Thursday, December 02, 2010

December 2: Writing

There's still time to catch up with Reverb10. There will be a prompt (and a blog entry here) for every day in December:

Prompt: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it?
I have a sad distinction. I have a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from a school known for having some very successful writers as alums -- not writers like Nicholas Sparks whose books are sold everywhere in airports and grocery stores, but writers who are critically acclaimed and published in places like The New Yorker. Some pretty great writers who write great stuff, stuff they can be really proud of even if it doesn't make them big money.

And I don't write, other than this blog and the academic stuff I have to do to keep my job.  Until my abortive NaNoWriMo attempt, I hadn't even really tried in years. 

What happened? Part of it was that when I got into the program, I felt like an imposter. I was overconfident and only applied to two schools, thinking the graduate admissions process was going to be like my undergraduate admissions process. I'm not sure my writing portfolio was strong enough to get me in anywhere, but definitely wasn't enough to get me into the program I was in. I was allowed into the program late as an alum of the school because I had a fellowship that meant the department didn't have to support me. The year I got in, the school had admitted a bunch of graduate students without assistantships, which is unusual.  When I got into my workshops, I saw the group I was in with and instead of letting the quality of the other writers inspire me, I let it intimidate me. I suffered from "The Great Stumbling Block of the Creative Mind." I let the voices that hissed "You're not good enough" win.

Since then, I have continued to be put down by those voices. I tried to tell myself that I just didn't care, that I had made the smart decision to follow the money instead of wasting my time on something I've always dreamed of doing but that wouldn't give me money and success even if I succeeded. And I have always been pretty sure I wouldn't succeed.

NaNoWriMo was freeing because instead of focusing on how good (or not) my work was, I focused on word count.  If I wrote the number of words I needed each day for my quota, I won.  I remember reading an article about an art teacher who did a study. He gave students an option of being graded either on the sheer weight of the pottery they produced, or the quality of their very best piece.  Students who chose to be graded on the weight of the pottery not only produced more work, they produced better work.  Why? Because they did it more.  (Sorry, try as I might, I couldn't find the article). They also were relieved of the stress of creating the "perfect" piece because they were able to relax and know that as long as they made a piece of pottery that didn't blow up in the kiln, they would have done their duty for that day, so they could experiment and have fun. 

So what is the one habit that is standing in my way? Not writing for the sake of writing, every single day.  Anne Lamott says that a lot of her students want to be published authors, but not many of them take the time to be writers. You can put me in that group. That's what needs to change if I want to be a writer.

What do I do each day that doesn't contribute to my writing? I don't write each day.

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