Wednesday, August 20, 2014


All modern fiction opening lines are unrealistically catchy, thought the stripper holding the fish between two tongs made of her dead cat's thigh bones...

For the longest time, I thought I'd call this blog "Failed Writer" when I finally got around to writing it. Now that I'm at last giving this a go, there are two reasons I've decided on a different title. First, I actually got a notice this week that the Baltimore Review is publishing my short story "American as Berbere" in their fall edition. So I'm not really "failed." I'll soon have one whole fiction credit to my name, to go with the three (I think) that I had as a poet about 13 years ago. Secondly, it seems the name was already taken by someone who hasn't updated the blog in over a decade.

This is a space for people who fit certain criteria. You may like it if you fit one or more of the following criteria:

1) You're someone who has tried at least a few times to publish something "creative," like fiction or poetry, and been rejected.
2) Even if you've occasionally been accepted, you have seen stuff get published that you think isn't as good as what you wrote that got rejected. Not always, but sometimes. And you're pretty sure it's not just sour grapes, but you're not totally sure, because no matter what they say, it's really crushing when you get a rejection.
3) You don't really always agree or understand with the advice in writing "how-to" books, such as the well-known Burroway text or Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream or similar fare. Not that you are an unteachable ass who out of hand rejects all advice and just wants to use your natural genius unfettered by so-called "wisdom," but because you are honestly engaged with the advice in the texts and with the literary tradition you love, and feel that not everything you are being told is helpful.
4) You spent (or borrowed, and are still paying back) a ton of money to go to a writing school, and don't feel you learned much of use there. You think most of what you were told in workshops was half thought-out junk that some overworked grad student with three jobs just said so he/she could prove he/she participated while waiting for his/her turn to be read. You wondered if you were the only one who thought that the workshop was a fraud, as well as your grad school writing "program."
5) You think a lot of fiction is being written that's really good, but a lot of it also seems to look similar to everything else that's being written. You wonder if this is because of writing programs. (And yes, you know that like a million people have already made this point.)

I did once suggest to my adviser in grad school that I didn't think the workshop was a great idea. She laconically replied that if I didn't like it, I should leave grad school. I stayed, because I was already in debt and close to a Master's, so I stuck it out for a piece of paper. But the experience did leave me feeling that I was something of a heretic.

So this blog is about the experience of writing and trying to become a better writer, while also being skeptical about those who purport to help me to become better. There is a lot of good, even great advice. There is also a lot of junk. There's probably a lot that might be good for you, bad for me, or vice-versa. This blog is about the struggle (I hate the word "journey") to improve while resisting what doesn't make me better. I hope to find a few kindred spirits.

I'll blog about my reactions to writing books, articles, and blogs. I'll blog about fiction being published now. I'll blog about what I'm writing and how I'm going about making it better and getting it out there. I'll even blog about workshops--I'm hoping to join one soon, just not one made up of grad students. I'll blog about being humble enough to learn and strong enough to stick with what you think works.

Next entry: general thoughts on Burroway and Butler.

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