Living Madly – Back to School
More than any month of the year, September has always felt like a time when I should be starting something new. No doubt this annual urge is a remnant of the years I spent in school, when September really was the launch of a new year. In spite of feeling this way, I can’t remember the last time I actually started something new in the fall. Most years I just ignore the feeling until it passes, which is usually sometime in mid-October.
This year, however, I’ve decided to do things differently and take a fiction writing class. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time but have put off for various reasons. My excuses have ranged from those you might expect, like not having enough time to complete the required assignments and not wanting to spend the money on tuition, to those that surprise even me, like the overwhelming anxiety I have that I will not do well in the class.
While the latter seems irrational to most people I’ve mentioned it to (I have made a living as a writer and editor for several years, after all), I’ve decided it’s probably normal for me to feel this way. Doing anything that requires breaking out of my regular routine has always been difficult. And taking a class necessarily involves meeting new people, which I sometimes find stressful. Not to mention that a fiction writing class by definition requires sharing your writing with unfamiliar people who will then be compelled to dissect and critique the results of your hard creative work.
So why take the class?
More than just a writer, I want to be an author. A completed novel manuscript I worked on for years has met time and again with rejection after a few requests from publishers and agents to read it in its entirety. In other words, the work has problems I’m not sure how to fix. And more than anything, I want to be able to recognize and resolve them. Unless I’m willing to do some hard work and embrace a few things that make me uncomfortable, I won’t be able to learn the skills I need.
And because I love writing, and enjoy tackling difficult creative tasks, I’m also hoping the class might actually be fun.
Of course, I’m aware that taking just one writing class won’t guarantee I’ll be able to fix the issues with my manuscript, nor will it ensure that the novel will ever be published. But I know if I do nothing, tucking the manuscript away in a drawer, I’m all but assured of never reaching my goal.
I’m also hoping what I learn in this class will give me the confidence I need to keep submitting my work to publishers and journals, that it will help me continue down a path that might eventually lead to where I want to go, despite the inevitable rejections I’ll receive.
I’ve made enough new beginnings in my life to know that an adjustment in the direction you’re heading, even a small one, can sometimes lead to good and unexpected things. A change of scenery can often offer the insight you need to travel to places you never imagined you’d visit.
Back when I was a senior in college, I had a quote taped to my bedroom mirror from the 1988 PBS documentary “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth,” which featured American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell being interviewed by journalist Bill Moyers:
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
This September, I’ve decided the answer is “yes.”