Writing isn't about words, it's about surrender. Let me explain:

In grad school, we had a weekly deadline for our workshop submissions. If we didn't turn in our stories by noon, they would not be photocopied for class, and now that I think about it, that doesn't sound like such a dreadful consequence, but it felt important and nobody broke the rule. (I bent the rule as far as possible, once sliding my story under the locked door a minute late, and another time finding a willing work-study student to unlock the door for me.) 

I wrote a lot of my stories the night before they were due. I know that's supposed to be bad, and you're supposed to manage your time better than that when you're in grad school, but that's just the truth of it. A few weeks out from my deadline, I would skim my inspirations (Debbie Eisenberg, Joy Williams, Denis Johnson) and do a lot of lofty thinking about what kind of short story I should write, what did I want it to do, what constellation of aesthetics did I wish it live within? I might write a few dozen first lines, fishing around for a shimmering piece of diction that would open the door on this world and character. Discouraged (and it took only a few minutes of this to discourage me), I would convince myself I was hungry and toddle down to the food co-op for an overpriced piece of deep-dish quiche. 

A week out from my deadline, the reality of what I would have to accomplish would dawn on me in sudden, painful spasms, which I would subdue with more quiche, and lots and lots of Old Crow. I would almost always find myself with about a day and a half to transform whatever scattered start I had made into a moving, coherent piece of short fiction, ideally without the kind of obvious plot holes that a workshop will discuss to the exclusion of everything else, even though it seems obvious that the author mistakenly left a paragraph in third person rather than first.

I would despair, looking at the meager beginning I had made. It had become clear that, in spite of my great ambitions from this story, it would be a little bit different than what I intended. Maybe the characters were more sad than funny, or the plot I had intended fell slack. My beautiful, perfect story would not survive on the page. 

It wouldn't survive the transition from my mind to this world. How could I go on from there?


I'll tell you tomorrow!



Here Be Monsters: 90 days to write the draft and meet your wild dark

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