Loving Molly

Author Susan Woodring’s post “This Writer’s Wish List: A Love Story” has been on my mind since I read it two days ago. I can’t make it go away.

Susan Woodring (short story)
Susan Woodring (short story) (Photo credit: suzanne carey)

It sticks with me because what Woodring says is true. Uncomfortably so.

She says if we write because we want something–wealth, fame, a room of our own, shoes–we’re destined to fail.

To write well, we have to ask what the story wants. We must write out of love.

I have at times worked according to the love principle: when I wrote an eight-chapter satire on life in the teachers’ lounge; my first couple of short stories;  a segment of the Mystery in Four Parts for the annual Austin Sisters in Crime celebration; the daily assignments for the retreat in Alpine last year; the very first, and unspeakably horrible, draft of Molly; every post that appears on this blog. The less the product matters, the more I’m willing to consent to its requests, and the more I love to write.

My Friday critique partner and I even wrote the love principle into the title of our partnership. Recognizing that publication would not be a slam-dunk, we lowered our expectations–or as my thesis advisor once recommended, modified our aspirations–and named ourselves the Just for the Hell of It Writers. 

Somewhere along the way, however, I meandered away from the ideal. I focused on getting it right the first time, being perfect, failing to trust that something would come from nothing. I wandered away from the playground and haven’t found my way back.

While wandering, I suggested to CP that we change our name to something more serious, more business-like, a name we could take out of our tote bags and flash around at writing conferences, a name that would look good on our resumes. After much discussion, we chose Waterloo Writers. We even voted. The motion passed unanimously, 2-0.

Ah, the pomp and the circumstance. One could almost hear the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” replacing Willie Nelson from BookPeople’s speakers overhead.

(Epiphany: As I write this, a Frasier marathon, compliments of Netflix, plays on TV. I just realized I am a Frasier. Uptight. Perfectionistic. OCD. No wonder I’m not having fun.)

Anyway, I haven’t loved Molly for quite a while. I haven’t asked what she wants, and I’ve ignored her attempts to tell me. Even when she’s yelling. She yells a lot, all day every day. And at night when I’m trying to sleep. I can’t make her–or her passel of friends–shut up. No one else hears them.

Ignoring the cacophony takes energy. And sugar. Today the shouting was so intense I plowed right through the sticky, cloying chocolate thingies my husband bought at Wal-Mart to take to work for lunch. Enough for the next two days, he thought. Tonight, to make amends, I baked brownies, which I have already sampled. If I go to bed soon, they have a chance of lasting till morning.

Obviously sugar isn’t working. It never does.

Giving up isn’t an option either. In the words of another critique partner–one I consider my mentor–“Writing is part of my condition.” I may stray from the rule, but never from the desire. The voices in my head keep clamoring, and there’s just one way to calm them.

For this writer’s brand of schizophrenia, the only effective drug is the one Susan Woodring prescribes: love.

Plus, I would add, equal measures of faith and hope. The three have a history of joyful collaboration.

*****

Susan Woodring’s latest novel is Goliath (St. Martin’s, 2012). She lives in North Carolina. More information about Susan and her books is available on her blog.

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Picture of Susan Woodring by Suzanne Carey, via Flickr, CC BY- NC 2.0.

Goliath cover from Susan Woodring’s blog. 

Thank you for noticing.

For the past month and more, my writing has been on hold. There are two reasons for the lapse. First, I’ve been short on energy. Second, I’ve been afraid I don’t have what it takes to read a novel, much less write one. Fear played off lethargy. Lethargy played off fear. I played Bejeweled.

Bejeweled is not an activity that gives the subconscious mind freedom to explore and create. It’s an activity that requires no neural activity at all.

But I’m getting back on track. There are three reasons for that. First, my internist, who appears to believe I have a brain even when it feels like it’s made of cotton, diagnosed vitamin deficiencies and an electrolyte imbalance. He prescribed supplements. I’m taking them. Synaptic transmission is once more in progress.

Second, a few hours ago I received the judge’s critique from a manuscript contest I entered last February. The score is good. Very. Much better than I’d expected. The judge pointed out the positives, the negatives, and the watch-out-fors. He said that although it is “a fun and entertaining read,” I will need to find an agent who understands the South. I will also need to pitch it “in the tone of a Fannie Flagg novel.”

Fannie Flagg! Fannie Flagg’s name appears on my critique sheet! Twice! Not that the judge was comparing our writing, of course. He was just comparing pitches.

I don’t know how to pitch in the tone of a Fannie Flagg novel. But I don’t have anything to pitch yet either. There’s time to figure it out.

(I do a pretty decent impression of Fannie Flagg doing an impression of Ladybird Johnson: “Whenever I see a candy wrapper on the ground, I pick it up and give it to Lyndon….Lyndon collects candy wrappers.” I saw her perform that on the Garry Moore Show when I was thirteen. I suppose the material is dated, but then so am I.)

Enough of that. The point is, a good critique can do wonders. It’s like B12 for the spirit.

Which brings me to the third reason I’m writing, and the most important: someone noticed I wasn’t.

The knowledge that a reader is paying attention and registering my absence means a lot, especially when the going is as tough as it has been for the past couple of months.

Thanks, Susan Woodring, for noticing.