Last week my Forms professor, Julianna Baggott, told our class the exact information that my little ears needed to hear. The message of her self-described “fiery speech” was this:
- You (the writing student) have essentially put your life on hold. You’ve halted whatever path you had before VCFA and have come to learn, to write, to make, to dig in fully. We’re here, so by all means, be here fully.
- No one cares if you publish anything. No one cares if you write another word. Harsh, right? But it’s true. No one is breathing over you saying : Keep writing. Keep creating stories in your head and share them with the world. It’s all on you. You have to care about your own work because no one else will if you don’t put the time and energy and love into it.
I really took this to heart (I’ve taken pretty much everything Julianna has told me to heart. I can’t write down what she says in class fast enough sometimes.)
Because I haven’t been afraid to say no to trivia nights or going out for dinner with friends, I’ve been able to finish the first draft of a magical realism novelette. In total, it’s about 13,000 words.
I’m learning a lot about my writing style through the writing of this piece. I really found the narrator’s voice early on, which guided the piece’s experimental and fragmented form. The idea for the piece began with a strong image: “an oil spill contained within a mint tin.” To obtain this item quickly became the motivation and guiding desire for my main character. (Yes, I’ve always wanted to write a MacGuffin story). From there, I found ways to explore how I could use that item to get at different angles of characters, as well as explore the history of oil spills in Michigan.
The first half of the story just went through a workshop with the whole class. Oh my, is there work to be done. There are some holes that will need to be patched up in this next draft. One character especially, the mother, is severely underdeveloped. So she and I will have to spend a lot of time together this weekend, unpacking her backstory and how she came to be the person she is today.
Even though I am nervous going into next week’s workshop of my story’s second half, I feel somewhat comforted that the overall feedback from my classmates was that it was enjoyable to read. Other comments included that it was fast paced despite its length, and the unique and witty main character is someone readers want to root for.
I have to just keep in mind that part of the fun in writing first drafts is that so much of it is exploration. Writers are really just archaeologists scraping up the layers of story deep inside blank paper. Sometimes, we dig up pieces that don’t go with the story we’re presently telling. Sometimes, we find a lead, but we don’t dig deep enough. Or we simply pause for a break and in later drafts, pick up the relevant pieces we hadn’t found earlier.
So I go onward with my shovel and my dishrag. I am looking forward to uncovering more of my story from under the earth’s crust and polishing all of the pieces. Because I do care, Julianna, I do. Because I want to know what happens next in my characters’ lives. Because I want to work hard so other people can care, too.