Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Without Excuses

And so the second year in my MFA begins. I had a brief, very brief, respite from my first year to the beginning of my second year, if you count reading three books, writing a draft of a creative non-fiction manuscript for residency workshops, and reading workshop materials from fifteen classmates as “taking a break.” And if I were to be honest, as much as I love my program, I feel just a hint of fear and trepidation as I lunge once again into the whirlwind schedule of jugging a full-time job and a graduate program. I fully realize the focus required of me to produce strong material which makes me a bit nervous and, well let’s just be honest, I’m just not young anymore.

So I’ve been thinking about excuses lately, those excuses that writers create (in lieu of books) that prevent them from producing work (“I’m just not young anymore”), and those excuses anyone anywhere makes in any field, preventing dreams from being realized and work from being accomplished, be it painting your house, building a boat, working on a relationship, finding the dream job. As a writer, I’ve struggled with the interruptions of life and writing has always been the first activity to go when something else demands my time. But if I take this calling seriously, I need to be single-minded about writing and push away the distractions, within reason.
As I read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for my residency, I stumbled upon a little, fascinating editor’s note about the author in the back of the book. This Nobel Prize winning author wrote his novel at the University of Mississippi power plant where he was employed as a fireman and night watchman. He wrote the book “mostly in the early morning, after everybody had gone to bed and power needs had diminished.” I’ve worked jobs like that one, putting myself through college by working the graveyard shift at an answering service where I monitored phones for doctors’ offices and AAA. And as I young mother I worked often until 2 a.m. at a television station as a master control engineer. Both jobs provided me hours to accomplish things that a 9 to 5 job prohibited. I studied for all my college classes at that answering service and earned a Bachelor’s degree doing it.
I miss that kind of job. (Ssshhhh, don’t tell my boss.) But I now realize that no job in the world should prevent us from writing if we feel passionate about the task. Recently I came across a quote from the memoir of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn which served as a clarion call for me to silence the excuses and the complaints about not having just the right circumstances, needed time, or perfect place to write:

 “In retrospect, almost all my life since the day I was first arrested had been the same: just for that particular week, that month, that season, that year, there had always been some reason for not writing—it was inconvenient or dangerous or I was too busy—always some need to postpone it. If I had given in to common sense, once, twice, ten times, my achievement as a writer would have been incomparably smaller. But I had gone on writing—as a bricklayer, in overcrowded prison huts, in transit jails without so much as a pencil, when I was dying of cancer, in an exile’s hovel after a double teaching shift. I had let nothing—dangers, hindrances, the need for rest—interrupt my writing, and only because of that could I say at fifty-five that I now had no more than twenty years of work to get through, and had put the rest behind me.”

I'm silenced. How can I possibly make any excuses that compare? I wish I heard that call a long, long time ago and managed to ignore the manufactured reasons in my head for doing everything BUT writing.