I originally started this blog to write about writing, and TV, and disability issues, and science, and music but I also struggle with blogging. Sometimes it feels more like a duty than something I enjoy doing. That’s especially true when I’m so busy with school and my job, and just trying to find time to write is a real challenge.
This year, I set a goal to write at least 4 days a week for at least an hour. That doesn’t add up to a lot, just 4 hours a week, and yet it’s still been difficult to find that time. Most weeks, I’ve met that goal, but there’ve been a few weeks I didn’t. There have been lots of weeks, like this last one, where I spent as much time writing as I would on a full-time job.
And in a certain way, it’s still there. I’m still excited about the project and had a great time talking about it yesterday with the friend who my character Lenne is based on. But I also experienced the other side of the creative process, the doubt and self-loathing, the coming down off the drug-like high of creating.
The crash came along with writing the end of the first draft of the screenplay. Maybe it was just the fact that the initial mad dash creative side of the project was over. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel excited about this project so much as terrified.
Holy fucking roller coaster, Batman. And the ride isn’t over.
The last two weeks have been a completely new kind of writing experience for me. It feels a little weird to be able to say that at 33 years old, especially considering I was writing little stories since, like, first grade. But it’s true.
It was so intense. It felt kinda like how I imagine being manic might feel. It felt like being in love. It felt like being on reeeeeeeally good drugs. It was all rushing and inspiration and not being able to sleep and waking up early with ideas and thoughts of how to work parts of it together. And it was a lot, lot, lot of writing.
Here’s what happened. For my university, there is a requirement called a senior capstone. I’ve resisted it as long as I could, putting it off term after term, imagining the anonymous diatribes I wanted to write against the requirement in the school paper as if that could somehow exempt me from having to take a capstone class. But this winter, I had to sign up, so I picked Research Experience for Science Majors, hoping to, you know, get some research experience.
This morning, I made some oatmeal and some jasmine tea, and played around on the internet some. Then I got an email from Creative Nonfiction, an awesome magazine that comes out 4 times a year and often features a theme for the issue. The theme I submitted to? “Mistakes.”
At first it looked like the typical email. Thank you for submitting your work to us. We received over 800 submissions, you get the point. I only have one piece of writing that’s still out there, waiting for a response, and when I saw this email and read the first few lines, I thought, here it is, another email rejection letter. I almost expected it. The piece I submitted to this particular contest was experimental, with an unusual structure. And I hadn’t had a ton of time to write it.
But then I kept reading. And the email said that about 10% of the original submissions for the contest were still being considered, and mine was among them!
As I mentioned in my first post, Foraging Into the Blogosphere, I’m partially justifying my obsession with the TV show Breaking Bad because it offers so much insight on good writing, insight that I think writers of all different types of stories–fiction, non-fiction, screen, prose–can apply towards their work. Most of my posts have been about either Breaking Bad or Writing, and I’m hoping these posts can merge the two topics, and will be applicable whether or not you watch or like the show.
Not long after getting into Breaking Bad, I was typing up some of my old writing from longhand into Word. It was memoir material I had written while still way too close to the subject matter, and had never edited, just raw “shitty first draft” material. And it was terrible! I couldn’t believe how repetitive, self-indulgent, and just plain MESSY it was. It was confusing even to me, and I had written it and lived it. What was I trying to get at? I couldn’t tell. And I was not in control of the writing as an author should be.
My first thought was along of the lines of, “Writing quality wise, this is equivalent to Private Practice, and I want to strive for Breaking Bad.” Now, there are two things I want to clarify here. One is that I don’t really think I’ll reach BrBa level, but it’s nice to have a goal like that, one that will push you beyond your usual limits, your current perception of your abilities. And it may not be BrBa for every writer, but I think it’s important to find that thing, whether it is a book, a poem, a TV show, a movie, a song, something that inspires you with its genius and is so brilliantly written that it provides a new, high standard to strive for.
I’m so glad I went, too. I almost didn’t. I haven’t really written much in awhile, and have felt like work takes over my life. But I had put in for the time off back in April or something, so I said what the hell and signed up. I thought if nothing else, at least I’d have a few days away. The festival was held at Moran State Park which is a good drive from my place, so I stayed overnight in one of the cabins during the festival.
The festival blew my expectations out of the water! The instructors were EXCELLENT! A lot of them teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts which has a low-residency MFA writing program. In the mornings, we had small workshop groups. I chose the non-fiction track, and so each morning, our small group gathered to very thoroughly discuss our work. Each of us had to submit a ten-page sample of our writing before the festival, so we spent considerable time each morning, working with a few people’s work each day. It was great. I forgot how great it is, not only to get feedback on your own work, but to work as a group on others’ stories. You learn so much. I felt so engaged, like my inner artist was engaged in a way it hasn’t been in so long. I was exercising my writing muscles. It was great even to go over some of the basics of story arc and point of view. I didn’t realize I was so hungry for this sort of thing. But oh was I ever! It fed my soul, and my soul has been a bit starving as of late.