Monday, March 14, 2011

No One Wants to Read a Diatribe



I realize that the stories authors tell about all of the times they almost quit are usually coming from the I got published and now it's all worth it perspective.  My nearly-quit story is not.  I am unpublished.  I'm plowing through my edits like crazy.  I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'm not going to proclaim that I'm gonna be the next big thing because I fully realize it may never happen for me.

I came to writing in a weird, roundabout way, mostly due to high levels of physical pain and social isolation.  I've always been a little odd to talk to, a little strange to look at, and looked at the world in a weird way.  Just ask my high school classmates, who could probably regale you with tales of apocalyptical theological discussions in the girls' locker room.  In my defense, I was going through a phase.

I started writing as an adult while recovering from a surgery that wouldn't heal.  I nearly quit after realizing the first draft of my first novel sucked monkey balls.  I didn't write for a year or two, and I felt the need building up like a frat boy's need to pee several hours after a keg stand.  I brushed it off, thinking I was being stupid and impractical.  Then I went to grade school for the Fine Arts.  I had to take two creative writing classes that fostered my talent for writing foul similes and metaphors.  Finally, I couldn't stand holding the need back anymore, so I decided to write for my final project.

Said grad school threw you together with the same people all day, every day for six weeks in the summertime.  Not once, but for two summers.  Getting along with the others was imperative for one's own survival, or theirs, depending on whether one was on the giving or receiving side of homicidal rage.  Keep in mind that up until the day of my defense, all forms and purposes of social niceties completely evaded me, and not for the lack of trying.  I have always been deeply socially anxious.  I still have never been able to watch "Bridget Jones' Diary," mostly because that's how I feel I appear to others.  All of the time.  If you've never struggled with anxiety, you may not understand how it makes you do phenomenally stupid things, like shave a shower curtain.  Don't ask.  I still don't have any idea why that was a good idea at the time.  

I had noticed that most of my peers in the grad school program sort of looked at me sideways, but I couldn't figure out why for the life of me.  Because I was a naive idiot, I figured that I must have been imagining things and that EVERYONE liked me as much as I liked them.  This isn't as creepy as it sounds, but I even drew stick figure pictures for each of them doing something really cool and handed them out at the end of the term.  Really.  It wasn't creepy.  I think.

Fast forward to the my defense, where I had to sit and endure three professors tear my work apart.  I was pregnant, emotional, and cried the whole time.  I passed and graduated, but one professor told me two things that changed my life for the better, though it took years to see it that way.

First, he made a comment that informed me of what my peers actually thought about me, but would never say to my face.  That was a blow, as I had foolishly and wholeheartedly believed they were my friends and cared for me as much as I did them.  (I'm not trying to make you feel sorry for me.  That's how stupid I was.)  Then, he informed me that my character flaws would damage my unborn child.  These comments came from a man that I idolized.  They were a slap in the face, mostly because I was naive, and they were so mind-bending that it took me years to even process them.

At the end of the defense, he told me to keep writing.  He wanted to see me do more.  I remember thinking, WTF?  You just told me I was going to damage my son's psyche, but you want me to keep writing?  I'm not gonna write another word.  That'll show you.  I later realized that I was not a kindergartener, and that not writing would hurt no one but me.  He was killed in a boating accident shortly after, and I never had the courage to call him and talk to him.  Though the comments were not made with my best interests in mind, I don't think he realized he sort of shattered my world.

I'm thankful he said them.  First, it really isn't reasonable to expect that everyone else will actually talk to me if they have problems with me.  I saw gossip as cowardly and useless.  I still do, and I take care that I avoid doing it to others.  I used to foam at the mouth and shoot figurative laser beams from my eyeballs when I heard about people bitching behind my back.  Now, I just make a sour expression and go on with my life.  Mostly.  I got burned badly in the non-romantic relationship department, and learned a great deal from it.  People are actually taught not to talk openly about their feelings about others.  I sorta knew that before.  Now I KNOW it.

Most importantly, it taught me how to communicate with a world I really didn't understand.  Until that day, I lived in the ideal.  My protagonist was faultless because that's how I wanted to be.  My politics revolved around what should be instead of what would actually work.  My writing was preachy, and I focused exclusively on the mechanics of writing.  Except the finer points of grammar.  The grammar synapses have a lot of hiccups at times.

Being torn that low to the ground showed me that only mastering the mechanics of writing is completely useless.  Writing has to communicate.  It has to say things people want to read or are willing to hear, not diatribes about how the country's going to hell or the who is causing it to go to hell.  Now I try to craft characters and conflicts that matter to the audience.  Plus, I discovered that when one writes fantasy, one can make the world EXACTLY the way one wants it.  That's great for a control freak like me.

I have also learned that there is a place in which diatribes flourish.  Oh, yes.  Diatribes are for the comment section of the Billings Gazette.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this blog entry really impressed me. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm about to send you a request to review my book.) This really cut into your soul, yet you persevered. It always amazing me that the human spirit is able to overcome these obstacles and thrive, even, because of them.

    I wonder what your professor was thinking as he told you these things. Did he quake inside as he told you all these things, fearing that he would tear you apart? Or did he think, "Ah, well, I'm doing it for the greater good?"

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