Monday, September 17, 2012

The dangers of not writing quickly

I almost had a heart attack today when I saw a book review for a new novel whose main character and main event sounded extraordinarily similar to one that I have planned for the future. Fortunately, upon further reading, I discovered that the entire context and plot of this other novel was very different. Whew! But I worry every day that my idea--which I feel has solid commercial potential--will get written by someone else who had the same brainwave and was able to write it and sell it faster.

Who can forget the Deep Impact vs. Armageddon showdown? Or the dueling cookbooks about tricking kids into healthier eating by Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Lapine, which turned into an ugly court case? Sometimes it's theft and sometimes it's zeitgeist. Sometimes it's the same brilliant thought occuring independently to two different people.

But before starting on THE BIG ONE (henceforth to be known as TBO) I still have to work out the plot because it's going to be a much more complicated piece than I've attempted before, and I still have to finish this blasted practice novel and then work on a novel that's been swimming in my head for years but was finally clarified last week when a key plot point clunked into place while I was thinking about something else. It's amazing how that happens. Let's hope that Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule holds true because by the time I finally get to work on TBO, I'll be a goddam master of the art. Let us also pray that nobody else writes it first!

Added thought: I will deliberately refrain from reading this other person's novel--even though it sounds fascinating--in order not to be influenced by it. I don't want to end up like this person!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Current count

I'm in the home stretch and will be more than happy to put this piece behind me for a while. This started out as a practice novel, but it has taken longer than anticipated to complete a first draft. I figure there's about 20 more pages left to do before I can stuff it in a drawer for a month. I need fresh eyes to do any more to it. Then I can burn it.

219 pages / 70,371 words

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Non-MFA MFA post

With a sigh I opened this month's issue of Poets and Writers. Yup, it's the MFA issue. Thousands of bright-eyed 22 year-olds across the country are eagerly examining the contents to determine the best "fit" and wondering if they should apply to the most selective program or the one with the most fellowship placements. Page after page of MFA program advertisements entice the prospective applicant to imagine herself sitting on the beach with her open laptop, taking inspiration from the waves. The Miami Writers Institute and the University of Tampa used the identical beach-laptop photo, prompting the identical thought that I will never attend a program whose biggest perk is the beach because I DON'T DO heat, humidity, hurricanes or bikinis! Emerson College's advertisement oozes charm and I can picture myself sitting by a window looking out on the cobblestone streets, moleskin notebook on my lap and a cup of tea at hand, while glowing streetlights and windows provide a merry atmosphere....Yeah, right. Charm is expensive and  I'd probably be living in a cockroach infested basement in a dodgy part of town. Emerson is therefore out of the running.

And then there's Michener. Time, space and money. That's the best advertisement of all. Perhaps next year....

Seth Abramson has been feeding my MFA statistics mania for as long as I've been looking at creative writing programs. Leave it to a former law student to infuse hard-nosed data and analysis into the lives of a bunch of free-spirited, number-avoidant dreamers (if you are not familiar with law students and their rank[ings] obsessions, please visit lawschoolnumbers or the US News & World Report to see what I'm talking about). Personally, the only stats I'm interested in are Funding, GRE--can someone please explain to me why a GRE is necessary? I'm really not going to be admitted because I forgot all of my high school Algebra, really?-- and one that isn't on here, but should be: Literature course requirements, so you can know how much of your precious time is going to be wasted on term papers.

One surprising statistic is that Iowa is #20 in selectivity even though it is #1 in popularity. I would have thought that the two things correlated more closely. Also not sure why it is only #24 in funding when another column says ALL students are fully funded. Perhaps because the money isn't purely in the form of grants, but often requires teaching? The amount offered by Iowa is also less than the $27,000 per year offered by Michener. Suck it, Iowa (but please let me in)!

Each MFA issue is a reminder that another year has passed and I still haven't joined a program. Writing is a lonely hobby. Whereas knitters can join knitting groups and runners can find other runners to pound the pavement with, writing requires space away from others to work, but then needs others to read and critique and encourage. And yes, even to learn. "The Teachable Talent: Why Creative Writing Can Be Taught" by Gregory Spatz was a welcome read in this year's MFA issue. Nobody who believes that writing is purely a God-given talent and not a skill that can be honed, should ever teach in an MFA program.

To all would-be MFAers out there, I wish you luck and success.