Feeling Envious

Today I’m feeling a little envious.

Several days ago, I read a lovely interview with Margo Lanagan, the Australian writer. In it, she talked about her writing day. I’m always fascinated by accounts of how other writers do their work. If you’re a writer, go read it. Here’s a description of how she starts her day:

“Get up as early as possible and, before I’m awake enough to attack myself with criticisms, start writing (I write the first draft of everything longhand, in biro on lined bank-weight paper). If I can get in a couple of hours before breakfast, that sets me up for a productive rest-of-the-day.

“Breakfast, then head off to my rented Writing Room, two blocks from my house. Install myself there, immerse myself again. I still aim for ten pages a day – I’m not allowed to beat myself up about it if I don’t make the count, but I do have to try. I’ve found that if I’m on a roll and write substantially more than ten pages, I’m in fact stealing words (and likely slightly sloppy words) from the next day.

“Sometimes the ten pages are done by 11 a.m., sometimes it takes a full 8 hours to get them. Whatever’s happening, don’t let anxiety leak into the process. Keep it as enjoyable and hopeful as possible. Writing snacks: raw carrots, Vita-Weats, anything crunchy – but low fat (don’t want to get sleepy!) – I literally chew my way through plot glitches. If I can, stop writing at a point in a scene where something interesting’s about to happen, to make it easy to start again next day.

“Walk away from it and do unrelated things. Exercise is the best; rinse out my brain with oxygen. Put the book out of mind until just before going to sleep, then just gently prod at the scene I’m going to tackle in the morning, get it ready to take up on waking.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? It does to me. But of course, I was comparing it to what I was doing that day, which went something like this. I wake up at 7 a.m., get dressed, commute for forty minutes to the university, sit in my office and prepare for class, teach four classes in a row, sit in my office and hold office hours, commute back for forty minutes, pick my daughter up from school, and make dinner. Then, I sit in front of my computer and do whatever I need to – often, answer emails, type up a blog entry, do any writing work I need to (by which I don’t mean writing – right now I have an interview, a guest blog post, and an afterword to write, which I need to get done sometime this weekend). If I have any time afterward, I may try to write something, but honestly, lately I’ve just been too tired. Not every day is like that: I don’t teach on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so those are days to catch up on marking papers, but they will also soon be the days I schedule mandatory conferences with students.

It’s kind of a miracle that I get writing done at all.

When I was reading the interview, I also envied Margo’s writing room in an old Victorian house. I have a writing space of course, but it’s in a corner, and I can usually hear whatever else is going on in the house. And it’s also where I prepare for teaching. Before I go on to what I think of all this, I’m just going to say that Margo is a wonderful writer and has a book coming out, which I’m going to read as soon as it’s available. Here it is:

It’s all about selkies, and I love selkie stories. So I’m really looking forward to it. I’m very glad that Margo has a lovely office and the time to write books for me to read!

But her interview also made me think about my own life and the way it’s organized. I don’t like envying other people. For one thing, there’s something unworthy about it. If I want something that someone else has, I should figure out how to get it for myself, rather than envying that person. What will envy get me? (A blog post, evidently.)

What I envy, of course, is time and space, and there are many writers who have that. (Yes, I envy them as well. And I know perfectly well that, although they have more time and space than I do, they also have to do the same writing work, and often freelance work as well.) So how can I get that time and space? Those are the questions I’m thinking about right now. I don’t have answers for them yet, but at least they’re on the agenda.

Today, I did two things that made me happy. I went to one of my favorite antiques stores and bought a small sewing cabinet, sort of like a table with drawers. It’s old and elegant and mahogany, and I’m going to use it as a jewelry chest. And I bought two scarves. I don’t know why scarves always make me feel elegant: perhaps because they’re not utilitarian. I do have a sense, finally, of who I am and where I want to go. I just don’t see, yet, how to get there. But it will happen.

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8 thoughts on “Feeling Envious

  1. Don’t be too envious, Dora. The day I described was an ideal “writing day”, not a “dayjob day” (3 days a week and likely to increase later this year) or a “writing-related business day” (like this weekend, which is all blog posts and email interviews etc.) or a “getting-things-done day” for all those little jobs neglected while writing, dayjobbing or guest-posting. Also, today my partner has nabbed my writing room to work in, so I’m at the kitchen table (because there is nowhere else in our house where one can comfortably work), jumping up now and again to peg out a load of laundry.

    So I too am full of envy of people who have (more) time (than I do) and (inviolable) space to write in!

    I think teaching must be particularly hard to combine with writing. My work (technical writing) is fairly humdrum; it uses a different part of my brain from the story-writing parts—I imagine teaching would be extremely draining.

    Thank you for mentioning both the interview and Brides!

  2. Theodora, your schedule does make your writing miraculous! Of course, one could think that each word written has a very high value on it since there is such limited word-time… Being able to hear everything in the corner is a distraction, but it also leaves you open to sounds or smells which could spark something new and exciting… And while you envy her time to write, I envy your opportunity to work… Everyone has something worth envying (for lack of better expression). So, all that blah blah blah aside, may I join you on your anti-Envy quest? I could sure use some help there myself!
    PS Keep up the great work. In all its different forms. You’re doing great.

  3. Theodora, your schedule does make your writing miraculous! Of course, one could think that each word written has a very high value on it since there is such limited word-time… Being able to hear everything in the corner is a distraction, but it also leaves you open to sounds or smells which could spark something new and exciting… And while you envy her time to write, I envy your opportunity to work… Everyone has something worth envying (for lack of better expression). So, all that blah blah blah aside, may I join you on your anti-Envy quest? I could sure use some help there myself!
    PS Keep up the great work. In all its different forms. You’re doing great. And how fantastic that Ms. Lanagan left a note :)

  4. It’s difficult finding what works for you. Last yr I was plagued by a pervasive sense of failure bc I was unable to accomplish anything remotely near to what some fellow bloggers were able to. I just have to think that as long as I’m trying, making goals, and steadily making progress in fulfilling them, that I’m on my way.

    Oddly enough, that interview echoes many of the things Hemingway discussed in A Moveable Feast. I just finished read the first few chapters and wanted to implement to see if my writing output and quality would improve. We’ll see.

    BTW, I received your books today. They were a lovely pick-me-up on this dreary, rainy day.

  5. You said it—-“It’s kind of a miracle that I get writing done at all.” But, somehow you have. Seems to me you have every right to be wanting what you obviously do not have. Maybe the next book could be about a writer who actually writes her books in her dreams (transcribed via electronic chips in her brain by hooking up wires to her computer as she sleeps. the next best bet could be to win a lottery and schedule a period of time off. Sometimes, lots of times life just isn’t fair. Perhaps all the stored up passionate longing will explode on the page when you do find the break you need, have the time and circumstance you desire. I can only offer that I am rooting for the universe to hurry up. Meanwhile, your effort of patience, the love of your child, the benefit of your students will all accumulate a force that may hold it’s own unexpected satisfactions. Be assured of the goodness of your life.

  6. I’m not sure I’d be able to work alone in a writing room; introverted as I am, I need a little bit of background stimulation when I’m writing, whether it’s jamming to Nine Inch Nails in my earbuds, or simply writing in the presence of other people who won’t bother me (like at a cafe).

    What I used to be envious of was other writers’ successes. I was always comparing myself to writer friends who were at a similar stage in their careers, or were the same age as me, and I would fret that they were being published in places I wasn’t, or getting book deals, or hanging out with the Cool Kids of Genre, and leaving me behind. Thankfully, I don’t do so anymore because it was eating me up inside, and expending a lot of energy that I now put into the writing itself.

  7. Writing is a vocation wide open to envy of every sort, though envy and admiration are two sides of the same coin. I envy Peter Beagle’s writing style, Cat Valente’s staggering ability with images, and ANYONE with the focus and concentration to sit down and write ten pages at a stretch (which I have come to gather is many writers, but certainly not myself).

    And in truth, Ms. Goss has little besides time to envy in other writers. Talent and a unique imagination certainly aren’t at issue.

    What will envy get you? Usually nothing (or perhaps a blog post). But I’ve also found that envy lights a fire, sometimes. Catalyzes a change. Forces me to step back and re-prioritize, or look at something from a different angle.

    On a separate note, I am REALLY looking forward to The Brides of Rollrock Island (or Sea Hearts). I adore Ms. Lanagan’s books. So much so that I spent some time pondering whether or not to pony up for international shipping so I don’t have to wait until the US version comes out later this year. As much as it pains me, I think it will have to be done. :)

  8. I too envy that writing time and I have writing time, but I always feel as a freelance photographer that my time would be better spent finding more work and clients or catching up on editing. So when I do write I feel slightly guilty about it.

    What I really took away though from this blog post was that I instantly recognized the photo on the cover of Miss Margo’s book. It was taken by a very talented British photographer I admire named Lara Jade. I’ve loved and envied that particular photo for years. Sadly, in Florida, we don’t have dramatic rocky beaches on which lovely moody models can languor in couture. All the beaches here are pretty with white boring sand and people playing, tanning and having a great time.

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