Written by
Hope Edelman
July 2009
Written by
Hope Edelman
July 2009
The sound of screeching brakes echoed up and down the 500 block of Davenport Street this past weekend, when all writing and marketing activity in my house came to a skidding halt. That was the day my summer teaching job began. Despite the amount of multitasking I normally do as a writing mom, I still haven’t figured out how to parent, write and teach at the same time. There’s only so much creative energy to go around, and my kids get at least half of it. When I try to split the remainder between writing and teaching, good things do not result. I’ve learned my limits the hard way. So when my first class started on Saturday, all prep work for my book went on hold for the next nine days. My first response was relief: no pressure! No deadlines! No guilt about emails and pages not getting written or phone calls not getting made! That was quickly followed by a sharp stab of panic. As in, there are fewer than two months until release date! You can’t take a break now! There’s still an awful lot that needs to get done. Launching a new web site. Planning a salon and house party tour for October. Doing a final polish on the trailer, coming up with an online or op-ed article to coincide with the book’s release, divining a strategy for reaching book clubs and reading groups. The to-do list: it could go on and on. There are two incredibly dedicated and talented women in Los Angeles helping me part-time with marketing, working this week in my absence, but still. As writers are constantly being told, nobody can promote a book better than its author. Gulp. At the same time, nobody can teach a class better than its teacher. And, well, to be even more blunt about it, there is no class without the teacher. So this week, Schaffer Hall has been my daytime home, even though it feels grossly counterintuitive to drop everything and teach a class just as pre-pub book activity is starting to ramp up. Or is it really counterintuitive? In the inexplicable way that experiences sometimes click into a lockstep to hand you exactly what you need, the classroom this week is feeling like the best possible place for me to spend the week. The weeklong class I’m teaching is titled “Advanced Memoir: In the Muddle of the Middle,” and it’s designed it for writers who’ve found themselves stuck in the middle of a book, searching for a guide map, second-guessing their storylines and even the impulse to write their books in the first place. We started with a discussion of structure, then talked about balancing narration and reflection, and spent yesterday reviewing dialogue and character emotions, while also workshopping student pages throughout the week. And as we review and discuss the craft issues essential to memoir, I’m realizing that I know more—way more—than I did last time I taught this specific class a few years ago. It may sound obvious, that writing another book teaches you more about how to write a book, but it’s been pretty eye opening for me. It’s a reminder that I am, first and foremost, a writer, even though most of my available creative energy these days has been going into promotion. And it’s giving me more confidence to go out in the world as speak as a writer, to own that part of me, instead of as an expert on a nonfiction topic, as I’ve always done before. Unlike my students, I’m not in the middle of a book right now. I don’t know when I will be again. (Please, god? Soon?) But I’m muddling through the middle of the marketing process, and as I watch my students reach for the ideas and insights that will help pull them through their books’ Second Acts, I see that what they’re doing and what I’m doing require the same set of skills. Determination. Commitment. Faith. You have to believe in the message of your book with your whole self in order to finish writing it, and then you have to keep on believing in it to promote it with conviction. Let’s not forget about perseverance, too. I told my students on the first day of class that the best strategy—the only strategy, really--to find your way out of the muddle of the middle is to keep planting your butt in the chair, day after day, and continuing to write, even if it means writing total crap for weeks in a row. Because sometimes that’s what it takes to get to the kernel of truth that becomes the paragraph that hauls you out of the muck, and sets you in motion again. Similarly, marketing is about relentlessly coming up with idea after idea, even when they’re bad or dumb ones, even when they’re successively shot down, and continuing to send emails and make phone calls even in the face of disinterest or rejection. Butt in chair. Fingers to keypad. Day after day. We’ve all been fed the Edison quote about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If you ask me, I think a writing career these days, especially if you include promotion as part of it, requires 5% inspiration and 95% perseverance. Also, coffee and chocolate help a lot.

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  • Amy Friedman

    Jennie's right, Hope, though I confess, the first 8 days of teaching I could keep on keeping on with the slog toward the end of my book. These last 5? Too exhausted, too full of dreams of THEIR books and stories. And kids--even when they're in their 20s, they still consume great gallons of emotional energy...but sometimes they give it back in spades. Miss you! Miss writing group. But will definitely miss this mountain I'm leaving tonight. Okay, back to the 95%.

  • Jennie Nash

    You rock, Hope. Just keep keeping on -- the teaching feeds the writing, the writing feeds the marketing, the kids feed....well, nevermind, I guess you're always feeding them! It will all be good.

  • Allison Gilbert

    I agree. It's a slog. I've started to count a successful day not in words typed, but in scenes/thoughts completed. I often feel like a snowplow pushing snow.... Just moving it along...

  • Cheryl Strayed

    Coffee and chocolate help. And so do posts like this one, Hope. Butt in chair. That reminder comes at a good time for me.