Writing has been hard lately.
I had a difficult semester. I didn’t get a lot in terms of helpful feedback on my work. I was left really disappointed by most of the peeps in my workshop, and by my program in general. Everything I had out for publication was declined, including two pieces that were held for nearly a year by major publications. (Though it’s an honor to have work held, but…you know.) I’m also battling with a publication to which I hold a signed contract that has not yet been fulfilled. So writing is just hard.
It’s hard to find readers. My writing makes people uncomfortable. But I got invited this week to do an online writers group, sort of a last minute thing. The morning of, I looked through my files and found a piece that I thought to be quite good, but that hasn’t been published yet. It’s my struggle—I’ve got cool, well written stuff, but it’s just not getting out there. I printed off all of the submissions from the Facebook group, and almost cried at the caliber. It’s what I’ve been looking for all year and where much of my program lacked. (I have my favorite people. You know who you are). I dutifully marked them all up, with different colors for first and second reads (another thing I largely lost the spirit for last semester), and then scanned them in and sent them back to the authors. During the workshop, my friend set up a video chat on the table so that I could be a giant talking head, a la Sheldon. It was a little hard to figure out a rhythm with them all in Wisconsin and me here, and much harder to interject when I couldn’t use my hands, but I got there. And, quite honestly, I got the single best piece of feedback that I’ve received all year:
“Your writing is powerful, but it’s like punching someone over and over and over and over and never offering them an ice pack.”
I realized immediately that that was what I’ve been missing this year. The ice pack. I’ve been so set on telling a story, just straight forward, no holds barred, telling it, that I forget that the reader needs to know there’s another side. The reader needs to know that I’m not still 16, not still in my 20s, that I’m on the other side.
The problem is, I’m not as confident in myself and my abilities as everyone else seems to be. I still FEEL like a failure. A lot. I do realize that it’s a major accomplishment to pack up all of my things and leave my safety net to move across the country. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I picked the wrong program. It feels like I picked the wrong city. It feels like I am no longer really a writer. I walk dogs all day, and keep getting more and more dog related things to do. I’ve written more this week than I’ve written since the semester ended, which says a lot as I haven’t written much. This time last year, I was cranking out at LEAST 1000 words a day. And now that I’m getting an MFA? Nothing real for months. The workshop this week was the best writing thing that’s happened this year. I need it again.
I’ve been writing my next book all wrong. And to be honest, I’m not sure that I want to write it anymore. I’m worried I don’t have the distance that I need to have from the material in order to shape it properly. In order to give the reader that other side, that ice pack. I don’t know how to fix my book when I don’t know how to be the 31 year old narrator.
I’m worried that I don’t know who I am a writer apart from my experience.
So please, writing gods, send more readers, more workshops, more valuable feedback. Thesis time is coming, and my publication queue is empty.