Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Follow wherever your writing energy leads you.”*

Writing energy is in short supply for me these days, at least for any extended period. After the wonderfully overwhelming week at Antioch Writers Workshop, I came home eager to write, but thoroughly exhausted and lacking in any kind of energy. It took a few days’ recovery, and time spent absorbing the lessons learned from the morning sessions, before I could write anything.

And lo and behold, I turned to non-fiction.

For months, I’ve been working on an essay reflecting on my undergraduate studies in the World Classics curriculum at Antioch McGregor (now Antioch Midwest). Unfortunately, the program made such an impact on my life that the essay grew to nearly 9,000 words, far too long for nearly any publication I could hope to have accept it. It was also disjointed, unwieldy, and in serious need of editing. I just couldn’t make it happen.

After AWW, and some wise words from fellow writer and blogger Lisa Kilian, I finally did what I’d been resisting – I tore the damn thing apart, all but started over (still couldn’t bring myself to toss quite all of it), and ended up with just over 2,500 words of a much better essay. It needs a bit more fine-tuning, and my beta-reader for this project, while agreeing I needed to put back the personal commentary I cut out during my slash-and-burn session, asked two very pointed questions: who is my audience? What one specific point do I want to convey? With his encouragement, and push in the right direction, I’m more optimistic about actually finishing this piece than I have been since I started.

So where does that leave my fiction? I’m heartened by the fact that writers such as Orwell, Hemingway, and many others also wrote essays (not that I’m putting myself in their class by any means), but there are only so many hours in the day, and I have only so much writing energy.

Besides the essay, I have a novel in progress, one I’m shopping, one that needs heavy rewrites and two fragments, plus I have a book review due in a week. I have short stories out on submission, and a few that need edits before I can send them out as well. But I also have an insistent idea for a non-fiction book that I’d love to continue researching.

And like it or not, life, and family, require time and energy. I realize now, every day, why my writing languished while we were raising children. I simply can’t do it all.

Fellow writers, especially those with small children, how do you manage to keep your writing energy replenished, and directed to the proper outlet?

I keep picturing juggling torches or spinning plates…

*Matthew Goodman, author of The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York, etc.

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