Saturday, September 19, 2009

How Writing is a Lot Like Sex

'Writing is a lot like sex. You won't have any fun unless you're willing to switch positions.'
--at least according to this Latina poet. We'd love to hear about how you may or may not be stuck in a rut with your writing, and what might constitute switching positions. Or as our friend Art would say, how you manage your creative crop rotation. As it happens, we were privileged to finally meet our longtime commenter Art Durkee earlier today, as he traveled through town. We'll save that report for another day. Suffice it to say for now that the in-person conversation was even more sublime than the virtual one we've been having for a couple years.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

There's also a lot to be said for doing it on your own. Which is what most writing is. Nuff said.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nuff said is right.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

John, how exciting for you to meet a long time commenter. As a short time commenter, I have a lot to live up to.

Ah, changing positions. I'm in the midst of some of that as I type (instead of work on my article)... as I keep the forward shift climbing up my writing work. So I had my blog, then a small local column, now I'm commissioned to write through DemandMedia. Each venue expects something different from me. Oy vey. I'm "this far" from banging my head on the desk.

I guess that means I'm a writer. I look forward to a day of luxury when I say "This is what I write, take it or leave it". Dreamer, eh?

At 4:11 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, I think you know that these are all the right problems to have. Better to have too much work to do and feel like you're reacting to different expectations than searching for something to do. I can tell you that all of this will get easier over time. You'll get better and better at understanding the real requirements of each assignment, better at deciding which corners to cut that won't hurt quality, and (most importantly) better at understanding which kinds of assignments are best for you, meaning which are the best combination of good pay, subjects you care about, and parameters (such as deadlines) that work best for your life situation. So just keep at it.

As for the idea that you'll make it to some kind of promised land in which you can say this is my writing, take it or leave it, just know that few writers will ever reach that exalted status. Everyone else has to work with the situation they're given.

Finally--yes, it means you're a writer. Good luck!

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks for the mention, and the conversation. It was a grand visit.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

'Twas grand for me as well, Art.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

Okay. Now that I am somewhat over the flu, I can address my writing rutness. I need help changing positions.

(That sounds really sad, doesn't it?)

At 10:07 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Not at all, Pat. We all need help with all sorts of things. The stronger and more emotionally secure among us--and guess what, that tends more often to be women than men--admit that and seek outside help, counsel, advice, support, what have you. Those who don't just kind of marinate in being lost, and lose all sorts of time.

Anyway, if you're up for sharing any details about what you'd like to do (you've shared some of that with me, privately) and how and why you might be stuck, you never know who among the audience might offer just the right idea for helping get unstuck.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

Thanks, John.

"Those who don't just kind of marinate in being lost, and lose all sorts of time." And that's what I don't want to do. I feel like I'm missing part of my calling. I love to write, but in my exhaustion of my single mother daily life, with my office job, my helping with homework and school projects, my driving my kids to lessons and appointments, my doing the housework and handyman jobs, and also my getting sick because I'm doing it all (trying to) and thus not getting enough sleep....

I have this fear that I'm going to die before I do all the projects (writing and otherwise) that I want to do. At the same time I feel like I'm living my own life in slow motion, as I've put my kids needs first for the past 14-15 years. I don't regret putting them first at all - I love them. But if I'm doing my job well, someday all too soon, they will be flying away to find their own way in life. And what will I have?

Here's my bleeding heart. Discuss... ;-)

At 3:08 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

Pat, your words resonate so deeply with me. My oldest just started HS this year, and I see the passing of time all too rapidly.

But ... with that passing is the realization that I'm doing them a favor to pursue some professional avenues now. I worry also about that "what will I have?" moment when I am not needed 24/7. I had been away from "paid work" (I'll never say motherhood isn't work) for nearly 14 years. I had picked up a few odd freelance jobs over the years when people said, "can you write this or that for me" and I said yeah. Now I'm exploring all the ways I can use words to make a difference in the world for me and others.

Rambling forward...

You cannot ignore your desire to write. Write about your bleeding heart, write about your daily grind, look at the light side, look at the dark side, write about it all. Give yourself the favor of that indulgence. You'll keep your tools sharp and you'll still maintain your passion...

At 3:11 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

PS to John: thank you for your words of wisdom. Indeed I am discovering slowly what suits my temperment writing wise. It's a learning curve. I've not formally written previously, it was always just casual stumble upon sort of work.

The discipline required is really an eye opener. I like it. It helps also to connect with other writers, as I'm sure you well know. :)

At 3:26 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, thanks for adding that invaluable perspective. Since I know dozens of female writers who struggle with that same never-ending tension between their calling and their parental duties, and also since I am married to a similarly hyper-dedicated working mom (who happens to be called to teaching rather than writing), I know the internal conflicts tend to be far more intense for moms than dads, and of course doubly so for single moms such as Pat.

Awhile back, a female writer friend & working mom (thanks, Claudia!) sent me a piece of art work I'll never forget. It depicted the difference between the mental processes of a working dad (we really don't even use that term, do we?) and a working mom. The latter depicted her mental steps and to-do lists for getting through just one day as an impossibly complicated Rube Goldberg series of logistical nightmares and interconnected flow charts that would make the UPS package scheduler proud. You can guess how the male graphic looked--just a few items on the to do list (with perhaps only one relating to the family), little or no multitasking, and all big picture stuff.

I couldn't help thinking of Virginia Wolff's famous book A Room of One's Own (about the need for women writers to have a place to go where they can shut the world out for just awhile) when Pat first brought up this subject. Does that book resonate for anyone, if indeed any of you have read it? And ladies, you should know that A). Virginia never had any children, and B). she eventually died by her own hand, for whatever all that's worth for our discussion.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for that second comment, which you were posting while I was writing my response to your first one. You've used precisely the right word here, I think: temperment. Finding our sweet spots in adult life--be it in our careers, friendships, family relationships, etc.--is really about being honest about who we are, what we're good at, what we like to do best, at what speed and frequency we feel most comfortable doing it, how outgoing we are (or not), how important stability (financial and otherwise) is versus artistic fulfillment, etc. In other words, fitting our life to our temperment, which is pretty well set by--what age? Maybe 35? Certainly by 40 (and some might say by the time you're a kid).

Now that I think about it, I'm struck by how often our friends Jim Murdoch and Art Durkee sound off on these and related subjects, and how infrequently female readers bring it up. I suppose that's just more of that others-first orientation that women often have, whether a result of nature or nurture. Love to hear others' thoughts on that.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

The only irony being that if anyone's other-directed and has to be reminded to take care of himself, it's me! LOL

Otherwise, I agree with all of this.

I think it's really still an indication of how deeply ingrained our culture remains regarding gender roles and stereotypes, and how deeply ingrained those unequal assumptions are. The simple fact that "working moms" is a well-known phrase while "working dads" is not shows how unequal things still are.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, Art, we've long since established you're not typical or average in any way, but instead sui generis. It is ironic given this immediate context that you're off on another caregiving mission, only your latest.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

Hello all. Thanks for giving me some things to chew on.

I think what I need is some sort of life coach or some accountability partners. Oh, I've joined one "meet in real life" writers group and a few virtual ones, but these usually focus on fiction and poetry and/or hobby writing. That's not bad, just not my stuff. I need to get writing gigs that pay the bills. (Well, I HAVE gotten two small ones this summer!) Otherwise, I will be a secretary all my life, living with the tension of "should I completely rewrite my boss's report to the trustees, or just fix this little run-on sentence here?" That type of work does not enthuse me. I am 43 now, and I am looking for work that will bring me satisfaction. And I need a way to keep on track to finding that work - to continually pick up that quest again after I continually drop it to put out the fires of the urgent as a single mom.

Kim, how many kids do you have? I have two, ages 13 and 10. I also have some health issues that I must figure into my equation. If I take on too much and not get enough rest, I can get myself in big trouble with my health in just a couple weeks. And sometimes I don't even know what "too much" varies.

I don't mind the gender roles, Art. In fact, I think they're important when raising a family. I like to work with nature and biology. Alrighty, let's see. I have the mammary glands, so I'll stay home and feed the baby. To me, it's as simple as that. But to go further, I like to think that the location of a woman's breasts offer a clue to their importance. Unlike most other mammals, they are situated so that a mother can enfold her child in her arms at just the right focal length so that she and her baby can naturally gaze upon each other. That's some powerful bonding. I was, as some may call it, a "crunchy," granola-type mama, staying home with my babies, nursing on demand, co-sleeping, and only accepting outside work when it worked well for us as a unit. I am glad I chose this path, although it was not without sacrifice.

Now, my challenge is to find writing work to sustain a modest way of life while honoring my current obligations to my kids and my health. This is what I'm not sure how to do. Ideally, I'd like to obtain regular writing/editing job of about 30 hours a week at a market rate and to be able to telecommute some of those hours. Am I dreaming? Should I just go back to being grateful for my secretarial job? (Please say no.)

At 11:14 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

A lot here to digest & respond to, Pat. But my apologies-it'll have to wait till the morning when my brain waves are fresher.

At 7:32 AM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

Pat, I think I can speak from a very similar place indeed. My children are 14 and 11, and I also am 43. Your thoughts on staying home/being a mother (and cosleeping/attachement parenting, etc etc) also strike a deep chord. I never really considered anything else as long as it was financially viable.

Again, I echo your thoughts about writer groups. If I have to read another poorly written poem or listen to someone whine how nobody respects their art... yeah, that's what a lot of writer groups wind up being.

Quite a panel assemblea here. (are you attending John's class on Sat.? I'd love to meet you, and I promise no bad poetry!)

Writing wise, I have a few ideas that have worked pretty well for me. I work on the in my area of green parenting. If there is a column of interest there for you, I'd be happy to split the referral fee with you. (I get paid for referring people, but I'm a 50/50 sort of person)... The pay isn't wonderful, but it's great exposure and networking opportunities as well as a way to assemble some well respected credentials. Also, I just contracted with Demand Studios which seems to pay rather well for short articles in whatever topic you choose.

John, I do love your flow chart example up there. Everyday I am readjusting my "to do" list and heaven forbid I forget something. While I'm not a single mom, my spouse travels frequently and we moved far away from family. I'm on my own with the parenting duties.

For example, I have a very important conference call today and I've had to tell my daughter, if practice gets done early, you really will just have to wait until regular time because it's rather unprofessional to cut short a job interview to pick up a child. Not a good first impression. I couldn't have done that 3 years ago, though. So it's also a matter of life timing. I don't have a room of my own, but I occasionally get an inch of personal space. How to make that into a mile I've yet to master.

Sorry for hijacking your blog, John. I feel like this perspective is good for more than just Pat and myself.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I guess I feel like you thought I was trying to tell you how to live your life; I felt the responses to my comments were a little defensive. But nothing could be further from the truth; I'm in the habit only of offering suggestions, if even that. I merely noted that inequalities still exist, and that they're so embedded in our assumptions about how people are "supposed to be" that even thoughtful people sometimes do not question them.

My point here would be that at least you've thought about them before making your choices. Most don't. It's Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I respect any choice that anyone ever makes for their lives—as long as it's a considered choice, and not a choice made from social obligation or familial expectation. In other words, I advocate for the individual over the tribe. I advocate for the individual doing what they want to do, even over the tribe's objections or expectations.

That being said, I certainly respect your own choices. I would submit to you that you seem strong enough to me to be capable of doing anything you really wanted to do. I honor that strength. In fact, folks better get out of your way! Self-doubts are something everyone suffers from; my own list of self-doubts would be so long as to be boring. LOL And doubts are something we all struggle with in cycles, in between bouts of abject confidence.

Bottom line, I don't see why can't go ahead and do it all. Do everything you want to do, energy permitting, and keep going. My very best wishes to you on accomplishing all that you set your mind to doing.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, hijacking isn't remotely the word I would use here. Every time you add a substantive comment and engage with anything I've written and/or another reader has said, you multiply the value of what I do, for which I thank you.

I love how you've addressed Pat's questions and concerns with some very specifically targetted & tangible examples of steps she might take and outlets she might consider. It sure helps that you're so similarly situated on several levels (and being the same age sure doesn't hurt). I often feel that advice from across the gender divide only takes one so far. Women helping women think through their lives just plain resonates on a deeper level than Dr. Phil spouting his sure-fire steps to happiness. I viscerally recoil from that style, so always try to bend over backward not to get into that mode, doubly so when it comes to women (and believe me, when my motor gets in gear, I can really get into that mode, as I did only this morning at a breakfast meeting).

Pat, to directly address your pointed questions at the end of your last comment, yes, I think the path you've outlined is eminently doable. It's an appealing mix of modest and ambitious, which just feels right to me. Just two things I'd flag: "market rate" is a more flexible term than most people might assume (more about which later). And this can happen if it's part of a comprehensive strategy pursued over time. That doesn't have to mean years. It might well be better clocked in months. But there does have to be some structure and rigor brought to it, including of course prime attention on how to find & price the work, which is an entirely different talent and relies on a whole different set of skills than actually doing the work.

Anyway, I've casually offered to you privately in the past some personal coaching in this area before, so let me renew that offer here.

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

I wrote here earlier today but went all gone.

Firstly, John, what is this about a class you're teaching this Saturday? Please let me know the details, if it's not too late to attend. It'd be great to meet you and Kim.

Art, I'm not sure if you were addressing me, but I can say that I was neither offended about anything you wrote, nor felt the need to be defensive. I was just trying to articulate who I am, where I am, and how to go forward from here. Thank you for thinking that I'm strong. :-) I certainly don't feel that way. Not at the moment, anyway. Oh, I get brief moments of clarity and courage, but they fade away with the daily grind. I need to find out how to sustain that, as much as possible, and to pace myself. I appreciate the thoughtful feedback from you and from anyone who is gracious enough to take the time.

John, I guess I didn't catch that coaching offer before. I'll take it! Thanks! I'll email you.

Kim. Girl, we need to talk. Seems we have a lot in common. Thanks so much for your tips on possible writing jobs. I'll check out And I look forward to getting to know you better.

There is still a lot for me to digest in these comments here, and I plan to read them again a couple times. Thanks.

At 12:04 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

What a wonderful thing when a reader has to digest blog comments. To me, that suggests something wild and wonderful is taking place. No, it's not at all too late to join us at the Cleveland Hts. Library Saturday morning at 9:30. I'll post the details again tomorrow morning, and also address a couple of your other points.

At 7:59 AM, Blogger Mariana Soffer said...

Well in my opinion I think it can be, if you give words lots of influence in your libido and your thought (I do not know if you can do this voluntary dough).
I also think that all arts can be a lot like sexs while properly done, specially music, that is the closet for me to that.

Interesting reflection MR E, thanks

At 11:48 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Music and libido are certainly tied at the hip, Mariana. Even the dimmest pair of eyes at a rock concert or jazz club can see that.

And Pat, I'm sure you missed the offer (whether it was via email or the comment section here I can't even recall) because I was doing the virtual equivalent of mumbling. I'm sure I couched it in language such as "I'll be happy to help you think through what you're doing" rather than the kind of clear word choice such as "coach." That word says it all, and no one misses its meaning.

I'm actually using that word intentionally in a new and larger way in recent weeks, as I've begun reshaping some (maybe even much) of my work into a formal coaching track, in response to the ever-growing demand for those services (we don't like to boast, but we're beginning to get serious inquiries about writing coaching from as far away as India, more about which later). Toward that end, I've been seeking out some masters for peer learning. And you know how it is when you're ready and looking: you find what you need. I've found a great peer network of professional coaches who help teach each other how to become ever more professional at it (the Cleveland Coaching Federation is the nexus of a far wider network). As one of my old coaching friends Jack would say, it's a community of practice.

Anyway, Pat, thanks for the timely reminder that we all need periodically: when you use the right word, people hear it and respond.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger FreshGreenKim said...

This will be wonderful.

See everyone Sat. morning, bright and early, coffee cup clutched for dear life.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'll be getting my caffeine directly through an IV drip.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hah! Caffeine junkies perhaps you are, but pikers compared to those of manly enough to drink Scottish Breakfast Tea from Stewart's in Edinburgh!

Ach! Laddy!


At 8:32 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That sounds like a pretty nice place to be drinking anything at all. I know I really should switch grom coffee to green tea, but I'm such a slug with those kinds of habits.


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