Perhaps a new rule: no music unless I’m writing fiction.
It’s been a while since I’ve updated my list of submissions to reflect the rejections, but I really should.
Oh god this rule sucks already, as soon as I wrote it I started hearing all the conversations around me, how wonderful that salad was, Carol, it’s bout forty-five minutes from, the commercials on the radio, little fruit flies tickling my knuckles, focus, focus.
Just two days ago I heard back from Third Coast, who encouraged me to submit again, probably the nicest form rejection I’ve seen. I think all of the mailed submission rejections have come in, my own shoddy handwriting on the small SASE. I don’t have the money to submit to contests, which is what most of the emails I get are touting.
He made Bristol in six hours, heh heh heh, it used to be extremely hard, get on a waiting list, Talledega if you wanna go, 60 bucks, best deal in NASCAR right there.
A future classmate asked what he ought to be doing in his pre-MFA days, posed the question to the Facebook group. Everyone said, write, dipshit, write your friggin balls off, and it’s true but more self-motivation than anything, we all tell ourselves all the time we ought to be writing, but looking back, it’s true, I wish I’d had more stuff going in. My advice was to find a roommate or three. But it occurs to me that while my little town in Texas is on the surface progressive and interesting, it’s still got old backwards-ass Texas laws, meaning only two unrelated people can live in a house and no more. As if what, to prevent brothels? What kind of brothel only has three options? Or maybe just to prevent sex in general, because you know it’s got something to do with sex. But in my estimation, three people or more in a room is far less likely to result in sex than two people in a room. Even if there are two rooms. More rooms, if there’s a crowd in this house I’m not so likely to try and discover how many buttons are on that jean crotch as if there’s no one but we two.
My real advice: readLolita. I mean, read a bunch of stuff, but you damn well better readLolita, and also probablyPale Fire. Other people suggested authors that ought to be read before arriving, and maybe they’re correct with some of them, but almost any list of that sort strikes me as pretentious, usually, another self-interested bit of advice that only comes off as bragging to me. (Perhaps this is a good time to remind myself how inherently self-interested writers are.) For the most part, though, it doesn’t much matter what you’re reading as long as you’re reading. A lot. Unless you’re a freakish library hermit by nature you are not currently reading as much, volume-wise, as you will be required to in an English master’s program, let alone the side-reading you’ll want to take on at the suggestion of your peers and professors based on the work you’re submitting. This is no small thing to accomplish, especially if you currently own a smart phone, or even a cell phone, or ever spend any time on the internet. Your attention span likely does not bear the necessary stretch marks to incorporate the sudden swelling from the two, three, four hour reading sessions necessary to swallow what will suddenly be on your plate. And it doesn’t so much matter what you’re reading, I don’t think. Tackling someone else’s reading list is like calling all the numbers in the phone book sequentially with the expectation of discovering your future wife. Or, you know, anybody hot, anybody you might actually find attractive. I can say you should read George Saunders but a lot of the time he’s kind of silly and borderline sci-fi, and yeah I dig it but I don’t know anything about you, do I?
Still. Read you some fucking Nabokov, and if you can stomach it, Moby Dick. (If you haven’t read Gatsby already what on earth are you doing thinking you know what writing is, or even what it might be, and how in the name of god’s sweaty taint did you get into a writing program?) Both Lolita and Dick (hmmmmmm nah leave it) will come up often, at least once in every other Debra Monroe class, and in every third class of every course you’ll ever take, ever.
Actually just the first fifty pages and, like, the last twenty of Melville, that should suffice. Read all ofLolita, though. Even though the first part is really what kicks you in the gut, and the second to me was mostly window dressing, in terms of re-readability I’d go back for that first section again and again and highlight pretty much every word for its perfection in placement, in diction and timing and revelation of character, but the second part I might have trouble getting through, and actually I can’t even remember if there are more than two parts. Still, read it all, because it’s been a while and I might be wrong.
Ooh, there’s some good advice. Remember how wrong everyone in your life usually is. Continue to hold onto that (some might say) pessimistic world view, because it can become very confusing when suddenly all the people around you are talking about the things you wantto talk about, and talking about them smartly, please pleaseremember that almost none of the direct advice (see: scathing criticism) you’re going to receive will be worth a damn to you in twenty years, or two years, or tomorrow. It’s not the direct comments that will reveal to you the writer you want to be, or are capable of being. Usually. Your professor will nail you more often than not, and you know everything I say may as well come from a burning bush, but everybody else is talking out their ass, same as you will be. There’s a lot of smart people around a table under a lot of pressure to say… something, sometimes anything, the shit some people will recommend is frequently staggering for its lack of nuance or scope, some of the classics beingThis story should really be a novel andEvery last sentence in this fragging story has to be in the active voice! Almost every smart person will have the capacity to sound off infallibly, and rarely can they (and me, I guess) resist the temptation to do so.
And it’s not so much that they’ll be wrong, either. You’ll get several right opinions, just as many as the wrong ones, all of them options, ways to take the story, and many of them good. Just keep in mind that they are nothing more than that: options. Possibilities. Little devils whispering from your shoulder tops. Receive all this input as advice, not direct guidance. We are not your editors, we are not the one hurdle left between you and publication. This is why, even if that token moronisright and this story blossoms and becomes a novel,you should not ever ever workshop a novel.
Allow me to elaborate. When I say workshop, I mean show it to a large group of people. It is irrational to expect a consensus from any more than one person about anything. The whispers on your shoulder bit is all the good a workshop can do you. Sure, show us a chapter, two if you must, but only if your perspective on the project has radically changed since your first attempt and you need more whispers to keep you going. If you don’t have the motivation to write a novel without the monthly word deposit that a workshop requires, then you don’t have the motivation to write a novel. Workshops are all about idea generation, which is good for stories, but when applied to novels it only invites us to write the damn thing for you– assuming this is a work in progress.
And if you’ve finished it? Do not ever ever dump two hundred pages on my lap and expect me to have actual feedback on that thing by next week, I do not care, at all, if you “use up” your other workshop opportunities to do so, so help me I will punch your taint straight through to your small intestine, and if the writing is shitty, on through to parts beyond. I am not kidding, I actually murdered a guy this way once, but I got off by showing the judge the manuscript.
I think I got a little sidetracked, here. What was I talking about? Why did I come here? Just to get my fingers moving. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Also food. Where are those headphones…