Posted by: zhiv | January 5, 2010

“I’m a writer”: Reflections on 2009

I’m a writer. I don’t know why it’s difficult for me to say these words or think in these terms, to declare it and feel it and live and work that way. I’m complicated and confused enough to make just about anything difficult, so there’s that. I’ve written about this dilemma a little bit on previous occasions, but the new year seems to be a good time to revisit the concept and its surrounding issues. Oddly enough, mentioning the fact that I’m a writer, regardless of any specific conflicted qualifiers, is something that I wanted to do as part of a review of my work last year reading and blogging. Last January, I think, I wrote a post called “A Year of Blogging,” and it was a great time to reflect on an exciting first year of having an inspiring and fluid format to write about my reading and thoughts about books and authors. Last year (09) got off to a good start, wrapping up Richard Yates studies by considering the RevRoad film and its reception, while making a strong foray into Chekhov. I left a certain amount of Yates work undone, and there’s obviously a whole lot more Chekhov out there too, with none of my Chekhov reading very well-organized, but I moved on to Boston and Hawthorne by way of Henry James. Reading The Bostonians and The Blithedale Romance was a wonderful experience, highly recommended, even in reverse order the way I did it. And shortly after all that I hit the skids.

I had a summer hiatus in 08 when I was still figuring out how I wanted to write on the blog, but this was different. Two things happened. One, in the larger scheme of things, was minor, just a failure to finish a big book. I still want to read the ending and write about that experience separately, and don’t want to get bogged down with it right now. The second thing is the real subject here. I started writing.

I don’t want to make a distinction between writing and blogging, especially since having a blog has played a key role in unlocking or liberating (or whatever you want to call it) my writing and taking it to new levels. I wrote a previous piece, “The Way I Write Now,” which covered this (not sure that I ever posted it), the then-current status and evolution of things. And it probably wasn’t long after doing that piece that I started writing fiction.

It was a bit of a cheat, because in working up “The Way I Write Now” I identified what I called “real writing,” which would be an examination of certain core issues and experiences, and trying to make stories out of them I guess. My foray into fiction didn’t happen that way, at least not directly. At work I had been dicussing a good idea I seemed to relate to, something I thought I could understand and write about. And so I started. I plugged this different type of writing, telling a story and following a character, into my routine, and I have to say that I was very happy with the results. I wrote a book, a novel of sorts. And then I wrote another one. It’s not that simple of course, but those are the broad strokes. And so I can say that I’m a writer, in a better and stronger and happier way than ever before.

And before I go on, I’d like to note that year-end reviews, even a weird one like this, seem to be an especially good time to express gratitude when things go well, and this blog has been crucail to my continuing evolution as a writer, and the readers and occasional coments are a great gift. I’m truly grateful for anybody who has even glanced at this placid semi-literary backwater, and the handful of more regular readers have been a wonderful and marvelous support. Thanks! Thanks a million!

And I apologize and want to make the excuse that, unfortunately, writing began to get in the way of blogging. Or instead I should say that writing my story or novel or whatever it is got in the way of writing about books on the blog. Watching TV and drinking wine got in the way of reading books, I’m afraid, but that’s something I hope to manage better this year. But the combination of the two things put the blog into a rather sleepy state, and a very quiet Summer was followed by an equally sporadic Fall. I think I’ve turned things around with the help of the holiday break and I’m feeling very good as we start the new year, and I feel quite bullish about the blog and my reading right now. I don’t want to jinx it, and I might get snowed in with work or I might find something new to write and the blog could fade out and back in again, who knows. For now I’m trying to build momentum, and I’m feeling good, but let’s see how I feel when I come home from my first day back at work.

As far as the novels go, I guess there are some things I can say–you know, me being a writer an all. The first one started well, a story about a teacher. It was as I was finishing it that I did a few posts on Teacher novels. I’m not a teacher, though I trained to become one, although I could add the distinction that I trained to be a scholar and didn’t get a lot of actual teacher training, almost none at all in fact, and had a very limited experience doing it. So all along I knew I was writing something that I didn’t really know, thereby breaking a cardinal rule. And the story slowly turned from being about character development in any direct way to becoming a sort of educational manifesto. I’m not sure how readable it is, and I’m finding out about that now, with a few friends looking at it and I’m getting my first feedback.

I had a lot of momentum when I finished the draft of the first book, and I looked around to see what might be next. More on the process of what to do after finishing a draft, or rather what not to do, below (I hope). But I had a couple of sizable fragments, from previous attempts at writing fiction, and I reread these. One of them clicked into place pretty nicely, and I applied my new routine of steady writing and managed to finish it over the course of another month or so–I’d be curious to know how much time I actually spent on it, and I rushed the ending a little bit. But this novel, which is rather short, is more readable than the first one. Instead of getting sidetracked, the story becomes almost too focused, speeding up and sprinting to the finish.

Which brings me to the next thorny part of the process, the obvious one, revisions. I read an old interview with John Updike recently, just when I was in the middle of this process, where he noted that simple proofreading takes up a surprising amount of time, and I was rather surprised as I discovered this to be true. I didn’t want to read these pages over again, and avoided doing it, let alone making any significant revisions. I work with writers all the time and I know the difficulties and pitfalls of the process, but that doesn’t make me immune to the bad behavior, laziness, and self-deception of writing and trying to take something that’s maybe okay and make it good, to keep working to make it better. I’m the worst, a nightmare. But I am a writer.

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Responses

  1. Congrats on the writing you’ve done and on declaring yourself a writer! Two novels is very impressive. It’s great that the blog contributed to the fiction writing, and it makes sense to be a bit off and on with the blogging when so much other interesting stuff is going on.

  2. This is a big moment. I truly wish I could say that, that simple phrase, I am a writer. But you have earned the ‘right’ and I have not; not yet….

    You clearly feel the texture and rhythm of words and two novels is an extraordinary feat. Congratulations!

  3. Thanks you guys. I feel I have to qualify it all over again, that there are novels and there are novels, and these are just drafts–I’m pretty uncomfortable when I hear “gee, two novels, that’s good.” They do have beginnings middles and ends at least. And they might even be “done” by this time next year, who knows. But thanks again.

  4. we need to hear more from you, bp


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