Tag Archives: being a writer

Faith

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Blank page: could be good, could be very very bad. Coffee could be spiked…it’s all good.

Over an impromptu coffee with one of my writing teachers yesterday, I poured my heart out about The Novel and its 1) lack of direction, 2) lack of completion and my general mental illness regarding same.

My teacher, a wise and beautiful woman, nodded knowingly.

“Yes.  It’s the nature of the beast,” she said (or something to that effect).  “Why do you think so many writers off themselves or drink themselves into oblivion on a regular basis?  Being a writer is lonely, hard, thankless, and only undertaken by those who are mentally ill to start with.” (Or something to that effect).

A dark cloud passed over our cafe magnifying the sense of Gloom.

Instead of walking out of there and popping into the Kilt and Dagger next door (a not-so-charming pub perfect for a disconsolate sort), I walked to my car feeling strangely buoyant.

Yes, it’s true my mental instability knows no bounds but I think what my friend did was renew my faith.

I (finally) understood that having faith doesn’t mean that some days aren’t gonna suck.  Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t feel insecure or lost. Having faith is understanding that there are sucky, bad, bitch-worthy days – sometimes these days stretch into weeks and months.  You carry on because you know somehow that this hard, lonely path is the one you were meant to be on – no matter what.  You have to recognize that insecurities and low points are are normal.  It is ok.  Writers are blessed with permission to be insecure, unstable, self-doubting, and cranky – how awesome is that!

I’m not insane.  I’m a writer.  Well, ok I might be a little bit insane but…whatever.

Do gold miners walk into the hills and see bands of polished, gleaming metal on the surface?  No, they do not.  They have to dig through miles of muck and stone to find the good stuff.  Writers are different – we lay down the miles and miles of muck and then dig back through it looking for a nugget that we may have inadvertently written.  How many times have I sifted through page after page of dreck, thinking that the bottle of scotch in the corner really needs draining when suddenly, there:  a sentence, a turn of phrase, or a passage – a nugget of something golden.

Writing is thankless, hard, decidedly un-rewarding.  It’s lonely.  No one understands why we do what we do when the chances of winning the lottery seem to far outweigh the chances of getting published.  Yes, writers are a strange breed.

We are paragons of faith.

Fifty Shades of Okay

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I applied to a summer writing program yesterday.  I feel relatively sure I won’t get in  – especially after I read their FAQ page.  The answer to the question”what writing level is accepted?” puzzled me.  ALthough they say that they’ve taken outright beginners as well as published authors, the administrators said they do not usually work with “mass market work.”

What the hell does that mean?  They want to work with authors that no one will ever read? Call me crazy but it sounds a bit…limiting.  Are mere mortals like myself not to apply?  Or did I misunderstand the answer?  What kind of writing is good enough?  It’s a question nearly impossible to answer.

There is nothing like exceptional prose – the writing flows, the story captivates, evoking emotional responses.  As a writer, to hit those notes is a feeling unlike any other.  I experienced something akin to a “runners high” once when a teacher described my prose as “lyrical.” But lesser praise is fine.  “Very good” or  nicely done” can assure a good night’s sleep.  “It ain’t dreck” is reassuring too.  But am I good enough?  If I poll three different readers, I might get three different answers.

My answer?  No.  I will never be good enough.  Or, I will never stop trying to be better.

What constitutes “good writing” and a “good read” is incredibly subjective, as different and diverse as the shades of gray. One man’s gun-metal is another man’s pewter.  Some think gray an incredibly versatile colour, almost magical in its ability to change hue with changing light.  Others find it dull and dreary.  In a writer’s world, whether a manuscript is considered magical or dreary is for someone else to decide.  Two editors might yield two different decisions.

It has always been so and yet sometimes it seems anything can get published.  If my cat wrote something that was on trend, she might very well get published though she’d be hard pressed to use the word cat in a sentence correctly.  Can I blame the workshop admission people for having high standards when standards might be falling?

A few years ago, following in Twilight‘s wake, if your story contained angst-ridden, sexually repressed and impossibly good looking vampires, you were in.  After The Da Vinci Code, if you wrote about a)the Vatican b)Templars c)riddles hidden in the Holy Land that could only be solved by a boring Ivy League professor, you were in.  Stay tuned for a glut of  stories about uber-wealthy, sexually twisted men who deep down just want to be loved but who are, in the meantime, ok with having page after page of steamy sex.

All someone like me can do is strive to craft the best stories possible.  Trust me, I labour over every word.   I do not chase mediocrity as if it were the ice cream truck nor am I fond of thin, exclusive air.

To my craft I am: Careful. Passionate. Thoughtful. Devoted.  I think workshops should want writers like me.

 

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright…If I Remember to Breathe

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Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale. Exhale.

You’d think something that is supposed to work automatically would be easier but sometimes it just isn’t.  I find myself in a constant state of oxygen deprivation lately.  Emergency measures might just be in order.  First, a wee pep-talk.

  • First and foremost, DON’T GIVE UP!  DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GIVING UP!  YOU CAN DO THIS!  YOU CAN MAKE THIS WORK, DAMMIT!  NOW GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE OVEN AND WRITE!  (Besides, it’s electric.)
  • Everything will work out.  You are supposed to be doing this.  Writing is why you are here.
  • Yes, it is hard.  It is devastatingly lonesome and depressing and sometimes it feels as though giants are Irish dancing on your heart.  This is normal.
  • You are not starving.  Yes, you are partially buried under increasingly high mountains of debt which the Canadian banking system advises that you really shouldn’t do but…somehow, it will all be ok.  I don’t know exactly how it will be ok but it will.
  • Go forth and do something that really scares the shit out of you.  Trust me, if you survive, you’ll feel much better.
  • Write, write, write, and then when you think you’ve utterly exhausted every word, every comma, every syllable that could possibly be extracted from your overheated brain, write some more.
  • Cry your eyes out if you must, then eat some ice cream, sit in the sun for a bit…then get back to it.

Yesterday was a Bad Day.  I couldn’t breathe all day; my chest simply wouldn’t rise, my lungs refused to expand.  Today is better but I’m thinking it’s only the weather.  I’m still terrified.  Terrified of failure, poverty, the disdain of my loved ones, the shame of the aforementioned failure.  I’m not alone.  Every writer has, at some point, felt just as I do.  The ones who haven’t?  I give myself permission to hate them very, very much.

Yesterday I trolled every single job website in the world, multiple times.  The fact of the matter is life would be a whole lot easier.  No, wait.  Less stressful.  No, that’s not true either.  Hmmmm…less guilt-infused.  Yes, that’s it.  Life would be less guilt-infused if I was bringing in a steady flow of pesos.

I feel as though I’m standing outside a door – it’s my door – but I can’t figure out how to open it.  I know that, on the other side of this door, is a bright, fulfilling future as a writer.  Notice I didn’t say “wealthy” or even “solvent” – I’m not delusional.  Semi-regular compensation would be a step in the right direction, would open the door a crack and give me something that I am sorely lacking lately:  Hope.

I pound on the door until my fists are bruised.  I kick it and try to pick the lock.  What am I missing?  What am I doing wrong?  What if it’s the wrong door?  See why I needed that pep talk above?

So, today with the uber-nice weather and while my veins are still humming with caffeine, I’m going to barrage the door with (sorry for the violence) a flurry of machine-gun fire.  I’m going to submit finished stories to literary journals, I’m going to submit an essay to a magazine.  I’m going to work on The Novel before I run out of ammo.  And, I’m going to do something that scares the shit out of me:  I’m going to deliver more resumes to people.  Oh, and somewhere in there I’m going to do the grocery shopping.