The Next Big Thing: what I’m working on

One whole month ago—honestly, we’re probably closing in on six weeks at this point—my friend (and talented novelist and poet) Lisa Pasold tagged me in the literary-blog-chain-letter called “The Next Big Thing.” The premise is simple: a bunch of writers all answer the same questions about their most recent project. Though I don’t go in for many internet trends, I thought it might be a good exercise to take a big-picture look at this project, so I happily agreed to do it.

But I didn’t do it. I don’t know why exactly, but every time I looked over the questions, I felt myself wither under their expectant gaze. They wanted answers. I wasn’t sure I had any, especially after reading the articulate musings of my colleagues around the web. I wanted to read all of their books. But I’d spent the previous two weeks feeling slightly nauseous every time I opened my own project—how (or better yet why) would I convince someone to read something that was making my own stomach turn? So, in the grand tradition of writers everywhere, I postponed.

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A retreating glacier. Wait for it…it’s relevant.

Then last week something unexpected happened: a bunch of strangers started reading this blog. When I began blogging a year and a half ago, my only goal was to establish a small but public home for the book I’ve been working on. The surprising side-effect of keeping a blog was that my friends and colleagues began asking me about my writing. Their interest and curiosity was motivating, reminding me that the very solitary act of writing also has some community-minded goals. I write to understand something about the world, but also to connect with readers—both friends and strangers.

Until last Monday, most of my readers were friends, and, when I got an e-mail from WordPress saying they were “Fresh-Pressing” my blog post and that I should “get ready to welcome some new readers,” I didn’t take it too seriously. (When it comes to internet-ing, I tend to know only what I need to to get by.) So I was pretty shocked to discover, when I logged on a few hours later, that hundreds of people had visited my blog, and they were reading and commenting and subscribing. (!) It’s a bit strange and a lot exciting to see your audience quadruple over just a few hours. And while I’m with it enough to know that, in the wide world of blogging, these numbers are actually quite modest, I’m f-ing thrilled. I am.

The comments are thoughtful and kind. And the interest seems genuine. Isn’t the internet supposed to be more hostile and embittered than this? Reading the comments, I sometimes find I don’t always know how to respond in a way that seems genuine rather than hollow. I don’t know how to convey warmth I feel toward a stranger who is represented only by a few pixels and a few words. But I’ll say it again here. Thank you, good friends and total strangers, for making my writing world just a little bit bigger. If there was ever a time to buck up and answer a few questions, this is probably it. So here goes: Continue reading

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Something about how this started

I have this theory that most love stories actually do a terrible job of preparing us for the business of being in a romantic relationship. But despite this, we still love love stories. We tell them all the time. We hold them up to the light next to our own relationships.

I love love stories. Personal experiences, family histories, fairy tales, cheesy romantic comedies–you tell it, I’ll listen. Cue up a Julia Roberts movie and I’m the one sitting beside you on the trans-Atlantic flight, glancing surreptitiously at your iPad and pretending my red, puffy eyes are the result of cabin pressure and a pretzel allergy.

I once worked at a writing center with a Joan Didion quote on the wall that read, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” I’d been writing essays about rock climbing, or caffeine, or medieval martyrs, but somehow each piece snuck back around to this one fact: I fell in love.

Every day I looked at that quote and I grew increasingly worried about what it might mean for me. Love scares the crap out of me, but somehow I’d spent my life wanting it. If I didn’t tackle it head-on, I might never stop writing about it. I was used to being good at things, but love? Love was too smart for me. It was the roadrunner and every time I tried to catch it, I threw myself off the cliff with the anvil. I wanted to know why love wasn’t easier. And why something that was a fundamental biological drive could feel so utterly unintuitive.

Well, I for one blame the messenger. Love stories, you’re in my sights.

One day, this will be a book. In the mean time, it’s a hot mess of Word documents, and, now, a blog!