Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Learning Lessons - Taking Lumps

Here we are again.  Fall in Juneau.  That dreaded span of months between the hope of summer sun and the hope of winter snow when all that we can look forward to is a break in the perpetual wet and grey.

Today is one of those days.  Clear and bright in the best of ways.

Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s always been the weather, but fall is a difficult time for me, including in my writing.  But finally, after three years of an MFA program, I’m starting to see a pattern.

This is my third and final year (THESIS YEAR) and, as would be expected, total panic has set in.  But this year, the panic is feeling familiar.  I realized two days ago that my last month and a half of writing has been extremely similar to what happened with my writing in Fall of 2010 and Fall of 2009.  Mainly, that I have been torturing myself by writing the same scenes (or lack of scenes) over and over again without actually moving.

In Fall of 2009 I thought that there was no way I was ever going to write anything good and that I probably wouldn’t finish my first year of the program.  Fall of 2010 I thought that there was no way I would even come close to moving my novel forward, it would never be a novel, just a pitiful collection of mismatched scenes.  Both falls were terrible periods of punishing repetition, no climbing word or pages counts.

But then, in the following Winter/Springs there were major surges.  Last Spring I wrote what I believe to be some of the best work I’ve ever put on paper.  Pages and pages, six, seven, eight pages a day, cramping my hands.

So here I am, complaining to every person within earshot about how miserable I am.  How much the book sucks.  How much I hate it.  How frustrated I am.  How terrible the writing is.  How much I just want to throw the whole thing away, or maybe burn it, or shred it, or use it for papier-mâché piñatas, or weigh it down with bricks and throw it into the center of Lynn Canal.

And then I realized that this has happened before.

I turned back through the pages and realized that even though I was writing the same chapter over and over and over again from scratch, that I had learned something about my book.  I had learned about where I was writing about and who I was writing about.

I’m still terrified.  Still convinced that I no longer know what my book is about.  Still don’t know what is going to happen.

But in the middle of that frantic drowning, it seems like maybe there’s a ray of hope.  That maybe this is part of my process.  And maybe, just maybe, I should stop complaining, stop worrying, and start breathing again.

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