Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to school edition: Lessons learned

The UW has been WILDLY UNDISCIPLINED. Remarkably, breathtakingly so. Downright delinquent, my friends. And for that she is sorry. Her best excuse she can offer you is: life.

Sometimes life happens. Sometimes several of your close friends have babies, move to new cities, start chemo, start new jobs, leave old jobs, leave the country, and sometimes these things all happen within a six week period. This has been one of those sometimes. The UW would like to think, or better yet proclaim, she is one of those people who can keep a set routine when life introduces chaos. She is not. When things get nutty she stockpiles lean cuisines and non-wrinkle shirts so she can still feed herself and come into work not looking like she dove headfirst into her laundry basket and shimmied out an outfit.  Her multitasking skills extend only so far as snacking while watching television (for which she could compete for Olympic Gold).  So she has not juggled, she has halted.  A real writer, arguably, would still find a way to write.  This may be why you are not reading this post on the New York Times.  But for a lowly humble blogger, life can still get in the way.

She is back though (announced for at least the third time since starting this blog less than a year ago)!  Previously on The Undisciplned Writer, our heroine broke up with fiction in favor of a summer fling with personal essay writing, got rejected a trillion times (ok, 5), and then tried to get back on the horse (but kinda instead just watched the horse across the pasture while emptying her DVR of 'Burn Notice' episodes). And now she is starting over yet again.

It has become apparent to the UW, during her 'doing creative stuff' hiatus, that maybe her compass has been skewed incorrectly.  After grad school, she felt significant pressure (from herself only) to find a way to get published.  Mostly to justify why she spent money and nights away from her couch & handsome husband for three years, and because in idle chit chat people tend to ask you what you plan to do with your MFA degree.  So she tried to write with the specific intent to get published, tailoring work to what was winning contests, submission queues, and general attention.  This effort produced a lot of very mediocre work and an embarassingly bad piece about cats.  Horrifically bad, guys.  A lesson learned.

Recently the UW has started reading 'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout (yes, Franzen is still on hold).  And she has fallen quite head over heels for this book.  Not just because it is well written and about her home state for which she will always hold a very deep fondness, but because it is exactly the type of story and writing she would love to do.  The UW has read lots of amazing books and been moved for sure, but often felt it was not something she could have ever dreamed up, let alone written.  This book, while clearly created by a FAR more capable author than the UW, somehow feels possible.  It is a very lovely feeling.  And has reminded the UW that there is tremendous value in just the act of reading and writing something that you yourself really enjoy.  And that writing a story whose process makes the UW as happy as as reading this book would be a very noble and worthy pursuit, even if no one ever publishes it.  And that maybe her aim should be more focused around writing things that excite her that may go nowhere, than bitchy crap about cats in hopes that it flashes across some snarky hipster's newsfeed for 20 seconds and maybe they read (and judge) it.

Things in the UW's life are shifting, outside of writing and working and eating and sleeping and watching "Parks & Rec" reruns.  It is a very wonderful shift, but has made her realize there is no great need for the fame and fortune that she kinda deep down has wanted since she was rehearsing award acceptance speeches into the hallway mirror she could barely see into on her tippy toes.  That there is just as much value to a quiet, simple, and unexamined by others life.  So she will still write (and blog), and now wait until she has written something she is proud of and believes in before she throws it out to the wolves.  And if it only ever amounts to a pile of shredded paper covered in wolf pee, at least she will have had fun in the process.

One final note: this fall the UW is actually doing something with that ding dang degree of hers.  She will be serving as a teaching assistant for her thesis adviser at her alma matter for two classes, including the Art of the Novel.  She hopes being back in a classroom and around young aspiring writers will help fuel many a blog post, and also her own writing process.  And her thesis adviser - whose new book is getting AMAZING press and glowing reviews (and made Oprah's Fall reading list people, its a big deal!) - will be headed out on tour and leaving the class in the UW's trembling hands for two weeks.  Gulp.  But she is also hoping being in such close proximity to literary success will also bring with it many a lesson as well. 

So to any of you left out there, please stay tuned.  As part of the UW's ongoing conversation about writing, she really appreciates that anyone at all is listening to her yell.

"Although I'd like to imagine that its publication ... has moved the editors who spurned it to smack their heads, fire their assistants, and rend their garments, I'm also pretty certain that none of them care," Bissell wrote. "Nor should they care. But the frequency of its rejection seems like a helpful thing to mention, given how many young and apprentice writers tear through ('Best American') every year, as I once did, wondering how one's work winds up so enshrined. One answer: Yell into a hole, and pretend as though you're having a conversation. Yell long enough, and suddenly you might be."
- Tom Bissell in the forward to his story A Bridge under Water  about it being rejected 15 times before it was published and eventually included in The Best American Short Stories 2011.