Sunday, September 13, 2009

Denial, Truth, Writing, and Listening to My 5 year old.

Here’s what’s happening when I write this week.  So I go along, click, clack, writing/typing away and then, suddenly I’m not sure what happens. When I first start, I feel myself inside the story, the plot and characters are just unfolding in front of me; each key stroke flashes a light on the darkness. The darkness is the story–it’s plot, characters, theme.  Writing is this long walk in the dark, and my creating is the light in this darkness. So, I create, the light is in front of me, the way it is when you drive at night and you look ahead and see the light on the road. But you know how when you look way ahead and all you see are the dots and beams of light far in front, and you kind of lose sight of the road? That’s what happens to me while I write.  I start off focused on what’s right in front of me, but, then– I don’t know what happens exactly.  Sometimes, I feel like the story is slipping away from me, so I hurry and look ahead, but all I see is this wall, and I can’t stop my approach to the wall. It’s inevitable. And, the closer I get, the slower my fingers are on the keyboard, until the wall is inches from me and my fingers stop completely.

This isn’t going anywhere…
What are you doing? More vapid, melodramatic, reality show bullshit?
Can you only write first person present tense?
This story is dumb. Really what the hell is it about?
Isn’t this the same story you have written 900 times…
Does the main character always have to reject sex and alcohol because she reads a lot of self help books and/or has a friend who acts as her shrink?
You are a one tricky pony my friend and that trick is up. 

So, then I take a breath, and stop and look around, talk to my daughter–yes, she is with me today as I write at Starbucks, and let me tell you, she is a prolific story teller.  She sits with her My Littlest Pet Shop figures and makes up elaborate stories about pets getting famous or two pets getting married. The greatest thing about her, though, is this total ability to being telling one story, get a little bored or off track of it and just switch it to another story. She is just having a good time. When I just stopped to take a break, I said to her, “I'm just not getting this story.”  She looked at me with her enormous chocolate eyes and patted me on the shoulder, “So just stop, Mom. Do something else.” I know.  I know she is right. Five year olds usually have this whole life thing down much better than grown ups.

“Just stop.  Do something else.”

I finally did. But the story…no, not the story, I’m not sure I give a shit about this particular story, the idea that I can’t GET IT, that’s nagging me.  I keep thinking I can get this…I just have to go back and try harder…

Really?  I don’t know. I worry now that I will do what I did last semester, spend all this time, the whole semester actually rewriting one story to the point where I HATED IT. That story from last semester–I haven’t looked at it since June and have no plans to ever look at it again.

How do I know if that’s what’s happening here?  I don’t hate this story, but since I started to revise it with my mentor’s feedback…I just feel like…See, I can’t even articulate what’s wrong.  I’m at the wall.  Looking at it as I write this. It’s a brick wall. You can’t post anything on it because nothing will stick. You can’t knock it down, and it’s tall. I can’t see the top, so I can’t go around it.

Hello, wall.
The wall doesn’t talk because– hello– it’s a wall. I want it to talk.  I want it to tell me WTF has happened to me since I started school.  Why does everything I have written or that I write feel sucky…? I feel disconnected from my writing.  I feel like I’ve lost whatever I thought I had.  Whatever connection to teenage years and the teenage mind. I feel old. I feel tired. I look back at my writing, and the only thing I really like and feel connected to is Maddie. I am so excited by the new book by the idea of going back and working on the ones that haven’t been published yet. That excites me. I feel connected to that. This short story stuff…I suck at it. More importantly, I am feeling connected to it.

I think I went to school to become the writer I thought I should be because the one I was wasn’t able to get a book contract. Maybe I thought back then, I am not literary enough. I don’t write deep beautiful books about swimming with dolphins or fantastical worlds. And I can’t seem to get the teen chic lit thing down either. My work is not enough…not enough of anything out there now. So I figured maybe I could change. I am a good student, and maybe someone can teach me how to be a real writer.

Aren’t I already a real writer?

That was kind of a major thing to write. I have never written that Truth down. Isn’t that reason–let me go to school so I can learn how to write in a way that gets me a contract–isn’t that kind of a completely unrealistic expectation– a kind of fantasy?  It’s magical thinking. It’s like saying there is a certain formula that leads to publication by a major publisher and that formula can be taught in an MFA program.

I can say this with full confidence: You get an MFA because you take your writing seriously and want to push yourself to grow. 

I don’t know.  Now I need to sit with this realization that I have been writing since January in the hopes that I will become changed into a literary writer who might have a shot at a book deal.  And I have to confront this realization too…that hope, that wish just isn’t coming true.  And, I have to look at the reality of the writer I am and the writer I want to be.

*After reading Joanne's comment I realize that I left something out of this blog.  I might have hoped for a possible shot at a book contract (what MFA student doesn't) but I did go into the program with the desire to grow as a writer and to add that professional credit as a writer and teacher.


Joanne Carnevale said...

Let's first get a couple of things straight. You are a real writer. You do take your writing seriously. You are also a real teacher who encourages others to write and take it seriously. When I started your classes I never would have submitted anything if not for making submissions having been assigned by you.

I believe that, because you are serious about writing and teaching, you envisioned an MFA as a way to professionalize all of the above, a credential that demonstrates your commitment to both writing and teaching, and as dues having been paid.

Additionally, I suspect you are also committed to learning and are not one of those people who think there is nothing left for them to learn from anyone else.

You did wonder if, as a bonus, such a credential might also sway some in the publishing world. After all you have been subjected to at the hands of traditional publishing, who can blame you for wanting to test that theory?

So do not derail yourself by losing sight of your primary reasons for wanting the MFA, and telling yourself that your motives are impure. The possibility of a book contract was not your deal maker/breaker but more of a: "Well, maybe an MFA will open a door or two and wouldn't that be nice if it did." And you know what? If some traditional publishing editors begin to take you seriously after you have those three initials after your name, then good for you. It won't be as if you hadn't paid your dues.

Margaret said...

I agree with Joanne. Even though I haven't read your books because they are YA, I have heard you read your pieces in class. You also are the best writing instructor I have had. And a great content editor. You are really talented. It is just hard to take all that rejection from the big name publishers. I am grateful that computers have now made it affordable to publish without their suffocating grasp. I had a really successful weekend and know that my book is salable despite what those in the industry say. I am selling books. So are you.
It also isn't unusual as you stretch yourself your writing gets sucky but when you graduate you may discover you really did improve your craft and it was worth the effort.