My friend Elizabeth and I met for dinner this evening, and she discussed a certain poet's work, , saying, " i love it, but I'm not sure i understand it. "
"Can we love something we don't understand?" I asked. She and I had a good discussion on writing. Elizabeth is actively writing, working on her MFA. I am envious, even though she struggles with literary analysis. Analysis and creation are in opposition, so it's difficult to go into analysis mode when one creates writing. Lately I am neither creating or analyzing.
It's rare when I have writers block, but this week, a harvest moon, a dead mouse and a steady stream of rejections have all contributed to building a brick wall between me and words. Blaming the moon for my creative vacuum is a cliché, but otherwise I'd have to blame political ads, a frantic work pace and bad hair, and disturbing news about a former student. So why not blame the moon? The moon at least make me sound wistful.
A dead mouse should lead to a poem, or a story, but I work in a school library with robust circulation stats, and I teach two college comp classes at the high school. My role as a ‘writing Nazi’ sometimes backfires because the more writing I assign, the more I have to grade. This week my students write three drafts of one piece, so maybe i was analyzing a little. Whatever the case, I had nothing leftover for wordplay.
Okay, so where does the dead mouse come in?
A week ago Friday, at the end of a hectic day of checking books in and out to seventh graders, my assistant leaped on top of a wheeled desk chair.
"There's a mouse in here!" She shrieked
It ran under a trash can under the front desk, and when I lifted the can, the critter skittered into my office. I've never been scared of mice. When I was a kid I was the one who had to to clean the traps when my mother would climb on chairs and screech.
"He'll probably move on when he gets hungry." I said.
On Monday I saw no evidence of the mouse, and forgot about him. Until Thursday morning. i opened my office door and a stench assaulted me. Like someone farted on sweaty socks. .
i sniffed around, looked under my desk and behind the door. What is that smell?
The door to my office closet doesn't latch and always hangs ajar. When I opened it to set my purse on the shelf my olfactory went into overdrive.
Brown streaks dotted the white floor like smudged fingerprints, peppered with what resembled burnt sesame seeds. Mouse poop. Nestled inside a blanket on the floor of my coat closet was the dead mouse. The poor creature died alone and starved on the floor of my office closet. Yes, i know, mice are vermin, and pardon my anthropomorphism, but it was a baby mouse, no bigger than my thumb.
But I can't blame deceased rodents for my sloth. Perhaps the two more rejections this week from agents spawned my inertia.
Rejection has become a unwelcome habit, like a yo yo diet that never works, tempting me to ask,why should I bother?
I sit in the cafe of Barnes and Noble, surrounded by books, many of which are crappy books. I know MY crappy books are better than many of THESE crappy books. Aren't they? I know, I know, writing is an art and book selling is a business. We have to write what’s marketable.
But I refuse to write fifty shades of rip offs.
I COULD if I wanted to, yet I risk losing credibility with myself. It's more important to me to write stories that matter than stories that sell. And there are plenty of great stories that sell. Kite Runner, Fahrenheit 451, The Grapes of Wrath, and anything by YA authors Judy Blume, Laurie Halse Anderson and John Green.
Yet publishing seems to have taken a page from Hollywood and TV by flooding the shelves with replicas of the Twilight, Hunger Games, and Wimpy Kid. Series. The originals sold and continue to sell, and publishers are banking on marketability of their mutations.
Is there hope for those of us whose tales are character driven rather than dependant on hackneyed plots? On my desk is a framed rejection which says, “I wish we had the room to publish all that we love.” I let those words keep me from giving up.
Here is a short, eloquent video showing the importance of fiction.
AmI whining too much, or am I justified? Or both?
:Writing Exercise: consider the following words:
You may change pluralization and part of speech. Use all ten words in a poem, paragraph or story. You have ten minutes. Go!