Monday, September 27, 2010

Keeping the faith

A writing life is busy. I knew that when I signed up for it, but living it is a whole new realization. I sat down almost exactly 7 years ago and started writing my first (completed) novel. This weekend, I chatted back and forth with the marketing department of that novel's publisher, making decisions about the cover. In between those moments, a lot has happened. I've written two trunked novels (they will probably never see the light of day), completed the first draft of a fourth, submitted plenty of short fiction, sold some short fiction, and "minioned" my way through some great editorial projects.

There have been a lot of rejections and setbacks along the way. I've had about 27 rejections this year, which isn't bad--unless I'm having a bad day. Then all those nos start to sting. If you've ever sent words out into the world, you know what that feels like. But my hide is beginning to get thicker. I can even look at some of my pieces and think "that's not very good" without feeling too badly about it. There was a time when I couldn't stand to trunk a piece. It hurt to say that there was no hope or home for something. But now I can look at things and shrug. Sometimes not working is okay.

Part of this detachment comes from my approach to writing short fiction. Some people are short story writers because they are in love with short fiction. Some people only write short stories. And for some people, short stories are just a kind of writing laboratory. That's me. I don't know exactly what I'm going to learn from a piece when I set down to write it. I still don't know what lesson I should have got out of some of my pieces. But I am certain I am learning. I can't say that every story I write is better than the ones before--but I know that I am better. I think I am failing in new and different ways every time I sit down to write. Seven years ago, I couldn't have even imagined the mistakes I make now.

I read something great in an interview with Paolo Bacigalupi that struck a nerve in me today:

For me I actually knew that I had a great deal of talent. I knew that I was a really great writer in high school. My writing teachers were amazing. When I went to college I could write essays and all that stuff—really tight, clean stuff. And having the raw was meaningless, ultimately. It was the willingness to write four novels and fuck them all up and keep going that was the definer. It wasn't the ability at all. Yeah, the willingness to accept failure and not let it stop you, and to not let that define you....

[Quote taken from this interview--Read more:]
I was just like him when I was young. I look back on the short stories I wrote in high school, and they're good, full of fun action and clean dialogue and great description. And my college essays were epic. I couldn't lose when it came to putting words on paper.

But when I was ready to take on writing, I had to learn how to fuck up. Until you've blown it--and blown it badly--you'll never cut through the blithe ease of your talent. You'll never look for new tools or dig down inside you for something more. More meaningful, more powerful, more funny, more sad, more ugly ... whatever. You have to want to look for more.

Because the truth is, words are too shallow on their own. And no matter how hard you work, you're just making busy-work until you break through that superficial surface and feel the currents of meaning swirling beneath yourself.

Will I get there? I don't know. But I've got my ice pick ready.


Miriam S. Forster said...

I'm just going to hang out here and bask in the awesome of this post. *basks*

Wendy Wagner; said...

Well, M, you are the pretty much the queen of the awesome post--I'm still talking about the Spider Theory!