the sentence is a lonely place

some all over the place thoughts, because i can:

it is interesting that emily gould is the one editing and publishing my next book. when i was 25 and had an essay collection being published, i didn’t know how to prepare, or who to model myself after. there was just emily. she was the only other young (female!) contemporary writer who had published an essay collection. i watched emily get totally shit on in so many places. jimmy kimmel. the new york times, who counted how many times she said “I.”

i was working with melissa febos a few years earlier (when i was 23/24) on my essays at her apartment in bushwick. melissa wrote on a slip of paper for me, “emily gould, meghan daum, sloane crosley.” my roommate james at the time worked at the strand and i texted and asked him to get me the book. “she’s hot,” he said. i brought the book And The Heart Says Whatever and sat (with wine? tea/coffee?) in the back of MUD on 9th street and read it in one night. during that time i was working as a waitress at Pillow Cafe in clinton-hill, and co-workers would talk about how emily gould would come in for coffee. she lived nearby.

i couldn’t sleep one night before the publication of LGLA and read all the mean things people said about emily. people were going to say these things about me, too. i was terrified. but emily and i were coming at it from different places. she had a huge following from gawker. i didn’t have a following of any kind.

is publishing essay collections ‘irresponsible’? the thing about publishing one at 25 means that you wrote the book in your early twenties. no doubt in your early twenties you do STUPID things, and then you write about them so they are documented forever.

the day Legs Get Led Astray came out, Cheryl posted a photo of it. The author Kerry Cohen said, “I love essay collections and no one ever publishes them anymore! Also you published your first book at 25? You bitch!”

my friend fran thinks it’s super unique that i published such an exposing essay collection so young and that my next book should be a reflection on that. i’m not sure.

***

todayish i am supposed to be receiving my manuscript for I’ll Tell You In Person back from Ruth Curry, with line edits. then i have one more month to work on those, and then i hand in the final, november 15th.

after that, i will take a break. and go to yoga without thinking i should be working on my book. have dinner without thinking i should be working on my book. talk to people without hoping they will leave soon so i can work on my book. teach my classes without thinking of the time it takes from my book. wake up in the morning without thinking of my book. read at night without thinking i should be working on my book. it will be shift, and it will be sad in a way. and then i will romanticize this process i am presently going through instead of remembering how much it hurts, how hard. similar to birth, i imagine.

having editors is such a god send. i am the worst writer. i really am. i should probably take some grammar classes. i sent my friend elisa albert a new essay a few weeks ago and she gave me some notes including, “your grammar is fucked at times.” my editors fix that! ruth sent me an essay by gary lutz called the sentence is a lonely place. it’s a piece about reading, how lutz came to writing, how he came to THINK about what writing IS, and being a writer. the sentence is a lonely place. this is some of the best advice i’ve ever gotten. sentences are uncomfortable. writing is uncomfortable. we want to get out of the sentence quickly. move forward. ruth basically told me to stop doing that. stay in the sentence. craft it. think about how you want it to sound. read it out loud.

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emily told me she wouldn’t let me end an essay with “or something”. i’m always telling my students not to end their essays with questions or crying or slamming the door.

it’s lonely inside our sentences and books, and if we’re lucky, we have editors swoop in and take some of that heaviness off of us.

the last page of WOMEN gets a lot of credit. people mention it to me often. my editor for that book was elizabeth ellen, and when she sent it back to me at one point, i said, woah, did you add something here? nope, she answered. i just rearranged what you wrote. GOD BLESS EDITORS. the tenses were all fucked up in WOMEN for a long time. “I’m gonna kill you,” EE would often say to me, about the messy manuscript, the tenses i couldn’t decide on. we decided to leave the last line in present tense even though it’s not grammatically correct. no one ever comments how the book is past tense 30 pages in, then switches to present.

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EE reading WOMEN in Miami, 2013
EE reading WOMEN in Miami, 2013

“People think WOMEN just EDITED ITSELF,” Elizabeth once joked.

a writer named belinda mckeon wrote this beautiful essay The Art of Going The Distance. she quotes Women in it:

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Exactly. This is why it can be frustrated to work with editors at times. Because, though they are amazing, they are not the ones losing money while they write.

This is what my agent (I know I’ve just switched to using caps, my style/grammar is fucked, am owning it) talked about all last winter and spring. Editors wanted me to do more, write more, include more, stretch more, they were giving me amazing (free!) advice and notes and I was lucky for that. But I was the one sitting for seven hours at my desk writing about the past, my family, my pain, my acne, my horrible choices. I was the one suffering, back aching, eyes bleary. I was the one losing money doing this. My agent explained finally to these publishers that I couldn’t afford to. I simply could not afford to work on the book and re-submit it to these high top NYC editors. I am poor. I was grocery shopping at CVS. It was a gray and cold and raining day, about 10a.m. my time and 7a.m. my agent’s west coast time when she called to tell me the BIG publisher had sent thorough feedback and she wanted to warn me about it before i read it. they were not making a bid and also not taking if off the table. the editor called me a ‘closed book in some ways.’ during a moment i am not proud of, almost breaking down into tears, i said to my agent, “does she want to do it? does she want to sit in a chair for 8 hours writing about divorce and drugs and acne and low self esteem and body dysmorphia? then she can do it, if she can do it better than i can.” then i cried in the shower.

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this is why it’s so nice to have editors who are also writers/publish books. i just finished ‘portrait of an addict as a young man‘ by bill clegg. he’s published 2 memoirs and is also an agent. i heard him on a few interviews, and he said he used to take for granted the stuff authors did–the leg work of interviews and readings and fielding questions. he said he sees now from first hand how generous it is, how draining.

back to emily. i was re-reading this post by her yesterday and it rang SO TRUE. i cannot wait to not be writing an essay collection. not writing an essay collection will be a vacation. a beauty treatment. i knew exactly the feeling emily describes here. another time i had that feeling was when my book advance was wired to me. my bank account normally fluctuates  from $50 to $600 so when i have money i can actually put in my savings, i feel like i’m on vacation in hawaii or something. you know what i did? i upgraded my Spotify to premium and i bought the new yorker. ( :

emily, on the day she turned in her novel:

 I experienced the feeling of “TGIF” for the first time in years on 10/11 and I probably don’t have to tell you that TGIF is A GREAT FEELING. I’ve had so much time these past few weeks to hang out and have fun and organize and clean and budget and transfer balances from one credit card to another and make obsessive plans for the future. Does that not sound fun? It has been GREAT. One of the things about working on a book, at least for me — and probably it doesn’t have to be this way! — is that you spend a lot of time in “finals week mode.” Like, years on end. Neglecting your body, your friendships, your family and your finances because nothing is more important than your book. Some of that damage will take years to undo (financial, mostly), but my skin already looks better. Not writing a novel is a beauty treatment. Not writing a novel is a spa vacation. Not writing a novel is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, except the nagging terror that this happiness is temporary and fake and could shade into misery the minute I try to start another one.

***

Even these past 2 weeks, while Ruth and Emily had the new version of ITYIP, I felt like I was on vacation, even though I was teaching and hosting workshops. I was able to READ without guilt! I read 2 books faster than I ever do. It felt like having a babysitter take my kid off my hands for a couple of weeks and i had to do everything I could before I was a slave to the desk again.

Writing is very fun. It’s also very hard. But because of my Ruth & Emily, I like my book SO MUCH MORE than I did 2 months ago, 6 months ago, a year ago. At dinner with them in May, I said, “I want to like my book more.” “No one likes their book at the stage you’re at,” Ruth comforted me.

I told my friend Logan I was getting ‘line edits’ from Ruth and she said, “That sounds scary.”

It is!!!!!!!

“Line edits. Sounds cozy,” my friend Fran said.

I secretly think Ruth and Emily and Coffee House are gonna say, Whoops, never mind. Not publishing this. YOU SUCK!

But they haven’t. We have signed papers. CONTRACTS. A book with Coffee House! I feel so lucky I could cry. Now I just have to finish it. Don’t turn a good thing into a bad thing, as I mentioned in LGLA.

Right? My mom speaks the truth:

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