I was a grad school drop-out.
Half way through graduate school, I realized I didn’t want to write about writing as much as I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to “chase David Mamet around the table,” which is how I once described what my thesis on the playwright felt like. Ironically, Mamet was telling me (via Writing in Restaurants, I think, but maybe it was True & False or Three Uses of the Knife or maybe all three; it’s a blur now) if I wanted to be a writer, I should get the hell out of school and get to writing.
Mamet drove taxis so he could write.
In the days before the Internet offered online communities and education, the local university was the only option for me, who had few resources. It wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t the best place for me since the school offered only an MA in English rather than an MFA in creative writing. When I started writing poetry and taking poetry workshops, that was the beginning of the end of grad school for me.
The thing is, my poetry had an audience. A dozen people around a conference table was better than the audience of one that was the college professor grading my essays/thesis. Even better was when I started collaborating with musicians and taking my poetry to the community.
My love of writing didn’t begin with my writing. It began with reading others’ work, with me being spoken to of other worlds by some narrator. I was a lonely child, and I fell in love with my solace: books. And all the years of composing secret poetry, of talking to no one, impressed upon me deeply. I yearned for approval from my instructors when I turned in papers. The comments were the most gratifying part of an assignment: I had a reader, someone who had listened.
I tell you this now because you are a writer, too. And I bet you’d give your (insert a beloved body part here) to have an audience who really got you, really appreciated your writing, was (insert desired reaction) by your work, and couldn’t get enough. It is the dream.
One of the things that has kept me writing is that I don’t write to a void. I actually have a reader in mind. Sometimes its an exboyfriend who thought he loved me because he loved my writing or the girl who I watched pick up an article of mine in a bar and then kept returning to it even after she’d been many times distracted. Sometimes it’s my daughter and other college newbies.
What motivates me is the audience, which is why I tend to be most prolific and creative when I’m on assignment and I know a piece will be published.
But it’s not a perfect world full of eager editors who value creativity (but thanks to those who have and do!). So I motivate myself by finding calls for submissions, which provide (much like my editors used to) assignments and deadlines.
The Internet now provides a mind-boggling number of forums for publishing work in communities of other writers. For instance, now I’ve found an MFA program that suits me, and my fellow Antioch University students decided to take the book annotations that we are required to do for the program and publish them at annotationnation.wordpress.com. This is a forum where writers of fiction discuss how books have been helpful to them in their craft. Since I’d read and annotated some books of fiction, I sent over what I’d written, just to be in community with other writers and readers.
Look for those opportunities. It’s how we create our niche, claim our craft, and contribute to a community. In essence, having an audience means that our writing matters to someone besides ourselves.