May 25, 2011 3:45 PM
It’s seventy degrees out. Sunny. A brilliant blue sky with no clouds in sight. My cat Gizmo is sitting in the open window, his tail twitching feverishly at the prospect of the outside world. I’m on top of my bed, legs outstretched amidst a pile of ripped out notebook pages, pens, pencils, a book on antisocial personality disorder, and one marked up and highlighted manuscript. My laptop is overheating on my thighs.
This is not how any normal person should be spending such a gorgeous day. But I’m not normal. I’m a writer. And because I have no job and have literally just graduated from college, this is the only way I can feel productive.
My newly acquired degree, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, is lying on the floor across the room. I’m contemplating the literary journey that accompanied it. I started college in the clichéd fashion—bright eyed, excited for the creative writing courses that would surely launch my long and successful literary career. I defined myself as a fiction writer—since age seven, in fact. I had dabbled in poetry a bit in high school—real awful stuff fueled by a bad breakup, but I never took it all that seriously.
After two semesters of fiction courses, I became sort of jaded. I was awful at writing short stories, identifying more as a novelist, and couldn’t see any way of salvaging the four pieces I had created over the course of that year. I started taking poetry, and continued to do so up until my final semester. I learned about line breaks and alliteration, and what exactly a villanelle was. My poetry started off adequate, I suppose, but as I wrote more and more I got better at it. I found my voice, even—a strong, characteristically feminine one, with abundant sarcasm. There was no doubt in my mind that my Senior Thesis Project would be a portfolio of my own poetry, and that’s exactly what I did. My poetry put the “Fine” in “Fine Arts” on my degree.
So then why am I sitting here outlining the first chapter of a novel? Never mind the fact that I can’t stand outlining. You see, I decided to take one last fiction course at Emerson, not thinking much would come of it, until I was bitch slapped by an idea and thrown back into the crippling obsession that is fiction writing. I am right back where I started, plus a degree and minus a source of income, the bookstore I worked at for four and a half years having closed the day before my graduation.
I have four Microsoft Word pages open at the moment, as well as Facebook. I keep going back and forth, debating whether or not to update my status. Something like, “outlining chapter one, this sucks!” or “thinking of starting a blog, but I’m not really all that interesting.” I’m resisting. I feel that I am constantly seeking attention and approval for my writing. I vowed to myself not to update until I had something concrete to report, Chapter One in its entirety, perhaps. At some point, probably within the next hour, I’ll make some appeal for ideas for my blog title. I probably won’t get any responses, but thanks to my iPhone, I’ll be checking in every ten minutes just to be sure. My social awkwardness and tendency to be an attention whore really do not mix well.
I have a notepad lying next to me with a faux fountain pen on top. It’s a disposable pen, a Pilot Varsity whose tip is the only thing that gives it away as a fountain pen. I refuse to write on this particular paper with any other pen—I love the scratching noise it makes when I’m frantically scribbling down ideas. The top of the page screams, “Chapter One Breakdown!!!” and I have split the notes into two sections: “What actually happens,” and “What needs to be established.” The first list has exactly five bullet points—five precise moments of action. The second list has ten. I am drowning in exposition—things that need to be known about characters, relationships, location before the story can move forward. I try to think of things I can push into the second chapter, but nothing seems to work. Every tiny detail seems necessary.
I thought the outlining would help me figure things out, but maybe I’m trying to be the sort of organized writer that I just inherently am not. Maybe it’s better just to storm through whatever idea pops into my head, worry about organizing and editing later. Because that’s what I love about writing. That’s what defines me as a writer—that sort of tornado of passionate insanity that sweeps through your brain. Once it’s gone you’re left with a page of words and you’re not quite sure how even it came to be.
Outlining isn’t really for me.
I update my Facebook: “taking the plunge into blog writing…the hardest part is coming up with a title.” Gizmo jumps down from the window and onto the bed, walks across my papers and lies directly on top of my manuscript. Didn’t somebody once say that animals are wise? Or maybe I made that up.