Post-MFA writing

The literal results of my 3 years in the MFA program: lots of recycling.

Immediately after I completed the MFA program here – literally, within the first few weeks – I churned out a new story. Then I started dicking around. I wrote another scurrilous fast-draft novel. I kicked around other story ideas (only one of which I drafted).

This was all by way of putting off the revision of my real novel. When I realized that I was procrastinating, I forced myself into action. But instead of actually revising the novel, I hit upon this idea of fast-drafting a bunch of new content. After several weeks, I realized that this was a grand delusion: while the process had the distinct tang of productivity, it was in fact exactly the wrong thing to be doing. I already know the story. I just need to make it work better, aka revise it.

Le sigh. I have a fairly regimented approach to writing, so a month and counting of lost productivity (due to renovating and moving) is turning me into a brittle, anxious person. The novel feels like a cartoon anvil, suspended over my head by a fraying rope. It wants me to write it. I want to write it. There’s a palpable urgency about the enterprise. So when I lose another evening, not packing, but nursing a headache on the couch, streaming Parks & Rec and playing Angry Birds on my phone, self-loathing is the natural response.

I’m sure I’ve quoted this David Foster Wallace essay here before.

The best metaphor I know of for being a fiction writer is in Don DeLillo’s Mao II, where he describes a book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (dragging itself across the floors of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.

And so you love the damaged infant and pity it and care for it; but you also hate it – hate it – because it’s deformed, repellent, because something grotesque has happened to it in the parturition from head to page; hate it because its deformity is your deformity (since if you were a better fiction writer your infant would of course look like one of those babies in catalog ads for infant wear, perfect and pink and cerebro-spinally continent) and its every hideous incontinent breath is a devastating indictment of you, on all levels…and so you want it dead, even as you dote on it and wipe it and dandle it and sometimes even apply CPR when it seems like its own grotesqueness has blocked its breath and it might die altogether.

This is the kind of urgency I’m talking about. And yet, I am neglecting this sad misshapen sack, when I know full well that if I turn my attention to it thoroughly enough, I can shape it into something you’d at least mistake for a proper infant if you were squinting, or just glanced at it in passing.

Two weeks past our move deadline, knowing that we must be out of our old house this weekend, I sit around strategizing how I can shoehorn writing (even the long-hand journally scribblings I sometimes complete in the mornings) into the tasks at hand, which include making sure we have a functioning toilet in the new house before we move.

I’m at once confuzzeled and conflicted about prioritization.  

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One response to “Post-MFA writing

  1. Excellent encapsulation of that particular feeling of realizing you’ve been productive, just all sorts of wrong productive. There are days when I’m writing and then feel compelled to take a break to mop the floor. Just to avoid doing the heavy revision that needs to be done. I think there should be 12 step groups for all of us coming out of MFA programs. I’m in the middle of the post-MFA novel and it is exactly like that monster baby. Great share and now that I’ve read it, I’ll be sharing it around.

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