublin, I was lucky enough to have Seamus Heaney as my professor and the chair of our English Department. As I sit here now, today, in America, I can shut my eyes and hear him reading to us in that second-floor classroom, to a rag-tag group of 18-year-old undergrads who were too young and too immature to appreciate what we were really hearing.

Years later, just before he became a Nobel laureate, I read an interview with Heaney in some Irish magazine in which he spoke briefly about his then-dual life as a working professor and as one of the world's most esteemed poets. In the interview, I loved the part where he stated that he always considered it his first duty to earn a living and provide for his family.

My father also dug his share of potatoes and turf and God knows what else. Above all else, my father believed in paying his way, in working hard.

In 2011, a year before Dad died, he told me that he was most proud of having produced an equally hard-working family.

Today, on Labor Day, I am proud to be the kind of hard worker who could make my father proud.

+++++++++

Séamus Heaney  (1939-)

Digging

Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade, Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner's bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, digging down and down For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it.

- from Death of a Naturalist (1966)

Maeve Binchy: Lessons for All Writers

maveb
maveb

This week, the news spread via the international media and the Internet that popular writer Maeve Binchy has died after a short illness. Rest in peace, Maeve. And thank you for all those loveable and highly readable  stories and books.

I didn't know Maeve Binchy--at least not personally.

Once, she was the judge of a short-story contest in which my entry made second place. So I can guess she had good taste, yes? Also, I once flew back home from Ireland to Boston while sitting next to an off-duty airline stewardess. Needless to say, we got chatting. And needless to say, I got her to spill about who she's waited on and what they're like.

She said Maeve Binchy was a joy.

My first and best memory of this iconic Irish writer was an interview on a Saturday-night T.V. show in Ireland.  I couldn't have been more than 17 or 18 (was I 20?) at the time, and Maeve  Binchy was a comparitively neophyte published writer.

From that T.V appearance, I remember two things:

1. She assured the interviewer that writing was really like sitting in a pub and just telling someone a story. It was that exciting and that uncomplicated.

2. I remember her extraordinary warmth and grace--and for some reason, this came as a shock.

Can You Be Quotable, Famous and Nice?

Until Maeve, our iconic Irish writers--our Joyces, our Becketts our Kavanaghs et al--had been ... well ... mostly male. And, gender aside, our national writers had been quotable, talented and erudite--yes-but what had they taught us about being or playing nice? About combining  grace with literary fame?

So this is what I remember most about Maeve Binchy. Not her books, not her plots, not her characters, not her books-turned-feature films or astonishing literary output. But her grace.

Take a look at this week's  newspaper tributes to Maeve Biinchy's life and death, and it's clear that, beyond the works and awards, her grace and charm didn't go unnoticed.  The term "popular" described way more than her 40-million in worldwide book sales. These good manners, this altruistic consideration of others--her readers, the airline worker, the T.V. interviewer. These are the hallmarks, the legacy of a truly "good writer."

And of course, this leads us to ask: What if she'd been just as successful but also one of those ice-queen, prima donna writers?  This week, would we flood the Internet and media with our memories and our heartfelt tributes?

No. Or if we did, we would just write the usual "life and work" tributes. We would write and speak about her in that distanced, awe-struck way in which we pay tribute to other impressive but inanimate constructs like .. oh ... say ... the pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal or Donald Trump.

To me, the way in which Maeve Binchy conducted herself on-screen, in life, on air or in the air is just as important--actually more so--than her status as a bestselling woman writer.

Should You Come Out (as a writer) at Work?

It's happened again. This morning, my Google Alert told me that my name had been mentioned somewhere out there in the cyber galaxy.

Was it a glowing online review? Some writer blogger mentioning or  (or damning--who knows?) my book for writers? Some agent who had come upon my last novel and now, she or he had a question or a quibble or a hot writers' advance for the next book?

It was none of these.

Instead, it was a press release that I posted at work as part of my job as a communications director for a non-profit here in Massachusetts.

Dang. It's not that I'm disappointed that the search engines are picking up my work-generated press releases, but I don't like this public link between my paid work (aka, the day job) and my life as a creative writer.

I hate when that happens. In fact, I do everything I can to not have that happen, to keep  my day job and my writing life separate.  So I never stand in the lunch room blathering about last night's rough draft. Or I never announce a new publication.

2011-10-20_19-50-56_853
2011-10-20_19-50-56_853

I don't invite my colleagues to any of my public readings or panel discussions.

I never bring one of my books to work, and I never, ever mention my workplace on Twitter or on my author's Facebook page. Sometimes, when and if a colleague reads a piece of mine or sees my name in the local newspaper (the arts, not the business section), I grow suddenly bashful and embarrassed, as if I've been caught out in a secret.

Why?

Mostly, I like to honor the requirements and ethics of my professional life and workplace. I feel grateful to have a job I like with colleagues I respect.  But then, I don't write anything salacious or pornographic or outrageous. I don't write on the job.  So what's the harm in sharing my life with those people with whom I wait in line for the coffee machine?  Just as they tell me about their kids and their kids' birthday parties, why can't I share my extra-curricular life?

Mostly, I want my colleagues to see me as fitting and fulfilling the role I'm paid for. So I hesitate to introduce another variable of myself, to charge them with seeing me in another and separate light.

And make no mistake: They are separate. The worker me and the writer me are very different. Especially on those self-effacing and writer-blocked days, I like the worker me better. It's a far more confident and competent version.  It's a version that gets things done.

But mostly, I think I keep things separate because, even when I'm writing fiction, some part of that manuscript will reveal my past and my innermost thoughts and sensibilities.

Do I really want my colleagues to know that much about me?

How do you manage it? Really, I'd love to know. Do you allow colleagues or business associates to share in the joys and challenges of your writing?

Do you share rough drafts with your family or life partner or best friend?

Writers: Oh, We of Little Faith

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The nuns at my convent secondary school said I'd lost it.

Faith, that is. I had lost my faith.

I only believed in things that could be proven in a science lab or in my math or grammar notebooks (We had paper notebooks back then; this all happened shortly after the sinking of the Lusitania.)

Episode 1: My first public crisis of faith went like this: There we were, us convent girls, all wearing our navy-blue uniforms and all pretending to listen to Sister S.'s latest speech on our "one, true faith."  I was 14. I politely interrupted to opine that, if Sister's hypothesis were true, then the entire faith/formal religion thing amounted to a rigged (and therefore illegal) horse race in which every bettor had an insider's tip for the favorite.

"But it's not, is it, Sister?" I said. "The other faiths (protestants, et al) are all backing their own horses, so we're all in a punter's race."

Sister S. argued back.

I counter-argued and trotted (ouch! sorry!) out more horse-racing analogies to make this woman see.

She sputtered and spat and fought back tears. She said she would pray for me.

(Psst! If your eyes are glazing over already, or if you've gone back to reading your daily racing pages, then skip this next episode of "Convent Kid Goes to Hell." I'll pray for you).

Episode 2: Two years later, we were all studying for our final exams and (hopefully) university. One day, Sister G., a younger nun, announced that advanced biology and French grammar and mathematical theorems were all fine for the mind, but we also needed to feed our young souls.

So Sister G. arrived with this box of religious books. They had book jackets with celestial sunrises and petrified martyrs gazing sky-ward. We could pick what we wanted, so of course I chose an extra big edition of the four gospels because it was hefty enough to camouflage my own latest creed: a steamy paperback novel.

Pant. Swoon. Now, this was the best religion class yet.

Until that day when Sister G. hauled me up in front of the class and held up my clandestine paperback filth as Exhibit A of what happens to girls who lose their faith.   I was, she said, "rapidly heading toward atheism."  So she said she'd pray for me, too.

Between then and now,  I've been a student and a teacher and a waitress and a dishwasher and a secretary and a professor and an editor.

Oh, and I moved across the sea to America, where my faith never returned. My faith done gone.

In America, I don't leave home without my GPS.  Every morning before work, I check my bag for my wallet, my phone, my lunch and water bottle. I often check twice.

At work I need written assurances of projected finish dates and what the project will look like.  I would never do one of those executive retreat thing-ys where you pitch yourself off a mountain ledge in the belief that your colleague will catch you.

Not me.

I only believe in what I see. In what I've been promised or contracted or what I can behold.

But then ...

Just before Christmas 2011, I started my third novel. So far, it's a crossover novel with a young adult main character but some fairly adult themes.  Beyond the main characters and the initial set-up, I have no clue what will actually happen. And worse, I cannot cast my mind forward 300 pages to envision a page that pronounces, "THE END."

As writers, are there ever any promises?  Is there ever a GPS or Godly voice announcing, "Destination on the right." Heck, most of us don't know where our story will end or if it will end or if this current draft will be the draft or if it will all just end up as kindling or kitty litter.

Writing is the ultimate test of personal faith. It presents many crisis of faith, like when the back-story becomes the front story. Like when the main character pouts and stalls and regresses to baby talk again. Like when the phone rings. The sink is full of dishes. Like when work is so busy you just about keep it all together.

Faith is damn hard.  And yet, to not believe, to not have faith is to not write.  It's to declare yourself as a permanent non-runner in every race.

And hell, we can't do that.

Joppa Flats
Joppa Flats

Today I abandoned my writing to take a long walk. On my walk, I stopped to  listen to the wind in the marsh grasses and how the incoming tide makes the ice snap and pop.   As I watched the winter sky out over Plum Island, I needed to believe.

So I kept walking and thinking and kept asking that little brat-character o' mine to reveal her true self.

She hasn't. Yet.

But she will.

Do women lose their writer's faith more easily than men? Or is it about equal between the genders?  How do you keep believing in yourself and your project?

A More Palatable Sandwich--Writing, Parenting and Elder Care

This week, I have the great pleasure of welcoming Katherine Hauswirth, a working mother and professional writer from Connecticut. Katherine is the author of Harriet’s Voice: A Writing Mother’s Journey, available through amazon.com or offthebookshelf.com.  As well as being a working mother, she writes prose and poetry, including a recent poem at Chronogram and guest columns on books at BiblioBuffet.com.  Lucky for us,  Katherine agreed to be one of the profiled authors in "Writer with a Day Job."  Now, she has graciously agreed to write on her expereience of being a member of the "sandwich generation"--those of us who are caring for our kids and our aging parents. Yes, all this, and writing, too. Welcome Katherine. 

Sandwich
Sandwich

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you find yourself a member of the “sandwich generation.”Or maybe not so hypothetically—a study sponsored by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that focused solely on women in their 50s and 60s found that up to one third of those in this age group are simultaneously caring for parents and children. The study was narrow. I know I’m not the only one in my 40-something circle affected by these dueling needs, and that includes men also encountering this challenge.

As medical advances continue to stretch the human lifespan and allow for delayed entry into parenthood, more and more adults find themselves caring for parents while trying to do at least as good a job parenting their own children. This might feel somewhat more manageable if a job and/or a significant other weren’t also in the mix. Add to this a desire to pursue creative dreams, and life becomes a super generous and quite complicated sandwich, almost too big to get your mouth around.

So what to do? Well, I learned two essentials while working in psychiatry, and they’ve been reinforced by my own experience as a working mom with an elderly mother who needs more and more care. The first: seeking help, in whatever form you can get it, is so important. That help might be a friend who listens; a priest, rabbi, or worship community; the local social services department; a sibling; or a good book on the subject.

The second essential is that outlook is so critical. There’s a reason the “glass half full or glass half empty” analogy is used so often. Of course, most situations can’t be reduced to a simple “look on the bright side” prescription. But there’s a whole, quite decently validated school of cognitive therapy in which re-framing a negative perception can have a noticeable impact over time.

For writers, it can be worthwhile to “re-frame” that looming sandwich from a different angle.

To take the metaphor a step further, what are the condiments of life that might make that oversized sandwich a more enjoyable experience? Well, for one, your sandwich has just presented you with a wealth of material covering a good chunk of the spectrum of humanity, whether you write prose or poetry, fiction or fact. Tap into it, whether from the pragmatic or the emotional perspective.

If new material is the mustard, the need to become more highly organized might be the ketchup. Ever hear that expression, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it?” The fact that you are in high demand can help you learn to break tasks down into manageable steps and to recognize what things you simply can’t manage, which can make room for a very efficient system of triage. Yes, there’ll be times where writing takes a back seat, but you’ll also know when you take that precious time to write that you really deserve it and will be sure to use it wisely.

Finally, we come to the relish. Stress can be the ultimate crucible for learning what about what makes you tick and what saps your strength. Pay attention to the lessons you are learning about yourself, because they do translate to other areas. I find that I tend to get cold and clinical when trying to discuss a medical decision with my mom; I can be just as distant when doing a writing assignment on this type of situation. What a great breakthrough it will be, in both cases, to let my heart show more.

So, advice for the sandwich you might find on your plate? Sit back, chew slowly, watch out for random toothpicks, and savor the opportunity.

How do you deal with stress--at work, at home or under writing deadline?

Our Just Desserts (Psst! No Calories)


9964-1009-freelinked
9964-1009-freelinked

When I published “Writer with a Day Job” (Writers Digest Books, 2011), I hoped that it would instigate us day-job writers to get chatting and sharing our strategies for balancing work with writing. Or I thought that some readers might comment on the book’s tutorials on the actual craft of writing narrative.

These have happened. But two weeks ago, one reader-feedback  really stopped me in my tracks. It was a note from a woman who said that her personal takeaway from the book was that we deserve to write. Like many of us, this woman is balancing a job, a family and some additional responsibilities for her extended family.

Here’s an excerpt from her very kind email:  

“Sometimes it's hard to justify writing even an hour a day when my job demands so much of me, and when the people I love need me so much. Your approach has helped me make an important shift: recognizing that it's writing that makes me a better person,  that this feeds everything else.”

For years and years (and even still), this “deserving” issue was the biggest block to my own writing.

In 1992, amidst an interstate move and  a few bad financial hits,  I took the first steps toward my lifelong dream of being a writer. I signed up for a master’s program at a college in our new town—a program I financed through a patchwork of cash `n carry jobs, credit cards, a research assistantship and a very large dollop of naiveté.

Three months before this, my husband and I had packed our things into a Ryder truck and rented our house (it wouldn't sell) and moved to this place where he accepted a lower-level position at his old company. It was this or take a company pink slip. I worked as a waitress and as a front desk clerk and as a college administrative assistant. Once or twice a week, I left that day's particular job and gobbled down an after-work sandwich en route to my graduate classroom where, supposedly, I would enter the writing life.

But in that classroom or, later, scribbling in a bagel shop on my lunch hour,  I believed that a girl like me—a new immigrant, a working wife, the child of working class parents—was an imposter.  Creative writing was for the believers. The rich. The leisured. The erudite.  Creative writing was for those who didn’t lie awake at night worrying about the mortgage, the in-laws or the credit cards.

Even when I did write or publish, I wrote with a certain timidity.  As I sat there scribbling in strip mall cafes, or when I researched my papers in the college library, I envisioned a grand American literate—an exclusive club of scribes who held the secret code to La Vie des Ecrivans. I would never be a member. I would never deserve it.

What a bloody waste.

Now that I’m middle aged, now that I’ve cleared my credit cards, I know that writing is as much about believing as it is about doing.  Above all, it’s about believing that writing is something that you deserve to do.

What about you? Do you believe, deeply, that you deserve the personal time out that it takes to write?  Do women come to believe this more easily than men?

photo credit: www.freewebphoto.com

Writer with a Day Job - Welcome

Z8079 WriterDayJob
Z8079 WriterDayJob

Creative Writing: You want the Side Salad with That?

I got the idea for the book,  "Writer with a Day Job" while sitting outside my office building.  This was the corporate building (I have since switched jobs) where I made my living, to which I commuted five days per week.

I was sitting on the stone steps at the back of the building, eating a lunchtime salad and trying very hard not to dribble the balsamic vinaigrette dressing onto the typescript pages I was editing.  That day's lunchtime writing assignment: to read and edit a creative nonfiction essay about pet ownership.  Now that I think about it,  I never finished that essay--so don't look for it in the New Yorker.

corporate office building
corporate office building

So there I was, eating, reading, writing--only glancing up from my manuscript to check my watch for when it was time to go back in through those glass doors and back to my cubicle and my other, paid job.

I had about 40 minutes in which to edit and re-draft my essay. As a lifelong procrastinator who tends to draft in my head and then write things just before submission date,I knew just how much work you can cram into 40 minutes.

There's nothing like a sunny spring day in New England to bring the cubicle corporatoids skittering into the daylight. So as I sat there reading and editing,  the rest of the office crowd emerged blinking into the sunlight to mill around that nondescript courtyard. They gossiped, paced or gabbled on their cell phones.

The truth? I wanted to tell them to shut it. But then, this wasn't my personal writing studio.  So actually, I was the one who had to shut out all those voices and distractions.

And then I had a vision. No, seriously. And please don't summon the whacko police--at least not yet. But in my mind's eye, I saw all of us day job writers across America--thousands of us sitting in bagel shops or huddled in doorways or sitting in our cars with our iPods, trying to jam in a little bit of writing while waiting for the kids to get out of soccer practice or while sitting in the dentist's waiting room.  Mine wasn't the Hollywood vision of a creative writer. But it was the authentic, 21st-century version.

Then I thought of all the writing students who have attended my writing classes and workshops for adult learners. Nurses. Accountants. Marketers. Dads. Moms. Doctors. Lawyers. Carpenters.   Except for a very lucky or a bestseller few,  most of us writers are holding down a day job while also writing. We're walking that tightrope between creating art and paying the rent.

So the book, "Writer with a Day Job" was born.

I took another bite of my salad and turned over my typescript page and began to scribble some initial ideas for the book.

For the next few weeks, at home or on the commute, I had more ideas for the book.

But listen,  ideas are one thing. Translating those  ideas into useful, in-the-trenches guidelines is another process. Could my own experiences in the craft and process of writing be useful to other writers?

You be the judge.

Writers Digest Books published "Writer with a Day Job" in June 2011. As well as guidelines, inspiration and tutorials, the book includes interviews with 20 creative writers from across the country. These are novelists, essayists, memoirists and poets who have or currently balance work, parenting and writing.

Since the book's publication date, other writers--all of whom are balancing work, family and creativity--have  emailed with their comments and questions.

And now ... Ta! Da! Le blog, "Writer with a Day Job."

Let's make this our virtual salon.

As I add new posts and guest posts, I invite you to comment. I invite you to  share your own experiences,  successes and ... ahem ... challenges in finding balance between your writing and your working lives.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from "Writer  with a Day Job." Yes, wouldn't you know it? It's about writing on your lunch hour.

Copyright 2011-2014 Aine Greaney
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