I’m not grumpy, I’m just a writer.

Always just a little grumpy

I feel I need to contextualize my rant of last week.

Nine years ago, I finished my MFA. Two years later, I finished the book I had begun writing as part of my MFA. Five years after that I started this blog.

Did you catch what I just said? Maybe you were distracted by the big number nine that I started with, but nine isn’t the number that concerns me right now. Let me repeat: five years after finishing my first book, I started this blog. Five years. Half a decade – which isn’t even beginning to consider the fact that it’s been almost a full decade since finishing my degree in writing. And what did I do in those years? I got married, had a baby, advanced in my career, built some modicum of financial and emotional stability. In short, I grew up.

During those five years, I also spent a lot of time writing into dead ends – a hundred pages into a novel about living in Athens, six chapters into another memoir about living in LA, countless rehashed but not quite revived short stories that hadn’t been worth the effort the first time – and I spent even more time making lists of agents and small presses and poetry awards and chapbook competitions (never mind that I write neither poetry nor chapbooks) in some backwards attempt to get myself published without ever actually submitting any of my writing to anyone, as though by just thinking about it hard enough I might make it so.

Surprisingly, this approach worked a couple of times (or not surprisingly, considering the company I used to keep). A hipster scene small batch magazine printing here, a friend of a friend’s art journal there. But then the coincidental opportunities dried up, and so did my creative practice. Which is when I started to spend a lot of time not writing, because what was the point of writing if there was no one to read it? If a tree falls in the forest, can it still win a Pulitzer?

I both worried and hoped that by not writing I would simply cease to be a writer. That the urge to create would eventually evaporate and I would have endless open time in which I could sew or cook or read or drink. Which is what I did, sort of. I did cook a lot, and I read a bit, but usually the reading made me frustrated at my own lack of creation, and the cooking wasn’t quite the stand-in I needed. And so I drank. And smoked pot. And worked a lot and cleaned a lot and started running with my dog early in the mornings to give me an excuse to not feel bad about getting into bed instead of sticking my butt in front of my desk and chopping away through another chapter of the book or another page in the journal or whatever it was that I was intentionally not writing at that given moment in time.

And then I had a child. And in having a child, free time was no longer a luxury, it was lunacy, and so any free moment I had now needed to be filled with value. And it turns out, no activity in my life had quite so much value as writing.

It’s been two years since I started this blog. In that time, I have written nearly one hundred little posts of around a thousand words each (ninety-nine, to be exact, including the one you’re reading now). Ninety-nine thousand words. Which happens to be the length of one well sized novel, or because I write the way I write, also happens to be three times the length of the book I finished five years ago, and that took me nearly four years to write.

In the two years since I started this blog, I have also rekindled my creative practice and established a new voice for the new work I am creating. I have also started work on a new book, a book I thought would never come, and a book I fear I will never finish.

It took me four years to write a tiny book during a time in my life when all I had going for myself was time to write. How long might it take me to finish a book of properly publishable length when time is the one thing I can’t seem to get a hold of?  I want to finish this book and I want to publish this book. I also know that this drive would disappear if I were to slow down in any other area of my life.

Writing a book is a long, lonely, hopeless act. Blogging is the opposite of this, fast and flashy and immediate. I don’t think I could survive one without the other, but I have convinced myself of late that if one grows the other must shrink. My experience tells me this is not true, that in fact the process works as an impossible and illogical expansion on both ends, but lately I am feeling so very, very tired. Lately I am looking for a way out of all this hard work.

I hope you’ll forgive my rants and my complaints. I suppose it’s the nature of artists to be discontent, to create beauty from friction. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway (while telling everyone else that it’s just a silly stereotype, of course).

Tomorrow, I tell myself, I’ll take the night off. I’ll watch a British mystery or a Southern California sitcom. I’ll eat fruit or sweets or starchy things. I’ll do yoga and I’ll read a book and I’ll give my brain a rest.

But I know that at ten o’clock, instead of climbing into bed, I’ll climb back into this chair and start eking out my one-hundredth blog post or my one-hundredth day of new fictional words. And then maybe next week I’ll see you back here, or then maybe next decade I’ll see you on a shelf at your favorite indy bookstore. And I can promise that I’ll be just as conflicted then as I am now, and I will also be just as content.

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7 thoughts on “I’m not grumpy, I’m just a writer.

  1. You describe the confusion so well. I’ve reached the stage where even editing is absorbing and fun, to the point where I get unreasonably irritated by any interruption from such peripheral issues as family, work, etc.. It’s quite corrosive, I think. If I ever emerge from the experience, which I doubt, I am sure I will be certifiably insane.

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    1. I can’t wait to get to the point where I can EDIT! That’s got to be what I miss most, what’s been lost with all of the quick and dirty blogging. When you work on a manuscript intended (realistically or not) for publication, you get to be so deliberate about the language, the punctuation, the style, the structure. It’s what I always teach my writing students – writing is more about editing than writing. Unless you’re writing a blog, that is, in which case, writing is about cobbling together a catchy thousand words and posting it as quickly as possible.

      But yes – to your other point – I do think there’s a reason we’ve all heard so much about the insane writers throughout history… Doesn’t give us much to aspire to, does it?!

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  2. So much beauty and wisdom here. So glad I snuck reading this in even as the same demons you describe call me (literally, my five-year-old keeps coming downstairs crying and saying she thinks she has a tapeworm because her father showed her a youtube video about tapeworms three months ago…) Long, lonely and hopeless vs. fast and flashy… god, so true! And beauty from friction is my bread and butter. But I believe we learn to get more from less (or is it less from more?! Ack!) in these mind-bendingly busy days. We are on Mom-time now. And if it took you four years pre-children, I’m thinking it should take you about three concentrated months now. At least that’s what I’m banking on…
    As always, a post I’m so glad I read because you are so where I am right now and tis is so wonderfully written…

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    1. Oh I do hope you’re right, that written at mom speed I’ll actually have something finished in my hands in less than ten years… It’s such a struggle, to be an artist and a parent, isn’t it? Because art by it’s very nature needs attention when it needs attention, and also needs consistency because otherwise you’ll never get anywhere, and kids basically need the exact same thing – they need the consistency of the reliable schedule every day when they know mom will be there for them, but they also need mom to be there at the drop of a hat when they’re sad or sick or proud or whatever, maybe they just want ice cream. But the fact of the matter is, you can only feed ice cream to so many mouths at once. Which can leave the art a little emaciated at times.

      I’m so glad you took the time to read this, and hope soon I’ll get to steal away some time for a new post from you…

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  3. Wow, I feel like you just told me my own story. It’s been nine years since I completed my MFA too. Where does the time go? What have I done? I happily stopped writing regularly when my first son was born. I tinkered for some years in dead-end projects. And then, nearly two years ago when my second son was born my life became so crazy, so emotionally hectic, that I found I *had to* write again. It’s a great feeling, and I worry that when things settle down, when I sleep again and have some free time, I’ll return to complacency.

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    1. What would we lapsed MFAs do without blogging? I had a few years of happy complacency, and life was soooo good – especially because the complacency happened when I was still twenty-something (er, thirty-something, okay) and childless. I got to watch lots of movies, drink in my backyard with friends, drink at happy hour with friends, drink by myself while thinking about drinking with friends… I had all the time in the world! But looking back on it now, I think I was really spending all of that time avoiding the fact that I felt bad about not writing. Because it really is a need. Like you say, I had to start writing again. And my daughter made me cut through all the bullshit and procrastination, and I guess I could say she made be start to understand my own mortality – as in, if I’m ever going to do anything with my work, I better do it now because I’m not getting any younger. I don’t know whether to congratulate you on finding that need again, or to give you my condolences! It’s hard work, especially when there’s so much else we could be doing.

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