Written By April/May 2010 : Page 21

it. That’s why I still do it—for better, for worse. It sustains me. The commer- cial movie or TV gig to feed my fam- ily; the personal pet project to feed my soul. Now some of you, many of you, hopefully not all of you, will simply and aptly frame your Goddard diplo- ma and hang it in your office or den or laundry room, and dust it once a week when you bother to remember. And some of you, hopefully all of you, will cherish your MFA in Writ- ing degree as the gift you gave yourself to nurture and ignite the creative fire within. Call it your license to write. Now use it. Everyday. Let your writing take you some- where. Make your words transport your reader or audience someplace else. Make an appointment with yourself to write—and keep it. Start calling yourself a “writer” whether you’ve been published yet or not. (If you can’t call yourself a writer, then why should anybody else?) You’re a “writer” when words matter to you more than they matter to anybody else. You’re a writer when you obsess over what and how and where and why and when to write. You’re a writer when you push beyond your innumerable false starts. It will probably take shape and get better over time—but only if you sit up with it, like a sick friend, and nurse it back to health with patience, fortitude, courage, and faith. You’re a writer when you write through the “Imposter Syndrome”— when you’re convinced that you’re not a “real” writer, that you don’t have what it takes. You’re a writer when you write past your self-loathing for not having the output of, say, Joyce Carol Oates. Or the simple perfection of Amy Hem- pel and Toni Morrison or Capote, Agee, Rushdie, Hornby . . . or fill in the blank. Fill in the blank. That’s what we do. Face the dreaded computer cursor that mocks you and taunts you and dares you to write even when you’d rather be cleaning the grout in your shower, or the leaves out of your rain gutters, or the grease in your oven. Clean up the mess on the page in- stead. It’s harder, less finite—but infi- nitely more satisfying. When you’re stuck, stop and reeval- uate. Lower your standards for the time being if you have to, then write on. Write on when they reject you or malign you or misunderstand you. Write on when everyone tells you that you shouldn’t, that it’s futile, that you’ll never amount to anything. Write on because your mother told you when you were 18 that your late father’s se- cret ambition was to be a writer—and it’s your inheritance. (See: He did leave you something.) Write on because you dreamed one night that you found an ancient Un- derwood typewriter in a dusty shop on the Isle of Mann… And then, kismet! The very next day you just happened to wander into a thrift store in Sherman Oaks—and lo and behold: There it was for 20 bucks and you reach into your pocket and have a crumpled 20, no more, no less. Bring it home and place it on a shelf in your office where it still sits to this day reminding you that you’re a writer in spite of technological advancements, special effects, 3-D, and ADD. Use your Goddard MFA in Writing diploma like that. Let it remind you who you are at those defeated, exasper- ated moments you’d most like to for- get. Write on when you neighbor’s fren- zied leaf blower or car alarm or scream- ing children are right outside your win- dow and scrambling your brain. You could be a coal miner or a ditch digger, so, honestly, what is there to complain about? Write on when you hear voices in your head. You could be schizophrenic or you could just be cursed or blessed by being a writer. Stay tuned. Listen up. Get out of your way. These voices are your frenemies. The Furies haunt- ing you. Your Muse whispering inspira- tion into your ear. Or both. Rattling your cage. Infusing your work with darkness and light, poison and panacea, war and peace. Write on when you can’t sleep. When all you want to do is sleep. When you’re afraid what you’ve writ- ten will put your readers to sleep. It happens. Stop, reevaluate, edit, edit—more risk, more conflict, dig deeper—then forge ahead. Write on when you feel the shame and humiliation that you would have been better off having not written. Or as Joan Didion once put it: When you come to believe that “writing is an ir- relevant act.” And when you fall flat on your face, when your experimental fiction or screenplay or play just isn’t work- ing—draft after draft—put it aside and start writing something else, but keep writing! Take comfort in the fact that all writers are masochists. We torture our- selves to finish, flog ourselves for pro- crastinating, shame ourselves when we get critical feedback, doubt ourselves when we’re rejected, and then come back for more. Write to please yourself, but not only yourself. MFA is not an acronym for Masturbator of Fine Arts. Share your writing with the world. It’s your legacy. Your destiny. Your duty. J.D. Salinger stopped sharing his stuff with the world—and just look what hap- pened to him. When you have a definitive, pol- ished, final draft—which might take ten months or 10 years or 100 drafts of solitude—when it’s ready, send it out. Embedded in the writing life is the paradox: Writing is a solitary yet com- munal endeavor. It’s our job to illumi- nate, provoke, inspire, or at least, God forbid, entertain. Write on because you’re a writer and need to keep your craft honed and sharp. Write on to discover what you don’t know, and what you don’t know you know. Write on because you have a God-given talent and it would be the height of arrogance to disagree with continued on page 52 a p r i L / m a y 2 0 1 0 W G AW W r i t t e n B y • 21

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