Submitted with my application to a 7-month writing fellowship in Provincetown. Will know by April if I got in! Will keep you guys posted.
Sketch of Myself as a Writer
I don’t think of myself as a good writer. I’ve tried, but it is just too hard to compare myself to other writers and decide on a proper adjective. I do know this: there are many times a month when I must write, and so I do.
I studied writing as an undergraduate. I flaunted my incomprehensible poetry at smoky readings and even won a departmental award for a poem with anachronistic words in it like “discomfit.” The rewards for writing things I don’t really mean have been great, especially this last year in the business sector.
The real writing I do seems to be a cry to myself, or to the silence. It comes in metered verse sometimes, and other times in passages of lyrical prose that somehow miraculously appear with a plot. Sometimes these short stories want to become longer and longer until I think they should be called novellas, or even novels. But it’s when I start with the naming that things go bad.
How does a person talk about their writing?
Once I had a meeting with Douglas Glover, the Canadian author, during his office hours. I was taking a graduate fiction writing course with him. He liked my story. That alone felt like something to base a future on. He asked me about a certain moment when the main character has come home and finds his depressed friend on the roof in the icy rain. He wanted to know how I come up with that decision.
I didn’t know. I was 23.
But even now, six years later, what can I say? A story opens before me like an unfolding picture book. My eyes see it and my brain and heart make words for the seeing and the feeling of the seeing. Jack was on the roof when Phil got home. There was just no other way it could have been. It had inevitability.
But it is easy to write a 20-page short story for a class and follow the muse from the first word to the last.
What has been hard is writing a novel. A serious novel that is going to be “my” novel, that I will ostensibly finally write to begin my real career as a real novelist.
It has been hard to make choices. To write out of reason, out of a disciplined structure, to write with a mind to my audience and not just my self-indulgence. It is hard to know when to bob and when to weave, when to let the mind slope sideways and let the roll of language chug you forward from sheer momentum…or when you must choose every word with care, like someone with a new language.
I am on my lap top every day. I don’t write creatively every day, but I write something almost every day. I have 1,500 poems tucked away in numbered folders and dozens of short stories, a handful of which have been published…mostly because I traded them for nothing but contributors copies. It doesn’t matter to me. I am going to write today and tomorrow no matter if I make some honorarium or not for it.
But the problem is just the way I see it, turning back on myself too often, alone, working in offices, seeing the slush pile at amazon.com grow higher and higher. Going back to Morrison and Tolstoy and Winterson and Foster Wallace and Faulkner and asking in my heart what it is I must do to access the parts of me that are fearless and wild, and then corral them into something resembling a novel. Linear or nonlinear, a part of the story is told through the structure. The structure must have its own logic. That’s where I get sweaty.
But, despite this, I believe I have the potential to be a good writer. I need only a few things, really:
I need to not have a TV.
I need to have limited access to internet.
I need books that are real books.
I need to believe, even amid absurdity, even the many days when I hate this thing I am writing, that it is imperative. Even the days I tell myself this is the best I have done so far and is still so lacking, I need encouragement from others who know what it means to struggle in this way. I have a couple friends who understand this need.
I write alone and do my best thinking alone. At the same time, I like having a sense of camaraderie, of setting, even if there is little communication, I like just knowing that the people around me are on similar treks. That’s why I like to do some of my work in cafes.
Ultimately, though, I do my best writing after midnight, when I have exhausted the easy excuses and noises and need to see if out in all the chaos, some words are emerging.