Disclaimer. This post was supposed to be about the rhythm of your sentences, but it would have to wait. Till next post. Because. Some awesome shit happened yesterday. I'm still in the middle of it. And it is . . . are you ready? I'm not even ready myself. Here is the story.
Once upon a time someone mentioned on Twitter (I know, I know, it's where I get my news) something about Amtrak starting a writer's residency program, where they pay for your ticket to some city and back, and your part is to write about it. Anything. An article, an observation, a short story, whatever. There's been excitement around it, at first. Of course. Man, people love trains! There is something about the lull in the movement, the length of the beast, the walking from one compartment to the other, the gazing out the windows, the sleeping. It's the sleeping that I love most. To the staccato of wheels, to this propulsion in the night, when it's dark out, and you look and see a blur of trees and lights and wonder what you're passing. Wonder what eyes are watching you, out of the dark. Wonder. It's like a house on wheels, only it's better than a car. A car is on the road, roads are always leading to towns, cities, places where there are people. You can walk a road. But trains! Trains like to cut through wilderness, through places where there are hardly any people at all. Yes, some roads are desolate, but not as desolate as train tracks. Stephen King comes to mind, both with his novella The Body about a boy being killed on the train tracks and 3 boys finding his body, and the demented monorail train Blaine the Mono from The Dark Tower. Something about them, right? Something. Something special.
Then the talk turned sour. People, writers, that is, started scratching their heads. They read the terms of the program on Amtrak's site. There was an uproar. People were like, hey, they will own my writing, I don't want that! You know me, though. I don't care if Amtrak will own my writing. I will write more in my life. I'm simply excited about the opportunity. I can't afford travel right now, not on trains, not on planes. Don't even have money for gas. Don't even have a car. I skimmed through terms and thought, hey, if I win, they're paying for my trip and telling people about me. That's cool enough for me.
So I thought, hell, I'll apply.
I did. I applied. For a while I checked it out, the status of it. Then I forgot about it. Then yesterday I get an email from Amtrak. And it starts out like this:
"On behalf of Amtrak, I’d like to thank you for submitting your application. The response from the literary community has been absolutely tremendous and we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to read so many heartfelt applications. We had over 16,100 applications and had the difficult challenge to select only 115 semi-finalists. The quality of applications was high, which made our decisions even tougher. We evaluated each applicant based on the quality and completeness of their application package, as well as the extensiveness of their social community and ability to reach online audiences with content."
And I stop here and think, yeah, well, bla-bla-bla, I know I didn't get in. So I read on.
"After carefully reviewing all the applicant packages, I am excited to inform you that you have been selected as a semi-finalist for the #AmtrakResidency program!"
And I fall off my ball. I mean, I'm sitting on one of these yoga balls at my writing desk, and I literally lose my balance and fall. Glad I didn't have coffee, because I would've spilled it and ruined my laptop! I had to reread this several times, for it to sink in.
Me? They picked me? WHAT??
Now we're finally getting to the topic of this blog post. Took me a while, right? Shoot me. I know. I wanted to illustrate something, though. Namely, how our fears stop us from doing what we want, doing our best. I'll show you. I'll show you something that will make you laugh, or wonder, or even get upset. It certainly made me wonder. Because when everyone was applying for this residency thing, I thought, well, I'll apply too, but I sure will not win, so I don't give a fuck. I went to their site and wrote this (I think they asked something about WHY I would be a great candidate for this program):
"It will squeeze a whole new novel into my already packed production schedule of 3-4 novels a year. Because. Because I already have an idea. A people eating train. No, better, let's have a flock of Bolshoy theater ballerinas being devoured by carriage number 5. I know, sorry, that's my brain for you. But, trust me, there will be enough wonder there mixed with bloody settees and in the end the train will end up being this gigantic tapeworm that escaped an intergalactic cockroach that... but I'm getting carried away. The thingy on the bottom right just told me I have 500 characters left but now that I typed this much it's only 368 and oh my God now it's only 336 can you believe it? See, I can't shut up, can't stop writing. Trains only accelerate that.
I grew up on trains, trains from Moscow to Berlin, from Berlin to Warsaw and back to Moscow. Sleeper trains, inter-city trains, slow trains, fast trains, subway trains and trams, trains riddled with cockroaches and trains where passengers were served caviar. I moved from Russia to US 16 years ago and I miss trains. I have only traveled on an American train once, from Seattle to Portland and back to Seattle. It wasn't long enough to produce any kind of a story, there wasn't enough oomph, enough time to imagine parasitic roses grow out of people's heads and start eating each other. People, I mean, not roses. Anyway, put me on a train, I'll write you a whole novel. Not kidding. I write about 1,000 words an hour, ESPECIALLY when my writing space is moving. There is that lulling effect at play. Go figure, right? It's like being back in the womb or something? I claim the window seat. Thank you, and goodbye."
Are you laughing yet? No? I know I'm laughing. I didn't even edit this. What? WHAT?? Of course, read the first part of their email. It's not just the writing that they judged, they also looked at your online presence. Ultimately, this is supposed to bring them more business. And hey, if I can be a cog in that wheel and help them do it and get a free train ride out of it and a chance to write a novel about a carnivorous train, I'm all for it!
The reason I'm posting all this is, to hopefully help you get over your fear. Fear is the stopper. It cripples us, writers, so often. We judge what we write, we compare it to the writing of others, and we somehow think that the way we write is wrong. Well.
The way you write is right, because it's the way you write. The only reason you are dissatisfied with your own writing is... *drumroll* ...when you start out, you're not at your best. YOUR best. Now someone else's. YOUR BEST. You just have to keep writing YOUR way, to make YOUR writing better. Read a lot. See how others are growing in THEIR writing, it will help you grow in YOUR writing. Gee, if I could come over and shout this into your ear until you believe me, I would. I was lucky. Very lucky. I met a man, my boyfriend, 3 years ago, who believed in my writing. MY writing. When it was so awful, so shitty, when I was just starting out. It helped me grow. Every time I tried to say I hate it, he said he loved it. Every time I tried to quit, he stopped me.
If you don't have someone like that in your life, I WILL BE THAT PERSON.
Let go of your fear. Write like you don't give a fuck, and keep writing like that, and your writing will get better, and better, and better. And people will want to read it. I guarantee it. If they won't, you are welcome to come over and beat me up with pillows. You must bring your own pillows, however, because I'm poor and I don't have that many.
I had the audacity to apply for this thing. And maybe they will not select me for the final thing (they are supposed to select 24, so it's a 1 in 5 chance). There is some next step for the 115 finalists, I think we're supposed to submit 10 written pages or something, I have yet to go fill out some online thingy about it. But I believe. It gives me reason to believe. That I can.
And you can too.
Let us write without fear. XOXO