The hard, dirty work of starting a novel…

I’m a student again! What a wild and wonderful world! I’ve got two classes under my belt, so I’m pretty much an expert at this whole novel-writing thing.

I kid, of course. What I’m finding – what I’m remembering – is that writing is hard. Thinking about writing, or telling people I’m a Writer, is so much easier than actually sitting down and doing it. I suppose I’d forgotten that, since I’ve had such a long hiatus from putting in any work. I would like to be one of those magical writers who sits down at her computer and taps out a thousand words of genius before breakfast, but the harsh reality is that I’m not. One of the first things we read in class was Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” essay, and let me tell you without exaggeration: mine is garbage.

The class also highlights how little effort I put into my MFA. I think, as a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, I was just not prepared to put in the kind of work that I needed to do. I’m not saying I wish I hadn’t done it – I did learn a lot, I did graduate as a better writer and wouldn’t trade for anything the friends I made and experiences I had in my time there – but I could have gotten so much more out of it, if I’d worked harder. Look at me, barely thirty years old and having all these grown-up revelations!

It wasn’t until after grad school – and an editor pointed it out to me in a rejection letter, of course – that I had my biggest, most necessary light bulb moment: I was a good writer, but not a good storyteller. And what is one without the other, really?

So here I am. Slogging, reading, outlining, working my ass off, trying to undo six years (and then some) of laziness, of letting myself off the hook, of not making writing part of my routine. Working, most of all, to define what shape I want my life to take. I know it involves writing, I hope it involves publishing – and in the meantime, holy cow, I am finally starting, just barely starting, to head in that direction.




Recently I finished two amazing books, both of which made me want to accost everyone I came into contact with, to wave the books in their faces and say, “Tell me you have read this! Go read this right now! I’LL WAIT.”

The first was Marisa Silver’s Mary Coin, which blew my socks off on just about every page. The writing is masterful, the characters are full and vibrant, the story is heartbreaking and wonderful. I loved every second. The second was Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You – and again: masterful, heartbreaking, wonderful. I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved both of these novels.


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