one of my literary successes: the 10-year-old reading journal list. (As comedian Jim Gaffigan tweeted yesterday, "I have to give it up to myself for being so humble.") Today, though, let's talk about my most shameful literary failure: writing fiction. Or, more accurately, not writing fiction.
Every reader endeavors to write, right? But in 11 years since I graduated with a degree in Writing Intensive English (Marquette's English lit degree with 12 additional credit-hours of writing classes...pretty cool, eh?), I've produced precisely one short story. And it wasn't great — one of my workshopmates called it "pretentious," and it's hard to disagree with that. (Because I'm a glutton for punishment, you can read it on the "Mason" page I just put up, if you're interested.)
I've always been a reader, and always seen myself as a writer. As a trade magazine editor, I actually do write for a living. But when it comes to fiction, it wasn't supposed to be this way. If you'd have asked my 23-year-old self, I'd have predicted I'd have cranked out dozens of stories and maybe even a novel or two by now. Just hasn't happened.
Thomas Mann famously said "A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." I've always thrown that quote around ruefully when I have trouble with a magazine article for work or a blog post or whatever. Of course, if you think about it literally, it's absurd. Writing is a lot easier for those who see themselves as writers than it is for, say, structural engineers or computer scientists or underwear salesmen. But I get the spirit of the quote — that writers are often perfectionists, take writing way too seriously, and spend weeks on a single paragraph. And, frankly, that's one thing that's prevented me from writing fiction — I do take it too seriously, try to make it perfect, and that prevents it from being fun.
A. Manette Ansay, constantly bandied about her favorite Flannery O'Connor quote: "A writer is someone who can't not write." (or something to that effect — my second senior year is bit of a blur). What's frightening is that apparently it's been pretty easy for me to not write fiction. Does that make me not a fiction writer? Sh!t! Every once in a while (now, for instance) I'll be wracked by that question and with it the guilt that I haven't written fiction forever. But it usually passes, and I go back to reading and critiquing others' fiction.
One more thing: At the risk of eliciting eye-rolls, there's the ever-constant fear of failure. To me, that fear manifests itself more as a fear of wasting time. What if I spend 30 hours on a story, and then nothing happens? That's 30 hours I could've been reading instead.
So what's the answer? Well, the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem, right? I just need to re-discover that writing fiction is fun, and carve out some time to actually do it. Lately, I've been half-assedly researching online creative writing MFA programs. I'm not sure that's the right move, but it's been fun to think about.
And of course, I'm hoping you can help me with your ideas. What has gotten you out of a writing funk — even (especially!) if it's more than a decade? How do you make writing fiction fun? How do you get over the "fear of failure" idea?