I feel pretty guilty that my unplanned hiatus from this blog lasted so long. I’ve kept up with other things—Facebook, posting relevant articles and lists I’ve found on Twitter, trying to keep up with events in the writing communities I follow—but what began as taking some time off blogging to finish my final assignment for my MA grew into procrastination, and I guess a little bit of avoidance.
When I submitted that final section of my novel for my final class, I was excited, scared, and relieved. I was a little unsure about my experience in the MA program. While I had made some wonderful friends, learned some things, and got to work with excellent writers/professors, I hadn’t felt as pressured to improve as I had hoped. Yes, I did improve as a writer, but I feel like that happened more in the final push to complete assignments before they were due, rather than regularly over a long period of time. I continued to do what I’ve always done: have a general idea of what I’ll include in an assignment or story, do some work on it, but not get it all down in writing until just before it’s due.
Of course I was relieved and excited to submit my final work for my master’s—I had just spent a while finishing writing it, then reading through and editing it quite a few times. I had completed it before the deadline, and while it wasn’t perfectly how I’d hope for it to be, it was very close. I could relax and enjoy the fact that, regardless of my grade, I knew I would graduate with a pretty decent overall average. I had completed my master’s degree.
But that’s where my trouble began—I relaxed. I let go of worrying about deadlines, and after the (I think) allowable week of said relaxing and being lazy, I didn’t pick the reins of writing back up; or if I did, I did so lightly, without much drive or intent. I didn’t want to write about writing when I wasn’t doing very much of it. It felt a little like lying, and it was easy just to keep putting off updating until later.
When I let a piece of writing lie for so long, I begin to feel I am losing the threads that hold the whole piece together. The only way I’ve been able to describe writing a novel is that it is like building a tiny world of balsa wood. For everything to stand, to make sense and flow naturally, there has to be a balance of many elements. If you aren’t careful, pieces can fall on you, and you have to rebuild that section, which inevitably leads to fixing the adjoining sections (whether in narrative or subject) as well. In the time before completing that first draft, some of the pieces might be held up by little strings of ideas, and the tension in those strings maintains the balance of it all, when you have not yet built the rest of the structure that will support it in the end. So maybe it’s a little like Jenga too.
The longer I spent away from my work, the more I felt these strings loosening. When I talked to people about my novel-in-progress, I would feel them slipping, and I couldn’t produce a cohesive synopsis of where my story was going. The more I felt this loss, the more I knew I needed to reimmerse myself in the world of my story.
I have known for a while that I am a slow writer. Where some writers seem to be able to crack out immense amounts of creative work, on a number of projects, in no time at all, I am the type to slowly chip away at a story. Even a short story seems to take me a while to compose. This is not a fault, and I know there are many other writers who are like this, but it can be disheartening at times. I ask myself, how long am I really going to take with this project? How can I even make a dent on the writing world if I’m so slow at generating pieces to submit to competitions, magazines, etc?
As my friend and fellow writer, Kelvin M. Knight, said in a comment recently, my Northern Writing Award is my “base camp.” Even when I felt most disconnected from my novel-in-progress, even when those threads felt most far from my hands, I remembered the feeling I had when I read the email telling me I had won, so many months ago. It was like a balloon filling in my chest, making me so full and in awe. I know my luck. There are writers in the world who are as good or better than me, there’s no denying it. They could have won my award and flown by me already with the amazing things they could write in this span of time. But for one moment, I mattered in the writing world. I know I cannot disappoint the judges who believed in me enough to award me that honor, but even more than that, I cannot, I will not, disappoint that part of me that is still surprised I have not woken to find that it was just a dream.
So I will keep writing. I will keep pushing against the everyday forces that deter me from making progress on my novel, I will keep working to better my writing, so that one day I may surprise myself again.