Archive | July, 2012

The World Must Be All Fucked Up

24 Jul

“The world must be all fucked up,” he said then, “When men travel first class and literature goes as freight.” – Gabriel García Márquez

Sorry, books, but it was the only way…

And with the packing of the books, you know we’ve come to the end of the Georgia days.

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On Writing Bad Fiction

11 Jul

I just wrote a  bad story. A 26-page disaster of a story, to be specific.

Now that I’ve come to the end of it, now that it’s all been punched out—I’ve come to realize that the whole thing is one enormous, colossal piece of crap.

Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic D...

Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans

In the story, “Parade,” two couples—four vapid and awful people—wander around Mardi Gras for one debauched weekend, each of them struggling to gain some semblance of power over their respective partner. In the end the whole thing is not even about their trite and tedious power dynamics, but instead about their perception of “reality” vs. the reality of a violent, poverty-stricken post-Katrina New Orleans. The problem is, to reach the didactic and melodramatic conclusion about poverty in New Orleans, the reader has to first follow four idiotic, indulged, ego-maniacal college students for 25 pages—only to realize on the final page that not even the author gives a damn about their petty tiffs. Sounds fun, right? “Parade” was, essentially, the definition of a failed story.

Then again, I needed to write it, and now that it’s out of my system, I’m free to move on to better things. Whenever I look back on a god-awful story, and consider all of the time I wasted on said swampland of prose, I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and regain a sense of my former optimism.

Outliers (book)Gladwell argues in Outliers that all of the “greats” of history—Mozart, The Beatles, Bill Gates—have achieved the extraordinary not as much through some innate “genius,” but rather through the old theory of “practice makes perfect.” If a person practices his or her skill intensely and with focus for 10,000 hours, that individual should, by the end of it, be an expert in his or her field. To be fair, Gladwell points out that not all people who make tremendous efforts (10,000 hours of tremendous efforts) meet with success in the end. Environment and circumstance are important, too, but let’s not worry about that for now—let’s worry about what we can change.

Let’s say I worked 30 hours (roughly an hour a page) on “Parade.” With all of those long hours typing in little dark coffee shops, sipping on caramel lattes, I’d still only be 0.3% of the way to reaching the extraordinary, unbelievable genius of literary greats like Joyce, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald.

Ten thousand hours is a lot of time—and maybe that’s a good thing. As a beginning writer, there’s only so much I can possibly achieve at this point—which isn’t a very satisfactory consolation, but a true one. If I want to be a better writer, I can’t waste time getting hung up on one lengthy piece of drivel.

There are so many more stories to write! Thirty hours on one bad story—who cares?

The Good Life, Whatever It Is and Wherever It Happens to Be

10 Jul

Sunset over the water,  from a dock in Key West.

“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the ‘good life’, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”
― Hunter S. Thompson

I spent this past Wednesday through Sunday in Florida, experiencing the “good life,” as best as I have in a while. I’ll write a post about Florida soon—about Hemingway’s house in Key West and the 44 six-toed cats that wander the property; about the five-bar pub crawl where I actually attempted to write drunk, and ended up scrawling indecipherable gibberish in my notebook; about the storm clouds that purpled the sky over the pale sands of Miami Beach; and about watching fireworks burst in clusters of star-flame while walking barefoot in the wet sand on the edge of the ocean.

I’m waxing poetic, so I’ll stop. But it was wonderful—I haven’t been that happy in a while.

I Sent Out 126 Rejection Letters Today

3 Jul

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I plowed through only one-and-a-half of three stacks of submissions, logging out short stories, essays, and poetry. As I worked, I read through cover letters, paged through submissions,and scanned through the editors’ comments, thinking: dang, how hard is it?

The answer: really hard.

Writer's Block 1I read submissions by writers from the Iowa Workshop, from professors at Emory and Harvard, from multiple graduates of Princeton, Yale, and all the other Ivies. There were writers who had been published in The New Yorker and The New York Times, writers whose stories had been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories or had won Pushcart Prizes—lists of accolades and accomplishments that baffled me.

There were writers who had no formal training, but had excellent stories; writers who had formal training, but wrote as if they were in high school. There were teen-age writers, writers in their 70s just starting out, even a writer who had sent his hand-written submission from a criminal insane asylum.

At the end of the day, I was weary of those yellow slips. I’ve just started sending out my own stories, and though I know the road to success is paved with rejection slips, I worry about the future. How many writers kept trying, when they should have given up? Worse still, how many writers gave up, when they could have been great if they’d only kept submitting?

I went back to those cover letters: all those writers who had won incredible awards, who had been published in so many other prestigious magazines and reviews. They were succeeding, even though I was sending them each a rejection letter.

A rejection from one magazine, for one story, doesn’t mean a writer is untalented. Rejections from multiple magazines for multiple stories doesn’t mean a writer should give up, either. Just like lovers, some writers and magazines fit each other, while others do not.

Beyond that, though, all writers can improve their work and thereby increase their odds. The best way to do so is to continue writing, continue revising, and continue submitting.

If we’re lucky, we may even get a hand-written rejection note from a wise editor: for my green soul, that would be gold.

Until then, all we can do is keep on keepin’ on.

If It’s the Right Kind of Small

1 Jul

I unearthed the following post, long buried and forgotten, in the deep recesses of my computer. The post arrives here today from a few years back, when I had just started a short-lived blog called “Love in the Time of Question Marks.”

I’ve long since deleted the blog, and with good reason, but the following first entry offers insight into who I was, and more importantly, who I wanted (and still want) to be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This is for myself.

I’m sitting in a college dorm room, my freshman year of college, and outside my window there are marble (or marble look-alike) ionic columns and green, green trees and pink fading light on a pale blue sky. There’s a jar of white chocolate Flipz and another of Twining’s Lady Grey Tea packets, and today feels like a new beginning. Or at least I want it to be.

It’s my third week of college, and it’s not how I imagined it at all. I’ve idealized these four “short” years all my life. My parents told me about how they would stay out late and talk about philosophy far into the night, crammed into the corners of gritty cafes and feeling so immensely whole and alive. They weren’t beatniks or hippies or anything. They were healthy, good-looking, and normal. Yes, my mother was on the debate team, and yes, my father held night-long Risk tournaments with Star Wars fanatics, but they were normal enough. So all my life, I imagined the same for myself. I imagined the type of conversation that felt so good and deep and mysterious that it sank right through your skin and sent tingles up and down your arms. That’s what I wanted.

And now I’m here, sitting in my dorm room, as some of my hall mates pass in and out and around, but it’s not the same. Senior year in high school, you know everything. More importantly, you know everyone. There were only 140 of us (that seemed so big four years ago, coming from a middle school of 55) so by the end, I was pretty well versed in a lot of the details of the lives of my peers. I knew their favorite vacation spots and the number of siblings they had, without even having conversations with a few of them. It was that small. It’s still small here. There are only about 1,700 freshman. But that’s a big jump.

It’s not like it isn’t bad or anything, I just feel like I don’t know anyone. It frustrates me. No one knows me, either. But now, after three weeks, it’s not like the first three days. You don’t just walk up to someone, stick out your hand like a grinning idiot, and say “Hi, I’m Liz, what’s your name? Nice to meet you Bob. Where are you from? Me, I’m from Texas. What’s your major…blah blah blah.” Now we’ve all, apparently, been put into our toddler friend groups and I keep wondering — where’s mine?

Yes, I’ve got friends. But where are the ones just like me? I’ve was lucky enough to have grown up with two best friends. We were best friends in Pre-School, and we’re best friends now. That doesn’t happen in big cities very often, but it happened to me. So now it seems like I’ve lost quite a lot, and I’m just wondering when I’m supposed to begin to feel whole again. I thought it would happen immediately, but the opposite is true. The first week, I was filled with excitement, a balloon about to pop. And now, all the helium is seeping out, day by day. I just hope I don’t look as wilted when it’s all over. I hope I can fill myself up before then.

In order to make myself feel better about it all, I’ve decided to pick up a side occupation – this. And maybe it will help me feel more connected with the greater world as a whole, or maybe it will make me feel even smaller than normal. Sometimes small can be good, though, if it’s the right kind of small.

Anyways, we’ll see.