As a working writer, it can be a solitary life. Being a total introvert that works for me. But every now and then it’s good to connect. Lately, I’ve been in… I don’t know. I wouldn’t exactly call it a rut, but it’s not a non-rut either. I wrote like crazy in May and June and even submitted for the first time in my life (two different pieces) by the end of June. And then it was like… I was done.
Yes, July was a busy month, but everyone is busy and time is always an issue, so that can’t be a valid reason for not being productive. Maybe I did so much in June in terms of new writing, brainstorming, revising, critiques and submissions – that I needed a break. No, I might have wanted a break, but I needed to keep up with that momentum. Because truthfully, that’s the pace I should always work at. Regardless of the why, I did not write anything beyond my blogs for the entire month of July. By the third week of August, it was the same story. I hate doing nothing, but between a piece I wrote earlier this year that is taunting me (I have no idea what to do with it – like at all, and until I do it will continue to torture me) and my manuscript stalled-out-possibly-for-the-long-haul, and no looming contest or creative deadlines – I wasn’t working on anything.
My husband, Roy, is one of my biggest supporters and he sent me a link for an online Advanced Memoir and Personal Essay course online through a local writer’s workshop. At the time when he sent it to me, I barely paid attention. It was June and I was busy. I was productive. I was writing. But the class didn’t start until the end of August so I hadn’t missed out. And maybe there was something to it after all. When I told Roy I was considering it, he practically jumped into a song-and-dance routine. He was excited for me, while I was just trying to figure out if it would be worth it.
- I must justify the cost.
- I must vet the instructor (I have already vetted the organization sponsoring it).
- I must decide if this course is relevant to me now. Will it help my writing, process and any of the current projects I am working on? I mean if you’re writing a textbook you wouldn’t take a class on how to write a fantasy romance novel. That’s just silly.
- Am I on the level? It was an advanced class and I’m lucky if half the time I feel just mediocre as a writer, because usually I feel like an absolute fraud.
I took care of numbers two and three pretty quickly. I knew this class was absolutely relevant to my writing and current projects, particularly my stalled-out memoir that I want to burn. The instructor was easy enough to check out and he seemed interesting. (I never know how to vet a writer as a success, because I don’t judge success by awards or money – I know too much about how the industry works to get caught up in all that, but the books and pieces he had out there were beautiful, intelligent and engaging – so that’s how I decide.)
So, I took a deep breath and decided to go for it – to hell with numbers one and four. Because, I’m cheap and can’t spend money on myself. I’m all right with spending money on others, but when it comes to myself – forget it. I can have a broken collar bone and just because it’s not something you cast, will refuse to see a doctor (speaking from experience, this really happened). Someone has to force my hand, so my husband did.
And as far as number four, I don’t think those feelings will ever go away. I mean I could have a bestselling book published, and I think I would still consider it luck, or that it says more about my story than it does about my writing. I am my own worst critic, and when I see friends’ and colleagues’ work published, I am humbled and often awestruck, and then I think, “Well fuck, this piece is twenty times better than anything I could ever do. I am such a loser-wannabe-writer.” So, I just have to ignore these thoughts, even when I believe them, because if I focused on them I would never write a damn thing again. And I’m a writer – it’s not something I do, but something I am. I can’t stop writing. It is a need, like oxygen. I would never be able to live without writing, and I have no intentions of doing so.
So, I’m in this writing class, and it’s in the third week (it’s an eight-week course). I still feel like I’m fumbling. Whenever I write a response to our assigned reading, I have my husband read it before I post it. “Is this thoughtful enough? Reflective enough? Am I analyzing this piece as a writer would?” The last question being funny, because my husband is not a writer and does not pretend to be.
The course also workshops a piece from a fellow classmate every week – I still have to sign up for my week – and I’m even worse about that. I don’t have my husband read the workshop pieces, because I wouldn’t want my fellow workshoppers sharing my stuff with their spouses or friends, but is my response too critical? Too fluffy? Does it offer any valuable insight, advice, reactions?
Now that the class is almost halfway over, I am still second-guessing myself in every response. And I still have no idea which piece I am going to workshop. There are three pieces that make the most sense – two that are among my strongest, and the other is that piece that is taunting me. The problem with the first two is that they are the pieces I submitted, so until I hear back I don’t want to know all of the ways I could make it better. Because then I’ll probably freak out. And the last piece is a piece that just isn’t appropriate. It’s about a trauma I experienced when I was younger. And people don’t like reading about violence against children. It is graphic, not in the language, but because it shows what happened without being vague or using niceties that would not be honest when writing about such a piece. So I’m not going to subject my classmates to that. Which kind of sucks, because I can’t show it to anyone who knows me because I’m afraid they won’t be able to get past the fact that it happened to me. I don’t want a reaction to the experience; I want a reaction to my writing about the experience.
So, I have signed up for a week (I just did – three weeks late!) but I am not sure what I am going to workshop. I want the piece to be strong enough that people won’t think I am a complete poser-terrible-what-does-this-person-think-they’re-doing-here-nonwriter, so most of my drafts, which are in their early stages, are out. And I want to choose a piece of my memoir, but when I’m of the belief that I just need to start over from scratch – how is that beneficial to me? Sigh. I have to make the choice soon, and I guess we’ll see what happens.
But at least the class is getting me “out there” and out of my comfort zone. I’m interacting, writing, reading, and giving thoughtful feedback to other peoples’ work. And that’s something. I’m not sure I was in a rut, but whatever it was, I’m out now. This class has helped light a fire under me. And since enrolling in this class, I’ve enrolled in another shorter class that focuses on submitting and navigating the literary journals and magazines, and also came across a contest that I think I’m going to try for. Even if nothing comes of it, and I’m sure nothing will, at least it’s more experience, new writing, and submitting some of my work out there.
I’ve found that the thing that makes the most difference for me is a deadline. Self-imposed deadlines or other unofficial deadlines have no effect on me, but a contest or submission deadline, or a class or workshop deadline – those get me going.
A writer lives and dies by their deadlines, and I guess that’s all I really need in the future to snap me out of any funks. Give me a deadline to make something happen, and it will happen.