What to Do?

I graduated with my master’s degree in 1997. I’ve tinkered around after that. Taken a couple of classes. And then, I had a family. Dug into my career. Pushed myself past new limits and challenges. I feel really good about myself.

But I want more.

I want to go back to school. I want to learn more about creative writing. I want to take classes and sit at the feet of masters and glean every ounce of wisdom from them. I feel like I have something I could offer. But I know that I could absorb much more than I could ever give.

I have read books.

I’ve gone to conferences.

But it’s not the same. And so I sit here, with my hands tucked under my legs, and wonder….what is the next step?

I took two creative writing classes in college. One sucked. Big time. I wrote two stories. Got a grade on each. And one comment. “You write good.”

What the hell? I didn’t learn anything from the teacher. Not a thing. Nothing about voice. Nothing about editing. Nothing about crafting a story and taking people down long roads that will make them feel. Nothing about fact-checking or audience. Just “You write good.”

What a waste.

I took a poetry class. And I wrote. A lot. But I don’t know that I learned. And it’s not so much the teacher as it was my own laziness. I should have spent more time pegging him with questions. Trying to understand his editorial processes. He was good at pulling at lines and offering suggestions. But I was so stupid and didn’t use the opportunity at my advantage.

And now. Twenty years later. I’m sitting here, feeling the passage of time, and looking at my eroding years and feeling so…underwhelmed. So. Talentless. So fruitless. So. Nothing.

But that doesn’t mean that I have to classify or define myself by those adjectives. I can still learn. I can still work my way through a class and glean and learn and take and absorb and give back. But I don’t know where to start or if I can even do that.

I don’t have the money to pursue an MFA on my own. Not with one child in college and another on her way. Not when the local MFA programs will not allow for people with full-time careers to take classes. I understand. A writer’s group is an intimate setting of trust and vulnerability. You can’t take one person out and toss another in and say, “Make it work.” Well, maybe Tim Gunn could. But he’s kind of magical that way.

I feel paralyzed by my own insecurities and sense of ignorance. I feel like I have something. I feel this untapped potential that I don’t know how to break and release. I just know to sit in front of my computer and let my fingers wander across the keyboard and relax into the character, relax into the words, relax into the settings and follow. Just blindly and mutely follow because something will happen and I will be able to chart it and document it. And maybe, just maybe, it will be good enough.

I think that’s what’s bothering me the most. The question of what is good. The question of will I actually ever be able to do more than just dream. I am terrified. I don’t know where to start other than my computer. I tried duotrope. And found myself floundering. I kind of wish I just had a little magic fairy who would give me leads. And say. This one. Try this one.

It’s not the rejection that I mind. It’s the not knowing. It’s the…what do I do now? Is this the right place? Is this the right path? Will I finally be able to do the right thing if I put my feet on this path and just go forward?

Maybe this anxiety is compounded by tomorrow being election day and I’m scared about the results. Not who will be president. But how people will respond to the election.

Maybe this anxiety is compounded by the fact that the Covid numbers are rising in my state and I’m waiting for the point when we are told it’s time to go virtual again and everything changes once more.

Maybe this anxiety is compounded by the fact that I’ve been working on the same damn novel for 15 years and I just need to put it on the backburner and I did. I wrote a book of essays about my parents. I started a short story collection. But I can’t get this novel out of my head. I can’t leave it on the backburner and continue to stew in its own juices because.

Because.

Because.

Okay. Time for a Zoom session with my virtual students. And then time to write. I haven’t hit my numbers yet for the day. I’m just pushing everything off because I’m nervous and anxious and indecisive.

3 thoughts on “What to Do?

  1. Waaaay back in the 80s I asked my favorite professor for advice on whether to pursue an MFA. He said “you don’t need a degree to write poetry,” which was the correct answer for me, at that time. I really wasn’t interested in school. I wanted to write. So I did. But had I entered a program and learned from the advice and mistakes of others, I might have enjoyed more, or at least earlier, success (whatever that is, and however one defines it). I know very little about submitting fiction to publishers, but I have developed a strategy/plan for submitting individual poems to publications:

    Determine who you are as a writer, and where your work has a realistic chance of being published. What, you say, how do I do this? Think about your favorite living poets, those poets you’d most like to be associated with, whose work has influenced your writing, and with whom you’d like to “converse” through poetry.
    Where does their work appear? Look at their lists of publications, choose the smaller, lesser-known literary journals first, and read them cover to cover. When you find in these same journals other writers whose work appeals to you, examine their publication lists. After a while you’ll notice that certain journal titles repeat. Compile a list of these, and consider them your “targets.” Read them. If your sense of aesthetics meshes, send them your best work.

    This is not a quick process, but sending your poetry to publications that publish the poets writing the type of poetry you like is much more effective than haphazardly scattering your work across the poetic landscape. In other words, be selective. Think. And always read submission requirements. If a journal says “no rhyming poetry,” don’t send them any. You get the picture. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste theirs — most lit mags are labors of love. The editors earn no money, often, if not usually, bearing all publication costs. Be kind to them.

    Perhaps you might be able to put together a list of publication possibilities for your short fiction, and then use Duotrope’s submission data to narrow down that list.

    We all doubt ourselves. Are we good enough? Does anyone truly care? Can I really do this? You’re good enough, Heather. People care. You can do this.

    Let me know how I might help!

    • Dearest Bob,
      I’m sitting in my car in Richmond. My son is sending in his first rent check and I’m living in the curlicues of doubt and anxiety and insecurity. And then I read your beautiful and wonderful comment. Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m weeping with gratitude and appreciation and the sense of wonder that comes when someone I love and respect says something so compassionate and reassuring to me. Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m honored beyond the ability to speak.

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