I’m in my post-graduation phase of my writing life and I’ve been going back and forth between alone and scared. I no longer have a constant flow of criticism and encouragement from professors and fellow fiction writers. When I wrote in college, it was safe. I had professors who were paid to care about my writing life, to answer my questions, to push me to keep writing even on the days I was most unmotivated. Now, I have deadlines. I am not getting graded for my various drafts and revisions. I don’t have professors that challenge me and push me to push my characters over the edge. To encourage me to ask myself questions such as: “why are we with your character on this particular day?” and “what will this conflict lead your character to do?”
Today I did something bold, and I think it was a good idea. I emailed one of my favorite authors, in hopes of getting some feedback for my work. I’ve heard of some writers getting responses and even critiques from authors they look up to, which helped them with their own work. So, I did it. What have I got to lose? I emailed Charles Baxter. Know him? He wrote The Feast of Love, which is an award-winning film. I read much of his novels and stories as I worked on my thesis. His stories are real and simple, and his characters are extremely captivating. They’ve stayed with me long after I finished reading his novels. Baxter helped motivate me to get my collection of stories written, and revised, and polished. My adviser, Thomas Cobb, and I were, thankfully, on the same page when it came to constructing a story, and the one author he kept pushing me toward was Baxter. I soon realized that he did this because Baxter and I had a similar writing style, and wrote about similar situations.
Charles Baxter emailed me back. As some of you know me better than others, you’ll quickly realize what a big deal this was for me. He’s that unreachable celebrity that many of us dream of being able to hang out with in person. I was stunned, at first, unable to click on the email. I couldn’t believe he responded. He told me that he is currently buried in his own students’ work (oh how I wish I lived in Minneapolis to be in one of this classes) and that he would not be able to look at my work. The interesting part was, that that wasn’t his reason for not critiquing my work. In my email, I explained to him that I have just graduated with my Master’s and am losing my drive to keep working on my fiction. He told me that the only person that could help me now was myself. That I have come to a phase in my life that would require me to encourage myself, and that it would not be easy. “…you have to launch into the period of your life when you have to self-motivate,” he said. Talk about a slap in the face. A bit hurtful at first read. He used words such as “lonely” and “scary” while describing this phase in my writing life. Next, he gave me two pointers about how to do this (thank goodness) that changed my hurt feelings into courage:
— Have Helping Friends and Readers: I have come to learn, through years and years of sitting in workshops with fellow writers, taking turns critiquing each other’s work, that having “writing friends” is essential. Writing is, indeed, very lonely and scary. However, if we have friends who are willing to share their work with us, and to give feedback about our work, we find a constant, a common denominator, a source of motivation that keeps us writing. Commit to a local writer’s group, or take part in an online workshop, such as the writing classes provided by the Gotham Writer’s Workshop at http://www.writingclasses.com/index.php.
–Self-Pep Talks: This was an interesting piece of advice. However, after giving it some thought, I’ve realized that it’s good advice. Picture yourself pacing in your small, messy room that is also serves as your bedroom and dining room, wrestling with an idea that you’re not sure how to put into writing. Then you spot the mound of dirty underwear that is quite hard to spot, now that you think about it, and then you remember that your mom’s birthday was yesterday, and that that library book on your desk was due three weeks ago. Stop. Stop pacing. Close your eyes. Remind yourself that you’re a writer. YOU ARE A WRITER. There. That’s good. Now, kindly, gently, tell yourself that in order to establish yourself as a writer, writing has to actually take place. I know. Breathe. It also has to get revised, revised, revised, oh, and revised. Polished. Then you must send it out. This of course is after you’ve revised the crap out of it, and allowed a few trusted writer friends or mentors read it and tell you what they really think about your piece. Listen to them. Change what you think needs to be changed. This is my pep talk to you, and to myself. Remember. You’re writing because you want to. Because it’s who you are. Don’t turn back now.
On that note, if any of you fiction writers out there are in search of an honest, close reader who will give feedback on their writing, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Introduce yourself and tell me why you’re writing, and what you’d like me to look at. I promise that if I choose to read your work, I’ll use everything I’ve learned in both undergraduate and graduate school studying the art of creative writing to give you advice, and another pep talk, if needed.
Thanks, Mr. Baxter. You have motivated me to begin motivating myself. Today, I don’t feel so lonely. Or scared. Thanks for the pep talk.