Taming the wilderness of my writing life

coffee break tagI’m a one cuppa coffee kinda gal. I promise this catch-up post should not linger past the last drop of your own single tall latte.




Smoke signals

Today I send five digital smoke signals from the verge of the writing wilderness. It’s where my writing life has been living for months now.

  • I’m living in a new place and writing in a new space
  • I’m writing
  • I miss my writing family
  • I am slowly returning to the submission circus
  • I’m alive, safe, and healthy

I’m living in a new place, writing in a new space

In December, we picked up stakes at our island residence and moved to a smaller home (with a bigger yard!) about 30 minutes away.

It had been my design to move away from the island for some time. Call it a gut check, but the vibe changed once my kids launched, and it felt superfluous to be there, besides. The chief reason we moved there was for the excellent schools.

Listen, the island treated us well (mostly), but the house we had there was too big and last fall felt like a good time to get a fresh start. I wanted (and got!) space for a garden, a main-floor master, and sunshine (versus life in the woods).

Also, there’s a practical aspect to all this. For those of you who know anything about Bainbridge Island, you also know there is a hidden “island tax,” and I can’t say I miss that high cost of living. Pandemic or not, we are saving a huge amount of money these days.

The new digs include two office spaces to serve both my husband and myself. His is a music studio as well, which is fantastic.

Mine is smaller than my previous office and I must confess I’m still wrangling boxes of files and paperwork eight months post-move. I’ll need to push up my sleeves in September and do another deep clean while I have the time to do so.

I’m writing

Which is to say that, yes, I’ve been busy with my writing life. Much of it is my beloved contract work, which has shifted from four clients to three. I’m still writing technical learning modules, curated news, personal columns, service pieces, how-to posts, and other kinds of nonfiction.

I also added a new job—my title on the contract is, quite literally, “influencer,” which cracks me up!—and this has been fun. I’m also getting paid to moderate two communities, and this is also fun (though, no, it’s not writing).

Writing new work has not been the focus these last few months. I’ve been moving, resettling, and it took us a while to sell our former house.

Of course, the pandemic hit, and my work life amped up, which has left me with less time for creative writing.

This is the wilderness I refer to: the one where ideas, like critters in the night, rustle and nest in the nooks and crannies of my new office, my overloaded brainspace… They’re there, I can hear them breathing, smell their must, wild animals I must—but can’t—catch.

Frankly, that’s okay. They’re always here, feeding off the crumbs of ideas that spark while I compose a new technical presentation or stake up overgrown nasturtiums or read on the days when my body demands I shut down or the rain is hard.

After all, I’m a creative soul and writing isn’t my only outlet. This year returned me to something I’ve longed for over two decades: a real vegetable garden.

We built and filled three 8×4×2.5-foot raised beds and it’s only now that I’m able to step away from that (fulfilling) adventure while I wait for the tomato and pepper harvest to reclaim my attention around Labor Day.

But even then, while my gloved hands are plucking fat cucumbers, or digging dog vomit slime mold (yes, that’s a thing!) from the base of the beets, or winnowing tiny new rows for fall carrots and radishes, I’m thinking about stories, or I’m submersed in the stories of others by way of podcasts. On rainy days, it’s books and independent films.

I miss my writing family

In truth, I did not expect to return to my beloved Port Townsend Writers Conference for my 13th go this year. I had decided that at the end of last year after I realized that my repeat visits to this deeply inspiring landscape were plagued with familiarity.

So it wasn’t a complete disappointment that I didn’t go this year due to the pandemic. But I haven’t really had any opportunity for silent retreats which some of you know are a huge part of my writing process. And it’s getting to me.

And so is not seeing my second family, my writing family. I had intended to go to an informal, socially distanced write-in at a writer pal’s homestead (there’s really no better word for it!) in July, but I’m even now still not ready to spend time with others.

It’s not a hard decision to make: Having MS directly compromises my immune system and any new flares just lead to more irreparable brain damage. But I still don’t like it.

I did try a couple of online workshops but they became too hard to keep up with. Like I said, my work life has amped up (which is a great thing!). With the stress of trying to sell a house during a pandemic and simply living with the restrictions it brings, I find myself too tired at the end of a working day to even speak simple sentences.

That’s a fact of life for anyone with a chronic illness. So while I did manage to write one good story start, that’s about all I’ve been able to eke out.

(Meanwhile, I’ve written enough nonfiction content to fill a couple of books. So yes, I still use the #amwriting tag with pride.)

I also hate online meetings for anything that isn’t work related. Zoom and other platforms are something I’ve used for at least five years now, and while they’re great for webinars and meetings, I just really don’t like them for writing workshops. They take away some of the face-to-face pleasure and energy I enjoy in live situations.

Thankfully I can still write without them, and once I put my garden to bed this fall, I anticipate more time to write toward creative projects already in the works or swirling around in my brain.

I’m slowly returning to the submission circus

I spent the lion’s share of 2019 submitting my collection, Intention Tremor (and racking up so many submission fees it was kinda ridiculous).

This year I’m back to submitting mostly poems, as my short stories and essays files are in need of fresh content. I have a few flash prose pieces that are also making the rounds. I didn’t get started until June, and the numbers flesh out like this:

  • Submitted to 7 literary magazines:
    • 5 have already rejected my work, 2 responses are still outstanding
  • Submissions include 10 poems, 3 flash prose pieces
  • A total of 23 individual works were submitted
  • I spend $0 on submission fees (perhaps the best bright side, given I spent almost $900 in submission fees last year)

I’m alive, safe, and healthy

When one drops off the blogging circuit, people do express concern (and thank you to those who have, love you bunches for caring!).

But I’ve lived steeped in stress since the move (really, the stress has been a weight since mid-November of last year), and 2020 has not been friendly to anyone, right? For me, I’ve had to:

  • deal with the insanity of a pandemic
  • face losing one house sale due to the California state closure in March (though we finally sold it in June)
  • witness racist brutality and vigilantism flaring up all across the country
  • limit contact to beloved family members who still don’t accept that white privilege and the #AllLivesMatter mentality are KILLING people I love
  • stare down an election which will not end well, no matter who wins…

Despite all this, I’m stunned to declare myself still in remission from MS, with minor symptoms that have been mostly manageable.

This is not to say I haven’t had symptoms, because they have all come to pay me a visit—arthritis and IBD, cognitive fog and vertigo, tinnitus, and muscle spasms. I now have a weird trigger finger situation in two digits on my right hand and joint pain is a new friend to manage.

I also desperately miss my daughters, who I hope to see within a couple of weeks in a very careful, socially distant way. I have not seen either in person since February, and they are but a ferry ride away. This pandemic has been brutal for them, too, and it hurts to not be as available to them in ways they need.

But some things have truly been good to the core: my garden experience (sweat, pain, grime, failures, pests, and all!), the fact I still have work which I love, life at our new house (which I cannot verbalize adequately how much I love), and new neighbors who are compassionate, good-natured, decent human beings.

My hope now is to restart this blog with posts three times a week, reach my hand out to the wild things that represent my feral creative writing life, knowing they won’t bite back. They might howl, they might snarl, but they never bite.

You’ll note I’ve literally removed all the previous content in an act to reimagine this space as a brand-new start, an act of cleaning the warren for the beasts that I can’t seem to otherwise catch. It feels lean, and good, and right. They will like their new digs.

So that’s the bottom of the coffee cup for me today. Thanks for reading.


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