Throw it All Away
Letter from the Editor, Spring 2010 originally appeared here at Our Stories Literary Journal
I WROTE A NOVEL ABOUT A DRUG RUNNER WHO MOVES COCAINE UP AND DOWN THE EAST COAST. It is, of course, about much more than that but I find myself embarrassed to share the back cover of my novel when asked. My sneaking suspicion when I reveal this plot is that I am looked at as "one of those dreamers." You see, I have no intention about running drugs but I worry at times that just because I wrote a novel filled with kidnapping, abusive parents and car crashes that people think I’m some sort of damaged person with a bleak world view or worse, some sort of idle dreamer who came up with the next Vin Diesel movie. This is why, as of late, I have come to just not give a damn what anyone else thinks about what I write–I finally have understood that the only one I should try to please is myself. I’m proud of my first completed novel and at the same time petrified at really finishing it. I’m scared that my writerly friends will say that it is not literary enough, just as I’m afraid that my friends who are not writers will say that it is too far out there. Here’s what I say to that: fuck it. I’ll finish the damn novel this summer and it’ll get out there.
For many years as writers we are taught to please, to entertain. We are most likely the types within a group of friends who have a story to tell. There's never a dull moment at a party full of writers and this can be both exhausting and exhilarating. We are quick on our feet to dream up alternate story lines of plays and TV shows and we’re highly attuned to the nature of people, to noticing beauty and to seeing the great extremes of life. This entertainment factor is what is most often massaged in creative writing workshops from high school straight up until you reach creative writing programs. I felt often in my classroom experiences that what I wrote, I wrote for the crowd. I wrote because I wanted it to be completely understood and adored by my professor. I have sought praise as a writer in very bizarre ways. I believe part of this has to do with the nature of the craft. We write alone and then share something and all we want to know is whether we were heard. God knows writers aren’t heard enough, right? I write today quite differently and I can only say this after graduating from an MFA program four years ago. I write for my damn self and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. I have come to believe that the best sort of writer is one who after many trials from the writing gods becomes what I call a little beautiful narcissistic angel.
Let me tell a little story here: when I was doing my MFA at Mason, I once workshopped a short story set in Greece that uses Greek mythology and an unreliable narrator. I received mixed reviews, as is typical; however I felt buoyed at my stab from writing something new. However, that was until one colleague piped up and I about threw up. This feedback is forever burned in my psyche. She said to me, “I just am soo not familiar with Greece, I really wish you set this someplace different, like maybe New Jersey.” She said this, in all seriousness and I remember it clearly—the fact that I couldn’t respond to this feedback has a particular irony to the story. Feel free to laugh. You should. I think most students go through this in their MFA programs. They feel great love and affection towards other writers and at the same time frustration at never being completely understood. Guess what? That’s just the nature of the shit we do people—you will never be 100% understood. Get over it.
So, friends, if you are worried what your mother is going to think about your short story then you might as well pack it in. If you’re worried that your father is going to get angry because a character you wrote is too similar to him, then the gig is up. If you’re worried that your roommate is going to think you’re weird, if you’re sure that your friends are going to think you’re a sicko, if you’d rather just keep your writing in your journal never sharing anything for fear that you might offend someone’s precious sensibilities, well please you might as well pack it up and decide to do something else with your life. You have to be willing to throw it all away, throw away all those old ties that have bound you to who you were and what you thought you’re all about. You need to trash your past and dig up every last detail of your childhood, your parents divorce, your ex-wife’s silent abuse, how much you damn well hated high school. You have to be ready to throw all that away by writing about it. You have to conquer all of that—to fight every last big fight that you backed down from and rehash it in your writing. And if you don’t, if you’re unwilling to take these steps in your writing—yeah, then you might as well throw it all away.