Image: Andrew Hefter
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?” Well, according to that definition, maybe I’m more than a bit insane. After all, I’ve been writing fiction since I was at least twelve (one of my first short stories was about a leopard named Jeopardy who didn’t care for danger in the least), and now I’m twice that age, and I haven’t published a book or had an enormous amount of success. Yet, here I am, in a graduate program for creative writing, staring at a blank page and willing the words to form in my brain so that I can harvest them. Part of me wants to know, will this pay off? Will I someday finish a book and publish it and, if I do, will people even read it?
But for the moment, I just have to push away those concerns and focus on sounding out this one word on the page and deciding whether it sounds better than this other word, or I have to wrack my brain for the missing piece in the puzzle of the plot I’m trying to piece together.
I’m currently on winter break, and while I have tried to relax for some of it, I’ve felt this enormous amount of pressure (self-imposed) to be productive and create since I have the time for it. Ironically, during the quarter when my job is to write, I have trouble squeezing it into my schedule. Now that I have nothing standing in my way except for a few holiday parties, I find myself making excuses, putting writing off until later, procrastinating. Then, after a few days of avoiding writing, I’ll feel guilty and boomerang back into writing mode, spending hours poring over a story. It’s a familiar pattern that I tend to fall into every time I’m on vacation. I’m not promoting this as a healthy way of writing, by any means, but it seems to work for me, tackling writing in fits and starts.
And while it’s only been one quarter since I started my program (for reference, a quarter at my school is actually 1/3 of the school year, despite its name), I cross my fingers and hope that I’m progressing from where I started. It must be happening, but just so slowly that I can’t see it yet. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
I’m not religious, and maybe it’s the holiday season stuffing my head with corny ideas via holiday rom coms (Oh, Love Actually, you flawed but touching cultural keystone) but all the same, I’m starting to realize that writing is all about faith. Faith that you will find the right words if you just keep searching long enough through tabs of Thesaurus.com. Faith that there really is a way for you to breathe life into the characters you have thought up yourself. Faith that others will read your work and your words will reach out and touch something inside of them, changing them in some subtle way. But most all, faith that, whatever else may happen, writing will be enough to sustain you, a smoldering coal that will warm your hands on the bleakest of winter mornings.
Sure, I’d like to be successful. Wouldn’t we all? But I don’t write because I want to become great. I write for the small moments. Yesterday I was working on a story that I’m revising from workshop, and I was about to bang my head on the keyboard, I had reached such a point of frustration, when out of nowhere, my brain drew a connection between two points in the plot that I couldn’t see before and all of a sudden, I knew where the story would take me next. Am I certain that the story will turn out better in this iteration than the previous one? Not at all. But I have faith that if I keep chipping away at it, then maybe I’ll find something precious at its center. Or maybe I’ll hack at it until there’s nothing left, but my (peace of) mind will be all the better for it.
Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. May your year be filled with lots of good writing.