Sunday, April 7, 2013

writing vs. being a writer

I know that I can write. Beyond the fundamentals, I am aware that I am able to string along an attractive cadence from words that otherwise simply describe, and it works. There is a modest number of fiction pieces and poems that have been published in small journals and anthologies to back up this claim. And there have been highly admired industry professionals who have even made such observations as, "it's clear [I] can write [my] ass off." But I often ask myself if it's fair to say I am a writer. I've written quite a bit-- most of which never reaches an audience of any kind. And I have many novels that are simply awaiting that defining revision in order to be ready for submission. But to be a writer...

Like everyone else, I go through phases in which I think I'm a phony. I think I'm wasting my time and that of others when I push my written word creations toward a life of something better than a handwritten journal or a digital file in my computer's lonely folders. I know that I can't stop. There will never be a time when the words will completely dry up. I will always write. But I struggle with the dilemma of whether or not it's worth sharing my work with others.

Tonight, I decided to sift back through some old work of mine. I've been presenting chapters of one novel in a read and critique workshop, and there have been equal parts praise and constructive criticism. The praise is usually for the writing itself-- the sentence structure, word choice, and pacing of scenes. The criticism is for plot points, characters and their relationships (this most of all), and sometimes even dialogue. It's been a great session so far. But I'm looking forward to the next novel I will bring to these fellow writers, and there are several nearly finished pieces from which I can choose. Sometimes I surprise myself. When I go through old writing, I occasionally come across something I don't remember being so well written or complete in its section of the whole. But all of these projects have flaws. This is why a workshop would be extremely helpful.

I think it is in these reflections upon work I have set aside that I see positively that I am a writer. Somehow, these pages are living pieces waiting to become whole, and all I have to do is finish them-- sew them together into a patchwork child of carefully chosen words. Perhaps it is this-- this realization, this drive, this insistence to complete the process-- that makes me a writer. Or perhaps it is simply that I burn with this longing to be something so intensely that it means I truly am.

In the meantime, while I figure all this out, I continue to write, and to revise the old stuff. What else can I possibly do?

Friday, January 25, 2013

solving problems with fiction

We read books to escape. We love to find new worlds and characters that will take us away from our real lives and all the mundane details. But as writers, don't we also write to escape? I know I do. I step away from my tasks and become the narrator in my stories, hiding from those things I know absolutely have to get done around the house or elsewhere in my world. But recently, I tried a different angle.

There is one aspect of my life at the moment that is really nagging for my attention, and I nearly refuse to listen. When I do, it's in tiny increments and the results are negligent. It's extremely lazy and childish of me.

I am avoiding my housecleaning.

I do enough to get by, reaching for new dishes from the cupboards or scrubbing off one spoon from the sink, cleaning the cat box but not the bath tub, and all sorts of other disgusting corner-cutting methods. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I figure writing it down to share will move me to action. And I started this in the most engaging and creative way I could imagine-- I began writing a novel about a woman who starts a quirky housekeeping business in an act of revenge and/or spite toward an ex-boyfriend and their old landlady. It sounds like a wacky plot, I know. But I actually have a true-life story to get the ball rolling. Think King's Thinner for a wannabe domestic goddess.

I have yet to determine if this method will inspire me to actually accomplish the cleaning chores I have been neglecting. But any muse will do, for me. If nothing else, I will get a good novel out of the experience.