Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Serious Writing

I haven't been on here much lately because at the last minute I signed up for the South Carolina Writers Workshop in October. I had decided months ago, that this year, with John adding to the chaos, I'd just stay home. But then Tom asked me if I was sure I didn't want to go. Yes, it's expensive, with a stay at the Myrtle Beach Hilton added to boot. But I have a completed manuscript, I've already been told that the story is very timely and marketable, and there's no time like the present to try to sell the darn thing. So I signed up.

I also plunked down $50 for a critique from a literary agent. This resulted in a flurry of preparations so that I could meet the September 1st deadline for getting that in. Mostly it involved many hours spent writing a one-page synopsis that condensed my 320 page book into four paragraphs. Hell, I tell you. Pure hell. My mother is visiting from Idaho, which allowed me to go into writer/hermit mode and get it finished with time to spare. Otherwise, I'd still be working on it. Now I'm left to wonder whether I would be better served cleaning my house or trying to meet the September 1st deadline for the Carrie McCray literary awards. Welcome to this writer's life...

Which brings me to part 2 of my story--

I was up in Asheville a couple of weekends ago, and my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother wanted to hear some of my story. I used to love to share my writing with other people, but that was back when I never wrote anything but beginnings. But as I became more invested in the story, other people's opinions became distracting. I have really kept the latest version of How Home Improvement Saved My Marriage a closely guarded secret. But since they were begging, I figured "Oh, what the heck..." and I read them the first chapter. I finish, look up expectantly, thinking my family members will all leap to their feet and give me a vigorous round of applause or say "That was great, honey." And what do I get?

"That was cute."

CUTE????????? Were it anatomically possible, my head would have shot upwards from my body and ricocheted around the room and then, for good measure, exploded in the vacinity of the dining room.

Of all the adjectives in the English language-that's it? That's the one that springs to mind? The word that describes toddlers and puppies and teddy bears? I felt like my family had taken my manuscript, that I have worked on for two long, stressful years, and and tossed it in the toybox with everything else I've ever "played" with. In that one moment, I felt a gulf of misunderstanding between me and them, and the sinking sadness that comes when people don't "get" you.

Yeah, I "play" at my writing, I guess. Just like a composer plays at their music and a scientist plays at their discoveries. But would anyone say to Mozart, "Hey Wolfie, I thought The Marriage of Figaro was really cute. Good for you?" Or to Robert Oppenheimer, "Hey Bobby, Fat Man is just the cutest thing. The folks in Nagasaki will just eat him up?" I hope not. They were engaged in serious work, just like I'm engaged in serious writing.

More and more I consider writing my job, secondary only to being a mom. I take my time writing very seriously and have started fighting for it. This is what I was born to do. The writing itself may not always be serious, but the act of putting it down on paper is. So much has already been written about writers' lives and how solitary time spent in front of the computer really is. I won't add to it here. What I will say is that it's all true. Writing is lonely, solitary, time-consuming, often maddening (especially where synopses are involved). The fruits of so much labor are often hard won and slow in coming. A lot of writers (I consider myself very lucky) do all of this and hold down full time jobs. It isn't easy for us. We don't do it to be cute.


  1. Oh Brittany, that stinks! Unfortunately I understand what you mean, though. I have not let my family (other than Rain Dog) read anything unfinished in years. Once it's published I don't care what they think, but before it's out there, they don't get to see it. I know they don't get me/my work and I'd rather spare myself!

    Hope you have a great time at the conference and GOOD LUCK. I wish I could do conferences but just don't have the logistical support or the means to do it. Oh well... maybe someday...

  2. brittany, i haven't shared my writing intentionally with my parents since i was 12 years old. they thought i was a asleep, checked on me before they went to bed, said oh, what's this? about what was on my desk, and proceeded to laugh at something that i was extremely proud of having accomplished. i'm certain now that it was just the proud parent giggle, but at the time it crushed me. since then there have been a few things i've ventutured to shared and journals, etc snuck and their comments never match what i want to hear from them. i think friends are much more objective. parents have a different investment in their children's accomplishments.

    as a mother to my writerly son, i've tried to read his stuff, and all i can see is all the violence i've tried to teach him away from. so i quit reading his 2 novels in progress, and just am proud of him no matter what he's writing.

    enjoy the conference! wishful sigh....


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