The best thing, maybe the only thing, about the courtly hell that is a graduate writing program, it forces you to put words on the page.
On the keyboard. Whatever. Some of us are older than others.
The weekly grind of that three-hour chum-bucket — the workshop — meant you always had something going and suffered a constant fever of it being, frankly, crap. You wrote constantly, because if you didn’t keep up, you’d sink
You’d get your ass handed to you by the moron who’d memorized all of Donald Barthelme’s greatest hits.
You’d get your ass handed to you by the professor with a habit of folding stories into paper airplanes he’d send sailing out the third floor window.
You’d get your ass handed to you and spend the rest of your weekend with either your head in a bottle or, if you were smart, back at your pencil and pad, your typewriter, or – for the more adventurous at the time – the word processor.
And, that was fine. For awhile. You graduated, you worked an internship at a moderately celebrated regional magazine, you fried whole catfish nights and weekends. You shot pool and drank beer.
And you wrote. You convinced some poor schlub at the free independent weekly they needed a poetry column, and there you were again — riding the fever train to a weekly deadline. To keep your hand in. Keep you scared. Keep you honest. Keep you writing.
Then, you landed it — a full-time gig teaching Composition at the local community college. No more fish guts under your finger nails. No more snide comments from the self-educated fiction editor about your years prostrate at the feet, or some body part, of Academia. No, it was seven-to-three, five days a week, and the most creative thing that’d happen to you is when that kid, there’s always one, would turn in the paper about how your class was a waste of his time. With twenty-three misspelled words, eight comma splices, and a whole schizophrenia of subject-verb confusion.
So, one year I climbed down the ivory tower to join the private sector, and I thought, “Sure, I’ll write; I’ll have a host of things to write about, not just school and which side of the desk I’m on. There’ll be infidelities, peccadilloes, a whole host of amusing subject matter.”
Ten years, two kids, three states and four jobs later, I’m just getting back to it. Haphazardly at best, but there are efforts.
Like this blog. Column. What-have-you. I started it between jobs a few years ago, toying with the idea of going freelance, and someone suggested I needed a website to market myself. The idea evolved into a blog, where I could post entries weekly, as a way of getting my hand back in.
I gave myself 750 words, lengthy enough to make some sort of point but short enough to rein me in when I started to go long, which has always been a sort of a problem for me. In between, I’d get in a more creative frame of mind. I started a novel-length manuscript (still not finished), had ideas for a few stories (two out of three completed), and figured I’d be good for a couple of poems a month (two out of three ain’t bad).
And, the blog collected a few thoughts on writing craft, Faulkner (my great nemesis), and technology. The idea was I wouldn’t worry too much about one topic (for that way lies the rusty shores of Crass Commercialism). I’d just go where my interests and my particular point-of-view took me, polishing what I wrote and trying not to make a stink of the whole thing. Fall in love again with putting words on the page. Fall in love again with the sound of my own voice.
Because, no matter what you hear, that’s what really gets a writer going, gets you to face down the page — the love of the sound of your own voice. And for a long time I didn’t. I turned my back on that life, developed other interests, tried to become a normal person. The kind of person who didn’t overhear scraps of dialogue and think, “Jesus, that’s how people actually sound.”
Here I am again, though, ready to push my sleeves up, get on the wagon, write a little bit every day. Because, the best part about the page? It’s right here waiting for you. Sometimes with a whip. Sometimes with bells on.