Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Make time for a paw in your butt crack

Every now and then, someone at a book event will ask about regrets in my writing career.

My off-the-cuff answer is that I don’t tend to regret much because every bonehead move has taught me something important.

While that’s totally true, something occurred to me yesterday when I was lying facedown on an air mattress with my dog’s paw wedged in my butt crack and the icy river turning my boobs to frostbitten bricks.

Once upon a time, I was represented by someone other than the amazing agent who currently reps me. This agent took me on for a project that didn’t end up selling, and as sometimes happens, seemed to lose interest after that.

I went through a long dry spell without much contact from my agent until I got an email from out of nowhere asking if I had any romantic comedy to pitch.

I didn’t, but since I write fast, I vowed to come up with something quickly. For two straight weeks, I brainstormed and noodled and drafted and polished and revised. I worked late into the night. I skipped road trips and family outings. I devoted everything I had to cranking out those manuscripts as fast as possible, determined to impress my agent and meet the arbitrary deadline I’d set for myself.

At the end of two weeks, I sent my agent the first three chapters and a synopsis for two proposed romantic comedies. Then I waited.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

A few months went by, and several “just wondering if you got it” emails went ignored. Finally, I caught my agent on the phone.

“Those romantic comedies,” I said breathlessly. “What did you think?”

“Oh,” said my agent. “I don’t know. Not really my thing, I guess.”

I wasn’t crushed by my agent’s words. Not really.

But what I did regret was missing those final weeks of my summer. I thought about the camping trips I could have taken, the hikes I missed, the outings with friends I gave up to focus every ounce of my time on those damn manuscripts and my self-imposed deadline.

I’m going to fast forward through the drawn-out saga that took place over the next few years, because that’s not the point of this story. Suffice it to say I left that agent, signed with the amazing Michelle Wolfson, and in February 2010, she landed me a three book deal for those same romantic comedies.

But did you notice those dates?

September 2007 – I was convinced that timing mattered. That I absolutely, positively, had to sacrifice every moment of those final weeks of summer to impress someone with my speed and efficiency.

But it wasn’t until February 2010 that anyone offered to buy those books. That urgency I felt way back then – all the stress and sacrifice and hurry-up-and-write-you-moron sentiment was completely in my head.

I thought of that yesterday when I tallied up my to-do list. Update website. Revise third contracted novel. Write a blog post. Clean my office. Write marketing copy for Sourcebooks. Comb the cat. Giggle about unintentional dirty euphemism.

Then I studied the list and considered which things absolutely, positively had to get done that day. I spent the morning doing them, then shucked my clothes, donned a bikini, blew up an air mattress, buckled the dog into her life jacket, and set out to float the river.

Because the thing is, summer will be gone in a few weeks. I can always find evenings and weekends to tackle that list, but spending time doing pleasurable things that can only occur during a small, precious window of time?

That has to happen now.

Besides, it’s all research for a humor writer. I have to appreciate the comedic value of the dog deciding thirty seconds into our float that paddling along beside me in her life jacket was an unsuitable means of transportation, and that she’d really rather hoist herself onto the air mattress, shake her soggy body, and spend the duration of the float standing on my back.

There’s also humor in the logistics of a solo float, which requires a half-mile walk lugging a limp air mattress, dragging a reluctant canine, and trying to pretend I’m not a 37-year-old woman walking through a busy shopping district in a bikini and ugly sandals.

That’s good stuff there. And that’s what I remind myself when I realize I’m loading myself with arbitrary deadlines and preparing to skip something fun in favor of tacking a to-do list.

Don’t sacrifice pleasure for tasks that can wait. Don’t miss moments you can’t make up later. Don’t forget that living is what gives writers the raw material we need to keep writing.

And don’t forget to clip your dog’s toenails before she uses your butt crack for balance.


Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

So funny!

This reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, when she goes out in a boat to be the Lady of Shalott and then the boat sinks. Good stuff for comedy, and she meets her future hubby that way, too.

I love writing, but I tend to live in the moment. I don't want to miss my kids' growing up because I was in a dark room somewhere, glued to my computer.

Anonymous said...

LOVE this. You're so right about taking time to enjoy things. Thanks for the reminder.

Sarah W said...

Guh. I could have used this post last June, when I gave myself a two day migraine over making an arbitrary deadline.

But my sincere thanks for telling me it's okay to never do that again!

Creepy Query Girl said...

It's amazing how much pressure we feel is actually put on by ourselves and no one else. Have fun floating these last few days of summer!

Linda G. said...

"Don’t forget that living is what gives writers the raw material we need to keep writing."

Words of wisdom. We'd all do well to remember them. :)

Kelly said...

Funny post. I like how you always put a funny/positive spin on things.

Kait Nolan said...

:snerk: That's hilarious. I'm imagining how far I would sink if my my dog (who weighs 100 pounds) tried to do that.

And yeah you're totally right. It's really easy to get caught up in the urgency only to be stalled out in the hurry up and wait.

Natalie said...

Love it! And so true. We can all get hung up on the business of life and get lost in the details of what turns out to be relatively unimportant and can wait. Who cares if my house is in dire need of a cleaning when it's sunny out and fun to be had!! Life is worthy of living. Laughing, having fun, filling your soul with joy - without that - you'd have nothing to share with your loyal fans! Perspective is everything and you got it in spades. Woot woot!

Anonymous said...

Butt-crack cautions--awesome words to live by! LOL!

Jess Corra said...


Two of my very favorite quotes speak to this. Hemingway said, "In order to write about life, first you must live it."

And Thoreau wrote, "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." I sing loudly. And off-key.


Lori Robinett said...

Too funny (and, oh, so true!). Your post is exactly why writers should blog . . . I am definitely going to read your books! :o)

Enjoy these last days of summer and give your dog a scratch behind the ears!

Matthew MacNish said...

So it's kind of like life, and like any relationship? You make it sound so simple (not really)!

robena grant said...

Funny. And I totally agree, the well must be filled.

Sharon Axline said...

Just lifted my head up from the daily RL grind long enough to read this. THANK YOU for the LAUGH!!!! - As always!


Shakespeare, I haven’t read that book for EONS! Might have to look it up again.

Lynnrush, glad you enjoyed it!

Sarah, yeah, we all have to learn the lessons the hard way sometimes!

Creepy Query Girl, I’m thinking about camping this weekend….

Linda G, I expect you to get that tattooed on the body part of your choosing.

Kelly, that’s me, little miss sunshine!

Kait, Bindi weighs 30 pounds, so she’s on the upper end of what works for that. If she were any heavier, I’m pretty sure we would have sunk!

Natalie, I don’t claim to know everything, but I will claim to make enough mistakes to share occasional words of wisdom with others!

Amyshojai, did I mention it kinda hurt?

Jess, I love that Hemmingway quote especially!

Lori, Making Waves is on shelves right now, so have at it! Heck, if you shoot me an email at tawnafenske at yahoo dot com saying you bought it, I’ll mail you a signed bookmark.

Matthew, it is pretty simple, except for the dog claws embedded in my tailbone.

Robena, “the well must be filled” is my new favorite dirty euphemism.

Sharon, you know the boys would totally love to ride on an air mattress!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Sophia Chang said...

Ah, Tawna. You're a regular Anne Lamott.

My terrier-dachshund REFUSES to get his nails clipped. We have to pay the vet to hold him down with a nurse to do it. :(

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I definitely try to take advantage of the summer when I can, because warm weather is so fleeting in Chicago. I remember one day this summer where I didn't have to work at my part-time job; I thought I should stay home and work on my dissertation. I went to a museum instead and took a walk by the lake. I was much happier being out in the sun than cooped up inside. But then again it's easier to get work done when it's two degrees outside.

Claire Dawn said...

Such a difficult balance!

As writers, there's always some sacrifice to be made, especially since our "work" doesn't look as "work-y" as other people's "work".

I think as a writer though, you owe it to yourself to "be there". So when you take a break from your manuscript, really take a break. Experience life. Take it all in. Suck it up. Get down and dirty and roll around in it. (You bring out the worst in me. lol)

But seriously, as a writer, all experiences have value. Even if your day has gone horribly wrong, you can use that- the experience itself or just the feelings.

Remember that Peter Cameron book, SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU, and transcribe your life into that.

Someday, the dog's paw in your butt will be useful to you!

Um, er...

TheaH said...

OMG, the images I found and cast off, trying to figure out how a dog's paw came to be in your butt crack and where icy water figured in pulled me through a very enjoyable and thought provoking blog.

I must say that part of my failure came from never moving the mattress off the nice oriental rug I had placed it on in what I imagined to be your livingroom. Why you would choose an air mattress over a nice comfy couch never entered my head.



Kimberly Sabatini said...

I *heart* you.

Lisa Ahn said...

Perfect!I've been talking myself out of the rush lately, after reading Nina Badzin's great post on the rush to publish: http://ninabadzin.com/2011/09/06/why-the-rush-to-publish/

This afternoon, instead of hurrying to the computer for my writing time, I cuddled my five-year-old and noticed that she now has tiny golden hairs up near her brow, just before the long brown locks set in. Beautiful. How could I miss that? It's better than any revision.

There is great value in persistence and a steady work ethic, but kids and puppies (I have both) don't stay young very long. If I miss the best memories, what do I have to write about?

Cheers to you, the raft, and Bindi -- and the scenes you'll whip up from those memories and place in future books.

Anonymous said...

Great reminders - it's so important to keep it all in perspective. My kids did that for me this week when I came home from a writer's conference with a "send it" and vowed to get "it" to the agent by the end of the week.
It's amazing how fast two puking girls will change your priorities!!
The agent even said not to rush it, just make it shine and send it when I was sure it was ready. Even if it took a year. Yes, she really said that!
Two puking kids later, and I have to say, I'm Ok with slowing down and letting it take until November. But since I'm asking Santa for an agent this year, I can't push it further than that ;)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love posts that make me laugh, especially if they also make me think about something important. Well done!