life, on writing

sprawling epics, sprawling cats

CATS: The cat sprawls furrily across my lap. I type onehandedly and with my other hand, hold my laptop above his bulk, the small tiger. Ah, now I am free.

EPICS: Writing so much these days. Hence, listening to lots of music…Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is a good choice usually, but I am now hooked on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel soundtrack. These winter months, blueish like bloodless old hands, have begun to sink into my skin, and I have longed for sun and bright colors. Give me orange. Give me fuchsia. So I rented movies and found not only my light therapy but also epic writing music.

If I have begun to learn anything from this creative writing program, it is that writing well is less genius than perspiration. We say it, we’ve always said it, ever since we watched those funny little cartoons in elementary school, the ones about the famous scientists like Einstein and Edison: “Work hard, and you will succeed. Work hard, and you will find the genius.” Perhaps it will always be the case that I will never truly know something until I walk through every level of it myself.

I recently turned in a short story for workshop in Advanced Fiction class. My classmates received draft 5, and yet the story’s still rough. Craftsmanship, I’m realizing, takes time. Talking with other writers, I see how universal many of our experiences are: the sometimes loneliness, the flashes of brilliance you happen upon later like someone else’s words, the drudgery of revision, the slow  painful death of first-draft/new-parent fondness that is workshop… When we talk, we kill some of the old vanity, the thriving myth of our solitude and private genius, and learn from one another. I am in a training ground for people doing what I’ve always loved, and this love is less isolating than it ever has been before.

SPRAWLING EPICS: Workshopping tonight for one of my classes, I have come to grips with the realization that my thesis might slowly kill me. Drain me of emotional energy. Sap my sleep. Fill me to the brim with coffee and redden my eyes from staring at a computer too long. My blind love for the stories I write tends to fade after the second draft, but this “sprawling epic” may be beyond my powers of verbal-entrapment in any number of drafts. I might not be able to catch this one and pin it to the page… Mark Twain once wrote that, while a story can continue to come to you in pieces, you may never be able to write it because the form never arrives in its entirety. If you have no form, you have no means of delivery. And what is writing but communication? A story that does not deliver falls short of its task, and a writer who cannot storytell well had better find something else to use his words for.

The sprawling epic I refer to is a short story cycle. It centers around a college town in North Carolina and features the voices of different students, professors, and city locals. Think, as my best friend suggested as guidance, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. But I’m only about halfway, and it is harder than I originally thought not to let all the voices bleed together: in tone or information. Yet the stories grip me enough that I continue. And the music. The music helps too.

I must away to work, but good luck to my fellow writers and artists out there. You are brave people. Take comfort that you do not labor alone.


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