Summer Loving

This summer I’ll have at least two new publications out: My story of high-octane American childhood grief, “A History of Burning” will be published by Midwestern Gothic and “The Bangor Crows”, a tale of a woman overwhelmed by depression and the mystery of the chthonic evil that inhabits the town that Stephen King calls home, in Longleaf Review.

I’ve only just finished grading for the semester, a taking a quick jaunt to Wisconsin for my dad’s 60th birthday, then returning home to write a goddamned novel if it kills me.

It’s been two years of depression and writer’s block and it’s time to get busy writing. I’ve found ways to keep engaged: teaching writing and editing for Outlook Springs, but I’ve hardly written anything, paralyzed by the gap between how great I felt finishing up my MFA and the harsh reality afterward of my blank screen with the monsters of what-is-art-for-especially-in-the-face-of-advancing-fascism chanting, chanting, chanting, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” and shutting down all avenues of escape.

Creating characters, a whole world, is like getting into a new relationship: you have to be ready for the deep dive, to learn another person completely. But since the end of my MFA and the aftermath of the election, I have this bandwidth problem, this lack of signal, this literary attention-deficit disorder where I can’t pay enough attention to do the deep dive, to put in the time and attention of making people. There’s enough horror in the world; why should I torture fictional people too?

And suddenly, I am inspired to write a story where everyone gets exactly what they deserve.

 

 

I Smell Cigar Smoke

Hey kids,

This is the close-but-no-cigar, always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride post.

I’ve gotten really nice personal rejections from places like ZYZZYVA and I just received a tiered rejection from The New Yorker, which I was overjoyed about when one considers that they don’t even respond to something like 70-80% of their slushpile submissions. I’ve been a semi-finalist for three major contests. Slowly, my publication and accolade list is less and less resembling the wastelands outside Night Vale.

Of course, this is balanced against the dozens of nearly wordless form rejections. But nevermind those. They’re not the ones that throw me off my game.

Emily Hahn smoking a cigar in 1964.
Emily Hahn smoking a cigar in 1964.

It’s the almosts. It’s the 300+ day rejections that made it through three reads and onto the final editor’s desk. It’s those yellow envelopes and emails that come with a hint of cigar smoke and no cigar.

I know it shouldn’t matter, that those should be the ones that make me think, YES, I’ve got this, and push harder. But they’re not. They’re the ones that make me think that maybe I’m not actually good enough at all.

I think of it as smart kid syndrome. You can coast for a really long time with minimal work by just being smart. Writing is the first thing that I’ve really applied myself to long after it stopped being easy, long after I had to put in actual work to be good. And for that effort to feel wasted, to still not be good enough, that’s the hammer.

The best description of writer’s block I’ve ever heard came from Dan Harmon who said all it is is the gap between how good you are and how good you want to be and the only way to bridge that gap is to prove yourself right. You’re a shit writer and you’ll never be amazing. Prove it. Write shitty. Because writing shitty is the only way you get to where you want to be.

And I have to remind myself of that every time one of those close calls come rolling in. Because they’re the reminder of that gap, of how much more work I need to put in to build that bridge. Because no one’s wandering around handing out cigars. You have to make those fuckers by hand out in the hot sun.

So hey, let’s get rolling.