Silence, Resistance, and Arguing with Myself

I know I've been gone for some time. So long that irowboat took pity on me and wrote a lovely little post just to let everyone know I still alive, if not exactly prolific. Or able to spread butter on bread.

I have drafts and half written posts here on my iPad. More of the in my head. But they and other things I want to write remain as they are, either in the limbo of half-written or left as little thought bubbles in the odd hours of the night.

Before I get those posts that are ready up, I wanted to share this dilemma I'm facing in all it's neurotic glory. I tend to keep these kinds of struggles to myself because they are generally temporary and because we have other things to talk about here. But I need to get this part off my chest.

Because I'm not writing – not the way I need to be.

I don't believe in writers block, and even if I did this isn't it. I'm overflowing with ideas.

And yet, I've gone silent.

Silence in writers can be a good thing. It can be a period of reflection, growth, a respite, or just a small glitch that will work itself out.

But like depression, silence that goes on for too long means it's not just a glitch in the program, and it's time to take a good long look at what needs to change.

So now, let's all imagine the little squiggly lines and Vaseline-smeared lens effect of a television flashback, and go back to nearly one month ago. I'd just written my previous post, and was ready to decide what comes next for me.

And I decided to apply for Clarion West.

If you're not familiar with the Clarion workshops, they are intensive 6-weekly ordeals in which only 18 people are chosen per year, and the process seems to go something like: write a short story and have it torn apart, take a break and tear another person's story apart, listen to the instructors, rinse, repeat. All while staying in college dorms and networking and all that kind of stuff.

The instructors are all accomplished writers. This year, my idol and one do my favorite writers Neil Gaiman will be teaching. The workshop is also in Seattle, and if I get in I would have to get there and back, plus miss 6 weeks of work and pony up the $3,600 tuition cost.

To apply, I need to submit either 2 short stories totaling less than 30 pages (this is the recommended method), or a novel excerpt with a three page synopsis. This shoud not be difficult to come up with.

And ever since I decided to apply, I have been able to write a damn thing. Not even a blog post.

I come up with plenty of story ideas, none of which will fit into a 30-page limit. So I give up and turn to my old rough drafts and search for a excerpt and find one I think I can make work.

But it seems like if I really want to get in, I should write a short story. Two.

So I go back to that, and come up with another few thousand words. It seems to be going well.

And then Resistance sets in. Magically, I have suddenly gone out to do grocery shopping, or decided to clean my house, or have lapsed into a 4-hour coma and wake up on my desk with my forehead all wrinkly like a Klingon from my sweater-covered arms.

Resistance is as common as silence, and generally is something to ignore and push past. But once again, if it goes on too long, I think it comes time to reevaluate my situation.

What if I'm reisisting because I don't want to go?

It's a stupid dilemma to have. The chances that I may be one of the fortunate 18 is small, even if I do my best work. Nothing bad can come of writing and polishing 2 short stories or fixing up 30 pages of a novel. Why not just apply and see where the chips fall? Why not just go for it, and trust in the fates to do what is best for me?

First, the Fates have a fucked up sense of humor, and are not to be trusted. The end.

But the advice is sound, why not just do the best I can do, writing the things that I write (the temptation to write what I suspect they are looking for is high – but that's another post), and get on with things.

It all comes down to goals. Specific goals. If I want to merely apply to Clarion, just to see if what I usually write has a shot, I could have done that yesterday, or even last year. I can easily find 30 pages of pretty damn good writing to clean up and send, but that would only fulfill the goal of applying.

If the goal is to get in to Clarion, then nothing but my best will do. I'll have cheated myself otherwise if I don't do the recommended 2 short stories of my best writing to date, polishing and shining them until they are the pinnacle if what I have to offer. And then if/when I don't get in, at least I know that I did myself justice.

My ultimate goal, though, is to be a writer, to publish and write books people like enough to buy and come back for more, maybe even enough that I could quit my day job.

I suspect I don't need Clarion for that. It might help, sure – help with craft and networking and unknown other things. It seems like a side-step, though. The next step to publishing a book is editing and submitting, looking for an agent, getting rejected and trying again. That seems to be how every writer I love and respect has done it.

I don't know exactly what Clarion would do for me. In the accounts of those I have read, they say the most valuable lesson was just sitting down and writing.

I think I've got that one down. After writing 650,000 words in a year, it's now an ingrained habit to at least get out a few hundred words each day, or even to make a few notes. Writing on demand is not a problem.

But no matter what may or may not happen for me at Clarion, one thing is for sure.

Ever since I decided to apply, I have barely written.

That moment a month ago when I put it down as what I wanted was the dawn of stress and struggle and daily arguments with myself over what to do and how to do it. The only relief I can find is when I can for five or ten minutes convince myself I don't actually have to go, or even apply. Then, I feel better.

And because I feel better, I start to write again.

Until I realize maybe what I'm writing Something Promising. Maybe for Clarion…

Aaaaaand I stop writing.

I'm a believe in listening to one's own heart. And I think my Resistance and my heart are on the same page with this.

I don't want to go to Clarion. Even though I haven't even applied yet, even though I probably won't have to worry about whether or not to go because I won't get in, even though the workshop is a dream chance, the kind of thing people risk everything to do and if I do get in I'd be stupid to give up.

I don't want it.

So I'll apply. Because I can; I'll send in an except even though they recommend I don't. I'll pay the application fee and email in my words and move on.

And when I don't make it, I'll breathe a sigh of relief and plan what I'd rather do with $3,600.

Thanks, friends. I'm glad we had this talk.






4 thoughts on “Silence, Resistance, and Arguing with Myself

  1. I completely understand. I’ve had times where I know I should want to aim for the more ambitious route in life but I don’t. It seems like it’s just an extra little push to get there, which isn’t so bad compared to how much work was done earlier but a big part of growing as a person is knowing when to take a break.

    I hope your application gives you a sense of peace and, come what may, you’re able to get back to your writing because it will be on your own terms and free of the obligatory critiques and tear downs.

    As much as feedback is necessary, we all go through phases where we’re not quite ready to hear what others have to say.

  2. I relate very much to what you are saying (if this is cut short, is because boarding plan to Oakland). I used to love to write grants because if I won I got money to do what I loved. If funded I was by definition doing something unique.
    Now I’m in an industry that focuses on criticism. It sounds like the class would be like that. I agree, life is short. Why not look at writing as an adventure? Criticism = arrogance = lack of sincerity. Insincerity blocks the flow of energy from the earth….a huge waste of time!

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