Category: Stories/Novels

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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What’s new?

I hate it when people ask me, “what’s new?” It’s lazy questioning, like, “tell me about yourself.” What do you say to that? Even when I do have news I always say, “oh, nothing,” because it’s easier than saying, “well, you know, I’m working on a lot of different projects at work – jeez oh man, that other girl messed up the bills GOOD and I had to unravel all of her work, which took me forever, and also there’s this new restaurant that I want to check out and my cat has been barfing a lot, which doesn’t seem normal, but everything else about her is business as usual so I don’t know how worried I should be, and I’m working on a story that has a lot of sex scenes and I’m debating whether I can say penis and still have it be sexy, or if I should say cock or dick, or if that would take it too smutty, and also I’m eating a lot of canned vegetables because the fresh ones are so expensive and we have no money – oh, but the other day I cashed in all my change at CoinStar and got $18! I bought gas! How cool is that!”

Which is just a long, boring way of saying, “oh, nothing.” And who cares. Really – who cares?

The good news is that this is my space and I can be as boring as I want to be and no one has to care except me a year later when I check back on old entries and think, “oh so that’s what I was up to.” The better news is – I do actually have things going on right now, writing-wise.

First of all, I’ve been writing a lot, mostly little snatched moments here and there but actual full-length stories are coming out of it. I worked on a piece last week that was supposed to be about my neighborhood, a love story between me and the city of Pittsburgh, but it turned into something completely different. It turned into a story about a young woman who feels trapped and overwhelmed and questions her choices and wants to escape her life. I stopped short of naming her Cate, at least. And she has a shitty boyfriend – Joe, of course, is not a shitty boyfriend, in case anyone wants to accuse me of writing non-fiction.

I’m also working on a chapbook MS – well, two, but one is being published for sure, which I’m pretty geeked about. Obviously you’ll have to buy the book and support the press if you want to know more. The stories are not about young women who feel trapped and overwhelmed and question their choices and want to escape their lives. I mean, not all of them.

I finally joined a workshop group! It’s not completely in-line with my needs, but it’s awesome and it feels good to read and think about what other people are writing.

I’m reading like a fiend. I discovered Anita Shreve and I am devouring book after book after book.

I haven’t been doing much (ok, fine, any) submitting. In my defense, 2011 has barely gotten started. Also in my defense, I’m entering a piece in a contest, so that’s something. I have lots of rough stories that need some editing and revising and polish and then I’ll have a whole fleet to unleash on the world. Just wait!

I turned 26. I got a job with benefits. I have, if not a plan, at least an idea. I don’t yet feel like a full adult, but damn if I don’t feel like a writer.

And that’s what’s new.