The Words on the Page
2011 has been a year of writing disappointments, at least so far. I've gotten more rejection slips the past six months than I have ever in my writing life. Of course, I have been submitting to high tier journals; so that fact may have something to do with the rejection slips. I didn't get into a writing residence I applied to, a residency I was certain I'd get. I can't seem to write any poetry that doesn't bore me to absolute tears. I've sent out my full-length collection to several places, but I've hard nothing.
What's going on? This too, saith the Good Book (or maybe somewhere else), shall pass. But that passing feels like a mental kidney stone.
I have been writing, however, working on a novel. I hate to even type that sentence. I mean--how many people do you know who say, "Oh, I"m working on a novel." Those same folks spend their time playing video games and watching Dr. Phi. That's probably an unfair assessment. Nonetheless, I am writing a novel, a story I've had in my head for quite a while now. It's quasi-literary, quasi-detective story. I'm trying to do what writers like James Lee Burke and Michael Lister do: plant one foot firmly in the terra firma of literary, character-driven fiction & another foot right in the middle of the seedy downtown of Detective Genre Fiction. I'm impressed by writers like Larry Brown & Harry Crews, too, artists who can write compelling, character-driven fiction but who aren't afraid of a gun going off somewhere in the story.
Aside: why am I writing a novel? Answer: because I don't have any new poetry to write. Even Seamus Heaney leaves me silent, & he's the poet I most often turn to these days for inspiration.
I have around 120 pages or so of usable prose, but every time I write 40 pages, I find myself backtracking to rewrite 20 pages. I wonder if this is the nature of beast, so to speak? It's hard to believe that not fifteen years ago, I considered myself a really good prose writer. I was in my early 20s, & I'd written a longish, talky book about four guys in a band. The name of the band & the name of the novel was "Mystery of the Egg." I've still got a good portion of the manuscript somewhere, but it's terrible: page after page of four guys talking about life, death, sex, drugs, sex, rock-n-roll, sex, drugs, liquor, sex, God, sex, rock-n-roll, & sex. I remember sitting down to work on that book & feeling as though I knew exactly what I was doing.
Now, when I sit down to work on my current project, I feel lost a lot of the times. I worry if the prose is crisp, if the action moves, if I'm telling a good story, if the narrative makes sense . . . you name it, & I worry about it. I realize that this self-consciousness isn't helping me. At the same time, however, this hyper criticism makes me think about the book all the time. Was it Harry Crews who said that a novel owns you when you write it?
I worry that I'm too much a poet to be a novelist. But at the same time, even as I typed that sentence, I'm not even sure what that means. Am I too focused on the lyric moment to effectively unfold a complex story? Do images trump narrative for me? I don't know. But I do keep writing, & maybe that's the key.
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O for a muse of fire,