Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Keep Trying

This afternoon, Creative Nonfiction Online selected my tweet as today's winner in their daily contest for the best memoir in 130 characters. Now, I admit that this is not the same as a Pulitzer or even having an essay published in their journal, but I was quite excited, mainly because I decided that one of my goals post-tenure is to do more with that kind of writing. When Creative Nonfiction announced this contest a few months ago, I started writing tweets, but I was getting frustrated easily.

Frustration is a common feeling for creative types. It's one reason why people stop being creative. At the time I was writing these tweets, I was also working on an essay that I sent to a few journals, some of whom rejected it faster than I thought possible. Frustration began bubbling and bubbling.

I told myself that this was part of the process, though. I've heard all of the stories about how Catch-22 is called that because it was rejected by twenty-two publishers before it appeared in print. I've heard repeatedly how it takes time. And all of that makes sense. I told myself when I started getting various forms of writing out there to be judged that it's about the process. You complete a project, whether a tweet or an essay, and you get it out there and move on to the next. I told myself this repeatedly.

But it is easier said than done. With CNF tweets, I would see the daily winners appear, and I would start with the whining. "But I had such a good one today!" Or, "Wait, I've read that several times, and I don't even understand it!" There were even times I would really work on them but not in a good way. It wasn't about crafting a fine sentence. It was about obsessing over it.

That essay I sent out last summer? I've been working on it in various forms for over ten years. I've edited it more times than I can remember. And I mean editing, not writing. I would work over words, tweaking verbs, combining sentences, breaking others into smaller units. I know that's quite normal for a lot of writers, another reason why people don't get work done and don't progress in their writing. But, dang, it was just frustrating me to feel stagnant.

With the tweets, I did almost give up a few weeks ago. I actually spent some time thinking whether or not I wanted to continue or move onto other things. But I like the daily aspect of it. I like that I do move on and produce something new regularly. So I tried again.

And "winning" or getting picked is not the only arbiter of success. Other people have said they like reading the tweets, and isn't that the point? I've "met" some great writers online. There were certainly many days I would think, "Damn, no wonder mine didn't get picked. That one's good." Last week, @Ralphley put me in his Follow Friday group, and that really made me feel good because I like his stuff, too. I know people are responding well, and that is a good thing. That's a reason to keep writing.

And this entry may sound like I'm making too big of a deal out of being a daily pick. But this entry is not really about that. It's more a reminder that I really do need to keep going with the same old writing process I promote daily in my classes. It's a reminder that there are people who like to see my work even if most of those people at the moment are not editors. They are still people I respect.

The tweet today was not one of my best. It was, "She always knew when to speak up and when to quiet down. I'd shake my head, wondering how dogs can communicate better than people." I like that it's about Auggie, but I have others I like more. I keep a list of them, and I really like the first one I ever wrote, "Neither the grave nor the obituary hit me hardest; it was the deck of worn, dog-eared playing cards she'd never touch again."

What's really funny about today's tweet is that it was inspired by a writing exercise I read about this morning where you respond to the idea that animals have a sixth sense. I had that in my head when I left home today. When I reached the office and saw a couple of cnftweets on Twitter, the thought hit me. So I posted it.

I need to get some other things out, too. Which means I need to finish some things. I need to find the balancing between revising and obsessing. And I need to keep reading. Basically, I need to keep trying.

No news there.

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