Learning To Swim
“Beginnings are hard. Endings are harder. And middles are a pain in the ass, too.” – Andre Dubus III
My writer friends and I always talk about writing as a long con, the kind that takes years and years and layer upon layer of deception and lies. At the heart of it, though, is an elemental and essential truth: the writing. Doing the writing, sitting in the chair and grinding it out—whatever ‘it’ might be—is the thing that you have to be honest about no matter how many tricks you try to pull.
I just got back to New York from a month in Florida, the truest home in my vagabond life. The last week of that month I was in St. Petersburg at the Writers In Paradise Writing Conference at Eckerd College, where I was so grateful to have received one of the Sterling Watson MFA Fellowships. Eckerd, to paraphrase Shakespeare, might be a small liberal arts college, but it has a fierce literary tradition.
My workshop piece at Eckerd was a project that, for me, was the equivalent of that run down bungalow at the end of the block—it had good bones, but was it worth saving? Would putting in dozens of hours of effort make any difference? Would it still be the dumpiest house on the street? It was my literary Love It or List It moment.
(For fans of HGTV’s formulaic import from Canada, you don’t have to wait until have the final commercial break; I’ll spill the beans right now. I decided to love it. Be Advised: This love will involve lots of swearing, gnashing of teeth, and staring at the screen wondering who on earth could ever think that was good writing.)
Campbell McGrath, my new favorite poet, had this to say during one of his lectures: “You don’t know you can do it until you fail.” Dennis Lehane said, “When you’re beating yourself up, try to remember that this is an exceptionally hard thing to do.”
The best piece of wisdom on this topic came from my teacher, the amazing Les Standiford: “When you’re learning to swim, you get water up your nose.”
So I’m back at my computer. I’m reading as much as I can and writing as much as I can and reading and writing and listening to the feedback from my peers and hearing the echoes of great writers in my head.
I’m all in with this long con.
And I’ve got a lot of water up my nose.