Hello, out there, world. I’m back from my yearly blogging hiatus, having just finished another epic summer of teaching. I’ll be gearing up for teaching again in the fall, but, happily, my schedule will return to something that resembles a human life. During the intense slog of the summer, the idea of getting back to my work-in-progress, the novel I’ve been working on for two and a half years, helped me get through heaps of grading and lesson planning, so when I had the opportunity to attend an MFA alumni weekend at my alma mater, I took it as an opportunity to jumpstart my creative writing engine for the work ahead.
The weekend itself was amazing; reconnecting with classmates, having the opportunity to read some poems from my forthcoming book, and presenting and listening to other talks by alumni were all exactly the kind of food my creative mind needed, and I’m grateful to everyone who made the weekend so successful and helpful.
Then, toward the end of the weekend, came something I probably should have done without: a book doctor’s critique.
I’d been eagerly awaiting my half-hour session with the book doctor for some weeks. My book is creeping toward completion in its third draft, but it has some distance left to go. I hoped to leave the session with some concrete ideas for fixing the problems I knew about, and a heads-up as to the problems I hadn’t anticipated. I hoped for the kick in the posterior that I needed to finish this book well. So when I sat said posterior down in the critique chair, pen and paper at the ready, I was taken off guard by what happened.
The book doctor told me that the only good thing to do with my first chapter was to get rid of it (as no reader would stick with the book long enough to read the second chapter). He told me that my point of view wouldn’t work. He told me that my sentences were unwieldy and rambling. He made a reference to being stabbed in the eye by the errors in my writing. This all took roughly five minutes, so I had the other 25 in which to sit awkwardly in his presence, probing for some suggestions that didn’t involve, say, giving up writing altogether and becoming a llama farmer. I left the session feeling like someone had let the air out of my tires.
Later, on the trip home, as I sat sweating in the stopped car while waiting for a ferry, I called a writer friend to inform her that, according to the doctor, I am unable to write prose. I’ll admit it: I was looking for a pep talk. I wanted someone to tell me “screw that guy. Finish your book.” Unfortunately for my now shaky confidence level, that’s not what she had to say. “Even if you only ever publish poems, you’ll still be glad you tried writing novel,” she told me. Ouch. Book doctor: 2, Davio: 0. I decided not to seek any more get-up-and-go at that point, because the assessments of my writing were getting worse and worse. As the ferry slouched toward the mainland, I couldn’t seem to quit thinking about what they both had to say. Maybe I really wasn’t any good at fiction. Maybe I’d “only” ever publish poems. (Which, for the record, I still think is a pretty big deal; it’s hardly an “only” to have a poetry collection coming out, right? Someone, please, say “right.”)
So when I hopped in the car the following morning to start another week of classes, the flat tire that had developed overnight felt not a little like a lame metaphor. The fact that the service station down the street didn’t have a functioning air pump (I’d hoped to fatten the tire up enough to get me to work, then deal with the flat later) only extended that crummy metaphor. The fact that I hadn’t gotten more than a few hours’ sleep the night before…well, that made the metaphor seem not only crummy and over-extended, but also pretty damn depressing.
Today, the first day I’ve had off from work in quite a some time, I had my tire (the literal tire) fixed. Now to fix the other one. I’ve decided that it’s entirely possible that the book doctor is right, and that my writing stabs people in the eyes (sorry, readers. Please wear protective goggles next time you visit this blog). It’s also possible that my friend who gave me the anti-pep-talk is right, and I’m not going to write anything mainstream in my career. There is, however, no law that says I can’t keep trying. I’m going to finish working on this book, and I’m going to make it the best novel that I can. Maybe the book and I won’t get far with our flat tire, but maybe we can at least make it a mile or two further than anybody else thought we could.