Thought for Day 13: Embrace the Waste

I don’t know about other MFA fiction graduates, but I think the most daunting thing about not being in a workshop, and not having a committee waiting on a draft, is the fact that we have no deadlines. I’ve already written about this (Thought for Day Three), but today I’m thinking more about how the lack of having a deadline changes my attitude towards writing.  Here’s my thought: embrace the waste.

(Just like it says on the title for this post!)

This thought came to me after reading Dorothy Allison’s interview in a book called Novel Ideas.  Allison talks about different tricks she uses in taking a fresh look at her manuscript for a revision.  She puts it down for a year.  She writes entire sections in a different perspective (character or narrative perspective, like from first to third).  She does a whole lot of writing and then tosses that writing away–none of it goes into the final draft.

I will remember my committee-chair (Elizabeth Stuckey-French) the most by one phrase she loved to say, again and again: “Try it and see where it goes.”  This is a lot easier to do when we don’t have a deadline approaching. (ESF taught a really good class about novel writing that I was super lucky to take. In fact, that class is why this Novel Ideas book is on my shelf.)

Maybe other people had different experiences as students, but I wrote with a lot of pressure to get it good the first time.  Not get it right, but get it good.  Get it good enough so it wouldn’t get slaughtered during workshop. I taught 45 students and was often taking three classes at a time while I was completing my MFA. I didn’t really have time to waste a lot of pages trying things.

Writing while a student has shaped my perspective in a bit of an unpractical sort of way: I feel like I have little sense of how much work actually goes into completing an entire book, especially a book that I want to be not only right and good, but amazing. I think a big part of writing an amazing book is allowing ourselves to try things and see what happens.

Let no possibility go unexplored.

This post, I suppose, is sort of a confession.  I suspect that if I were a better student (and I suspect that if I didn’t take the teaching so seriously, which I just could not figure out how to do), I would have made more time to waste pages.  Now, the ability to just write a bunch of pages for the mere act of discovery sounds like a tremendous gift.  Nobody’s waiting on my novel (except my close friends and family).  It feels luxurious.

It’s also really, really scary.

Being open to possibilities takes a lot of courage.  This is why, I believe, fundamentalism is closely related to fear. Any kind of fundamentalism, religious or secular.  Chin up, writers. And by writers, I mean me. Time to march into the unknown.  And by the unknown, I mean, the possibility of making a discovery while wasting a bunch of pages.

And waste is probably the wrong word.  Each sentence we write is productive, because it means, simply, that we are writing.  The only waste a writer has is the sort of muck/guilt/fear that piles up after not having written in a while.

Recommended Reading: Novel Ideas (Second Edition) by Barbara Shoup and Margaret-Love Denman, University of Georgia Press:  2009

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