Today I trekked up to Winnetka to OCWW (Off-Campus Writers Workshop) in the cold, misty half-snow half-rain. I know, a lot of dreary weather adjectives. It was a multiple weather adjective day.
Christine Sneed was speaking. I’d heard her at a AWP panel in 2012 talk about organizing short story collections. Her talk today was about the short story and so I submitted a manuscript and, surprise, mine was selected for the workshop. It’s something I’ve submitted around, but haven’t had any takers on yet. The class really liked it and there were some key suggestions on improving it!
Lately I’ve been feeling invisible. I’m sure this all ties in with my artistic insecurities, but truthfully writing more and more seems like a young person’s world. Christine touched on this. She said she was somewhat of a late bloomer. Or maybe that she’d blossomed and it took a decade for people to notice. Anyway, for women of a certain age, we’re easily looked over.
Part of it is: I don’t look very arty. I’m basically the frumpy lady with mussed hair furtively scanning the room for people I know. Rarely do I have public persona. I’m used to hiding away in the garret, writing.
This from Christine Sneed’s blog posted at Ploughshares: “We are, unapologetically, a country that worships youth, and the sooner one can manage to be famous and brilliant, the better. But writing talent, for the majority of writers, is not something that can be honed as quickly as a winning jump shot or the perfect piecrust.”
Christine mentioned she was 39 when her story collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry appeared—about a decade after she’d finished her MFA. She’d been anxious to get her writing career off the ground.
I know, I feel the same way. Recently my critique group told me the unhappy news that my book on how to write flash memoir was 2 books and I’d have to spend more time with it, stripping out the passages that might fit better into a sequel on flash fiction. Okay so maybe good news and bad news. I now have 2 books to finsih.
Obviously, I am going to have to spend more time working on it.
More from Christine’s blog at Ploughshares: “So many of us want results as soon as possible, preferably an hour or two after we have finished a new story or poem or essay or philosophical treatise. We want to be adored, adulated, serenaded to, stared at longingly, canonized, and above all, remembered and paid grandly. We don’t all, however, want to do the necessary hard work that such emotional tributes usually require. The harsh truth is, for most of us, it won’t happen overnight.”
She went on: “Alice Munro was in her late thirties when she published her first book, The Dance of the Happy Shades. She had married, divorced, raised children, and in the interstices, managed to find a few hours to write stories. Carol Shields was almost sixty when The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer and earned her a much larger readership than she had previously claimed. Similarly, the marvelous British novelist Penelope Fitzgerald was starting her seventh decade when she published her first novel, The Golden Child, in 1977.”
These are all women of a certain age who probably worked beneath a cloak of invisibility. As we know the race does not always go to the swift, it is a marathon rather than a sprint. It is about putting one foot in front of the other, one word after another, one paragraph at a time. It’s about doing our best.