Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Breakdown Blues

First the confession. At this point I have not written a completely new short story for over four. I am embarrassed as I write this because being a writer is more than saying you are a writer. Being a writer is not the same thing as being a water skier where in the winter months no one has the expectations that you are out chipping ice away from the lakes so that you can ski. To be a writer requires an amount of constant unrewarded doggedness to do the title any justice, since after all, a writer is nothing if not someone who writes.

I have never been of the mind that being a writer is anymore important than being say a plumber or someone who seals driveways. After all, in the final analysis it might be less practical an endeavor than either as no one ever looks at their home in disgust and says, "Get the Yellowpages. We're going to need a writer." But since the term (the word title seems unfit for my present level of accomplishment and productivity) is one that I use to define myself, I do feel a certain sadness that I have done little as of late to earn it.

My descent into sloth has been a gradual one. When I graduated from my M.F.A. program a little over a year ago I had the makings of both a novel and a short story cycle. I spent the year after the program re-editing my novel and submitting it to publishers and agents. At this point it has been read and passed upon by two publishers, both of which had good cause. While I'm proud of the novel thus far, it is at best seventy-percent of the way finished. It's written in first person, which doesn't hold up well over two-hundred and fifty pages and also serves to limit the novel as I can only tell what the protagonist knows. With this in mind I began to re-edit the book, and though I was pleased with the start of the new draft it felt as if I have lived too long with the misfits I had created so I decided to take a break.

On this break I submitted new versions of short stories to journals, and re-edited the work I have into a short story cycle which I submitted to publishers. This was over four months ago and while I have been collecting scraps for new work, I haven't been able to practice the most important writing exercise of all--keeping my ass in the chair.

This breakdown is not an uncommon one. It has happened to most writing students I have met. They say when their time in the program ends all the late hours they poured into trying to please their professors and peers are eaten away by the concerns of making a living, raising a family, and the other more practical dilemmas of the world. The creative vein slowly scabs and flakes away if left unscratched.

It would be unfair to say that my disinterest in writing, or maybe it would be more appropriate to say my putting off writing, is due to the concerns of real life as these only play a part in my procrastination. I am not the most practical person after all. My inactivity is also due to my lack of success if I am to be honest with the universe and candid. Japanese Shinto priests have a term for work for which their is no immediate or practical reward (they call it spirit training) and lately my spirit is weak. I do recognize though that without the hours spent without reward or encouragement I will never be able to be successful in my work.

I also realize their have been others before my who have had it much worse than I do now. Flannery O'Connor who is failing health most of the time she forced herself to write three hours a day. The poet Li-Young Lee worked in a factory at night and wrote his poems alone in between shipments. The desire of the writer, the spirit, has to be strong or else nothing will ever come of their work.

The reason I write this confession, the reason I choose to set here in my basement and confess the fact that I haven't even tried of late, is to in a small way get moving again. I don't want to be at some Christmas party years from now talking about how I used to write. I am at this moment practicing the most important writing exercise known to man--I am in the chair and the keys are moving.

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