Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

Did anyone catch my last post? The one where I bewailed how my Tin House workshop went? I took it down less than a day after I posted it--it was too whiny and self-indulgent and maybe just a bit too confessional.

I had written about the workshop before I had processed it, which, ironically, might be the most important writing lesson I learned last week. One needs space to write and this space takes on a number of dimensions: a physical space and space of time in which to write, but also psychological space. I cannot write about the things that have happened in my own life until I've processed them, or at least, until I've processed how difficult it is to process them.

My daughter says she sometimes feels like she is falling while she is sitting still, and I know exactly what she means. In part, that's why I think I want to branch out into nonfiction. I want to write about how hard it is to know your own life. I'm not so interested in writing about the life lessons I've learned but rather about what I've failed to learn, or about how murky the thinking gets when you try to step out of your life and examine it.

Abby meant it literally, but I'm speaking of a different, meta-emotional place: I am falling and sitting still at the same time. Exactly.

Despite everything, I feel it's important to own up to how very tough that workshop was for me. Steve Almond presented a lecture on the second or third day--all the days are running together--about what they don't teach you in MFA programs. He said a number of things, but what really stuck with me was this: you are going to care about your stories.

I have a lot more to say about Tin House and my struggle to write nonfiction, but I got an email from my editor last night and though she said she was just checking in to see how my summer was going, clearly she's looking to see how the revision of Goliath is going. So, while I want to transcribe every one of my Tin House notes here, and I will, it might take me a while.

I have long loved a quote from poet Gwendolyn Brooks. She said, "What else is there to say but everything?" Even writing from my boring life, my ordinary experiences, and although even in fiction, there truly are no new stories, but only infinite retellings, there's still everything left to say. Everything.

7 comments:

Tracy Crow said...

Susan, I didn't see the earlier post, and I was checking frequently for your Tin House dispatches. :)

But, I'm eager to hear more about the workshop experience when you're up to sharing, and I'm thrilled you're interested in CNF.

Kathy Waller said...

Susan, I saw the previous post, and it told me I'm not alone. That's encouraging. Even the unprocessed can be valuable. Thanks.

Jessie Carty said...

I missed you post but I think I hear the gist of what it might have been in the desire of this post.

Making the switch to other genres is WICKED difficult. As if it isn't difficult enough to write in one. I still find fiction a torture but I could SO see you writing non-fiction :)

Susan Woodring said...

Kathy, I've been involved in workshops in one way or another for more than ten years, and it really never gets any easier. I never understand people who say they can't wait to have their work workshopped, like bring on the flagelation. I always learn so much, though, that I keep coming back for more.

Yes, I sometimes think the raw feelings are useful for others to see--just like you said, you're not alone.

Thanks for your comment!

Susan Woodring said...

Tracy and Jessie,
It's strange how I have been feeling drawn to CNF?? I don't have any kind of an inspirational or tragic or particularly interesting story to tell. Still, I'm interested. You just never know what you'll end up writing?

Jessie, I know you write everything--fiction, poetry, CNF--was poetry your first? I wonder what made you decide to seek out the other forms?

Tracy, ever thought about writing fiction?

Jessie Carty said...

I could probably tell a long story about my history with writing but....

Thinking more on the professional side of it. I really started focusing more on poetry early on in creative writing classes because my fiction was never given much credit but my poetry was responded to at least with some interest (albeit small). I think I am often held back from effective fiction and creative non-fiction because I never learned the fundamental skills of unique syntax and diction (oh the things my AP English teacher would say to me!)

Part of the reason I keep trying to write fiction is because I love the whole idea of writing something like a novel that perhaps lots of people will read (or more than poetry anyway). I tried to write a YA one during Nanowrimo one year but it was atrocious. I just don't have a good idea for one yet.

I've tried creative non-fiction off and on but I really dove into it when I wrote the first piece that was published "Mobile Home" because I felt like there were stories from my childhood that I wanted to reflect on in a wider way then just in poetry where I was trapped a bit by things like line breaks; stories that just didn't work in poetry.

Tracy Crow said...

Hey, Susan,

I wrote the novel my agent asked me to write, which I'd resisted for months. But I found once I climbed aboard, I loved the process. Then, my agent abruptly left the business, and left me hanging.

So now, I'm writing the novel I wanted to write. And I'm enoying the process even more.