This week, I had the horrific experience of writing my first post for the MFA blog, The MFA Years. I am a contributor, and this is one of those amazing experiences that just sort of fell into my lap because I happened to be on MFA Draft '14 at the right place at the right time.
So obviously I didn't want to screw it up.
We were supposed to introduce ourselves, give the audience a taste as to who we were and what we were about. It was an open-ended question that could lead us into talking about applications, writing history, or our pet cats. Seeing as I don't have cats and the application process is an awful nightmarish blur, I opted for the story I thought was most important to my growth as a writer.
How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy science fiction writing.
This piece can be found here. I added pictures from my own personal life, I talked about a personal conversation I had with my professor, I opened up about my grandmother and my weird quirks as a child. I even touched on my elitism in college. While none of this stuff was that hardcore and shouldn't have given me a panic attack, I stayed up until about 3 a.m. reading it and re-reading it, picking over every photograph to make sure my real name wasn't in there, that I didn't say anything bad about anyone, and trying not to anger the entire literary fiction world.
The piece was not controversial. I'm just a sissy.
I guess this is why I cannot write autobiographical things. I tried, for a class entitled Autobiography. I wrote all about my time in the big city and the different people I'd met, but I never published it. I never showed it to anyone who wasn't my professor, and I tried to distance myself from it.
I know other people have this anxiety. We live in an age that anything written on the internet or in a magazine can easily be found by anyone for the next however many hundreds of years that internet exists. This means that some stupid Facebook rant I wrote in 2006 is still very much visible to me and anyone who is interested enough in my Facebook to spelunk through eight years of selfies to find that on December 2, I was very angry at "You Know Who You Are" for disagreeing with "Whatever Stupid Politics I was Into At the Time!"
So a lot of us have become a little skittish about sharing with the class.
I've read so much memoir lately, and they're all about women who overcame these gigantic odds through different difficult situations, and I just think, "I know everything about you, and I've never met you." What great courage that they stand up and are sometimes the first to say, "This thing that we aren't talking about? It's happening. It's happening to a lot of us."
I don't think I'll ever be that brave.
I watched John Leguizamo the other night, and he discusses his father's lawsuit against him for his autobiographical one-man show. I just thought about my own dad, tearing up because of me sharing something that was between me and him, and I just can't do that. I think about my mom, my ex-best friend, my ex-boyfriends, my old teachers, my college roommates, my professors, that one guy on the bus ... they're all with me and peering over my shoulder when I write about them. I even worry about my grandma, who is now dead and gone. I put her picture up on my blog a few months ago and told her story. I really battled about doing that. Who was I to talk about her? Who was I to tell her story when I hadn't been there or when I just had one perspective?
Like I said, memoir takes a lot of courage. Any one of us can sit down and make up stories and share them with each other. There's a blanket of comfort that we are not those people, we did not make those decisions, we did not lose real friends or betray them or make other people hurt. We made no mistakes. Because those people are fiction, and we just made them up.
I salute the memoirists. You stand up and shout out into the void your secrets and your truths, and other people shout back. You share your most valuable stories and most loved family and friends so we may learn something or so we don't feel so alone. While we all huddle in our own little caves, protected from scrutiny and judgment, you stand out in the storm and take it, just so we know there's someone out there for us.
So thank you. Please keep writing. And maybe someday I'll learn from you how to stand out in the rain.
A few weeks ago, Alex and I took a trip to Disney World.
I hadn't been there since I was like a year old, so my memory is fuzzy when it comes to the finer points of Disney travel.
For some reason, I assumed that the entirety of Winter Gardens, etc., would be just as beautiful as the Disney property. In my true naive fashion, I assumed that Florida's Welcome Sign was a cardboard set of Mouse Ears that said, "WELCOME, Y'ALL."
Not the case.
Now for those of you who have never been to Disney, I'll paint this picture for you. On the way to the park, you go down this highway that is lined shoulder-to-shoulder with the skeeziest, most awful stores imaginable. For some pictures of the skeeze and just how awful one's experience can be, check this blog entry from a Disney traveling blog. Big garish wizard heads, ugly plastic giraffes the size of apartment complexes, and big yellow signs reading CHEAP TICKETS CHEAP TICKETS.
Leeches flocked to the gates of Disney.
This was even sadder when we had to drive through it again to get back to the hotel. It was sad, because for those of you who haven't gone to Disney, the Magic Kingdom re-instills your faith in humanity. Cast Members are paid next to nothing, but they still work at the park because they believe in Disney's message of hope and kindness. The Imagineers believe in creating a home we all miss but never really knew. The whole resort revolves around pushing themselves so hard that you as a well-paying guest can come in and really get whisked away to a dream world.
There is a great give-and-take in the business of Disney World. You pay the money, they give you what you paid for. They are honest and true and classy when it comes to their product, and they uphold everyone on property to that same standard.
The highway outside does not. And the realization that people would set up faux ticket shops in the shadows of such a magical place just made me sad again. As soon as we exited the resort property, we were slapped in the face once more by cynicism, deceit, and all around shadiness.
I guess what I learned from this experience is how to carry my own "business" in the world. For anyone with a twitter account, you know there are legitimate people out there who try their best to gain followers, connect with other writers, and share their thoughts on a wonderful social media platform. Then there are others who don't know how to conduct their business. They spam you with automatic DMs, they promote their books with enough hashtags to break the pound sign on their keyboards, and they buy followers.
If you are a writer, be Disney World. Don't be the creepy plastic wizard store five feet from Disney. Believe in yourself, hold your head high, and conduct your business with class. People will recognize it, and people will follow you and buy your product.
I know a lot of us are still learning, and I think we shouldn't be hard on ourselves when we mess up, but we need to push forward to make our social media persona as good as possible. Let's all help each other out, let's all learn from each other, and let's be the good in the world.
Stay classy, internet.
I started writing one of my books in 1999. While other books have been completed, I am still revising this particular manuscript even today.
You have probably been in a similar position with something you’ve written or are still writing or will always be writing. You have your friends go from being excited about your magnum opus to being sad because they think you’re stuck like a crazy person in a padded room. “You think maybe you can send it off now? No? Okay.”
But hey, how long did it take to write Gone with the Wind? A long time; ten years to be exact. So maybe sometimes it takes a while to get something right.
But hey, how long can you wait until the earth has passed on and your book is no longer relevant? So maybe you need to just give up or get it out there.
The thing about writing is that there’s no one sitting there telling you when it’s ready. There’s no real deadline except for the one you set for yourself. So you can keep pushing it back. You keep learning, so your manuscript can keep growing, right?
When is it time to let go? That’s what we’re going to focus on today. In answering this question, maybe you should first answer these questions:
Why am I still writing this book?
Do you still get something out of writing this book? There is definitely a script or two that I just gave up on because it didn’t matter to me or the world anymore. One of these was a play that was a thinly-veiled metaphor for the 2008 Election (and also my pining after a young man who broke up with me a month prior to me writing said play). But a year ago, I went and looked back at this poor play and decided never to work on it again. Why? Well, because I can barely remember what that heartbreaker looks like, and the 2008 Election was in 2008. So I’m not really getting anything out of it, and neither would the world. It’s best to let it lie and let go.
However, the best manuscripts are timeless, to both ourselves and the world. Genres and hot-topics come and go, but we will always enjoy reading something like Lovely Bones or The Color Purple. Pieces about the universal human condition have a little longer shelf life. But don't ride on that one comforting fact; if the reason you're still writing this book is because you're scared, you need to let it flutter its wings and fly.
Is it worth it?
Do you love this book enough to keep going? If you’ve grown a lot as a writer over the years, you may have to start over from scratch. Are you willing to do that to make it the best it can be? Or is it best to just let it be what it is? I know this is an issue for a lot of graduate students who grow exponentially after starting their studies. Honestly, I have no answer. I've revised many an old manuscript if I love it enough, but that brings us back to the question at hand. Is it worth it?
Is the clock ticking?
Ah, the shelf life again. If you were writing a vampire novel, your ship has sailed by this point. Breaking Dawn II premiered two years ago, and how many successful vampire movies have there been since? Even the dystopian schooner is breaking off in the distance. We’re now looking at alternative historical novels. So are you running out of time? Is the pot boiling over and the chicken over cooking? Is the insert another colloquialism here? If so, then maybe it’s just time to let it breathe and have agents see it before the agents don’t want to see it anymore?
Why haven’t you sent it off yet?
Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Your manuscript is never going to be what you want it to be. Are you holding your manuscript hostage because it has holes and issues you need to fix … or are you just scared? If you’re just scared, get over it and just send it out!
If you still believe in a project, don’t give up on it. But make sure that you’re willing to put in those ten years to make it what it should be. And if you lose interest, it’s totally okay to let go. Sometimes we have projects that just need to die. Sometimes projects are nothing more than stepping stones to better projects.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent on a manuscript? When do you think it’s time to quit? When do you think it’s time to send?
What is this?
Dawson is a writer. This is her blog. In it, you shall read about reading. And writing. And cheeseburgers. Sometimes there are tangents. Huzzah.