can i tell you what i’ve been working on + why it scares the hell out of me?

Last weekend, I wrote  complained about the business of creativity in the age of the internet. All of the social media and the metrics and the followers and the numbers. Basically, all these indicators I didn’t care about, because what could a “follower count” have to do with the stories I write?

Clearly, I’m behind the times, but, people, I didn’t get hip to Instagram until late 2016. My best friend in college was all over it right away, and I watched all the filtering and the sharing, but she was so much trendier than me. Leave that for the cool kids. Until last week, I didn’t know how many followers I had anywhere.

In sixth grade, a classmate told me “nobody likes a try hard” after they saw the score at the top of the “descriptive essay” I wrote about my house at Christmas time. 98 out of 100, and my teacher docked those two points because I used the word “scintillating” to describe the lights on the tree. He said he didn’t know what the word meant. I needed a dictionary, why wouldn’t you? This was year I was called “dictionary” instead of by my name, because classmates caught me with an OED during homeroom.

What does this have to do with promoting my writing? I’m not sure, but it’s what I think of every time I hit send on a new essay or post.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I was four when I told my best friend that I wanted to “make books.” When I love something, I love it hard, and when I go after something, I go after it hard. I think I’m so hesitant to share, promote, beg for readers, because at some point I began to conflate earnestness and effort with something to be  ashamed of. Another mark against Torrie, the weird kid who read the dictionary, who keeps sharing even though can’t she take a hint, nobody cares.

I have Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls in my head: “[Least Complicated] is a song I wrote thinking about my little boyfriend Danny in 6th grade. He was so cute, and I went to Woolworth’s and I bought him a ring with my allowance. And as soon as I gave it to him, I knew it wasn’t the cool thing to do. And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.”

This is the locked room I’ve been circling.

I know in the deepest parts of me what I want: To write. To have a readership for my writing. I want my writing to find life outside myself.

I spent this week getting fired up about the whole of the “writing life.” My strategy so far has been to hit send and see what happens next. I’ve gotten a few short stories out of this strategy, but that’s about it.

So here’s where I am now. I’m working on upping my game, expanding my repertoire, building myself a brand new bag, if you know what I mean. I’m sharing this both as a request for support if you like what I write, and as an explanation if you’re feeling spammed.

Learning: Above all else, I’m learning. The goal here is steady, practical education. While I love the accumulation of knowledge, I don’t (yet) enjoy the process of learning new skills or systems. I frustrate easily, and want to skip ahead to the part where I know what I’m doing.  Since I can’t do that, I’m trying to avoid my usual pattern of obsession + burn out.

I’ve downloaded half the Jenna Kutcher Goal Digger library, and am listening between episodes of The West Wing Weekly and My Favorite Murder(a woman can only hear the word “girlboss” so many times in a row). I’m reading Jane Friedman for the smart truth that it is, and have subscribed to Felicia Sullivan’s newsletter (though her wheelhouse is geared towards freelancers and brand/business strategists). I’m vetting a handful of other resources tailored to education I’m looking for. Other recommendations? Send them my way!

She Breathed Deeply: Did you know I changed the name of my blog last year? I’m upping how frequently I post. You know what I write about: what I’m reading, what I’m learning, how I’m growing or healing. This summer, you can expect some travel, lots about leaving home, lots about living in the DMV. Other perennial topics include mental health (anxiety + depression remain my specters), creative writing, the odds + ends of what’s capturing my attention. If you’re a frequent reader, let me know what you like and what you don’t like! I love feedback. I need feedback.  Seriously, give me feedback.

Medium: This is basically a different and more elegant form of blogging. I’ve read voraciously on Medium for several years, but have only published sporadically and without strategy. I’ll be sharing more essay-length pieces here, as well as some of my fiction. Check out one of my favorite essays I’ve ever published and follow along over there too.

Instagram: I’m going to be all over Instagram, and I’m going to be uncomfortable as hell about it. I’ve talked about followers, and while I understand the value ascribed to followers from a “platform” standpoint, I’m not looking to just jump my number.  I’m learning about the vibrant communities on Instagram, about how it can be a platform for connection. Follow for flowers, Ferris wheels, and the occasional photos of me.

Creative Writing: I have a few short story ideas I’m developing, but my biggest focus is still what comes next after I finishing the latest draft of my novel. I had several kind people ask to read my manuscript (gift upon gift, people), and those who finished had positive, constructive comments. The resounding response is don’t stop now.

I won’t lie, that’s pretty amazing to hear. I was ready for a “good effort,” and a polite suggestions that I throw the towel in. I want to hear from a few more people (offer still stands – you want to read 272 pages about a woman finding her way back home, I’ll send you the PDF) before I fully commit to a fifth draft, but I see that on my horizon.

Elsewhere, I’m focusing on the ideas I have for what I want to write about. Already, I’m finding myself granting “permission” to explore aspects of my writing I wouldn’t have pursued before. Why not write about what I’ve learned about money? Why not submit essays to suitable publications? Why not respond to requests for books reviewers, for help reading submissions? I’ve had so many rules — fiction writer only, submit short stories only, stay inside your zone, why would anyone want to read that?

The great permission I’ve granted yet? The permission to stop asking these stupid questions.

Maybe nobody will want to read that. Maybe I am wasting my time on something that I’ll never receive traditional success for. Maybe I will stay outside the circle, and my metrics will stay low, and that will mean something for my writing career. Maybe, maybe but maybe not. Years ago, I listened to Cheryl Strayed interviewed about the success of Wild.

“There’s a long history, of women especially, saying ‘Well, I just got lucky.’ I didn’t just get lucky. I worked my fucking ass off. And then I got lucky. And if I hadn’t worked my ass off, I wouldn’t have gotten lucky. You have to do the work. You always have to do the work.”

I think about this a lot, because I know I can’t control the luck, but I never want to wonder what would have happened if I’d worked harder. So here’s me digging in the to the work. Want to give me feedback? I’d love to hear from you. Want to follow along? I’d love for you to join me.

i finished my novel*

*Draft four. Saying “I finished draft four” doesn’t make a snappy title.

People! I finished the fourth draft draft of my novel!

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I didn’t think I’d ever do this. I wrote the first real draft (I’ve been kicking around these characters + this story for over a decade) my senior year of college. I hammered out pages upon pages during lectures, and when I was studying, I’d make deals with myself: “Finish reading this article, and you can write for twenty minutes.” “Finish this section of your thesis, and you can write for the rest of the night.” When I finished that first draft, I was surprised to find myself at the end. I’d been following the rope so blindly that I hadn’t stopped to ask myself what it was I creating. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, the end of the rope. I’d run out of story.

It was a brutally cold Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I was the only person on the street when I walked to the nearest copy to print and bind my novel. I took a blue pen to my novel as soon as I got home. After a harrowing second and third draft that made me wonder if I even wanted to write, I made a big deal about putting this story aside to pursue other projects. Then I ran back to it for a week, because I felt like I’d failed my characters. Then I put it back on the shelf. Then I wrote 60 pages of something new in two months, and let it languish for three. I berated myself for not being able to make up my mind. I told myself that I had one month, and if I could pound out 20,000 words of draft four in that time, I could return to draft four. I spit out 30,000. Then I filled two steno pads with a new story so dark I had to quit writing it so I could stop dreaming about drowned children being pulled out of lakes. Then I knocked on the door again to see if my characters, my friends, would still visit me. This went on for years.

In March of this year, I wrote myself a note and put it on my bulletin board. You just need to bring Ana home. I gave myself a deadline: April 30. I blew it off, and gave myself another one: May 31. It stuck.

On May 28: 92,518 words.

This book has been the boyfriend I can’t quit, but it’s also been a lifeline to some of my darkest days. I was fourteen when my main character, Ana, came to me, flawed and broken and tired of running from herself. It took me until I was twenty-four to realize that I was writing my way through my own redemption.

I’m at odds with what I do next. Part of the reason I put this novel aside so many times is because I’ve genuinely wondered if I should look at this novel as my teacher, but use it as a springboard to create something new. Something, possibly, publishable. Not everything I write needs or deserves to see the light of day. But what I can’t figure out is whether that’s the case for this novel. I love my characters, and I think I’ve written a moving story about family, redemption, and loss. I also think I’ve written an overly complicated timeline that veers towards sentimentality, and maybe doesn’t give my female character the autonomy she deserves. I just don’t know.

I have a few people reading it right now, and I’ve asked (read: begged) them to give me an up or down vote on whether or not I work to get this story submission ready. I’m comfortable with the idea that no one beyond my family and close friends will read this novel, but I’m haunted at the prospect of making that decision.

(As an aside,  hmu if you want to dive 292 pages deep into my brain and are willing to be more honest than mom/dad/boyfriend).

For all the “what’s next” questions, I frankly don’t really care about the quality of the work right now. It’s enough that I wrote it. This scared, lonely woman came to me when I was fourteen and mourning the loss of a family home, and she stuck with me long enough to become a real person. I followed the rope she threw me through the dark. I followed it a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time, and for the first time, it feels like a real novel.

Last night, my boyfriend drove me through Wisconsin’s rolling fields. He didn’t realize this, but he took me to the land upon which I build my novel. We listened to Jason Isbell, the artist I leaned most heavily on for inspiration. He told me again, and again that he was proud, and I wondered if I was too. I spent this past week feeling proud, yes, and relieved, but also unmoored. I finished, but what I did I finish? I FINISHED, but have I? I finished, but what do I do now?

It seems symbolic, and almost providential that I finished now, as my partner and I stand on the cusp of our next act. This novel is so much a novel of Minnesota, of where I’ve been and what I’ve anchored myself to. I used this story, first, as a way to mourn the loss of a home that had been in my family for years, but as I continued to write, I used it to mourn — and then reclaim — the parts of myself I thought I’d lost. Years ago, I wrote ” a woman does not let herself remain a broken thing,” and then I made that same promise to myself.

It’s a victory, people, even if I don’t yet know what kind. I finished something big. finished it. Not gave up on it, not quit on it, not tried to forget about it. I stuck with my people, and they stuck with me, and if writing has taught me one thing it’s that there’s beauty in the attempt.