Monday, January 30, 2012


 Letting myself off the hook for this blog and diving into my writing and reading with every ounce of my energy has been good for me this past two weeks.

I've read four books, finished several drafts of my essay for the semester (analyzing the way backstory can be used successfully to propel a plot rather than stall it out), and heavily revised a short story I wrote last May.

It's been emotionally and mentally exhausting though, which is something I didn't expect. By completely throwing myself in to my short story this past week - six to eight hours a day of it - I felt like I'd dived headfirst into a dark lake and lost sight and breath. I don't know if writing is like that for most writers, and when I write sporadically, juggling life along with it, I seem to bob at the surface more. But when I write, really, obsessively write, I get lost. My heart and head are somewhere else, and that place is usually not a pretty place.

When I left school two weeks ago, I'd lost a good part of my confidence in writing. I lost confidence in my ability to tell what I'd done well and what I hadn't. I'm not saying it's not okay to write stinky stuff. You should. We should all write stuff that's terrible once in a while - stretch out wings, try out new things, attempt something greater than our talents. The thing is... you have to know, when you've finished, that it stinks. And I couldn't.

One thing that's critical as a writer, at least if you want to get better, is to be able to see what you're doing wrong... and know how to fix it.

I can't say that over the last two weeks I've conquered that part. But one thing I've learned about me is that I write for a reason. I usually have something to say... a point to make, a lesson to learn. A theme. Something I want people to think about and mull over.  And that.... is no way to write a story.

A story has to be about the characters. It has to be their story, and not yours. Not even the story you want them to tell. It has to develop without a point to make, or some agenda. Not that, in the end, it can't have a point. But the writing towards that point is the death of a story. It feels heavy handed. It feels preachy. It feels like the characters are being corralled like cattle into a place they may not want to be, and along with them, the reader.

So I rewrote a story I'd written last spring, one which started as an idea rather than as a character with a problem. This time I focused on the character and not the idea.

I like the story I wrote, but I don't trust it. I don't know if it works, and  I don't trust myself to know if it's any good. Not yet.

But I figured out one thing I was doing wrong, and that's a start.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Back from Residency

I meant to write while I was in Oregon, but the hours got away from me, and the times I had to write I realized I couldn't put into words what I wanted to say.

I feel that way now. That there really aren't the words to explain what happened there.

I'm half-way through this program, but not nearly where I want to be. My writing lacks focus, lacks beautiful words and startling language. Lacks great ideas and simple significance. I make all the mistakes I know not to, and then can't even see that I've made them. I've read 48 books, but it never seems like enough.

The craft talks send my mind spinning. I can see all the possible ways to implement ideas into my writing, but then can't seem to actually do it, or at least not do it well.

I feel like I need to work harder. Work longer. Produce more work. Make that work better.

It's good, sometimes, to have that fire lit underneath you. To be surrounded with people better than you. One of my workshop leaders, Laura Hendrie, told us to to immerse ourselves in excellence. "Read good works so you know what good writing is. If you read things better than you are, you set the bar higher than where you are."

So that's where I am heading into my essay semester, the prelude to my thesis semester. I am, for the moment, putting my novel as my side project and concurrently working on new material. I am working with Pete Fromm this semester, and beyond thrilled about that. Before beginning this program, his novels were the first I read, and I fell in love with both the stories and the writing. I had the pleasure at residency to read more of his work, and it's the kind of writing you just want to sit inside and absorb. He has the reputation of being a tough advisor – not brutal, but honest and demanding – and I really want that at this point. I anticipate the next months being difficult, but in that growing, stretching, learning kind of way I'm craving.

In all the years I've been at this blog, I've never taken an official blog break, but over the past year my posts have definitely thinned. I wish I could be here more often, be at your blogs, emailing all of you dear friends and encouraging you. But for the next months, I will probably be tucking in, head down, trying to find my way to that place I want to be. I'll be thinking of you, and hoping you find your way there yourselves.