I tell people I'm a writer.
It's possible that I'm lying ... or at least that I think I'm lying.
I'm a student of story. I love the feel and shape of a good story. I've spent my life enjoying watching, listening to, and reading stories that other people tell; after a lifetime in the pursuit of story, I generally know which way a good one will bend and twist before sticking its landing.
It's this gift, or skill, that gave me the courage to write Here Be Monsters, my first novel. I knew that I could tell a story, having absorbed thousands (maybe tens of thousands) in my life, and knew the guy, and place, and situation, I wanted to wrap the story around.
It's a good story ... it could be written better. The subsequent novels and novellas were written better, and were still good stories.
The dozens of short stories I've got printed out and milling around in my office are all good stories ... the question I'm hoping to answer in the positive at the end of my time at Goddard is whether or not they're well written, crafted.
I think that a story being well-written goes beyond spelling and grammar and syntax ... it plums the depths of craft, along with the iterative, obsessive, practice of polish.
The concept of polish is the hill upon which my becoming a writer very often hangs, and stalls ... working the story again and again and again, then dusting it off and working it some more, until there are no bumps or snags in the flow of words or sentences, dialog or exposition, that drop the reader out of the hallucinatory trance the story has lulled them into.
I have, in the past, been satisfied with telling a cool story, comfortable in the knowledge that my ability to communicate that story through words is sufficient for transmission from my brain to my reader's ... the pursuit of my MFA at Goddard has been the pursuit of a greater understanding of the writer who lives within the storyteller I am, and to encourage the writer to work just as hard as the storyteller.
I feel that I am in the midst of a transformative process, sliding along a continuum towards the writerly end of things while hopefully still maintaining the storyteller ... I imagine the writer abides in the brain, roaming up and down the dusty shelves that line the passages of my skull, while the storyteller lives in my heart, beating and racing and rushing with my excitement each time we sit down at the laptop with an idea as our polestar.
Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I woke up this morning (which is a polite way to say "when Olive woke me up because she thought she heard a bear outside") ... I'm ready for my second cup of coffee.
Thanks for indulging me ... keep reading, I'll keep writing (and storytelling).
Writing is a task best done by oneself.
Wait, that's not true ... let me rephrase that to explain how I'm right, as well as how I'm wrong.
Writing your first draft is generally best done in private; what happens before and after that first draft is best done in some form of writing community.
One of the ways in which writing is difficult, at least for me, is that dichotomy, the bi-directional pull of introvert and extrovert.
I love sitting alone for hours or days, pulling stories out of dark corners of my brain, but I need people outside of my skull to help me polish my work, and eventually, hopefully, to enjoy it.
Finding and maintaining the balance is, I believe, critical to the success of any writer ... I don't claim to have THE answers, but I have some answers that have worked for me.
Three things I've found helpful in building a functioning writing ecosystem for myself to live, and flourish, within (in addition to the lonely writer/writing thing, which I've got down) are:
- Writing exercises
- Reading group
- Writing group
Writing Exercises: I like story dice as writing prompts. Roll the dice, have everyone fix on one or more of the images, write for 10-15 minutes, then everyone who's comfortable shares what they wrote. It's a great way to prime your creative pump, work on building from bare ideas, and growing your comfort with sharing material with people.
Writing Group: sharing your writing with a group aimed at getting feedback on how to improve your material can be intimidating, but it's an invaluable resource and aid in polishing your craft and your product. Finding the right group for you can be difficult, as different groups have widely varying goals and methods; you should try any given group for a couple of sessions to see how the fit feels, and then either fully invest or move on in search of a better fit.
Where? ... How?
All three of the tools I've mentioned may already exist in your neighborhood, or at least nearby. If you ask people at indie bookstores and your local library, or search FB or Google, you will likely find numerous options.
If for whatever reason, these things don't exist near you, or the configuration for some reason (time, distance, population, focus, etc.) doesn't work for you, then you're in luck ... you can start your own.
Ask the library or bookstore if they'll let you use the space to start a group for any/all of these activities, and you'll generally be pleasantly surprised at their reply.
Once you begin making regular use of these three devices to grow and nourish your writing community, you'll be surprised at the improvement in the output and quality of your writing.