Note to readers (both of you): This ended up longer than I intended. Please skip to the last paragraph and respond in the comments section. Thank you.
Note to writers: More interesting, successful people give tips on writing fiction here. I recommend chucking this in favor of that.
So… Once upon a time I wrote relatively often. Relatively as in a few pages a week, sometimes more, in the context of raising three young children, working 20 hours each week and attending school full-time. When I look at how many finished stories (and a chunk of unfinished novel) manifested during those years, I wonder, how did I pull that off? And then I remember: it was before Facebook.
The real key, the consistent motivator, was my involvement in a writers’ group. A “high-functioning” writers’ group. Meaning, you showed up with work to critique, demonstrated proficiency as well as passion, and aimed for publication. I scored a couple moments in CR’s Poets & Writers booklet, wound up in Daybook Zine and the now defunct Surf Life for Women, received a check for my inclusion in Breeder: Voices of a New Generation of Mothers, wrote some interviews and music reviews for HipMama, had a short story performed onstage down in Lancaster, read stuff out loud as part of word-music shows (how I met Lila Nelson!!!) – bits and pieces, mere nuggets of success, but point is, I wrote. Often and well enough to think I wasn’t completely wasting my time or that of the people subjected to my work.
And then the group leader traded away living at sea level in Humboldt for her beloved mountains in Montana and with no one to force me into discipline and a dozen reasons to be too busy, my dedication waned – sort of. I was working as a journalist-columnist for the Eye, then later doing columns for the NCJ, but I let the fiction writing completely fade away.
That has changed.
I have a new writers’ group baby-stepping into the world. Man, the craft – all these years of personal essays and blogging have dulled my edge, I fear. Not to mention the not unlikely possibility that this is a questionable use of my time. (“What the world needs now/is another
folk singer writer/like I need a hole in my head…”) Is this what I should be doing? Indulgent? Selfish? Maybe. But I’m compelled to write, love the satisfaction of a good line, still value short stories and novels for the way they can nail what’s true, what matters, far better than most nonfiction. I know people who refuse to read anything other than nonfiction, so strange to me, like choosing to only watch documentary films. I am moved by good stories, whether based on actual happenings or merely on dreams – I loved Endurance and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind both. I expect to keep writing for work – have to keep writing for work! – the value of essays, reports, critiques are not lessoned by the existence of stories. In fact, they’re made better. I wish more journalists studied creative writing and learned to actually write.
But I digress. Am dealing with both Nick’s low blood sugar and noisy neighbors waking up K, so my attempt at elegance has been compromised – ironic?
Writer’s group – we’re all fresh or refreshing ourselves to the fiction-writing game, so for now, we’re simply exercising, flexing what muscles we haven’t let turn to mental flab. (I should speak for myself – the others are fit, sharp and worthy.) My brain spills over with obligations and desires already, so with just a command to write, my response falls somewhere along the “uhhhhh” spectrum. But give me a prompt and wham!, characters appear. They talk. Stuff happens. Nothing to pursue, yet, but the thrill of creation pleases me. I may post some here as we go on.
Here’s a question for anyone who made it this far: What do you read? Where do you read? Online? Printed page? I curl up with books, but despite my following @longreads on Twitter, I rarely power through anything lengthy online. If it’s really good, I might print it out. For example, I would never read a blog post that went on and on like this….