Monday, November 8, 2010

Knowledge and belief

I've gone longer than I like to without posting. But I wanted to wait until I could write this post and have it sound reflective, rather than whiny.

Here's the thing: writing-wise, October sucked. And the worst part, the thing that made it nearly unbearable for me, is that there was no good reason. Okay, yeah, I got sick, and I was crazy busy. But you know what? I teach at a university. October is midterms. Everyone is sick and crazy busy in October. And sure, there were various and sundry other annoyances and stresses, and even through all that, I was getting writing done. Pretty good wordcounts, pretty much every day.

Most of which, I trashed. Trunked. Since we're being reflective, we'll use the euphemism. Most of which I trunked.

And from the distance of having my legs back underneath me, I can tell you what went wrong. 

On Thursday of last week, I was fortunate enough to host the fierce and intelligent Cat Valente as a guest speaker in my class. One of the students asked a process related question, and Cat mentioned her "How to Write a Novel in 30 Days" post. The first rule is, "You are a genius."

I stopped believing I was a genius. For me, this was worse than turning on my internal editor and giving her a megaphone, because it infected all the parts of my writing life. For example, a personal rejection letter - with a request to see my next story - from a dream market wasn't cause for celebration, but for more thoughts of "Dammit, I still can't get it right." Nothing was beautiful, and everything hurt, and even the tricks I had used in the past couldn't shake my belief that everything I would write would turn to ashes. (That's not me being poetic there. Fire was beginning to seem like the appropriate option.)

And the worst part, the keen edge on the blade, was that my office hours last month averaged 1.5 students per day who wanted to talk to me about writing as a profession. So as I was speaking to them about what I see as the pluses and minuses of NaNoWriMo, about how to submit to markets, about why beta readers are necessary and MFAs aren't, all I could think about was how much of a fraud I felt like. Who was I, to be telling anyone else how to be a writer, when I couldn't get my own shit together?

Except, of course, that I do know all those things. I know the importance of building good habits, and finding a supportive community, and learning how to work through the bad patches, because everyone has them. It's part of the job. And if you know all those things, one day, you will wake up and believe you are a genius.


  1. I always find myself relating to the things you write. As I'm reading, I'm nodding -- and then I realize, no one can see me. But the sentiment is there.

    If it makes you feel any better, I haven't been able to write anything that's useable in a couple of weeks. I've written a few poems. I've started a few short stories, but I think my genius is temporarily misplaced. (And I fully plan on reading Cat's post later on. My interest is piqued.)

    But back to's the important thing: you kept writing. That's probably the instance where most people give up. Sure, what you wrote didn't work and was trunked, but you're still working out that. That's something that makes you a writer.

    Your students are very lucky to have you as a professor and a resource. Not only are you passionate about what you are teaching, you're there if they want to ask your advice. That can really make a difference.

    On a semi-related note, I've written a couple of fantasy stories (one in particular that I've been sitting on), and I have no idea where to send it. If it was poetry, sure. But this? Totally foreign. I want to research where to send it, but I haven't the faintest idea of where to look. Is there some kind of online resource you'd suggest? No worries, but I just thought I'd ask.


  2. Oh, Kat, I'm sorry October was such a low month for you! It was a hard month for me, too, for whatever reason.

    And for what it's worth--I mean, I only know you from your blog & Twitter--but I am resoundingly convinced that you are one awesomely brilliant lady.

  3. Thank you both for your words of solidarity. And yes, that does seem a little odd, to be saying "thanks for telling me you had a bad month, too!" I don't want anyone to be having a crap month. But you know what I mean.

    Ali: I generally recommend as a place to find markets. It's extremely useful.

    Wendy: That's how I know you, too, and the feeling is mutual. Some con, someday, we'll meet.

  4. Kat, you are quite welcome! And no worries, I know just what you mean. :-) Thank you for the link. I am bookmarking that. I appreciate the help.

  5. <3!
    Something wonderful to look forward to!

  6. *hugs* I know it's the biggest cliché, but these extended visits to "The Museum of Why My Writing Sucks" are absolutely part of the process. They are part of *being* a writer. They pass - either by themselves or as soon as you sell your next story or have another writing-related moment of success.

    If I were someone interested in becoming a writer (like your students), I think I would be mildly creeped out by a professor who is 100% enthusiastic 100% of the time.

    I liked the "Write a Novel in 30 Days" post, and I appreciate the "genius" line, but I want to suggest that it's not necessary to feel like a genius. There is this vast gray area between genius and pathetic. Here in the Netherlands, people are apparently very understated...and one of the bigger compliments is, "it could be worse."

    That said, you're a genius. :-)

  7. Steffi - I think I'm going to write "it could be worse" on a post-it, and stick it to my computer. I love that.

  8. As a language lover, you might appreciate the Dutch original: Het kon minder.