Thursday, March 3, 2016

Well Hey, It's Been Only Fifteen Months ...

I’m back.
Yes, it’s been a while.
I got a “day job.”
And I had to finish writing a novella – one that I really had to finish before I could move on to anything else.
And even with a day job, I wasn’t about to give up teaching. And teaching wasn’t about to give me up, either.
But every time I thought about writing another blog entry, I got blocked.
Seriously blocked.
There was one more entry I wanted to write, or assemble, concerning exercises I use in short story writing classes. I wanted to go back over the past twenty-five-plus years and look over the exercises, scan a few of my handouts – put it together in a comprehensive way, which meant searching through stacks and stacks of old papers.
A lot of work – but not a lot of time. And I kept telling myself that I needed to finish that last piece of the puzzle and then I could move on.
But I couldn’t finish that last puzzle piece.
It’s taken me until now to get past it. I’ll write about exercises – later.
For now, I just want to get back.
Yes, I have a “day job” – at big advertising agency, one of the biggest and most prestigious agencies in the world. And a place that even has a kind of philosophy – one that I can even relate to and sort of believe in.
But it’s been a strange, awkward transition for me. Partly because I feel like an interloper, walking into a world I don’t want to throw off-balance by my presence.
In one respect, I came in highly knowledgeable. In another, I am dumber than dirt.
Writers are usually people who can feel two different ways about things simultaneously, if not more ways. That’s how we can work out conflicts in stories. We play chess from both sides of the board.
So I could feel at once like I had superpowers (though I couldn’t use them without betraying myself) and like I was a complete incompetent, out of my league and out of my depth. At some point, I believed, I would be discovered (either for incompetency or for possessing superpowers) and summarily dismissed.
In the mornings, I would sit in a little fast food place on the first floor of the building where I work – for an hour before starting time. I would order a small coffee and write. I’d write in my legal pad, in my spiral-bound notebook, until both were filled. I wrote every scene I thought I needed for my novella, many of which were cut or altered by the “final” edit (I know I’ll probably edit more at some point). I wrote and wrote and wrote. On Saturdays I typed up what I’d written in longhand.
I hadn’t written so much in longhand in ages – much of it crap, but it felt very different to write in longhand again, crap or otherwise.
Except for those days when I needed the time to read and comment upon student assignments, I remained devoted to finishing the novella in a very disciplined way. And for those months, between eight and nine in the morning, I became something of a fixture in that fast food place.
That was my superpower – not that I was writing anything good, but that I was writing, period.
Eventually, my energies shifted from writing longhand to revising my printed-out pages – turning a mess of papers into a manuscript of about 180 pages, then paring it down about thirty pages to something that resembled a novella.
In a new job, in a new world, it’s important to find some sort of “center” for yourself – something that helps define you when it seems that everything else seems to be trying to define you in a score of alien ways.
I’m supposed to be a copy editor, whatever that is, for a good part of the week.
When I’m not doing that, whatever it is, I’m supposed to be a teacher – whatever that is. And I read a lot of work in that capacity as well as reading a lot more work for workshops, writers’ group and the like.
It’s easy to forget what got you started in this direction in the first place.
I hope I’ve remembered it now. Because even when you’re trudging at a death march pace through a scene you can’t see an end to, it feels like there’s nowhere else you’d rather be; nothing else you’d rather be doing, no one else you want to be.

More about this later.