Why do you write?

I’ll get to the pressing question above in just a moment, but first: a recap of my writing life since I dropped off the blog in May.

  • I’m published! Granted, it’s a critical essay, but I’ll take it. Sidenote: Mason’s Road is a great way to get your stuff seen and possibly published without any submission fee! Reading period opens soon; in the meantime, check out the awesome stuff in this issue.
  • My writing class at the library ended in May, and they’ve asked me to teach two workshops this summer: one on found poetry, one on horror/thriller writing for teens. The best news of all: this will be my first paying gig as a writing teacher. I hope to pick up the fiction class again in the fall with compensation as well. Fingers crossed!
  • My favorite memoirist and I have made a pact. At least once a month, we have to send out a story or essay to literary journals and magazines. I’ve never actively tried to get published (except for my above credit), so this is a somewhat scary and exciting endeavor. I’ve tagged her blog here in hopes that she’ll feel inspired and/or pressured to update.
  • I’ve just returned home from my last summer residency in the Fairfield MFA program. I graduate in January. Holy hell.
  • All of this excitement coincides with my final semester; I have to write and polish my creative thesis–the first 135 pages of my novel–by Halloween. No pressure!

I think that’s all. Now, for the question of the hour.

“Why do you write?”

One of my favorite writers and teachers, Rachel Basch, posed this question during our residency workshop last week. She said we should determine the answer, distill it down to one sentence, and paste it above our work space at home to keep us motivated. A great idea, no doubt.

For me, though, “Why do you write?” is one of those questions that, as soon as it’s asked, wipes my brain clean of any answer; the same is true for “What’s your favorite movie?” and “What are you thinking?”. I’ve had some time, now, to think about this, and I figured my groping for an answer would be a great way to get back up on the blogging horse.

Blogging horse.

I write because I always have. I was raised in a house where my parents pushed me and my siblings to do whatever we desired. I tapped, I skated, I sang, I acted. If I’d cared enough, I could have pushed myself to make a living out of most of the things I tried as a kid, but none of them stuck. What was always there, what I never even realized I’d been doing all along, was writing.

The first thing I did when we got a computer was figure out how to do columns in WordPerfect and make a full-color newsletter for the kids in the neighborhood. I would force my brother and sister to take my reading and handwriting classes after school, with the help of a mini-whiteboard and old schoolbooks. I wrote a multi-chapter murder mystery in elementary school that beat out the middle school for best story and an essay about my hero–my dad–that landed me a meeting with Ruby Bridges. I typed up letters to the editor for my father and went on to write controversial editorials for my school paper on abortion, same-sex marriage, and our high school civics program.

I never put two and two together. I went off to college and all but forgot about writing. It wasn’t until my father passed away that I remembered. When something like that happens, it clears your decks of anything superfluous and leaves you only with what matters most. French and politics fell away, and writing rushed in. I wrote everything down: every memory, every question, every fear, every dream. It hurt, but it felt good. For the first time, my brain and heart were working together. A light bulb switched on somewhere, and I found my soul again.

So, that’s why I write. Why do you?

Advertisements

Long time, no post.

It appears I haven’t blogged in months; I’ve funneled all of my writing into a huge paper for my MFA. But since I’m feeling all sorts of weird today, I decided it was a good time to get back into it. Apologies now for what will, most likely, be a very disjointed, total bummer of a post.

I feel restless today: a feeling that’s become commonplace since starting my MFA. Before, I was content with my job. It paid the bills and let me exercise my French. Hell, it got me out of bed five times a week while I slogged through the grief of losing my father. I’m grateful for that. But now that I’ve rediscovered my vocation in life, the waiting is wearing me down.

There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do in this moment. I need this job for the vacation time, or I can’t finish my degree. Even if I could leave, what would I do? I think I’ve been a starving artist in all of my past lives; it seems carved in my bones that I should only be drawn to endeavors that make me zero or negative dollars. Why can’t I have a passion for screwing people out of their money? Or cutting people open and sewing them back up? Why is my fire lit by solitary work that has no value in this culture unless it’s bastardized into Hollywood drivel?

I have no good answer. I guess no writer does. Maybe that’s why so many of us stick our heads in ovens or wade into a river with stones in our pockets. I don’t think what I want is difficult or complicated; I just want to live, doing what I love. I guess a lot of people live their whole lives without being that lucky. Here’s hoping I’m not one of them.

On procrastination.

Yesterday after work, I had a lot to do. And none of it got done. This loss of eight hours’ work time has put me in the all-too-familiar position of needing a miracle or an all-nighter, or both, to save my ass.

I’d love to blame this on work. Sure, it’s hard to come home after staring at a screen all day and sit down in front of another screen. It’s difficult to generate creative prose or thoughtful literary analysis after your day job as a drone. But most writers have day jobs and manage to crank out story after story. I only have myself to blame.

I’ve always been a procrastinator. A big one. In college I had to research and write my final exam–a ten-page paper, en français–in one night after having months to do the work. In high school, same thing.  When I would finish, it was always good work, but it wasn’t my best; how could it be? I’d wonder what I could have achieved if I’d worked on it every day, like everyone else in the class, but that possibility for greatness (or, at least, better-ness),  never held my attention long enough to impact future work.

Procrastination, for me, has become  a full-time job and a very real means of self-harm. While others drain a bottle of whiskey or stick a needle in their arm to escape real-world responsibility and consequences, I sprawl on the couch and watch hours of sitcom re-runs, all the while gripped by this growing panic that I do everything in my power to avoid facing. The longer I put it all off, the more the panic takes over. Eventually, it paralyzes me.

That’s what happened last night. I sat down to write a ten-page paper and realized it terrified me. I’m great at literary analysis; why was I so scared? Because after that paper, there was another paper, and my fiction, all due this week. I was suddenly tired from the blur of thoughts and panic and decided to lie down for a bit. Next thing I know, it’s 11:30 PM and time to go to bed, for real.

I have this vision of a Highly Effective Me in my head that gets me through the day. This version of me gets home, gets the house in order, makes dinner, and does her writing straight away. Beside that is this terrible fear that I will let this version of myself down, so I never even try…until I have no choice. And this is where I find myself today: the land of sudden death, my second home.

"I want MORE next time!"

Hearing that from a perfect stranger…I’d call it a successful first reading.

On Friday, Nicole picked me up from work and we headed down to CT. We stopped in to see my mom and freshen up then headed on down to New Haven for a little impromptu MFA reading.

First off, it was great to see everyone (including my summer residency roomie!). Living in Rhode Island and missing most of the FUMFA get-togethers, I forget that I belong to a whole community of writers. It was wild to see how very different each of our readings were, how each of our brains process and produce.

Since my stuff is super raw at this point, I wanted to keep it short; I don’t think my reading was more than five minutes long. But it was a section of my book that I love dearly, and it was nice to have some feedback on it. A total shot in the arm.

With everything that’s happened this month, though, writing new stuff has not come easily. I need to get my third packet in the mail so I can start my fourth, and I still have a long way to go. On top of that, there’s financial aid stuff to do, and our save-the-dates. It’s going to be a busy week, but if I can get it all done by Friday I know I’ll feel a lot better. Wish me luck.

Now what?

So, I put my first MFA writing packet in the mail today for my mentor; I guess I’m really doing this. I worked on it all Friday night and until 5 a.m. Saturday morning, thanks to some awesome coffee my sister brought back from Nicaragua. (Note to self: get coffee maker.)

But now, having expended my energy in pushing out the final pages and craft essay, I’m feeling blocked about where to go next. So far, I have two “sections” to my novel–as of now, I’m calling them A and B to not confuse myself or mentor. I would like to work in a third (C), so I guess I will start a new section this time around instead of pushing forward on A & B before I get any feedback. I already know part C and the later events in B are going to completely morph A into something different, but I won’t get into that messy business until April or May.

Despite all of these ideas, and only 25 pages in, I’m already scared that I won’t have enough to say for an entire novel, though I can feel it all swimming around in my head. So I’m going to let it all marinate and do my craft essay first this month. Maybe it will give me some good ideas for this new section I’m starting.

Another thing to work on this month is getting some of my stuff published, once it’s up to par. I didn’t want to say anything before I received news, but I’ve submitted one story of mine that’s “done” for consideration at a literary magazine called The Splinter Generation (thanks, Reuben, for your recommendation!). It’s the first time I’ve ever submitted anything, and I’m excited for any outcome. Whether it’s a rejection letter or–gasp–publication, it means I’m a writer. It means I’m in the game.

Best of luck to other newbies out there submitting their first packets!