Overwhelmed and Under a Ton of Bricks

Last night, I was thinking of all the things I need to do: all the writing projects I want to finish and/or start and/or at least pay a little attention to, but I have this freelance work to keep me busy at the very least through October 15. Not to mention normal life, which sweeps me up and makes it seem like I have ADD. So E and I talked about how I should apply to another writers colony for next year—I could get some real work done at one, even though I would miss him terribly (and he would probably, like last time, forget to eat). Last spring, I left the city for a month—risking my job in the process—and got more work done than I ever have in my entire life. Yes, good idea. I should try that again. So I started looking, seeing what other colonies are out there besides the one I went to (although ideally they’d let me back again), and as I was looking I came upon the sections on the application forms that ask for references, and stopped. References. How long after you finish your MFA program can you ask your poor professors for references? At some point they surely forget about you, and most certainly they’re not reading your current writing because you’re not taking their courses and they’re way too busy with their current students to offer out their services again. They’ve done so much for me already. They must be sick of me asking for favors. They’re probably asking themselves: “Hasn’t she published her novel already? Everyone else in her class has.” Thus, I began thinking about another way a writer could get references—a writer years out of her MFA program and basically struggling on her own. Who to ask, who to ask? My thoughts strayed to writers conferences. If I went to one, if there I worked with someone who seemed to like me and my writing, might I then be able to ask that person for a reference? (That’s one down—usually you need two references.) But, alas, most writers conferences are in the summer and the summer is soon over. It’s too late to go to a conference this year. Anyway, I applied to a scholarship to one and didn’t get it, if you want to bring up a sore subject. Okay, a writers conference won’t help at least this year. So then I began thinking—still, yes, I admit it, hung up on needing references—about taking a writing course. I looked up advanced courses at Mediabistro and the 92nd Street Y. But what would those courses be like? Do you come to a point in your writing life when you’re years past your MFA and you shouldn’t clog up a workshop with your jaded self when someone else might get more out of it than you? Or are all those courses filled with post-MFA students, floundering without any help from anyone and it’ll be a big bitch fest about how hard it is to get published and you’ll come away feeling worse, there being so many of you wanting the very same thing? I don’t know. And I was also thinking that I could throw down the few hundred dollars to take a course like that and it could turn out to be with a teacher who doesn’t even like my writing and who won’t write a reference for me and what would be the point? Yes, I’d get some writing done (the best thing about workshops for me are deadlines), but back to the reference… wasn’t this all about a reference? Okay. I’ll have to suck it up and ask my MFA professors. Right?

So at this point I’m on my back on the couch trying to breathe normally. The breathing gets more shallow because I start thinking about the actual work I’ve produced this year. In terms of page count, it’s more than any year previous. But the work itself? It’s being published under another name. And it’s YA—not literary fiction. It’s not going to help me. I need to (a) publish my real novel somehow; (b) write a new novel somehow—and I do have a solid idea; (c) finish more short stories so I can get more publishing credits—I can’t send to any more magazines because I don’t have any stories left. Basically, I need to focus and I need to write. And I don’t have the time to focus on this, or write. I really need to go away somewhere, hole up in a little room with a little desk, and write until I’m close to collapsing. A writers colony would do the trick…

And so it started all over again. By the end of the night I couldn’t say much of anything. Like a zombie, I climbed into bed and went to sleep.

6 thoughts on “Overwhelmed and Under a Ton of Bricks

  1. It is certainly stressful to be in this situation. Good luck. One word at a time, one page at a time, you’ll write your way out of it. It sounds like you’re being way too hard on yourself — a YA book is still worthwhile writing!

  2. Michele, Oh I agree! I would like to write my own YA novel someday—that’s another thing to add to the list.

    Being a ghostwriter has some major disadvantages 😦

  3. I feel your panic. I do some ghost writing and every dya that passes I hate it more, while feeling horrible that I’m not kissing the floor in thanks that I actually, well, earn my living writing. I have no solution for you because I’m in the same boat, but have you looked at the Room With a View Grant? it’s deadline is in february, and it offers women a 50,000 grant to write fiction. Possibly something to pursue? You could stay in NYC as the grant isn’t geographically based. And I apologize if that thought is unsolicited…

  4. I wouldn’t worry over approaching your MFA professors. My mum works in a college and told me that they have been approached to write references for people who left there 25 years previously. Who cares if the reference writer is familiar with your work so long as the reference is positive? They can consult your academic record.

    You could also approach a professor who knew you and ask for a written reference. I have done this before. The person can either say yes or no, it is worth a try.

    I am so familiar with the “ton of bricks” feeling, and being kept awake with those kinds of tormenting thoughts. They come and go in cycles. These thoughts are extremely distracting. Now I am trying to tell myself: “Just write!” which is easier said than done. I have so many ideas and time is so limited. I get so frustrated that the ideas are slipping away from me along with the time – but the way my world is ordered, a load of washing takes priority over writing a paragraph… It’s a struggle, but at least we’re at the coal face doing something about it.

  5. I agree that you should just go back to the old professors. Even though I’ve been having this struggle about going back to the old bachelor’s profs for refrences for grad school.

    I think that E is right, and another colony, or even returning to the old one, will be good for you.

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