Tag Archives: fiction

The agony of taking one step toward writing/literally anything potentially icky

"Bewitched Park" by Leonid Afremov

“Bewitched Park” by Leonid Afremov

My gig for the summer is working as a reading instructor for kids and adults. I’m teaching students how to tackle textbooks, how to improve their reading speeds, how to care about a book that seems totally outside their life experiences, and how to talk about great fiction. This job is exhausting. I never realized how draining teaching could be. Most nights, I immediately collapse on my bed in whatever I wore to work for the day, smelling like Expo markers and book glue.

Despite the general exhaustion, here’s one thing that I’ve pulled from this experience that has benefitted me entirely: the idea of taking one step forward.

In the classroom, it looks like this: If I know a student is struggling, or if I know I should speak to that student directly, or if I need to step in and talk about a behavioral issue or something else potentially icky, there are two paths I can take. One, I can avoid the situation and hope it resolves itself. Or, the better of the two, I can take one step toward the situation. I trust myself to know how to handle most classroom situations, and at bare minimum I can flub my way toward a compromise, but taking that first step is the hardest part, because it’s the first step in committing myself to trying to figure out a problem. It’s opening up the potential for failure, too, and the longer I delay that step, the longer I can delay potentially failing in my duty as a teacher.

But if I take that first step, I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone and into the situation at hand. Usually, I realize something like this: Oh. I didn’t need to hesitate. I do, in fact, know how to work through this situation.

This is important.

This is the part where I bring the point of my introduction into the topic of writing.

I’m experiencing a lot of false starts in my writing. I currently have three windows open to three different projects I want to work on, but they’ve been largely untouched because every time I sit down with the intent of continuing their stories, I end up freezing up in some way. I’ll write endless To Do lists, spend time “researching” (read: Facebook/Twitter/Reddit), or just write an outline of ideas instead of actually bumping up the page count of whichever story’s first draft.

But today, I took one step forward. And it has made all the difference.

It’s so easy to perpetually exist in a state of I’ll-get-this-done-eventually. And a lot of the time, once I actually, seriously, actively focus on writing, I can get work done. The difficult part, of course, is taking that first step and committing myself to a project that I’m afraid of seeing fail — or something I’m afraid won’t matter to anybody but me.

(Those are bad thoughts. They’re normal thoughts, but they’re also toxic. I have to remind myself that, when I’m writing a first draft, I’m writing it for me, not an audience.)

I have to sit down and take a step toward my goal — writing 1,000 words per day, finishing a scene, adding four more paragraphs — because, however small or large my goal may be, taking one step is just part of finishing that first draft, and getting closer to understanding what my story might be. That’s what I did today — I told myself I’d write one page in one hour, and I sat down during a free block of time and took one step toward continuing where I’d left off. I wrote a sentence. And then repeated. And repeated.

And I reached two goddamn pages. #murica

It’s a rough scene and it doesn’t totally establish what I want it to establish just yet — but it’s moving my story along, and helping me realize its larger purpose. And that’s a success.

The potential for failure is terrifying, and it’s so tempting to listen to that voice in the back of my mind telling me that I should have been literally anything but a Creative Writing major. But then I remind myself: I have a story to tell, and the only way it is going to be told is if I take one step forward.

And then I step.

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Ends and beginnings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_vault#mediaviewer/File:WinonaSavingsBankVault.JPG

Courtesy of Jonathunder

I finished my undergraduate career today. I still have one project to complete — a revision, as part of a final submission packet — but everything else is done. My coursework, and everything leading up to this point over the past four years, is finito. Complete. Terminado.

Although, I wouldn’t quite say I’m finished.

I majored in Creative Writing, and although I’m walking out of UC Riverside with just one completed story and a bucket full of first drafts, I’m leaving with ideas. I have dollar store notebooks scrawled with blue and black, both covers stuffed with scraps of paper where I jotted down a line or image that caught my eye.  I have authors and stories that inspire me, and infuriate me, and get me thinking about the stories I’ve started and forgotten. I have writing friends to whom I can say, “Ugh,” and they know exactly what I’m talking about.

I have beginnings.

And, really, that’s the most important thing for me to have. I have story ideas and characters and images I legitimately care about, which is more than I could have ever asked for at the beginning of my undergraduate career. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first switched into my major, and I didn’t know what I wanted; one of the questions I kept dodging was, “Why do you want to write?” I didn’t know. I still don’t really know. I think it’s because I bought a Moleskine, and I feel like I need to write something important in it to justify the expense. (It cost, like, $10. On sale!)

But I do know that I finally have stories and settings that I’m passionate about exploring. I guess that’s why I don’t feel like I’m finishing my degree — really, in a lot of ways, I’m just beginning.

And that’s endlessly exciting.

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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

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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.

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Don’t call it women’s fiction

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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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