“I mean I truly believe there exists some combination of words—there must exist certain words in a specific order that would explain all of this…” – Walter White, from Breaking Bad
Here’s my confession: I have an MFA packet due on Tuesday and I’m not even close to having it done. This packet is to include one new short story, one revised short story, four pages of transcription, three reader’s response papers and forty pages of freewriting. So one would think that the logical thing to do would be to set aside this blog for a while and get to work on the required writing, but doing things in their logical order isn’t necessarily my strong suit, and so here I am, composing a blog post in hopes that by getting this out of the way I’ll be able to focus on the tasks I need to complete by Tuesday.
I’m not going to tell you what parts of my packet I have done and what parts need to happen between now and January 15th, all I will say is that I need to put on my superhero cape or my bionic woman costume and get on with it because I’ve waited for the damn stuff to write itself and clearly that has not been my best tactic.
You see, I’ve had a hard time writing fiction lately and I’m not entirely sure why. I’d rather write poetry or essays or memoirs or songs. I’d rather write letters to friends or make lists. Right now nothing sounds more daunting than sitting down in front of blank page on my computer screen and creating a story out of thin air about people who aren’t real.
When I was accepted to the MFA program two years ago I had to pick a genre for my course of study. I could have gone in any direction: poetry, fiction or nonfiction. At the time I had this grandiose idea that I should choose the genre that I’d find most challenging and so I chose fiction. That didn’t seem to be so much of a problem last year, but this year something has changed. This year I have a bad case of fiction fatigue.
I’ve been trying to figure out what is causing this little fiction problem I seem to be having. I think it has to do with the gap that lies between being able to recognize good fiction and being able to write it myself. I’ve experienced similar gaps with fiddle playing. Sometimes I can recognize when something I’m playing doesn’t sound right, but I don’t yet know what I need to do to fix the problem. Then there is another gap that comes when I know how to fix the problem but I don’t yet have the skills to make it happen, for example my fingers might not be trained to reach so far, or the bowing technique is something I haven’t yet learned.
So I suppose my job for this second year of my MFA is to work on bridging that gap between where I’m at with my writing and where I want to be. I have to keep on writing marginal fiction and trust that I’ll recognize when something in it doesn’t seem right. Then I have to figure out what to nix or change or tweak in order to make it better. And I have to keep reading great fiction and thinking about what makes it great in the first place. It’s like putting together a complicated puzzle, but with pieces I have to hand craft myself.
Someday I’ll be glad I set myself up for this challenge, but between now and Tuesday night it’s going to hurt.