An Unfinished List of Lessons from a Writing Workshop In Which I Was Broken and then Rebuilt

One week ago I returned home from a six-week short fiction writing workshop in San Diego. For six whole weeks out of my life, I was basically a full time writer. Except for one or two day job things that trickled in, I mostly cut myself off from the real world, friends and family. While I’ve gone to one- or two-week workshops before, and even had a one-month residency once, I have never experienced what it is like to actually and truly have writing be the priority of my day, every day. That in fact it was expected of me to show up to the page, and it affected those around me if I didn’t.

I was in workshop for 20 hours a week, was close-reading up to 100,000 words a week of my peers’ writing, and writing a new short story a week – which would be read and talked about for a full hour not only by the 17 other writers but by the successful and highly acclaimed faculty (which changed from week to week). If I wasn’t doing any of those things, I was in craft lectures, business lectures, public readings, or one-on-ones with faculty. A friend and I also tried to find a few hours to work on our novels together.

Now, this model is not sustainable, of course, and I’m not even sure if there’s an equivalent that would work for playwriting. I realize this is a playwriting blog and not a short fiction blog…but one writer’s problems are all writer’s problems.

Because I’ve been home a week and have not written a word. My brain has be sputtering trying to understand why I need to be in meetings about fundraisers and marketing and grants and not writing a new ghost story. I’m back in a world in which no one cares if I write today or tomorrow or this week or this month. A world where I have to actively make rent. Half of me is back on my routine bullshit, the other half is asking – but…what about the writing?

What does prioritizing your writing even look like?

I wanted this blog to be a “here is a list of things I learned at my writers workshop” kind of thing but…I’ve only been home a week. And I just don’t know if I can articulate it exactly yet. Some of the lessons won’t sink in for a little while.

But I’ll tell you this.

In week two, I was basically told I was too weird in every sense of the word to really have a career. All of my arrogance and confidence was beaten out of me, and I was a bloody mess on the floor, feeling like I had wasted my life. I used that energy to write one of the stronger stories of mine at the workshop in a kind of fever dream for week 3 – refusing to stop writing for fear that I wouldn’t be able to pick it up again, that I had to see it through otherwise I’d talk myself out of even trying. I lived in that terror for the next three weeks. Worried that the things I was interested in exploring, experimenting and fucking around with were stupid and embarrassing.

If I was torn completely down in week two, then in week six I was built back up again. I wrote quite possibly the most vulnerable story I’ve ever written in a fit of rage (with myself, with the world, with how I’m perceived as a person, a woman, a woman-writer) and it was also a fusion of my fiction and playwriting life and voice. It was completely me.

And I walked away from week six not feeling like that weirdness is a weakness and an air I was putting on, but if focused well and layered with truth, it is my superpower.

So, if I had to offer a few loose words of wisdom, or just nuggets of a jumbled mind that may or may not be useful to you, this is what I’d write down:

  1. If you’re scared to write something, that means you should. Sometimes that means you have to write in a fever dream, straight through to the end, to burst through the dam you’ve built between what you think your writing should be and what it wants to be.
  2. Prioritizing writing looks different for everyone. But it deserves it. You deserve it.
  3. Find your superpower. This is stolen wisdom from our week six teachers Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe but…if you’re good at language and interesting characters and structure, it’s okay for your plots to be more basic and straightforward. If plot is your thing, it’s okay for the other stuff to be straightforward. Everyone has a superpower.
  4. Everything will always seem more important than the writing. Everything else is shouting for your attention, everything feels like an emergency. But be careful not to hitch yourself to other people’s emergencies. If you’re not discerning, if you default into a state of reaction, then everything else will feel like the most important thing in the world, and your writing, sorry, will never scream as loud as that email from your day job. Do I mean you should drop obligations or showing up as a sibling/parent/friend/worker/etc? Of course not. But if you’re only reacting to others, then you are helping them build what is important to them and what is important to you can get lost, can become background.
  5. What I’m saying is…internalize your commitment.
  6. Procrastination happens when we want to avoid negative emotions. So time management is often more about emotion management.
  7. We will never be satisfied. That’s part of the job.

Anyway, that’s more words than I’ve written in a week. I’m exhausted.

This is the blessed unrest.

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