Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What If I Stop Writing?

I got my BA in Creative Writing (Fiction). After graduation, I found a decent office job and my writing effectively ceased. In fact, I've never written fiction since, except for the occasional narrative prose poem. Now it's 10 years later. I'm facing graduation and the job market and wondering How do I keep this momentum?

So I was reading Salon today and came across a letter to Cary Tennis that addresses my fear. Mr. Tennis makes some valid points in answer to the writer who is no longer writing nine months after graduation from a Masters program. Develop a daily writing practice. Suspend goals and closure--write because you want to, write for no reason at all. Take a workshop. He even mentions The Artist's Way, that mid-90s bible for blocked woo-woo writers that, indeed, I read and took to heart way back when. Did it help? No.

I think the problem is in the gap between an awareness that a daily writing practice is necessary and the actual creation of a daily writing practice. When you're working an 8-hour day, it is really difficult to come home and write or wake up early and write. Not impossible. Wallace Stevens did it. Doc Williams did it. But I'm no Wallace Stevens. It has occurred to me to get a part time job just until I can finish my manuscript. But it's really difficult to pay the bills that way. And when will I be "finished" with my manuscript? When it gets published? When I start sending it out with hopes of publishing it?

Add to that the anxiety of writing. The constant need for affirmation, which dries up after one leaves the supportive atmosphere of a program. There are no more workshop buddies, no more professors to encourage you to keep working. All of a sudden, one has to affirm oneself, constantly. That sort of self-actualization is hard to maintain when the rejections keep rolling in.

I am well aware that the only way to keep writing is to simply keep writing. Maybe I have developed enough confidence by now to believe that my writing is worthwhile and that it matters more than vegetating in front of the television after a long day of work. I also know that very few of the writers from my MA program still write regularly, and those do so because they went on to MFA programs. The others have become bogged down in the daily grind of making a living. On the other hand, there are enough books, articles, blogs, and sundry other media being published every year to indicate that some people must have found a way to do it.

One of my instructors here at UM has suggested that the single most important thing one can do in an MFA program is find a couple of good readers one trusts and maintain contact with them after the program. Keep sending them work and ask for feedback. Offer the same help to them. I think this is sound advice. It will certainly be the primary strategy in my plan of attack.

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