Posts Filed Under what the fuck is a writer

I wrote a book! And I finally get to share it with you.

by renegademama

At around 7:30pm on November 3, 2015, I received an email with the subject line “HI” from a man named Jermaine Johnson in Los Angeles, letting me know he was a manager with 3 Arts Entertainment, a media/production company that happens to produce my favorite television shows in the world (The Office, Mindy Project, Brooklyn 99, and more…). He had read a blog post of mine and was curious where I was headed with my writing career.

I immediately figured it was a scam. Too good to be true and stuff.

But then I used the Google and read the email again and again and again, and realized it was indeed as real as real can be, and I went outside on the porch and read the email to Mac, and then he cried and I cried because we cry a lot, and he said, “I think our lives are about to change.”

I gave myself 24 hours to respond to Jermaine. I was terrified I would say the wrong thing and blow the whole thing up. Like he’d hear from me in email form and be like, “You know what? I was wrong. You’re an asshole. Please go away.”

But he signed me, and put me in touch with a top literary agent in New York City named Richard Abate, and together, we turned a terrible first draft I had written in 30 days in 2014 into a book proposal.

And then, in April 2016, that proposal sold, to Hachette Book Group, a top five publisher.

And then we cried again for a really long time and jumped and yelled a lot and ate 5-12 enchiladas in celebration.

From that day until now, I have been working on that book, and today, I get to share it with you.

It’s called “I’m Just Happy to Be Here,” and it’s a memoir on alcoholism and motherhood, which will be published May 1, 2018, but is available now for preorder.

If you feel so inclined, if you’ve ever wanted to drop a nod my way, these advanced purchases will go a long fucking way for the success of this book.

But more than alcoholism and recovery, this is a book about being a motherfucking outsider in this parenting world. It’s about not necessarily becoming a better version of yourself the second you find out you’re becoming a parent, and somehow finding peace in spite of that fact — or maybe because of it.

More than any other question, the one I receive from readers most is: How do you have the courage to say the things you say about motherhood?

Well, this book answers that question. It tells how I got to the place where most of my fucks were gone, my disguises stripped away, and I took the random, possibly ridiculous step of writing to you, to see if any of you felt like I did, to see myself in some other mothers, to ask other mothers to see themselves in me.

What came my way after that felt like a motherfucking miracle. And you know how I feel about words like “miracle.”

But seriously, this entire thing is surreal, and still feels vaguely unreal, though I hold the book in my very hands.

How? Whose life is this? Mine?

Because I sat down one January day in 2011 and wrote a post on free WordPress blog, and kept writing, clinging to each new comment from you, each message from you telling me to keep going, and that you related to the post, and then, six years later, I’m holding a book in my hand?

Nah.

That shit ain’t real. And yet. Here we are.

I don’t know how to explain this feeling. I don’t know how to explain what it feels like to follow some weird ache in your gut, some relentless nudge to do something, even though it makes no sense, even though it will surely end in nothing – and realize it has, inch by inch, transformed your life into something you never dreamed possible.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my silly, broke-ass heart. I want to thank you for making this possible, for sticking around, for reading my rants and raves and mistakes and decency.

I truly cannot wait for you to read this, and I hope you see yourself on every page.

47 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized, what the fuck is a writer | November 29, 2017

Let me tell you a story about 9 strangers on the internet

by renegademama

In December 2014, I ran my first online writing workshop.

That was possibly the most boring first sentence I’ve ever written in my life. Stay with me here. It may get better.

Anyway, my business manager and family had been encouraging me to launch a class for a long time, but I didn’t, because I didn’t think anybody would sign up. I saw myself as the kid left standing hopefully on the lawn realizing nobody’s coming to her birthday party.

This never actually happened to me but shit, dude, these fears are real.

But in December 2014, there wasn’t much construction work for my husband, and I lost my last writing gig, and I realized we didn’t have money for a goddamn Christmas tree, and for some reason, that threw me over the edge. I REALLY LIKE CHRISTMAS.

And yes, even then I realized we were really lucky to have “no presents or tree” as a motivator, as opposed to, say, no food or housing. We do not live in poverty. We’ve always had a home, and food, and a car, and healthcare, but it was in that paycheck-to-paycheck, pay-the-oldest-bills-first kind of way, and I knew I was either going to have to get a “real” job or try to make my living as a “real” writer.

And the workshops were one step in the direction of the latter.

So I fucking did it. I hit “publish” on the workshop sales page I had sitting in the draft folder.

Motherfucker sold out in 48 hours.

I’ll never forget calling my husband and yelling, “People are signing up!” It felt like, well, Christmas.

Yeah. I went there.

We bought a big ass tree.

I had been writing the blog for almost four years, and I had a graduate degree in English, but there was still some voice in me that said, “You can’t do it. It won’t work. NOBODY LIKES YOU ASSHOLE.”

But it got too uncomfortable where I was standing, so I decided to take a step, because even if it failed, at least I’d have tried. Since then, those workshops have enabled me to get by as a writer between freelance gigs, and I get to pick my kids up from school, which is wild and awesome and also kind of terrible but whatever. #blessed.

The second class I taught began in March 2015 and involved 15 women. Eleven of them wanted to keep working after the class, and I had mentioned possibly forming a writing group in which we wrote every day for 30 days and held each other accountable. They encouraged me to create it.

And I did it, with less hesitation, because the first one went well. Fear is like that. It diminishes as we take steps we’re afraid of.

Of course I had no real idea if it would work or not, but by the end of the 30 days, we all realized something odd was happening between us. There was an energy, a buzz in the interweb air we breathed together. Basically, we all just wanted to keep working together, AND SO WE DID. WE just kept going. A couple of people dropped out of the little crew, but there’s a core group of nine of us that haven’t stopped. We have a little Facebook group and hold monthly calls online.

During one of those calls, I suggested rather flippantly that we “have a writing retreat someday, in person.”

There was a roar of agreement, but I shoved it out of my head as a pipe dream, a “yeah right like that would ever fucking happen” kind of thing. But as time passed, I started asking myself, why can’t it happen? Could it? Maybe it could. Why the hell couldn’t it?

I’ve never run a fucking retreat in my life, but I had also never written a goddamn blog.

So I did some research and found us a spot in my beloved homeland and my worst friend Sarah agreed to cook (she’s a chef) and my husband Mac agreed to make us fires (he’s a builder) and help Sarah in the kitchen and I wrote the workshops and last Tuesday I joined eight women from around the world at an old ranch house nestled in redwoods, 5 miles off the coast of northern California, where the choir of angels live.

And we were all, immediately, writersisterfriends. We wrote, cried, laughed maniacally. We sat around fires and work-shopped pieces of writing. We walked the beach and sorted pebbles. We sat in a yurt (yes, I said “yurt”) and talked craft. Voice, tone, syntax. We listened to Mac and Sarah sing “Rocky Raccoon” and “Don’t think twice, it’s alright” and Joni Mitchell and Prince. Some of us smoked and drank beer and wine around a fire under brilliant northern stars. Some of us didn’t.

All of  us though wondered what the actual fuck had happened, and how we got there. How does something like this happen? How does something so gorgeous materialize out of nothing? A dream. A thought. The internet? How profoundly unromantic.

And yet, it did happen. Out of a flippant suggestion, a silly idea, a wisp of smoky dreaming.

But that wasn’t it. Because what it actually came from, on the ground, was a group of humans who decided to do something and respond to life as it presented itself even though it made perhaps no sense in the “rational” world. It happened because a group of women found something together and committed to it, for themselves, for each other, for the act of creation itself, to jump off the cliff and trust it’ll be worth it, that people will show up, that you won’t be left standing alone, wondering why you even tried.

I wonder sometimes how we decide what’s worth our time. I wonder how we choose what we “should” be doing. I wonder how we’ve convinced ourselves that magic doesn’t come from weird ass decisions, that we shouldn’t get a bit reckless sometimes, that we shouldn’t say “fuck it” and at least try, for no other reason than an opportunity has shown up and it fucking looks interesting.

We may end up right where we started, and we may end up losing, but then again we may end up circling the fire of the source itself, connected to some humans that can never be strangers again, wondering how the hell we arrived, and forgetting altogether the piece that wondered if such things were possible.

I want to tell you everything, bring you there through my words, but the magic lives in the thing itself, and every time I try, my voice isn’t enough.

And that, I think, is the point. We have no choice but to try again.

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this hot tub at night under the stars.

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typical cooks

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yurt school

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first time we all met

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Maybe it’s the happiest I’ve ever been, or as happy as I am today. If I remember it’s mine to find.

 

P.S. Also please read this 4-70 times.

30 Comments | Posted in what the fuck is a writer | June 1, 2016

Five years ago yesterday I started writing

by renegademama

Five years ago yesterday I wrote the first post of this blog. I had been crafting it on my drive to work and in the shower and back again and all around. In fact, I had been “writing in my head,” also known as “thinking,” for many months. All the things I’d like to say about motherhood. All the things I’d like to read but can’t because nobody seems to be writing them.

Rocket's mohawk that became inspiration for the logo

the original logo was Rocket’s head

Five years ago yesterday I couldn’t take it anymore, so during my lunch break and possibly a little after, I hid in my cubicle and put a blog together with one of those built-in WordPress themes and I wrote the words that came to me.

At the end of that first post, I said I was going to write a book someday on motherhood.

Yesterday, I sent off the final draft of my book proposal.

So life, because it’s a wily-ass-motherfucker, planned it all out that exactly 5 years to the day after I sat down to write my first post, I would take a huge final step toward publication of my first book, which I promised in that very post. Now what kind of bullshit is that?

Also, spoiler alert: The proposal may not be final. These things have a way of evolving. Also, the book is not published yet. It’s not even bought yet. I am not at the end. There is no end. There is no arrival. That’s the way with writing. And probably life, right?

But there’s something about this marker, something about the synchronized moments of the beginning and its promise and this big step. Please don’t tell me about “intention.” Please don’t tell me I willed this with my motherfucking dream board. This was work. That’s all. Boring old work. Maybe intention kept my feet moving, in the form of there’s enough of me that believes this is worth my time so I’m going to keep going, but most of the time I couldn’t see TOMORROW, let alone a “dream” or endpoint. I was just writing.

 

I decided I would only write when I “felt inspired” and that I would write two posts a week no matter what. It’s a good thing I only followed through on the second decision, because inspiration left sometime around the end of year 1, when I had exhausted most of the rants and raves and figured it was about time the world recognized its next literary genius.

But it wasn’t. Assholes.

“Nobody will ever read this. It’s a waste of time,” I’d explain to my husband Mac, usually on a drive home from somewhere, late at night, with all the kids asleep in the back, when it all feels a bit heavier than usual.

“No. Keep going. You’re a great writer. Aren’t you getting more subscribers each month?”

“Barely,” I’d whine.

“Doesn’t matter. It will happen.”

Or he’d get fed up with me and say “Yes Janelle it is a complete fucking waste of time. Stop doing it. Shut the whole thing down.”

He’d call my bluff.

He's still taking the kids out of the house so I can write. He did it last night. All 4 kids to Rocket's Boy Scout event. I finished the proposal and sent it off. My mom sent me this photo.

He’s still taking the kids out of the house so I can write. He did it last night. All 4 kids to Rocket’s Boy Scout event. I finished the proposal and sent it off. My mom sent me this photo.

No matter what though, I knew he thought what I was doing was valid and real because not only would he say it but he’d prove it with actions, taking the kids to the park so I could write, encouraging me to go to a coffee shop, helping me make “I need to write a post” a real and actual priority in our home. Even when I had 100 readers. Even when there was no money in sight. Even when I had a “real job” that had no writing in it. Even though it “took time away from the family.” Even though all of that, we just did it, together, he and I. I don’t really know why.

Love, I guess.

And you, the new reader, I’d cling to the message you sent, telling me this is the first time you’d ever felt seen as a mother. That you thought you were alone. And I’d think “Okay. I’m writing for her.” Even though there’s only like 10 of her. 

And I’d do it again.

 

I wrote mostly when the kids went to bed. I’d write a post on the couch at night and then I would publish it and then I would go outside and smoke a cigarette* and read it over and find typos. Then I would fix them. Then I would go to bed and sometimes I could hardly sleep because I couldn’t wait to see the email notifications on my phone that somebody had commented. Every fucking one felt like a gift.

I couldn’t believe people were reading my writing. Strangers! Amazing.

If it was positive, I’d feel good about myself and interesting and capable.

If it was negative, I’d craft the perfect rebuttal in my head over the next 12 hours, finally type it, then regret it immediately.

I’ve come a long way since then.

 

But no matter what, I’d write again. I’d get back to work. Writing those two posts a week became a working part of my life and I just did it. Whenever. However. No matter what happened.

I wrote when I was homeschooling and Mac was working out of town and I was working at a law firm and going to grad school. I wrote when I was depressed. I wrote when I was not. I wrote through pregnancy and tragedy and moving and I wrote when I was bored. BORED of myself and my words and the internet and all of it. I wrote when I was sure I had nothing left to say and wasn’t funny and found myself TOTALLYFUCKINGINSPIRED.

Why?

I’m not really sure. I guess because I had committed to do something and I got just enough attention to feed my ego so I kept going. I don’t know. Who fucking knows why we do anything?

I had something to say. I thought I’d lose my mind if I didn’t say it. Then nobody read me and I felt sorry for myself but didn’t quit. And when I wanted to quit I clung to the people around me encouraging me and one or two new readers. And then it kind of grew. And I quit my cubicle job and then the teaching job and now, here, 5 years later, I send off the final draft of my book proposal.

I wish writers would stop being so precious about writing. I wish they’d stop acting like there’s some system or routine or method that will Make You a Writer and that there’s a right or wrong way to do it. Just fucking write what you want to say and hope for the best.

When nothing happens, write the next thing.

When big things happen, write the next thing.

And keep writing and going until little by slowly, through events so mundane you don’t even notice them, you look around five years later and realize your life looks completely fucking different, and it’s all because you decided to write the things you thought about motherhood.

So, hey. I think you should say the thing you want to say even if you’re sure nobody is listening and I think you should say it in the way you want to say it because it doesn’t matter that they all like us.

It matters only that a few like us in their bones.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

 

*I have since quit smoking. Hallelu!

**There is no ** asterisk in this post. I just used that as an opportunity to tell you that this title is misleading. I didn’t start writing 5 years ago. I started writing when I was 9. I wrote damn near constantly until I was too drunk to do so. When I started again in 2011, I hadn’t written anything in 5 or 6 years (outside of academic shit), but it’s like riding a bike. I guess. I don’t know. I suck at bike riding. But it takes a long time to find your voice. I know that. It took me about 20 years, I think. So fucking write a lot. That’s my point.

79 Comments | Posted in what the fuck is a writer | January 27, 2016