Busting the Myth of the Writer Who Never Stops Writing

And the Motherlode Pitch that Started the Essay that Started It All

In the comments to my post here, about how I actually got my book deal, Philomela asked how I ended up getting in touch with the Motherlode editor at the New York Times, KJ Dell’Antonia (who’s great). Here’s the story (with a rather long intro, which I explain at the end)!

Honestly, I hadn’t written anything for almost a year, given the rigorous treatments I was undergoing, the stress of the 2 miscarriages, not being able to travel back home to the US b/c of it all, the month after month of being crushed, etc., etc. I felt like I had no energy to do anything but just get up, go to the clinic almost daily (in Japan, most clinics don’t allow women to give themselves the hormone shots, so I had to go in for my daily shots), keep writing for my regular part-time freelance job (I write content and overviews about faculty research for US universities) and function, at least externally, like a relatively normal person. I felt awful about it, like I was going to go through me early 40s with nothing to show for it but a bunch of failures and heartbreaks, and no career or writing advancement at all. But one night, on one of the infertility forums I used, I saw a post mentioning a previous Motherlode column (which I mention in my pitch below), and it gave me an idea for a pitch. So I sat down and tried to start a brief pitch, and the whole thing just came rolling out of, and I sent it that night, and KJ kindly responded right away saying she really liked the idea and wanted to post my piece. And the process (the piece being posted on the NYT site, the Putnam editor reading it and getting in touch, etc.) just rolled on from there, taking me totally by surprise. Once I had some sense that at least a few people might be interested in what I had to say, it became much easier to write (although it was still hard while I was going through treatments, but at least it was now manageable). It was just too much, though, to write into the vacuum of not-knowing-if-anyone-would-read-it, while I was dealing with the alienation of 4 years of trying, and failing, to get pregnant.

Anyway, I belabor this point a bit because as a writer I’ve heard a lot of people say that what makes a writer a real writer is that they just write, no matter what–they just keep going. And that just hasn’t always worked for me. Maybe I’m not a real writer; maybe I’m just someone with something to say who managed to interest an editor at Putnam and hopefully will interest a few more readers. But either way, I’d like to reassure people that sometimes (or at least this time), it’s not only the people who manage to write faithfully every day who get a book deal. Sometimes (or at least this time), it’s the people (or person) who fails miserably at that but who still has moments where they (or she) pulls through and it ends up working. For me, they key was to never give up completely, but to recognize that sometimes, with writing, things move or succeed when you least expect them to, and go nowhere when you most feel like they should be moving.

OK, now for the copy of the Motherlode pitch, in case it’s interesting or helpful to anyone:

Subject line: Motherlode pitch – Closed to Adoption: A Moral Failure?

Dear Ms. Dell’Antonia:

I know from reading your Motherlode posts that adoption is an issue close to your heart and that you are interested in blended families. Ours is culturally blended—in more ways than one: liberal American Jewish writer (me), and traditional Japanese salary-man (my husband).

We’ve also been blended, to some degree, on the issue of adoption, and I’d love to write a post for Motherlode about this topic, “Closed to Adoption: A Moral Failure?”

I was originally open to adoption and my husband, in whose culture adoption is extremely rare, never has been.  Now, as we near the end of 4 years IVF and other fertility treatments (all done in Japan, where we live, and where I don’t speak the language…stories for another time) and my 44th year, we are preparing to move on and live childless.

I’ve accepted, without even too much of a fight, my husband’s feelings that adoption just isn’t for him.  But my willingness to accept this—to prioritize my marriage and being a wife over the possibility of being a mother, to admit that I also to a great degree feel a much stronger urge to have our biological child than to have a child at all—makes me call into question a whole range of issues.  Chief among them is: Am I less entitled to mourn not having a child if I am not willing to do anything it takes to become a parent?  Is it some sort of moral failure to long for a biological child but not an adopted one?

Been thinking about this issue for years, ever since my first IVF round ended in a lost heartbeat at 9 weeks. But I’ve been thinking about writing about this issue for a while, too, ever since I read the blog’s “A Roadmap for Life Without Children” by Shelagh Little, or more accurately, since I read the passionate responses Little’s article engendered, especially her statement, “After not being able to have children for so long, I am ambivalent about adoption and parenthood in general. I admire people who have adopted children, but it is not for me.”

At 444 comments, her piece—and this statement in particular—was one of the most hotly-debated posts on the blog.

Would you be interested in a post written by me that explores this issue more fully?

More about me, and links to clips of mine, are @ http://www.fourstories.org/about_tracy_slater.html

Many thanks for considering this, and warm regards,

Tracy Slater

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7 thoughts on “Busting the Myth of the Writer Who Never Stops Writing

  1. Thank you so much for sharing more of your amazing story! I love your query letter and the story that surrounds it. It is so reassuring. Another friend just published an article in the Washington Post about suffering from post-partum depression after adoption. She, too, is writing a memoir. It’ll be so great to read both of your books in the years to come!

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    1. Susan, I love what a support you are! And I’d love to highlight your friend’s article in the WP if you are inclined to share it. What a fascinating – and I imagine terribly difficulty – twist her story must provide.

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  2. Hi Tracy, thank you for writing this! I’d say I was definitely one of those “feeling like a failure” writers for a while — and there are times when I simply cannot write all the time, every single day. I was dealing with some very major stress in the 2012 related to my husband (long story!), and there were often weeks or months where I simply could not write at all — and I did feel like a failure at times because it was always beaten into my mind like a writer’s commandment, Thou Shalt Write Everyday!

    Also, thank you for sharing your pitch to the column. There’s so little information out there about pitching to such outlets as the NYTimes and sometimes it feels intimidating. But knowing your story, and seeing how you did it, gives me a lot of encouragement. So thanks.

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    1. Thanks for your note, Jocelyn! I so strongly think that “thou shalt write everyday” attitude is not helpful at all, and frankly even a little pretentious. The only thing I do everyday is watch bad TV…

      And really glad the pitch was helpful! Please keep me posted on where you pitch next!

      Sending you all my best, and hoping that the stresses from 2012 are quieting down a bit now.

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  3. I understand the idea that when you are a professional, you show up for work whether you want to or not. But the job of a writer goes far beyond just putting words to the page. It’s living life, observing, reflecting, etc. so that you will actually have something to say when your fingers hit the keys. Your story shows that beautifully.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. You are right that most of us are writing “in our heads” even when we aren’t writing on the page. At the same time, though, I wonder about this way we sometimes put writing on a pedestal, pitching it like it is somehow fundamentally different from any other kind of labor. In many ways it is, of course, b/c it’s creative. But I think a lot of labor is creative at base (and of course a lot isn’t, unfortunately, for those who have to choose/take that kind of job). And a lot of labor stems from the desire to connect with others, which I think is the other really lovely thing about writing.

      Anyway, am really liking your post and the others that are forcing me to think more clearly about what writing is and isn’t!

      Oh, and thanks for your kind words about my story. I so appreciate the encouragement!

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