In Which I Do Actually Write Stuff
When you define yourself as a writer—or, I suspect, any kind of artist—no matter how awesome your day job is (mine sure is!), it can really bring you down not to have the time or energy to create. I went through a really low productivity period for a few years, partly because I spent some time on projects that were bogging me down, but also just because life caught up with me. I went and had a baby and got this fine new full-time teaching job at pretty much the same time. Both those activities are extremely time-consuming, not to say life-sucking, for the first 2 or 3 years.
So now that I’m experienced enough to not be so stressed out all the time about teaching, and my child is in school, I’m feeling much, much better, not only because it’s awesome to be able to sleep more than 4 hours at a time, but because of a great knock-on effect: I get to be a writer again. And I’m pretty sure I teach better, too.
I’m working on my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, on-line and in summers, from the University of British Columbia. Not only will this be a fine professional credential when I’m done, but it creates a double-whammy of productivity.
First, I have constant creative-writing deadlines to meet (the reason I always took creative writing whenever I could during my English degrees). Second, because it is a multi-genre program, I get to try out all sorts of writing forms that I have written in much or at all up until now. I see some of my colleagues in the program all nervous about having to take those required “second and third genres,” but not me! I’ll be happy if I can get through this degree never having taken a traditional literary fiction or poetry course. Not that I don’t have plenty, and I mean plenty, to learn in those areas, but that’s the jazz I studied back in the day. I’m all for trying out new things that I might not have done on my own. Also, I think it’s my age showing: I no longer have fear of trying stuff that I might not turn out to be any good at.
One of the outcomes of all this: lots of half-finished projects, which may just be a new kind of lack of productivity. But, eventually, I will have to finish at least one of them for my thesis. And I hope I’ll finish more, just because.
One thing I have finished is a short film script. (Since you asked, it’s about breastfeeding and the ghost of Pierre Trudeau.) It went through a massive rewrite because the early drafts were basically impossible to produce. It’s now a full third shorter, has half as many characters and locations, and is set in Canada instead of Cuba. Lesson learned, and I’ve now got someone interested in producing it, which is something I would never have predicted a few years ago. The script calls for plenty of nudity, so I will be too embarrassed to show it to people if it ever does get made.
I’m forty thousand words—all written this summer–into the first draft of a young adult fantasy novel. It’s about some students in a school play who go through a magic trap door into a land where Shakespearean characters run amok. I only found out after I started this that the trap door in Shakespeare’s Globe was known as the Hell Mouth. I am now totally channeling my inner Buffy. The draft contains a lot of teenaged girls in swordfights. I can no longer write it nearly at the pace I was during the summer, but this baby is, thanks to the guidance of the wonderful Annabel Lyon, very thoroughly outlined, and I don’t think I’ll lose the plot, literally or figuratively, even if I only write one scene a week. I have an earlier failed novel (first draft, for adults) in a drawer that will probably stay there, an unworkable blob. I am thoroughly converted to massive outlining. And I’m using Scrivener and loving it.
I’ve also got an outline and about half a draft of a graphic novel script for children (it’s about the WWII home front and the British Commonwealth Air Training Program), and I’ve got ideas and sketches for several other young adult and children’s projects that I’m tucking away for future use—all those thanks to a great course I took with the also wonderful Maggie de Vries last year.
This year, I’m supposed to write a play (just started—my workshop has several experienced actors in it, and they’ll tell it like it is!), and in January I’m planning on taking a comics course – in which I will actually be required to draw. After that, I’m hoping to do a non-fiction course and a full-length screenplay course, depending on availability.
One other project I’ve actually finished, completely independent from my MFA courses: the poetry book, my fourth (fifth if you count the first one that stayed in a drawer), that I’ve been working on v e r y s l o w l y for the last something like eight years. I’m calling it Exquisite Monsters, and it is due out in 2015 from Turnstone Press. Looking forward to working with the great Dennis Cooley, who’ll be the editor for the press. I worked with Dennis a long time ago at the highly recommended Sage Hill, before my first book was accepted for publication, and while I was working on new poems that would become my second book, Spine.
So if you haven’t noticed, I’m really positive and cheerful about writing right now. I don’t know how many of those projects I’ll ever finish, but having them all there puts me in a place I really like to be: a place crowded with ideas.