Here There Were Unicorns

A month ago, I was in the thick of Viable Paradise. The 11th would have been the Tuesday, which would mean I had had my first one-on-one (and clammed up), was still struggling with Lutherans (metaphorically) and eating tacos for dinner with fellow students (and staff, which was an immeasurable treat). The days and nights felt very timeless, in a “this is what we do, this is what we are always doing” sort of way, and Saturday was still very far away.

And now it’s far away in an entirely different manner. I had wanted to write something catchy and on point for the 9th, to celebrate the one month since VP started — talk about barbecues and too-bright sunlight and slapping our thighs so hard, so long, until they stung and our arms lost feeling — but the day got away on me. A lot of the other VP alum from this year have written posts along a theme of 10 Things I Know About Writing, all of which have been lively and heartfelt and interesting. But I feel in no way qualified to join in. Perhaps I’ll write a 10 Things I Don’t Know About Writing. That could work.

I am a clumsy fan, quiet and easily awestruck. It occurred to me today that writers, in my wee brain, are borderline mythical. Viable Paradise was like innocently side-stepping into an adjacent glade and finding myself entirely surrounded by unicorns. (And bad-ass unicorns, too. Not just the pale, glittery kind, but the ones that have tails of flame or are all black with silver blazes. The Bratz version of My Little Ponies maybe.) I was thinking to myself, “Guys! Look! They’re real! Unicorns!” So I spent a good deal of time (too much, really) being weird and nervous about everything. Like I might move and suddenly startle ’em all and then my time in the magic garden would be over.

Never mind that it was a finite visit to begin with.

I struggle. I struggle with a lot of stuff. It was so very good for me to get out and connect with other writers and to live and breathe this writing life every waking moment. I had high hopes afterwards, blood singing in my veins, charged with the magic of it all. But as November wears on, the old world closes up winter-tight around me and the experience starts to fade.

My seed analogy is more apt then ever, even if I am sowing them under the permafrost and must wait until spring to see what survives. Too many ideas to focus on and not enough time for them all. I’ve set aside the short stories, at least for November. I must finish the novel revision. Bear’s gotta be right — I can just be a novelist, and figure out the rest later. I can’t revise five short stories and my novel all at the same time while working a day job. My brain will explode. I think it’s trying to.

I am making gains on the revision, just not as fast as I’d hoped. I keep telling myself this, bag of seeds in hand. I consistently under-estimate the time it takes me to rewrite or revise a scene, so I make these benchmark goals I can never meet, which further demoralizes me. But, once it’s done, all that anxiety will be kicked away and each time thereafter the process will get smoother. I know this is true because it’s born out with drafting. I wish I was just drafting a new novel. That would awesome. Unicorn awesome.

(And let’s not even talk about the actual line editing, or my head really will explode. KABOOM.)


4 thoughts on “Here There Were Unicorns

  1. thanate7

    If your “finish this much”-based goals aren’t working, possibly you could try setting ones based on how much time you’ll spend revising in a given evening? At least until you get a sense of how long stuff is taking you.

    One of the nicest things about the week as a whole was how I felt like the staff– particularly both Steves, from my viewpoint– didn’t *let* us be shy of them. (And then I went away and regressed slightly, but so it goes.)

    1. Steph

      If I choose to just sit down for an hour, invariably I start to self-sabotage with distractions. I feel like I keep myself more honest when I try to focus on scene-by-scene or, failing that, 1,000 word blocks. Some days I scoot through a couple thousand, other nights I find I am reworking the dialogue multiple times.

      And yes, the Steves were excellent. Well, everyone was. I know I was still hesitant to approach staff because as tough as it was for all of us — all that information to absorb, the story to write, critiques and critiquing — the staff were also hard at work, too. They deserve them-time without all us hangers on. 🙂

      That said, next year, when the Viable Paradise list starts talking about the students for 2012, I will totally understand previous years posting this year about how much they envied us. I will absolutely feel the same.

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