A couple of nights ago, something amazing happened: I finished my first piece of writing that is actually pretty good since I got my MFA.  Again – I know NaNoWriMo was a feat of strength, but in the end, that’s pretty much all it was.  I’m sure that novel will help me when I decide to take on a new project, but I call it more of an experiment than something that has potential.  As I mentioned in my last blog, there’s a lot I feel I need to deal with in terms of the changes I went through last year and especially my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, things that I believe have stood in the way of my being able to create something with potential and that I have a drive to finish.  I’ve had an idea for about a month or so now, and I even wrote a few pages just to try it out and see how it would feel.  It felt natural to me – but I still didn’t feel ready.

About a week ago, a friend from graduate school suggested that I pull what I like to refer to as The Great Genre Switch.  In the past, it’s been a way to redirect my thinking away from the kinds of things I typically write and allow my creative reset button to get pushed.  During my second year at WVU, I took a poetry workshop, and the change in form from short stories to poems caused me to see fiction differently, to have a fine tuned ear for voice, language, brevity, and rhythm.  In fact, even though I was in the fiction concentration of the program, it was one of the most valuable classes I took.  When my friend told me that I should try writing in a different genre as a way of stopping my block and despair about not writing, I remembered how helpful this was in school, and decided to take that advice to heart in writing my testimony essay I described in my last post.

I haven’t written an essay in over two years.  For me, nonfiction is way, way harder than writing fiction, because somehow, writing about myself directly makes me feel uncomfortable.  And really, it makes me kind of bored.  I’d rather just make stuff up and channel my experiences into the story.  Somehow, though, it came naturally to me this time, and I found the words coming in a way that felt honest and unrestrained, but still in control, unlike NaNo, which was pretty much just every word for itself.  And this was the transformative part – I found myself being honest with myself in this piece in a way that I never have in my nonfiction before.  I admitted things to myself about my relationship with Christ and my troubled background with religion that were difficult to put on paper, but were liberating to see looking back at me, as if some weight I’d been unable to recognize or reach was let out.  I find that my best writing happens when I feel a connection with what I’m trying to say on a mental and physical level – I can feel my fingers moving on the keys, but am taken somewhere else in my mind, where the story is happening, or the connections I’m making with my experiences being to link together.  The minute I start thinking about what I’m saying, the more insincere it becomes.

But the best part of writing this essay was the realization that no matter how discouraged I’ve felt about my writing recently, regardless of whether I’ve had anything to say or I’ve written 150 pages of complete crap, I’ve still got it.  I was afraid that the process I’d learned about in graduate school – of writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more, and even the creative minutiae of writing itself – was gone, that the rote tasks of bookstore operation had drained it out of me rather than fueling it.  I was wrong.  The process of writing, for me, was like riding a bike.  For the time I was writing and rereading that essay, I could have been in my old apartment in West Virginia or at the Starbucks across from the health sciences campus where I wrote much of my thesis.  Even though I’ve gone through so much since grad school that I feel much like a completely different person, I feel like writing this essay has helped me reconnect with Kori of the WVU days, that she’s reminded me that what I learned in my MFA program will never go away; in fact, my daily encounters with new things strengthens it.

So it’s been decided.  I’m going to continue revising this essay, but I’ve also started reading The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke.  I want to give this a go, and I think I’m ready to do it now.  I know about writing literary fiction – and I want to find a way to glorify God within it.  The Lord reminded me this week that He began a good work in me when He gave me this give – and when He begins something, He finishes it.  It’s time to move forward.  Stay tuned.

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