The Next Level
April 2, 2015
I hope the Diaspora Dialogues mentorship will help me turn a collection of stories into something closer to a book. Ideally my mentor, David Layton, will show me new ways to push myself at the level of sentence, paragraph, story, and collection.
I’ve been writing fiction seriously for the past five years or so, and I’ve just recently gotten a few stories accepted by quality publications (Grain, Broken Pencil, The Dalhousie Review). I didn’t just want to write ten or fifteen stories and throw them together in a book. I wanted to be proud of every piece, every word. After three or four years of writing stories that were technically proficient but still lacking something, I think I tapped into a voice that allowed me to push my fiction to the next level.
I suppose “ecstatic” is not the most modest way to describe my own work. But it is the voice that I often think breaks through the story and makes it something more than just proficient. I think of it as the ecstatic or frenetic or fluorescent voice. If I’m writing something I really didn’t expect to produce, that’s usually a good sign. I hate to sound all spiritual about it but when it comes I just have to step aside and let it happen. That said, I always have to put in many hours of hard work before it comes.
I’m enrolled in a PhD program so I don’t have much free writing time. But who does? I block time on the weekends and sometimes I type frantically at night, when I should be shaving or washing dishes or relaxing with my wife and our cat. I think about my work pathologically as I ride my bike or stand in lines or sit on buses. I’m always prepared to make a note. I think that’s the most important thing.
In a perfect world, a writer’s life would basically the exact opposite to how J.M. Coetzee lives his life. That’s a joke. Seriously: the writer would be financially liberated to write 3-5 hours a day, five days a week. The rest of the time the writer would explore life in all its variety.
Ten years from now I’ll be happy if I’m still producing work and making small breakthroughs. The lowest point, I think, will be the times I lose sight of the wonder of creating stories and see writing as a chore or burden. The high point will be the times when someone else indicates, however subtly, that my work was worth the time they took to read it.
Zany fact about me: I sometimes order things from Amazon just because my cat Moby Dick loves the boxes. Also one of my favourite songs is Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.”