Writing on borrowed time: adieu to my laptop
I will always love you.
This is the free weekly edition of “Before and After the Book Deal.” If you value my efforts to make writing and publishing a more joyful, straightforward, and potentially lucrative endeavor for all who practice it, consider upgrading to a paid subscription. Thank you!
At some point last winter, I noticed I could no longer see the bar at the bottom of my Word documents showing me the word count and what manuscript page I was on. I thought that Bill Gates had pulled a fast one on me; switched something up in Word’s design. I Googled “Why can’t I see the bottom of my screen?” and “Where is my word count?” Not finding an answer, I looked up my word count manually when I needed to and guesstimated what page I was on.
Then the grey tide started rising. Week by week, the faint line of static covering the bottom of my screen became larger and solid enough that I couldn’t read Twitter DMs on my computer because they appeared under the grey bar. In March when I was in Philadelphia for the AWP writers’ conference, I took my ailing laptop to an Apple shop to find a Genius who could help me. Who could help us.
“Your computer has a death sentence,” the nice young Genius said. He indicated the fatal point of impact, an almost imperceptible lesion in the screen’s bottom right. And suddenly I remembered: the paperclip I’d left above my keyboard that one time. The bread crumb crunch of paperclip meeting my poor screen.
But that had been months earlier. Nothing had come of it. Nothing had come of it, ‘till now.
“There’s nothing we can do for her,” the Apple genius told me. “If we replace the screen, it will cost more than a new computer.”
We both looked at the patient.
“How long do I have?”
The Apple Genius told me there was no way of knowing. That the grey tide would continue to rise, and perhaps be joined by other lines and colored bars at some point: he gave us six(ish) months.
Though I didn’t say this to the Genius, I lamented to my AWP roommate that I’d written three of five books on that computer. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Maybe my laptop would live longer than the Genius thought.
Months passed. I kept writing and editing my own writing. Sending emails, ignoring others. The grey bar kept its distance. The tide didn’t rise.
But last week, in the lazy heat of August, a new threat appeared. A curtain of rainbow stripes fell down the right side of my screen. I measured the width: exactly one inch. But it’s growing every day.
It is a matter of time until the computer becomes unusable. A matter of days before summer turns to fall. Soon enough, I—a person who dislikes and feels destabilized by change—will have to deal with change.
I imagine that this letter also finds you in a period of transition. Maybe you are headed back to school to teach or back to school yourself or you have children heading into school for the first time. This past weekend, I was at a lunch, and a French friend mentioned a philosopher whose podcast she loves listening to, who said that “hope” isn’t allowed. This sounded pretty dismal: we’re not allowed to hope?
“No, because hope keeps you helpless,” she said. “It’s better to be in a place of action, dealing with facts and things you can control. If you’re hoping for an outcome, it’s an outcome you have no control over. You’re living too far ahead.”
I get this. I see the use in such a mindset. Nevertheless: I hope. I hope for small things (like enough time with my computer to create one more book together) and I hope for large things, like our country and our planet’s improved physical and mental health.
And I also hope that you have a vivifying and inspiring September. I’m so grateful for all of you who continue to read my words, even when they go off track a bit.
Here’s what’s ahead for us:
More industry posts coming: I had a big post planned this week but the apartment I’m in (it’s my last week in France) has no Internet, which complicated things. We’ll be back to our regular programming next week!
Got questions? Do you have a burning question about publishing, submitting, querying, attending conferences, anything writing-related? Something that you feel like everyone knows but you, or something that feels mysterious and shrouded in gatekeeping? I’m here for you, fire away! To send in a question for a possible long-form answer, please:
Use “Substack Q&A” as the title
Write everything in the body of an email, no attachments
Send to thequerydoula (at) gmail (dot) com
I’ll only respond if I’m going to use your question, which I’ll reformat to hide any identifying details—so you can ask whatever you’d like. These Q&A sessions are only available for paying subscribers, please.
Author Promotion Panel October 8th at 2pm ET: One of my favorite writers, Sari Botton, is holding a symposium on author promotion with veteran publicist Lauren Cerand. The 90 minute session is only $25—which is FAR LESS than what it costs to hire someone of Lauren’s caliber, so consider signing up!
Where my fellow Virgos at? It’s my birthday this weekend, and I plan to reward myself with three of my favorite activities: list-making and picnicking and task-related work. If you are also someone who thrives in the back-to-business energy of September, I see you. Happy birthday to us!