Writing as vocation, not entertainment

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve come face to face with what it is I am doing. Because I’m not in an MFA program and I don’t have any deadlines, the act of writing has to be one of voluntary immersion, not forced acceptance. There’s a great pleasure in the realization that this is my work, and that I cannot excuse myself from it. If I want to be a writer, I have to write. Like many people, I think I believed that I was a writer, but I never acknowledged it to myself in a self-affirming way. I didn’t think of it as a job. The importance of placing writing on a level with work places it in a position of power. I’m not just a guy who writes; I’m a writer.

That said, I’ve been spectacularly failing myself. I’ve done some work, but it hasn’t been enough to achieve what I’ve wanted. I keep reading really bad pieces in respectable publications like The Kenyon Review and Narrative, and I think to myself that I can do better, but I haven’t done anything. I haven’t sent out submissions since January. At some point in time, I’m going to have to actually do something. No one likes a critic who can’t back himself up.

I’ve been noticing that I can differentiate writers who have been writing for decades between those who’ve been writing for a much shorter time. I read an article somewhere recently (can’t remember who wrote it or where it was) that discussed the style of writing intrinsic to younger writers. Younger writers, this writer said, were only concerned with the self – there was no description of scene or setting. He said that young writers were writing about their feelings instead of what they saw, about how they felt instead of what made them feel. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially, he said that there’s an enormous preoccupation with the self that has become clearer recently. To me, this is most evident in Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation.” It is also clear in Dave Eggers’ “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” but Eggers work is, in actuality, a piece of genius, while Wurtzel makes me laugh.

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many good writers lately, because everything I read in publications just seems horrible. There are too many people who are writing, and frankly, I can’t see how they are chosen for prizes and publication. It’s like they’re playing at being writers, but only doing it halfway, so that the end result is a story that gives only half of what it should. I’m instantly bored with most writers under the age of thirty, which makes me sad because I should be supporting them, but I just can’t handle their work.

Here’s a good example of a story that was literally painful to read: Shark, by Rachel Yoder, which was published in The Kenyon Review. Does she actually need to punch us in the face with the fact that the narrator is discovering his homosexuality? There’s an enormous lack of subtlety in that story, and it grated on me.

That’s all I got for now.