Writing space, not a group, is what I need

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“I believe in empty spaces; they’re the most wonderful thing.” –Anselm Kiefer

This week I said goodbye to my writing group. I have trouble adjusting to groups. This group was a good group, however. It was hard to say goodbye. While I feel like sometimes I need accountability, I realize I just need to write and I need to write on my own terms. The truth is, since leaving my MFA program nine years ago, it’s been hard to find solid ground. It’s been difficult to grasp who I am as a writer and to find the routine and find solid footing. I thought I needed to force myself into a literary community or something. I guess I created a picture in my mind of how the post-MFA me should be and I was not finding my post-MFA life living up to that.

Leaving the group is not about the group members. It’s about casting off the expectations. It’s about finding myself as a writer again. Admittedly, I felt lost. My novel manuscript I left the program with seemed on its way and then it floundered. It had gotten beaten up by some of the communities I thought I needed, and I stowed it away for another day. I made fits and starts on other projects. I cut those off at the knees with other communities I thought I needed.

To be fair, my kids were growing up while I was trying to find myself as a post-MFA writer and they needed me. I worked a full-time job as a writer and then as a teacher of writing. It left little time and energy to find myself. I had a nurturing community in MFA program and then I didn’t. I was doing the nurturing and trying to find a rhythm again. It has been difficult, but the other day I realized that I just needed time to write. I needed to create a routine. I needed space. I needed to breathe life back into this thing that I love to do so much. That routine meant I didn’t want to fit into any kind of shape that the group formed for me. I wanted to be free to work on the projects that I wanted to work on. You see, I write literary stuff, but sometimes there is magic in it or ghosts or whatever supernatural thing that pops up, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, it’s just literary. I just want to write what I want to write.

It turns out, I don’t really need a group right now. I could use a good reader or two, but not a group. I do have a group of sorts, the kind of group that I figure works best for me to stay on task, a goal setting group, a kind of support group for writers. I meet once a month with them, talk about what’s frustrating me about writing and what’s going well, and that’s good enough, but the critique group always seems to stop the writing its tracks rather than feed it.

Today, I embrace the space, the space I finally realize I have needed more than the community. This space has helped me look back at that manuscript I shelved with fresh eyes and with a fresh approach. I can see those characters again. I see them in a new way, and I am excited. I need to sit with this excitement for a while, be happy that it’s back. I’ve missed this.

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On making the commitment

My husband asked me if I was coming back to bed this morning after I had gotten up ungodly early to take my daughter to work. I told him no, not because I am mad or anything like that, but because I was wide awake, for one, and because I am finally making a commitment to my writing. I told him I went to school for writing, so I want to write and it is about time I make the commitment. So, I spent the morning committing to the act of writing and it felt good.

I guess I had to lay it out for him, because I tend to be the one to put everything and everyone else before my craft. Even with an MFA in writing I have never felt good enough. I felt more the perpetual fangirl than a peer to the writers I admire. There are a couple of women in my life whose encouragement I am finally taking to heart, one who I know and another who I do not know personally, but her words are sinking in.  Delia De Santis told me a long time ago that I should believe in my poems. She published three of them in the collection Sweet Lemons 2: International Writings With a Sicilian Accent, an anthology she coedited with Venera Fazio. I was definitely fangirling because my poems were printed alongside the work of so many writers I admire. She told me I deserved to be there. Admittedly, I took it with a grain of salt–like I always do. It’s a fluke, I told myself. Recently, I read Diane di Prima’s latest book of poems. I know I’ve already blogged about finding it and reading it, but what I came away from reading that book with is the way she described how unapologetically she committed herself to her poetry writing and how pretty early on she unabashedly saw herself as a peer to fellow writers of the time. These bits of truth sit as bookends to the many other signs and bits that I have collected along the way from writers like Haruki Murakami, who also just simply committed himself to the craft, and Grace Paley, who when asked at a lecture she gave at Howard Community College in 1988 why she writes the stories she does simply said that there were very few stories of women when she began writing and she felt that those were stories that needed to be told and heard.

It has been easy to believe that my stories have no merit. It is easy to believe that because they don’t pull in six figures or any figures they are somehow less important than other things I do. I can’t blame anyone for making me believe that. No one made me believe that but myself. I chose to see myself as a fan girl rather than a peer for a long time.

Now, I am choosing to commit. I am choosing to see myself as a peer. I am choosing the process and my work and as di Prima noted in her book, the rest will have to work itself out.