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Archive for the ‘Creative Writing and Literary Criticism’ Category

Last month I had the pleasure and honor of being interviewed about the genesis, maintenance, and future of Archetype by the online journal TreeHouse: An Exhibition of the Arts.  With the fifth anniversary of Archetype occurring this month and the six hundredth post targeted for early September, I thought I would publish the interview in its entirety here.

Enjoy!

 

TreeHouse: Is Archetype your first attempt at blogging? If not, what came before? 

Michelle Arch: Yes, Archetype is my first and only blog.  I didn’t think about the logistics of it much when I created it.  I simply chose a WordPress template, and, within an hour, I had written my first post to the world.  Then I sort of panicked.  I had just committed myself to something I had no idea how to maintain.  I posted a lot about Oscar Wilde back then.

TH: What initially drove you to create Archetype? 

MA: When I originated the site in 2009, I had recently begun the dual English and Creative Writing graduate program at Chapman University and wanted to establish a virtual writing workshop or MAB (multi-author blog) for artistic experimentation.  At the time, I was immersed in the process of literary coursework, reveling in each newly discovered or rediscovered text and learning to conduct scholarly research and master’s level composition.  And, most importantly, I was writing fiction again and risking what seemed the ultimate rejection and ridicule by (gads!) sharing my work with peers and professors.  I was a first-year MA/MFA student, and I was terrified and exhilarated and self-conscious and buoyed.  It was glorious, and I had this inexplicable desire to share what I was experiencing.

TH: From where do you derive inspiration for content? 

MA: I’m inspired primarily by literature and fear.  I’m constantly reading classic fiction and poetry and stumbling across passages that seem impossibly resonant.  I sometimes find myself actually holding my breath as the passage unfolds.  I get so awestruck and emotional about such beautifully written validation that I have to post what I’ve unearthed.  Most of the poems and prose I publish have timely personal significance.  From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer peach, each post, like a journal entry, reveals some hidden aspect of my life, whatever that’s worth.  My ever-present inadequacy demon is also a common Archetype theme.

TH: How much time do you devote to creation and maintenance of the site? 

MA: Most people would probably be a little quizzical if they knew how much time I spent each week preparing posts, mining for corresponding images, maintaining the site’s appearance, and keeping the contest deadlines, calls for submission, literary events, bedside table books, and other site features updated.  With a relatively small audience of subscribers and Facebook and LinkedIn connections, one could argue that my time could be more appropriately allocated.  I can’t explain it; some innate force propels me to post at least every three or four days.  And I have consistently done so for nearly five years.  Those close to me know how distressed I become if I’m unable to post by the fourth day.  It really has become a journal (and a journey) for me.

TH: You are a busy lady and a prolific writer, to say the least. How important is it to you to devote the time and energy to keeping Archetype going? 

MA: First, I’m not sure how prolific I am as a writer, but thank you for saying so.  I’m certainly trying.  Part of that objective requires building a platform and establishing a readership, so my website has become a large component of that.  Further, I like to think that every post resonates with at least one person besides me.  If it does, then it connects me to that person.  I’ve also realized through my blog how much I admire nineteenth century oil paintings and to which poets I’m drawn – like Christina Rossetti and Sara Teasdale.  As I’ve shaped and defined Archetype, it has shaped and defined me as a writer.  I simply can’t imagine ending it after all this time and effort.  It’s truly a labor of love.

TH: Where do you see your blog headed? 

MA: Now that I’ve completed the MA and will defend my MFA thesis in the fall, I’m thinking a lot about the next thematic basis and future of my blog.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t harbor a Carrie Bradshawesque fantasy of having all my “Best of” posts (personal commentary) published in a book someday (not to mention my picture on a bus and a closet full of designer shoes).  When I first launched Archetype, I couldn’t foresee beyond perhaps a year of posting.  I didn’t have a long range plan for the site or even a vision of an audience; I simply wanted a space in which to articulate the moments of joy and angst and Aha! I was experiencing and share the poems, passages, and images that have moved me in some grand way, a probable void accessible to everyone and accessed by no one.  And here I am, nearly five years and six hundred posts later, both trapped and liberated by “an unseizable force” that impels some of us to observe and question and reflect and write in a silent abyss with no end in sight.  I have many ideas and additional features I want to incorporate when the time allows.  I plan to pursue a PhD in English or Comparative Literature, so that endeavor will provide a lot of content.  (I currently have my GRE study list posted if anyone is interested.)  For now, I’m actually pretty content just having it as a forum for my own random discoveries and thoughts and knowing that its quiet appeal is appreciated by a few others.

TH: Who are your readers? Do they comment/interact with you often? 

MA: I only know about half of my subscribers personally.  That group is comprised of former Chapman peers, authors I’ve met at conferences and other venues, colleagues, and my mother, who, incidentally, was an English professor and department chair until just a few years ago and wishes I would post more Shakespeare and Milton.  I think the others are teachers and writers who have stumbled onto the site inadvertently and liked it.  I really appreciate that small band of strangers and its ongoing support.  I do get a fair share of comments and interaction, which I enjoy.  I will say that most Archetype subscribers are loyal.  Once they subscribe, they tend to stay subscribed.  Either that or they’ve relegated my posts to their Junk mail file.

TH: What are the pros and cons of blogging?

MA: For a perfectionist like me, it can be maddening when the site changes my intended font or doesn’t post an image exactly where I want it.  I’ll invest hours wrestling with a template limitation and ultimately losing.  And I spend a lot of time proofing and editing to ensure every post is as flawless as possible.  At first I was terrified to write anything that was personal or overly provocative; the permanence of the Internet can be inhibiting.  But Archetype is about literature and writing and art and all the feelings those creative forms evoke; it’s not likely to offend.  I did think long and hard before posting a painting of a nude woman reading in bed a few years ago.  Knowing it would probably garner more views than my posts normally attract, I wanted to be certain that my reasons for posting it were purely artistic.  But the image is so hauntingly beautiful, and it complemented the poem I was posting perfectly (“The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm,” reposted in 2013).  It resonated with me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  Once I posted it, I realized that, as long as what I write and post are consistent with my core values, I don’t worry about what people will think.

TH: What blogs do you follow?

MA: I follow quite a few and have a growing list of additional sites to check out.  The first blog I found and immediately followed was Irvine Valley College English and creative writing professor Lisa Alvarez’s The Mark on the Wall.  Like I was on Archetype, Lisa was also promoting Orange County events and posting poems and images, as well as her own thoughts.  Since we were both local, I reached out to her, and we have promoted each other’s blog ever since.  I also follow my good friend Ian Prichard’s site At the Wellhead, my Chapman pal Ruben Guzman’s blog Literophanes, Orange County author DeAnna Cameron’s Et Cetera, etc., Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen on Fire, TreeHouse, of course, and several others.

TH: You often post about calls for submissions and writing contests on other sites. How important is it to you to assist other writers with submitting their work? 

MA: I want Archetype to be a literary resource for aspiring writers.  But, again, I only promote calls, conferences, and contests that appeal to me and seem like valuable opportunities, so the lists certainly aren’t comprehensive.  I review a lot of websites, online journals, calls for submissions, seminars, and workshops before deciding which to promote.  I push Glimmer Train and Tin House calls a lot, because many of their stories end up in Best American anthologies.  I also advertise fiction and poetry readings and other local happenings, as well as prominent national literary events.

TH: An excerpt from your novel, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference in Newport Beach. At this point, where in the creative and publishing process is Time of Death

MA: It’s not that much further along than it was at that conference, I’m afraid.  I was so shocked and excited about its reception that my motivation to finish the book soared after that event.  The award from The Editorial Department was a lengthy review and critique, which was incredibly helpful.  And I had detailed conversations with WestBow about self-publishing, which I decided isn’t for me at this time.  But a few months after the conference, the momentum waned.  Between my MA and MFA course work and my career, it was extremely difficult to find time and energy to write.  At one point, I dashed off about forty pages and thought I was well on my way to finishing, but then the story got stuck.  And that’s where I am today, trying to unstick the story.  At least 150 pages of it comprise my MFA thesis, which is due in October, so that’s what I’m working on now.

TH: What initially inspired you to write the novel? How does the novel figure in with Archetype? 

MA: The blog and the novel are pretty separate projects, but I do write about the challenges and anguish of novel writing on Archetype.  I’ve also promoted Time of Death’s occasional successes on the site.  For me, the process of writing a novel is the essential premise for Archetype.  I think the fact that I can bemoan about the trials of writing (and my inadequacy demon) give it some credibility.

TH: Do you feel your blog posts have helped you craft your other writings?

MA: Absolutely.  I’m a guest columnist for the Orange County Register, and many of my columns are derivatives of blog posts.  Still, each article needs to be adapted to the specific audience of that medium, so they often end up looking nothing like their earlier versions.  I met the editor of Orange Coast Magazine a couple of years ago and was invited to send him some pieces, which, of course, I wanted desperately to do, but I didn’t have the time I needed to tailor an article for his magazine.  With so little available writing time, I try to get as much mileage as I can from a piece.  Archetype has also helped me develop my personal commentary voice, so my posts, columns, and essays have a consistent tone.

TH: How did you make the progression from blogging for yourself to writing articles/posts for other websites and blogs?

MA: Honestly, that has been a combination of networking and sheer luck.  I am so appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had to write for other websites and publications.  Among TreeHouse, American Christian Fiction Writers, the Orange County Register, and other random forums, it seems I always have an upcoming deadline.  In fact, I have more invitations to submit than I currently have time to accept.  I’m hoping that, very soon, I can finish my thesis and organize my writing time so that I’m taking advantage of every possible opportunity – they’re definitely out there!  Although, I’ll soon be busy studying for that pesky GRE, too…

 

"Reading Woman" by Albert Edelfelt, 1885

“Reading Woman” by Albert Edelfelt, 1885

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The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite.  I had too much to write: too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming, too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within, too many terrible genetic and fiduciary secrets to dig up and bury and dig up again, too many divorces to grant, heirs to disinherit, trysts to arrange, letters to misdirect into evil hands, innocent children to slay with rheumatic fever, women to leave unfulfilled and hopeless, men to drive to adultery and theft, fires to ignite at the hearts of ancient houses. […] I was nowhere near the end.

 

~ Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

 

Janez Šubic, 1878

Janez Šubic, 1878

 

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I knew the coming of June would thrust me into panic mode.  In January, I carefully planned the year, as I always do, dedicating the first five months to the enormous reading load for my last class at Chapman and an overdue and ostensibly quick and simple home remodel.  The entire summer, September, and October were allocated to finishing and submitting my MFA thesis by the fall deadline.

With both of these earlier distractions now behind me, I’m wondering how half of June has passed without any new chapters written.  The calendar and clock terrorize me constantly as I count the days and hours that remain in relation to the number of pages still unwritten.  I assure myself that my goal is readily accessible, that I’ve allowed for unforeseen impediments such as an unexpected business trip, migraines, or a complete lack of inspiration.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…

It always surprises me how a day can pass so easily without a word being written, particularly since writing is what I love to do most.  But life does seem to have a way of depleting time and energy, despite the best of intentions each dawn. Finding stretches of uninterrupted time to write fiction was a recurring topic in my workshops at Chapman.  While full-time professional writers can hole up for days and weeks or even months to attend to their craft, the novice or aspiring professional writer has a “real” job and other demands that take precedence – or at least appear to in the moment.

I admit I could ignore the layer of dust on my furniture and let the carpets go unvacuumed more often than I do.  And I’m sure my body won’t collapse into a state of utter disrepair if I skip spin class or a run now and then.  But there are some truly conflicting priorities, and our days are finite.

At this point, I have no choice but to devote all available resources to my manuscript.  I’m fifty-five pages away from finishing, and my defense committee convenes in November.  This is it.  This is The Summer I complete the thesis portion of Time of Death.  I will be writing fifteen pages each month through September, leaving only October for formatting and the ten-page critical statement and chapter outline.

We’ll see how it goes.

My writer Demon is ever-present; I can hear him chomping on an apple over my shoulder and scoffing at every new paragraph, but I’m ignoring him.  He’s not an agent, and he’s not on my thesis committee.

 

You must write the book, else there is no book.  It will not finish itself. 

                                                                                            ~ Tom Clancy

 

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April is National Poetry Writing Month, also known as NaPoWriMo, an annual creative writing event that challenges participants to write a new poem each day from April 1 through April 30. NaPoWriMo coincides with National Poetry Month, which is celebrated annually in America and Canada.

The project was founded by Maureen Thorson in 2003 and modeled after NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November. Since its inception, the number of registered participants has grown steadily every year, and many writers’ organizations coordinate NaPoWriMo activities.

Many of us in Chapman University’s MFA program have impending thesis deadlines, and the NaPoWriMo challenge gives poetry students the perfect opportunity and support to complete this last critical component of the degree requirements.

For a comprehensive list of FAQs and guidelines, visit the website at http://www.napowrimo.net.

Have fun, and good luck!

 

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The Pen on Fire Writers Salon is pleased to present an evening with novelists Anita Hughes, Jane Porter, Suzanne Redfearn, and Kaira Rouda on Tuesday, February 11, at 7:00 p.m.  This monthly speaker series, hosted by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, features authors, literary agents, and others involved in the field of writing.  The events take place in the atmospheric Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar and entail readings, literary discussions, and book signings.

Anita Hughes is the author of Monarch Beach, Market Street, and Lake Como from St. Martin’s Press.  She attended UC Berkeley’s Master’s in Creative Writing program and has taught creative writing at The Branson School in Ross, California.  She is currently working on her next novel.

Bestselling author Jane Porter has been a finalist for the prestigious RITA Award, the highest award of distinction in the genre of romance fiction, four times and has over 12 million copies in print.  Her novel Flirting with Forty is a Redbook Red Hot Summer Read and was made into a Lifetime movie.  Her Brennan Sisters trilogy includes The Good Woman, The Good Daughter, and The Good Wife, which was just released in September.

Suzanne Redfearn’s debut novel Hush Little Baby has received rave reviews and has been described as “a compelling tale of deceit, violation and anguish that ratchets up the tension page by page” (Kirkus Reviews).  Redfearn graduated summa cum laude from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo.

Kaira Rouda is the author of Here, Home, Hope, which won an Indie Excellence Award for fiction and the USA Book Award for Best Books of 2011.  It also received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest International Book Awards.  Rouda’s second novel All the Difference is also the recipient of the USA Book Award and earned honorable mention in the mystery/suspense category of the Indie Excellence Awards.

Advance tickets are required to guarantee a seat at this event.  To read more about the speakers or the Pen on Fire Writers Salon and to purchase tickets, visit the website at http://www.barbarademarcobarrett.com/speakers-series/.

 

WomenFictionWriters

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Presented annually by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, the Writers Studio brings together a community of writing students to workshop with some of Southern California’s most esteemed professional writers and teachers.

Participants select one of ten intensive four-day workshops in creative writing and screenwriting planned for the 2014 Writers Studio, including Courage and Craft: A Writing Workshop to Jumpstart Your Creativity, Writing the First Novel, Writing the Young Adult Novel, Novel Revision Techniques, and Writing Memoir and Personal Essay.  Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis, and each class is limited to fifteen students.  Early registration is strongly advised.

The Writers Studio fee of $895 ($815 through January 6, 2014) includes enrollment in one four-day workshop February 6-9, a continental breakfast on Thursday, a special Saturday guest speaker event, and a Sunday reception.

For more information and to register, visit the website at http://blogs.uclaextension.edu/writers/programs-services/writers-studio.

 

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With the 1st of November just a few days away, writers everywhere are stockpiling food and saying farewell to their family and friends as they prepare to hole up in their writing caves until December 1.  November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, an annual internet-based creative writing event that challenges participants to write a new 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

The project was founded by Chris Baty in 1999 with 21 participants, and the official NaNoWriMo website was launched the following year.  The number of registered participants has grown steadily every year, and the affiliate Young Writers Program and official podcast were developed in 2005.  In 2010, over 200,000 writers registered for the challenge, and nearly three billion new words were written.  A summer version of NaNoWriMo (Camp NaNoWriMo) was launched in 2011 and was held in April and July this year.

Many of us in Chapman University’s MFA program have impending thesis deadlines, and the NaNoWriMo challenge gives us the perfect opportunity and support to complete this critical component of our degree requirements, particularly if we have decided to start a new project for the thesis or complete a novel rather than a collection of short stories.

The novel can be on any theme and in any genre.  However, it cannot be a project already in progress.  Writing of the new novel cannot have commenced prior to midnight on November 1, and the 50,000-word mark must be reached by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.

For a comprehensive list of FAQs and guidelines, visit the website at www.nanowrimo.org.

Have fun, and good luck!

 

NaNoWriMo

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It’s hard for me to believe that four years ago on this day, with a succinct, autogenous “Hello, World!” announcing its quiet arrival on the heavily populated, cyber literary landscape, Archetype was launched.  Conceived originally to chronicle my journey through Chapman University’s dual Master of Arts in English and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and provide a forum for peer critique and camaraderie, I promptly posted passages from one of my short stories (“Windmill Ridge”) and my novel-in-progress Time of Death and invited classmates to contribute their work.  I also posted original essay excerpts on Jonathan Franzen and the waning of a literary America (“Antisocial or socially isolated?”), mirrors and reflective imagery in world literature (“Masks, Manipulation, and Madness”), and the notion of the invoked doppelganger in fiction (“The Self We Seek”), all of which I was studying in those first few months of back-to-school bliss.

362px-Th_Richter_Dame_in_der_BibliothekLike any creative endeavor, the site evolved as I did and now reflects my deepening involvement in and abiding commitment to literary and academic pursuits.  In addition to promoting Chapman fiction and poetry readings and publication opportunities, I mine journals and the Internet for interesting and informative local events taking place beyond the university’s borders.  Details regarding local and national writing contests and Calls for Submissions are also posted regularly, which I think my small but dedicated audience appreciates.  Most recently, I’ve added a section for the growing number of my guest blog posts, my interviews, and other places where I’ve stumbled pleasantly upon my own work.

Followers know that I most often post poems and passages that have timely personal significance.  From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer peach, each post, like a journal entry, suggests precisely where I am intellectually and emotionally.  Early on I rejoiced to find pictures, particularly eighteenth and nineteenth century oil paintings, that evoked or complemented the literary piece I was posting, and I now spend nearly as much time searching for corresponding artwork as I do on literature.

Thanks to my passionate professors and their fascinating courses on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the life and works of Virginia Woolf, female enchantresses of modern British literature, and Gothic and fantastic fiction, Wilde, Woolf, and the works of A. S. Byatt, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe were frequent early Archetype subjects.  Posts on Wilde culminated in November 2009 with the writing of my course thesis on The Picture of Dorian Gray (“The Act of Creation,” “Wilde Irony”), while Woolf reigned in the fall of 2010.  (Click on these links to review excerpts from “The I in the Portrait: A Bakhtinian Analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray and “On the Wings of Angels and Butterflies: The Chaotic Journey to Woman in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.”)  My penchant for Russian literature and philosophy ENFANT~1was also soon discovered, and I immersed myself and, by extension, Archetype in Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov and began to examine just about everything through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin.  Later courses exposed me to the intriguing life and works of Gertrude Stein (“Back to Bakhtin: The ‘I’ in Ida), Junot Díaz, Ralph Ellison, and many others, and every newly encountered author was explored here to some extent.

The craft of writing is another recurrent theme on Archetype; “In Celebration of Technique,” “Last Writes,” “More is More,” “Not Quite Write,” “Drafting Perfection,” and “A Sense of Style” are a few of my personal favorites.  However, it is the angst of writing about which I tend to muse and articulate most freely; “Why Write?,” “One True Sentence,” “Bird by Bird,” “Write About Now,” “Demons and Darlings,” “The Reality of Rejection,” “In conclusion…,” “A New Summer of Writing,” and “The Write Stuff” all convey my own grapples with the creative stall and feelings of inadequacy.

With the MA in English recently attained, a few modest awards under my belt, and conferral of the MFA degree scheduled for next spring, I can’t help but consider what’s next – for me academically and literarily and for this site.  It’s no secret among those who know me best that PhD programs in both English and Comparative Literature are especially enticing next prospects.  However, with applicant Leonid_Pasternak_001admission rates of approximately four to five percent at local universities, I’m keeping the likelihood of acceptance in perspective.  Nonetheless, the pursuit of admittance will be next summer’s undertaking and will, of course, be recounted here.  For now, my focus will remain on completing and defending my MFA thesis, submitting my short fiction and nonfiction work to various conferences and journals, and preparing for the Graduate Record Examination.  Oh, yes…and there is still my novel to finish (“This is the Year”).

During the last 48 months, I have published 487 posts about literature, critical theory and writing technique, literary figures and events, submission opportunities, favorite poems and passages, articles of interest, books I’m reading, papers I’m writing, other literary blogs I’m following, conferences I’m attending, and demons I’m wrestling.  Archetype celebrates holidays, welcomes new seasons, and even gives the occasional nod to lunar activity.  Finally, personal aspects of my affective life and literary journey are memorialized and shared (“Write of Passage,” “Cartwheels Under the Arch,” “Pathetic Fallacy,” “Beyond Words,” “On the Write Track”), even when the discovery and healing are mine alone.  The site maintains a small but seemingly loyal band of subscribers and blogroll partners, to whom I feel completely accountable and utterly grateful.  I hope you will all follow me through this final chapter at Chapman and into the next – wherever the next may lead.

 

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Lately I’ve struggled with the word constraint of a guest column I write.  No matter how concisely I try to present my ideas, I’m routinely asked to cut between twenty and forty words from each submission.  Not long ago, I spent a painful weekend pruning over 4,000 words or roughly fifteen pages from a complex essay that took over a month of previous weekends to write.  All this excising of carefully crafted thought has left me increasingly puzzled by and frustrated with the stringent word count restrictions imposed by editors, literary and academic conferences, and writing competitions, and I’m wondering for the umpteenth time in my literary career…why is brevity so universally celebrated?  And when exactly did less become more?

In a world of tweeting, texting, cinquains, and the widely popular flash fiction and short shorts, the art of epic articulation is no longer appreciated and extolled.  As writers, we are called upon constantly to synopsize, abstract, and shorten our work.  Most literary journals and conference calls for submissions set essay and story limits of 2,000 words, which not only makes comprehensive analysis or lavish storytelling impossible but also, quite frankly, cramps my style.  Heck, my list of works cited typically comprises 1,000 words alone.

The length parameters of most submission opportunities are about a third of the critical essay and creative prose minimum page requirements in graduate English and Creative Writing programs.  Weeks and even months of research and writing are required for a 15- to 25-page paper or narrative of “publishable” quality, which needs to be summarily condensed to a scant seven pages in order to meet the submission guidelines for publication or presentation.  Any writer who has attempted to abridge fiction prose or an essay or a column to meet an editor’s space limitations knows well the instability of what remains once its structure has been so severely compromised.

I’m doing my best to adapt to the attention deficit world in which we now live and must attempt to create.  As I write each blog post, column, essay, and fiction piece, I monitor the number of words at the bottom of my computer screen like a frugal taskmaster, making more efficient choices and trying not to lament all that is left unexpressed too much.  But it hasn’t come easily.

In the end, with just a few hours remaining before my recent target conference submission link was closing, I read the culled fragments of my original 6,000-word Bakhtinian analysis of Oscar Wilde’s only novel and decided against submitting it.  The part was simply inferior to the whole.  Call me verbose; I still believe more is more.

 

The seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time") total over 4,200 pages and an estimated 1.2 million words.

The seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”) total over 4,200 pages and an estimated 1.2 million words.  (Photo by Amakuha.)

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My office is in chaos – again. After finishing my course thesis on the parallels between Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground last month, I spent a Saturday clearing the disarray of books, critical essays, notepads and Post-its with my jotted thoughts and references, my highlighted and dog-eared MLA Handbook and dictionary, half-empty water bottles, bags of kale chips and chocolate covered almonds, and uncapped pens and highlighters scattered on the desk and floor of my den. For weeks this project had consumed me as I worked to create an organized, meaningful, well-written essay from a jumble of notes and fragmented ideas by the midnight deadline.

Three weeks later the clutter is back, as I now work to meet the deadlines for several guest blog spots, a newspaper column, and my MFA thesis. I’m familiar with the muddle of my surroundings and in my mind and am oddly calmed by it. Scribbles on scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes, receipts, sticky notes, and index cards are once again ubiquitous, tacked to my bulletin board and adhered to my computer monitors, reminding me to add a transition, description, or a bit of dialogue to some work-in-progress. Books, writing magazines, and drafts of my columns, stories, essays, and novel chapters, defaced with nearly illegible edits and suggestions (mine and others’), litter the floor in shambolic piles that seem incongruous with my reputed compulsion toward extreme tidiness. It appears this is how I create. Even without the looming deadlines, disorder is part of my process.

While writing my Bakhtinian analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray a few years ago, I learned that the crude journals in which Mikhail Bakhtin had written one of his most influential manuscripts were lost for nearly seventy years, buried in a lumber room where rats and seeping water had severely damaged much of them. About what could be discerned, Michael Holquist says this: “In the faded scrawl we can see the race between the occurrence of ideas and their feverish transcription. This volume provides a chance to see Bakhtin in all the heat and urgency of thought as it wrestles with itself. In Toward a Philosophy of the Act we catch Bakhtin in the act – the act of creation” (ix).

An 1890 typescript of Dorian Gray with Wilde’s corrections and emendations reflects a similar, seemingly haphazard approach to the process. Words and even entire sections are crossed out or rewritten, and handwritten insertions run between the typed lines and up the margins. Nearly indecipherable notes and corrections to himself and to his typist fill the white space of each page of what we know is not even an early draft of the narrative.

A characteristically organized person, the chaos of my own comparatively tiny writing life vexes me. Over the years, I’ve created paper and computer files and designated bins to contain my various projects, but, once immersed in the work, the system seems to fall apart. And no matter how many journals I purchase, the ideas and insights continue to be recorded on the nearest scrap.

The act of creation, it would seem, is simply messy.

 

Published on TreeHouse: An Exhibition of the Arts on June 12, 2013.

 

First galley proof of Marcel Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu"

First galley proof of Marcel Proust’s “A la recherche du temps perdu”

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