On Thursday night, I finished the first draft of a short story, and just as 20 years ago when I started writing fiction, I feel a thrill. I printed out a copy, wrote the date on it, and slipped it in my “Short Fiction” file folder that is 3-inches thick with drafts and revisions, pieces in varied stages of development.
I tell my creative writing students that the writing life is as much about “trade-offs” as it is about anything else. You have to give up other pursuits to write seriously. You will have to sacrifice other interests. I suspect that this message is offensive and too radical, even to my students who dream of writing “full time.”
When I was younger, I could pursue all of my interests, or so it seemed. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that some tough choices are necessary. I can’t pursue everything I’m interested in. For one, I have a full-time job, I have a wife, I have two elementary-aged kids. Add in a number of other roles I play.
It was 100 degrees on Friday afternoon when I was discussing with a colleague one of my favorite books: Silence in the Snow Fields, by the Minnesota poet Robert Bly.
He and I had recently agreed to start a mini reading group, as in the two of us. We wanted to pick things that one of us enjoyed and wanted to share with the other. I thought of Bly’s 1962 book, and I excitedly texted my friend.
The start of another school year always invites and compels me to reflect on my career. Today, for example, I begin my 16th year of teaching college English, my 7th as a professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Yet as a freshman in September 1995, I did not dream of being an English professor; rather, I wanted to be a professional rock musician. (No lie.)
Revision is the part of writing that I enjoy the most, even though drafting can be a fun rush, all of the excitement as you press forward, line after line, sentence after sentence, page after page, and then, BAM!, the first draft is done.