First, a poem...
looking through a more clear lens
like new glasses
going to an eye doctor as the
which one is better
I can see clearly now
I’ve had a shift in perspective in just five days. The shift was slow like click, click, click, then– a-ha! I did a lot of processing about my semester with K.I and K.J–a kind of confession, reviewing, rehashing, etc. I got upset all over again, but it blew through me, and so I finally was “over it”. Then, it became clear, like the first moments after a thunderstorm in the summer. The clouds part, blue emerges, sunlight falls down.
My writing goals have shifted. Before, in the first semester, I felt that I should not focus on the part of craft we writers refer to as “play”. The experimental exercises you might do with a piece that you have been working on. Maybe write a scene from a first person narrative in third. Maybe write a scene from a secondary character’s point of view. (These are things I have since done here at the residency). I wasn’t allowing myself to let go of “product”, of “finishing”. In so doing, I became creatively dead. I felt a pressure to finish. I felt a pressure to make my stories just so. What I needed was for someone to stop and shake me, then say, “Go outside and play.” Play can be very productive.
It shifted when I sat with one of my teachers for a one on one. As we talked about my previous semester and what might have gone right and wrong, I realized my focus, before I even started the semester, was to finish and polish, no matter what. Oh, and I did do just that. But what came out was “perfectly fine stories”. As one teacher said, “There’s nothing wrong with your story.” It’s. Just. Fine. But, I want more, deeper. I want to get better. I want to be better than fine.
In my focus to finish I became a mediocre writer, focusing solely on the end result and not being in the moment of the writing, creating, and crafting. I became dull.
I am not dull.
It’s risky to push yourself in the opposite direction. I got comfortable being focused on finishing stories, even feeling superior when people would say how they couldn’t finish anything. Well, not me. I. Finish. Everything.
Why Am I Like This?
The mode of “finish” of “product” comes from the past five years (prior to Pine Manor, that is) of having to be the one-woman show of self-publishing and self-induced deadlines. Yes, I have written. Yes, I have studied (attended workshops, classes), but always with this eye on the prize– another completed book for my Maddie series to be self-published or a possible book deal that my agent was seeking for me. I spent time waiting for updates from my agent and also editing with my editor for the third Maddie book. For all intents and purposes, I was living the life of an author– but truthfully not the author I wanted to be. I was kind of a reluctant author. Something was missing.
What was missing, for me, was formalized study of craft. There was more to learn. So, I applied to school. The idea of study, craft, and reading was what I craved after reluctantly stumbling into the author world. I feel like I missed a step.
So, I left my agent and started school, but, also, was in the middle of editing the third Maddie book. It was like two planets out of orbit banging into each other and BAM explosion! The rules and regulations I had been following for world of author contradicted the world of school. The message at school is: don’t think about the world of publishing, focus on craft, while you are here.
And, yet, I still do have my eye on the prize
My original reason for coming here, as I said before, was to hone craft, but also, let’s get REAL. I wanted to know, to tick off the list, that I tried going back to school, studying my ass off, polishing my craft, learning new craft, new perspectives. Improving, growing might just help me towards the goal of a book deal. After trying, in various ways to break in, before I threw my hands up and walked away, relegating writing to “hobby” status instead of MY LIFE, I wanted to make sure I tried every single way to get into publishing. What school is asking me to do is the one thing I haven’t done. Shift my focus off getting published or having an agent or submitting to editors. And, yet, while that is a great “ideal”, reality has to be reconciled with it.
It’s kind of joke to not think about it. Why are we writing if not to share, and isn’t publishing the ultimate sharing, the ultimate– if the tree falls in the forest and no one else is around, if no one hears it, does it matter? I say being heard does matter. Being published does matter.
So how do you reconcile the idea of not thinking about publishing while at school with the reality that, of course, that’s what you want? Here’s the reconciliation, and it’s simple; we want to hone our craft so we can be published. Yet the irony is many get published with shitty craft while others have stellar craft, MFA craft and have no book deal. So, we may not get the brass ring. So, this whole reconciliation ends without a real, solid answer or promise. Again, there is no brass ring. But, you have to try, to strive for the brass ring, because, if you don’t, you won’t know if the MFA is or is not your ticket.
Either way, for me, I choose the path of study now, not only for the hope of the brass ring, but also for the love of craft, study, and community.