I’m finally back and (mostly) decompressed from AWP, which means I’m ready to start harnessing the energy and motivation I acquired while at the conference. Most of that energy comes from guilt, and from seeing so many successful people (and wanting to be like them). I figure it’s still good though, no matter where it comes from.
But I realized something at this year’s conference, something that I think I’ve slowly been figuring out over the last year or so: I’m good at writing.
It feels odd to say that considering that the reason I started this whole MFA-business in the first place was because I knew I was good at writing. Before graduate school, I’d never once done substantial revisions on any piece of writing, be it creative or academic. My idea of revision was rereading my work, deleting extraneous commas, and changing a few of the more awkward wordings. There was only one time in all of my pre-graduate school years that I got below a B on a paper, and I was so offended by my grade that I dropped the class rather than have to figure out what I’d done wrong. But even considering that one time, I never had to pay the price for not improving my work. I got 4.0s on papers I wrote, start to finish, two hours before they were due. Even my graduate school writing sample was a rough draft.
That began to change in graduate school, of course, but in a lot of ways, it was too late. Rather than learning the value of hard work, I’d learned over many years that the good thing to do was to give only 50-80% of my effort to any given project. That way, in the event that I did fail (and for me, failing has usually meant anything that is less than perfect; seriously, ask me about the time I got grounded for getting a B+ in math), I had the ready-made excuse of having not given everything I had. That way my problem could always be defined as lack of effort rather than lack of talent.
But writing is turning out to be different. You see, I am good at it, and I’m good without trying too hard. But good isn’t enough. Good doesn’t get you to the level I want to be at. Good won’t get you a book published, won’t win you any prizes or contests. Luck might, but not being good. You have to be great. And to be great, you have to work.
People ask me sometimes how it feels to do something I love. I tell them I don’t love writing but that I love having written, that I love the power of a good story, that I love creating a good story, or a good character. These people are usually shocked to hear this attitude, but I don’t see why they should be. When writing is such a huge part of your life, when it’s another job—one that never ends—it’s hard as hell. And at least so far, it hasn’t gotten easier. Oh, I get better at it, but it’s still not any easier. It’s hard work.
And I’m finally ready to work. I’m ready to stop making excuses about why I haven’t written in two days, ten days, three weeks. I’m ready to take a chance for once in my life, to risk giving everything I have and still not being enough. But I want more than I have, and I’ll never get it sitting here talking about someday. This starts now. Wish me luck.