July has been an incredibly productive and creative month for me.
Way back in February (pre-Covid shutdown) I gave my notice to leave my high school History and Government teaching job of 7 years and return to full-time research and writing as an author and historian. I won't go into the dilemma and final reasons for making that decision, but it simply comes down to not having enough time in the day to do all the things and have all the careers I want to have. As the financial devastation and stress of the pandemic for so many people became apparent, I did reconsider whether it was a good time to leave a paying job and health insurance... But, in planning to quit my job, I had already begun putting all of my take-home pay (and my book advance - see previous post on suffrage book) in savings as a cushion and in anticipation of our family not relying on my income, at least for a while. And I have the full financial and emotional support of my husband who, luckily, remains employed and has been urging me to take this leap and focus solely on writing for some time. I could not do this if it caused hardship or stress for our family right now. Those who have known me longer than 7 years, however, will know that, before I was a high school teacher, I was a freelance author and editor, so in many ways this is just a return to that (though hopefully with less freelancing and more creative writing).
Back to mid-March... I was teaching 4 different high school courses when we shifted to remote learning "temporarily," but as we one-by-one had to cancel all of the end-of-the-year milestone trips & events, and then slowly realized that we would not be returning to campus for the entire semester, I was devastated to end my school year and my teaching career in this way, without even saying goodbye to or seeing my students in my classroom again. By the time we recorded our virtual graduation speeches and then met the students for a brief drive-up diploma ceremony on June 11th, I was both incredibly sad and incredibly relieved that it was over.
I spent the remainder of June finalizing my school commitments, including going to campus with my daughter to clear out personal belongings from the classroom, organizing curriculum materials and digital files for my incoming replacement teacher, and tackling my school email in-box, while also re-organizing my home office. ("Re-organizing" makes it sound like a nice weekend project, but I spent THREE MONTHS (one advantage of shelter-in-place) clearing out boxes of books, cleaning all remaining books & shelves, throwing out paperwork, cleaning rugs & floors, setting up a new desktop computer, and sorting research and notes for each in-progress writing project into fancy file boxes and folders.)
I was determined that on July 1, 2020, I would start my new job as a full-time writer.
And I did just that. I committed myself to sitting at my desk each day. And I started a daily journal to track and hold myself accountable to my writing, my research, and my reading.
So what did I actually DO in July??
Well, it has taken me several weeks to just re-enter writer mode and wrap my head around the projects I've left sitting for months and years. I needed to decide which projects to take up again, re-engage in the world of those projects, and think about new projects to start planning. I took some tangible steps, however, this past month, namely:
1. I joined an advanced-level fiction workshop and have submitted work twice to the critique group. We meet every other week (virtually, of course) and it has been amazing to get feedback and perspective and to read the work of other people committed to story and to craft. Our teacher is a long-time amazing writer friend of mine, Lydia Netzer (http://lydianetzer.blogspot.com/p/shine-shine-shine.html), who has published three novels and I so trust her guidance and judgment. Joining this group forced me to immediately re-engage with writing as practice and identity.
2. I submitted work to TWO fiction writing contests: One, a short story of about 3,000 words that was actually a revised chapter from a novel I started long ago; the other, new flash fiction written specifically for the contest. It was a lot of fun to write and revise and submit fiction that I'm really proud of. Wish me luck!
3. I started research on a project that's been rattling around in my head since I first came across the story for my suffrage book. The story is of a 1915 cross-country road trip undertaken by three suffragists who were tapped by Alice Paul to take a signed suffrage petition from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to present to President Wilson. There's a local connection, as the leader of the trip, Sara Bard Field Wood, later lived near me, in Los Gatos. My research led me to Anne Gass, a Maine suffrage historian who RECREATED the entire road trip in 2015 - I'm so jealous! (https://suffrageroadtrip.blogspot.com/2015/11/)
Anne has also written a book about her great-grandmother, a prominent Maine suffragist (https://www.florencebrookswhitehouse.com/bio). It's been great to be in email communication with Anne and share ideas this past month!
4. I embarked on a crash course in screenwriting, a genre I've never tried before! I ordered and have already read several screenwriting guidebooks, have been watching Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass videos, and started following several blogs and writers on twitter. I am contemplating writing a screenplay based on the suffrage road trip, and started outlining that project. Already, I can see that thinking about what makes a successful screenplay is going to provide insight for any kind of storytelling, and the need to show character through action, and make every action count.
This already has me thinking about what has not been working in my longer novel project...
5. The big novel project: At month's end, I have set myself the task of revising my historical fiction manuscript based on the life of 19th-century photographer, Clover Adams. (https://www.masshist.org/features/clover-adams) I wrote most of this novel in 2010-2012 and got a bunch of passes from agents, and have not known what to do with it since. Two years ago (yikes, time flies!) I received some very helpful insights when I sent the first 30 pages or so of the manuscript to novelist & book doctor Barbara Kyle for evaluation. (https://www.barbarakyle.com/manuscript-evaluations/) After that, I put it aside once again due to my teaching and other commitments.
This past week, I reprinted the entire manuscript and, along with notes from Barbara, and notes from this video series by plot doctor, Martha Alderson (a Santa Cruz local, I believe), I began re-visioning the plot and structure. (https://marthaalderson.com/pwplotwrimoreviseyournovelinamonth/)
So, that's it. A month of rethinking, revising, reaching out to other writers & resources, and reconnecting with the writing life. I also read EVERY DAY. The best writing course is to be immersed in the work of other writers. I owe it to myself to do this and I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. For years I've been saying, "If I only had the time..." Now this is my time.
6. Oh, and I bought this mid-20th c. manual typewriter as a launch gift for myself! I'm not sure if I will type my next great work on it, but it inspires me to think about my favorite mid-20th c. authors clicking away, such as O'Connor, Jackson, Steinbeck....