On Writing

How most of my actual writing happens: by hand

It is amazing the sort of things you can come up with to do besides writing term papers.  My room is clean.  My papers are re-filed.  I spent several hours researching the Pembroke Corgi and figuring out how much money I need to save before I can get a pet (which, of course, won’t happen until employment).  I figured out the logistics of flying from the UK to SFO, renting a car and driving it back to DC for a wedding in June while hitting up the major southern sights on my to-see list (No, I can not afford that. Remotely. But I know how I’d do it).  I have explored the bowels of the internet – and when I say the bowels, I mean truly, the bowels.  There are things I never really needed to see that I cannot unsee.

All that aside, I’m actually nearly done with them.  A final revision and the citation formatting for both of them and a conclusion for one of them.  This is possibly the least stressful week-before-major-term-paper I have ever had (knock on wood, I haven’t gotten my friend’s comments on one of them yet, I might have a frantic weekend ahead of me).  I feel so ridiculously adult and responsible, I don’t really know what to do with myself.

It’s largely because I got so much work done before Luke arrived, knowing there’d be three weeks without even cracking a book.  Though, in truth, I did do some reading while Luke was here.  That last week of his visit while we were in the UK, he was a bit sick so we did not do much – on New Year’s Eve we were both fast asleep.  I hope that’s not an indicator of the rest of the year, or I’m old before my time.

I’ve had a fierce bought of homesickness lately.  It only took a year (almost to the day) of traveling for it to really sink in.  Part of it is due to the term papers, I think.  I just want a 9-5 job, an apartment of my own, in Washington D.C., with my yoga studios, my community of friends, and maybe a pet.  It’s very much a grass is always greener, because I’m sure if I had all of those things I’d be day dreaming about living abroad.

I really respect Buddhists, or at least the ones who actually manage to live in the present, because it’s something I struggle with.  I’m always planning a few steps ahead, focusing on the next move, getting things together for what I want my life to be like.
Meanwhile, my life is chugging along, doing its living thing while I’m six steps ahead doing my planning thing.  When does that stop?  When I’m dead? (And do I plan that, too?)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I really love writing.  I love the process of weaving together thoughts, each bit interconnected and integral to the other.  One of my life’s goals is to publish something – anything, on any level.  I don’t mean Write The Next Great American Novel.  I meant maybe write that Pleasant Short Story That Gets Published In a Magazine In Ohio.  Or whatever.  But I’ve put it off, for a long time.
When I was a child and into my early teens, I wrote so many stories.  I started novels, poetry, etc.  I wasn’t that bad, especially for my age.  But I couldn’t grasp it.  I couldn’t put my finger on the pulse of what it meant to live, I couldn’t translate that to a character, to an experience, to a story.  I figured I needed to live for awhile, so I put the pen away.  I stopped writing fiction around sixteen.  A rare exception was when I applied for a Uuniversity that wanted a piece of fiction for my application.  As a result of reviewing this application, I had a very enthusiastic (and surprised, I think) AP Lit teacher who from then on told me every time I saw her to not stop writing.
But I did, sort of.  I got wrapped up in primary sources and theory and other academic pursuits.
There’s a key to academic writing and it’s in the organization.  Every academic paper is – or should be – structured the same way.  I could write out one bare bones outline and use it for every paper.
Introduce.  Thesis statement. *[Topic Sentence Support Thesis Statement / Evidence / Interpret & Analyze / Topic Conclusion] repeat from *. Conclude, reiterating at least one point from each paragraph.
There you go: your paper key.  If you did it right, I should be able to read the thesis statement and the first sentence of every paragraph and know exactly what you said and how you said it.
(This is, coincidentally, how you read text quickly: you deconstruct the paper to its bare bones outline mentally in order to be able to discuss its topic effectively without spending three hours slogging through it.)

But I digress.
The point is that academic writing is similar to but not the same as fiction.  And I’ve been thinking a lot about writing fiction again.  You know, in between everything else I’m doing for graduate school.  Because there will always be an excuse.  I’m too busy, I’m to tired, I’d rather watch the telly or read a book or go for a hike.

It’s strange.  When I was a child and I wrote all the time, I decided that I needed to live awhile before I wrote.  I wasn’t living, not really.  I was a lot more introverted back then, and wrote many a journal entry infused with woe and how books were my only true friends.
But now, I’m living.  If you went into a time machine back ten years and told fifteen year old me all the shit I’ve done, she would not believe you.  I have the sort of CV that exhausts me to write it all out.  I’ve fallen in love.  I’ve had my heart bruised and battered, though perhaps not broken.  I challenged myself in college.  I reinvented myself.  I learned to love myself.  I’ve traveled the world and been so much farther than fifteen year old me conceived of.
Now I’m living and the excuse is that I never have time.

I was listening to a podcast on one of my walks earlier this week – APM’s On Being, if you’re curious – and the interviewee quoted someone else.
“You have to show the muse you’re serious.”
This struck me as the writer’s version of my own philosophy:  You are responsible for your own happiness.  The core of it is pro-activity.  Nothing you want in your life is going to happen unless you make it happen.

It is, perhaps, time to get serious.

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