A story I wrote was published today, and this makes me feel totally rad

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Update: Connu, the folks behind the publication of “It Is Not Self-Seeking,” recently partnered with the mega online literary library, Scribd. My story was lucky enough to be one of Connu’s most popular titles, and it is now available in fancy e-book format. For the Amazon link, click here. For the Scribd story page, click here. Read about the partnership here.

I wrote a short story titled “It Is Not Self-Seeking,” and it was recently published on Connu, a short story curating app and website. I celebrated by drinking a giganto strawberry milkshake and eating a burrito the size of my head, and I feel like a winner who has made poor diet decisions in the past 24 hours.

But this is really exciting. It’s exciting because it feels legitimate, like I’ve written something that someone liked and thought that other people would like, too. Classmates and coworkers and friends have come up to me and said they enjoyed it — they said that certain lines stuck out to them and lingered. It’s the strangest, most wonderful thing. And that’s from words I wrote for a writing workshop, which came from my Creative Writing classes, which came from my idea that maybe all the reading I’d done throughout my life would be a good thing to pursue in college.

I’m riding on this high right now, like I can look back at this page and stare at my name and know it’s there because I worked at it. I wrote and tore and listened to some trusted peers and tore some more, and felt this tentative surge of confidence when the story felt kind-of-sort-of-maybe-this-is-right. And now it’s here, and I’m proud, and my name is there under the title.

My name! I need another milkshake.

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My 14,000 word weekend


Inspiration: Leslie David, “Ornette”

I’m proud of a thing I did this weekend. I wrote 14,000 words in about two days. With chapter breaks and double-spacing, that translates to about 50 pages of the story I’m working on for my writing group. It’s my first draft and it’s a horrible mess with undeveloped characters, a wonky timeline, and lots of variations of the phrase “she looked,” but it’s there, and it’s done, and it’s the most I’ve ever written.

I had seven weeks to write this piece. I waited until two days before its deadline.

I read this article on the Atlantic about why writers are the worst procrastinators, and it resonated with me on a deeply emotional level (aside from the parenting tangent the author takes toward the end). Consider this quote by Alain de Botton from the piece: “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.”

God, that’s me. And I feel like that’s a lot of people when they’re faced with the monumental task of creating something out of nothing and proving their worth.

For seven weeks, I sat thinking about my story — no, I sat thinking about anything but my story. About week six, I started sketching out an idea, and spent an hour working on my opening paragraph. I came up with what I thought was the perfect working title. I wrote sentences with semicolons, and then removed the semicolons, and then replaced them for artistic flare. I cleaned my fridge.

I did these things because I feel like I have something to prove. I feel like I need to write the very best I possible can every single time, and if I don’t, this major and this degree and every single saved bit of fanfiction on my computer’s “Archive” folder, hidden behind the “Taxes” folder, will be for naught.

That’s terrifying. And also hugely unhealthy.

Once I sat down on Saturday to write the brunt of my 14k, I entered this zone where I knew that everything I was typing was circular and unpolished and just not pretty. But aside from the frantic tick-tick-tapping of my fingers against the keys and knowledge of my looming deadline, a part of me understood that there was no possible way this could be something completely ready yet, because it was a first draft.

The author of that piece via the Atlantic, Megan McArdle, points out that we don’t see the ugly first drafts of great novels. We see the final product, after it has been labored over for a decade and editors have slashed bits of it out with red pen. And since I knew what I was writing on my first go wasn’t pure gold, I kept comparing myself to the writers I admire, and figuring that if I couldn’t compete with George Saunders or Amy Hempel or Benjamin Percy, why bother?

As I woke up early Sunday morning to write out my final two scenes, I realized why all of these gross first drafts matter. In the process of writing my first, complete, long-form story, I learned more than I’ve ever learned in two years of study. I was given a practical understanding of the idea that I still have a long ways to go in regards to character development, pacing, motivations — and I still have a lot to learn about confronting the emotions and experiences from my life that I want to incorporate into my stories.

It’s hard, and it’s messy, but it was goddamn worth it, and I think that’s why I’m proud of what I did. I waited until the last minute, sure — but when I finally did it, in two leg-numbing, blood-clotting sittings, I got a true sense of where my weaknesses lie.

And that’s a pretty great deal.


Filed under Write On

Don’t call it women’s fiction


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Oh, what a time to be a woman! As I finished cleaning the kitchen and preparing a sandwich for my husband, I logged onto Amazon and stumbled upon a category of books called “Women’s Fiction.” The titles in this section featured such scintillating titles as “50 Shades of Grey” and covers with flowers and curlicue lettering. And me? Well, I was just tickled, because I’ve always wanted my reading tastes, as a woman, to be delineated for me. I can’t thank booksellers enough for creating a category especially for me and my female genitalia, particularly since I’m not interested in reading anything in “Men’s Fiction,” also known as dick-lit, also known as Fiction. This makes things so much easier!

When booksellers and publishers decide that a book is fiction for females, that decision says that whatever themes that author might be discussing — family relationships, for instance, which Amy Tan tackles in her latest novel, “The Valley of Amazement” — are not applicable to men. This, in turn, suggests that women’s issues are not men’s issues, and that women’s issues do not have a place in the larger scope of the human experience. As both a writing student and reader, that tells me one thing: If a book is about anything related to women, or if a woman writes it, it will be considered Women’s Fiction. And that’s just wrong.

“Women’s Fiction” is a catchall term for any novel written about anything related to women’s experiences. This is a huge umbrella category that places novels focusing exclusively on romance next to novels that deserve to be considered within the larger literary zeitgeist. Tan’s, for instance, follows the connection between a mother and daughter over the span of four decades. I can’t help but wonder where that same novel would be categorized if a man were to have written about the relationship between a father and son over the same amount of time — “Men’s Fiction?” No. That’s categorized as Fiction.

Breakout author Rachel Kushner’s novel, “The Flamethrowers,” follows a female artist named Reno in the 1970s who travels to New York, falls in love with a sculptor and journeys with him to Italy. Technically, since it follows a woman’s experience and is pulled from Kushner’s life, it can totally be classified as Women’s Fiction. The success of her novel stands in contrast to Tan’s, who similarly writes about the female experience but is not able to escape the label of “Women’s Fiction.” Although their content differs, who’s to say that Tan’s novel is more “womanly” than Kushner’s?

No matter how many flowers are thrown onto the cover, or how many sexy protagonists an author writes about, nothing about a category verifies its stance as representative of an entire gender. Call the “Women’s Fiction” category something else — place the appropriate titles in Romance, or Beach Reads, or anything but a term defined by the gender of the people who are supposed to read it. Let the novels by female authors like Atwood, Bender, Oates and Kushner stand on their own as a larger part of the exploration of literature, marketed to readers and learners and people.

Not solely women.

This article originally was originally published in the Highlander newspaper.

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