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Entries in Dear Sugar (3)


"Without risking failure nothing important can be written"

From Jane Vandenburgh, some paraphrased advice on writing from one of the most gifted memiorists out there, Cheryl Strayed:

To write any book that matters you'll need to own both your own most ridiculously lofty ambitions together with the sobering notion that you're likely doomed to failure. You will fail, she says, because each of us is a broken and leaking all-too-human vessel, too weak and insignificant to be carrying such an important story.

Why? because each of us is profoundly, even fundamentally mediocre -- this is Strayed's perfect word -- so it's only by asking ourselves to do what we actually cannot yet do that we step up to take on the critical challenges that will be necessary.

Without risking failure nothing important can we written so we must settle down to the fact that we're sure to fail, then fail, and then fail again. If there is one true task of a writer, she says, it is to take up a story that is too heavy, one too difficult to bear, shoulder it, then walk a thousand miles.

Read the rest here!

If you've read and enjoyed any of The Rumpus's Dear Sugar columns (this one is my favorite), you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Tiny Beautiful Things. Pick up two, because you're going to want to give the second copy to someone who needs to read it.


Reflections on Week Five

[Read the completed challenge here!]

Because the readership of this blog is still so small, I'm tempted to breeze right past the fact that I posted Week Five's challenge in April and only posted the final piece now, June 17th. Future readers wouldn't even have to know that I was a crappy blogger for three entire months! Well, I'm going to fess up because I admire earnestness and honesty in the blogs of other people, and maybe my struggle with this will help others.

So. You may have noticed that the things I posted between then and now dealt mostly with writers' block, but that wasn't the whole reason this took so long.

The reason was this: I wasn't having fun.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess here too that the mind-blowing Mass Effect 3 played a not-insignificant role, but that was a symptom more than it was the disease, okay?]

I've been thinking a lot about writing in general and this blog specifically these past months, and through many conversations with like-minded creative folk I came around to the understanding that, in addition to using writing prompts I thought of in college, I have also been pressuring myself to write the kinds of things I felt I had to write in college. Namely: Literary Fiction, which I do enjoy reading but find torturous to write.

I talked a little bit about this while I was brainstorming Week Five's storyI wrote that I thought it would be "exhausting" to have a career writing meditative literary fiction. Whatever your feelings about genre fiction, I believe that the many authors of it are able to write often several books a year not because the writing is necessarily awful, but because they enjoy what they are writing and can't wait to see what happens next. Before I went to college for it, I felt this way about every creative thing I wrote. So what happened?

Well. This is my blog after all, and I should write whatever I wanna. So, after a false start about one paragraph long in which I did indeed try to continue the fraught yet meditative literary adventures of Week Three's nameless protagonist, I found myself on a bus with a notepad and a pen. I had, before this, been looking for a Father's Day card that would be suitable to give to my mother, who, after all, had to be both mother and father for my sister and me. So all of this was in the soup when I wrote the following, still thinking I was going to continue with my idea from Week Three:

What happened to the mother as best-parent stereotype? Nothing did. They have biology on their side. More interesting is how men have to study how to be a man. We've softened a bit, which is good, but now we have to find our role models.

Two things here: I regularly read Esquire magazine because it's the first real instruction manual I've found for being a man. Seriously, basic shit like the best way to shave, what to drink, and that you should use a face moisturizer with SPF 15. Who else will tell me this? Second, that male children of divorce must go in search of father figures is an idea that's surfaced a few times in comedian Marc Maron's WTF Podcast, which I listen to religiously.

So in jotting down just this, I realized that I wanted to write something in the style of Esquire (direct, earnest, often wry) and that I wanted to explore a little bit my own complex relationship with my father.

And there you have it. I wrote a paragraph or so on the bus, the rest of it over two hours the next morning, typed it up and picked at the words for two more hours tonight, and blammo. I'm terribly proud of it—it's in a style that I enjoy and suits me well. I love mixing earnestness with humor with punch-in-the-gut sentiment. The end result is a cross between something you would find in Esquire and Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugar column. And, having posted it on Father's Day, the timing was perfect.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Next up, Week Six!


Two spoonfuls of Sugar

The Rumpus's Dear Sugar column is one of my favorite things on the internet right now, and if you're not fanatically reading and re-reading these columns then do I have a treat for you.

The first concerns writing vs. being an author:

If you are a writer, it’s the writing that matters and no amount of battery acid in your stomach over who got what for what book they wrote is going to help you in your cause. Your cause is to write a great book and then to write another great book and to keep writing them for as long as you can. That is your only cause. It is not to get a six figure book deal. I’m talking about the difference between art and money; creation and commerce. It’s a beautiful and important thing to be paid to make art. Publishers who deliver our books to readers are a vital part of what we do. But what we do—you and I—is write books. Which may garner six figure book deals for the reasons I outlined above. Or not.

Read the rest here.

The second is from my absolute favorite Sugar column. It devastates me every time I read it (in a good way). It's about pushing yourself to be more than what you think you are:

I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.

Read the rest here. (And you ready should, though perhaps not at work...)

Sugar recently came out as Cheryl Strayed, author of Torch and the upcoming memoir Wild. I'm reading Torch right now and it's just as good as her columns.