I have a confession to make. It has been six weeks since my last serious effort at creative writing.
One thing I’ve learned from interviewing artists is that even the best of them sometimes find themselves in a slump. And we can be very supportive of each other in these times, as I discovered when I first confessed this setback on my Facebook page:
But I didn’t spend two years and tens of thousands of dollars on my Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree to simply have another certificate on my wall. One of the tools I developed in my program was a disciplined approach to writing. To meet my thirty pages of creative writing each month, I developed a daily routine of ninety minutes of creative writing at the start of each morning. After a few months those morning sessions seemed as natural as breathing. It was easy to believe I would maintain that pace.
But I knew it was all too possible to end up where I am now, in a writing rut. I wrote of my fear back in May on this blog, noting three factors that had caused problems for MFA graduates before me: Lack of external deadlines, lack of encouragement, and lack of quantifiable and regular measures of success. I have experienced all three, despite my best efforts to find substitutes.
After I graduated this summer I joined a critique group modeled off of a low-residency MFA. At the end of each month I send my creative writing to a peer, who provides a full critique. For my first packet I cheated by submitting an essay I had already written and had critiqued in my last semester of my MFA program. In the second month I submitted a proto-essay that was really just a collection of notes. In the third month I submitted a letter of apology for not having submitted anything.
You can’t receive encouragement and measures of success if you don’t produce anything.
What will I submit at the end of this month? My hope is that I can take that proto-essay and convert it into something worthy of being read. But to do that I’ll have to sit down and actually work on it.
I believe my error was not continuing to perform generative writing.
I finished my MFA with a rough draft of a travel memoir, documenting my trip across the United States in which I interviewed artists for a video series. I then spent the next several months engaged in extensive revisions, significantly reducing the manuscript’s size and improving what remained. But none of that involved creating anything from scratch. No MFA advisor would have allowed me to submit packets that only involved revision work; I would have had to have provided some original writing as well.
I love revising my writing. Sometimes I fear I love it a little too much, as I tweak and tweak instead of simply declaring something done. But any writer knows that truly generative writing is equivalent to slicing open a vein and bleeding onto the paper. It becomes fairly effortless once it starts flowing, but there’s nothing easy about taking a blade to your skin. And so I haven’t.
Now I am not even experiencing the creative satisfaction of revision. My manuscript is done, and I’m searching for a publisher. That is time-consuming, but it does not have to be done in that magic early-morning time that I had until recently been dedicating to my muse.
Let me conclude by saying that this post is an act of selfishness. I am writing it primarily to place on the record–documented in binary ones and zeroes across the interwebs–that I must start writing again. Perhaps it will be easier to hold myself accountable if I have publicly confessed my sin. It’s a start.
I am also open to any suggestions you may have, or simply a “Hang in there!” comment. Thanks as always for reading and being a part of The Artist’s Road community.