There are times that success must be measured by how many new things I try in the span of a month, a year. This method of measurement extends beyond writing, but yes, for now I’m speaking of writing. If ever you’ve read my ramblings, you know that I began to write with the goal of one day completing an epic fiction. I spent my childhood and adolescence gorging on historical romances, mysteries, and thrillers, and dearly wanted to write a hybrid of all three one day. Participating, finally, in writing events and group competitions led me to discovering many different genres and exploring them thoroughly. That’s how I found poetry, and ultimately, how I discovered my voice.
Poetry … rather … the fact that I got poetry, and that a well of it actually existed somewhere deep in my writer’s soul came as quite a shock. I refused to call myself a poet for years. It was all quite comical. Then absurd. Then frustrating. Until I embraced it. Earlier this year I completed the writing of THAT ONE THING, and since I’ve done little more than experiment. Dabble, even. Syllabic verse, haiku, cento, found poetry, prose poems, list poems, recorded readings, etc. These are the new things I’ve tried. Therefore, I am successful.
The contest judges who read THAT ONE THING were nice enough to send their notes to me — notes compiled, I can only assume, as they read and made suggestions for what entries should win the contest. Wasn’t that nice of them? This was my first experience with submitting to a large contest, so I was delightfully surprised that the judges would offer such a thing. I like feedback. I learn from it. What did I learn in this particular instance? That one person out of five completely appreciated my efforts. That judge commented on style and voice within individual pieces, as well as the arrangement of the collection, said “sometimes it’s just so seamless it’s impressive”, and “rich with history and language without every being too historical or verbose”. Wow. Thank you.
One out of five. Weeks later, after reading through that email, I am still overwhelmed by the miracle of that percentage. I was just happy that I tried new things — in this case, an autobiographical, hybrid series of two very different genres — then actually completed the task of compiling them all into a collection. I was just happy that I FINISHED SOMETHING, then submitted it. The bonus was that five reading writers working in the literary world were thoughtful enough to send their notes. The others all made nice comments about how well-written the collection was, but questioned whether or not it was “right” for them. I expected the challenge of finding a place that would be totally open to my style … it’s not really a universal style. But, oh man, I’ll never be able to express how thrilled I am to discover that the words “well-written” to come from the editors of a lit mag.
I didn’t win the contest. Didn’t get past the quarter-finals. And, though it may read as such, I’m not still patting myself on the back over how far I got, or that I completed my first major writing project. What I’m doing is making a record of a measured success. The last record. For four months, my life has revolved around this first major project, from inception to final email from the lit mag. I’m done. Now I’m on to worrying over where to go from here. I can, in fact, measure success outside of THAT ONE THING, because since I have tried more new things, specifically, cento and prose poetry. These two styles have dominated my reading and writing since March. I have learned a lot … but I am beginning to question what might come from it all. It seems, regardless of the immense learning experience gained, that I have put a lot of distance between my writing and that thing that I once considered my authentic voice.
It seems, regardless of my accomplishments thus far, that I am becoming more and more isolated. I have thrived in a certain measure of isolation since that moment years ago when I accepted that I was writer, and that I wanted to dedicate the majority of my waking hours for the rest of my life to becoming a better writer. I have no local writing friends. My husband doesn’t share in my enthusiasm for writing and rarely offers to read or give feedback. The desk where I sit to write and do research faces a wall in the back of the house — a fitting representation of how involved I’ve been in the WORLD for the past four years or so. Closed off, isolated, my back to everyone as I write and read and write. On the rare occasions that I participate in live, group conversations, I realize just how little I have to say. If it didn’t happen on Netflix, HBO, in an anthology that I’m currently reading, or in this little corner of the city while I’m out walking the pup … I got nothin’.
Recently, I was called in as a temp to work for ten days in an accounting office. I was quite pleased that I managed to sit up straight and could follow along well enough to complete necessary tasks. Even so, conversation often failed me. Witty banter … no. Knowledge of current events wasn’t really required but I sweated over the probability of certain topics coming up. What the hell exactly would I say?
I’ve cut myself off too much. And I’m beginning to worry it’s long-term self-imposed isolation, rather than dabbling in disparate styles and genres, that is effecting my voice.