Month: December 2007

A writer’s community

I never took full advantage of the writing community available to me at Carnegie Mellon. Certainly I had friends within it, and some fabulous professors (Hilary Masters and Jane Bernstein in particular), and I loved talking to them about what they were working on, what I was working on, or what we were reading. But I usually skipped out on the myriad of talks and student readings, instead devoting the time to my residents, my friends, or my bed.

Now I sometimes find myself wishing I still had that community handy. Sharing work was both humbling and encouraging — some people wrote better than me, some didn’t. We all tried to provide constructive criticism, regardless. We stayed up late with each other to finish stories. We split pots of coffee and Chinese takeout. We offered suggestions, or kept our mouths shut, whichever was most appropriate. (Or most inappropriate? We loved being inappropriate.)

The community was good to me, and good for me in a lot of ways. I don’t know if I necessarily need(ed) it to improve my writing, but I definitely long for it sometimes.

Since I often look to the internet to solve my problems, I have joined in the hopes of finding a new writing community there. Right now I don’t have much interest in posting my own work — I’ve got plenty going on, but nothing I want feedback on just now — so I’m just trying to integrate myself into the community, finding interesting works or questions to reply to. So far so good. The range of experience and talent varies widely, and I like the mix. I have yet to determine where exactly I fit within the spectrum, but I don’t think it really matters. My only goals are to advance, and to help others advance. For now, the sky’s the limit.


In his book On Writing, Stephen King says:

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

I mentioned this to Andy tonight, because I find that although I know he will support anything I do for the sake of my writing (go in the bedroom and close the door, skip dinner, punch him in the face, etc.) when it comes to the day-to-day of things, I find it hard to make that sacrifice. I’d rather go out to dinner with him, play with the puppy, or watch ESPN than stare at a computer screen and try to type out something brilliant. Or at least, in that moment I’d rather. Then later when I’m wondering why I haven’t finished my novel or another short story, I feel guilty because I know the time is there, but I choose to spend it other ways.

This is one of many times that I have come to this conclusion. And I’ve tried a lot of solutions to the problem. The best one so far was waking early to write, and allotting a minimum of 1 hour a day to writing (although 2 hours was always better). However, with Riley (the puppy) this is no longer reasonable to ask of myself, so a new solution must be found.

What I’m trying right now (literally, right now) is to go through a normal day without putting pressure on myself to write, and then when we’re showered and Riley’s in his crate and Andy’s falling asleep, I sit and slave over my computer until I can’t keep my eyes open even one more second. (Conveniently my desk is right next to my bed.)

We’ll see how this goes. I’ve given up on trying to keep track of how many minutes/hours I write per day and how many words those minutes/hours produce. I think the record-keeping could be inspiring, but in reality is just a waste of precious minutes/hours. I’ll have to find alternate motivation.

It’s not easy, being an artist. I think a lot of people imagine us as “happy bohemians,” walking around barefoot and carefree in a trance, trying to pluck ideas from our muse like unwanted hairs. But those of us who want to succeed (and are most likely to), we put in the same kind of serious effort and consideration that a good employee will. We “clock in,” we are as productive as we can be, and then we “clock out.” We set goals and deadlines. We strive for improvement. We don’t settle for talent, because we know talent alone won’t get us anywhere. We have to exercise skill and diligence too.

So no, life isn’t a support-system for art. Art, like employment, supports life. (But unlike employment, art often doesn’t pay.) Sometimes that means yes, it will play second fiddle to doing the dishes or attending a gala or spending quality time with loved ones. But at the end of the day, it still has to get done. That’s the part I’m working on now: the end of the day. Literally.

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