Friday, October 16, 2009

Writer's recess

Things have been quiet here at Read Red this week because my writing life has overtaken my reading life, which is a good thing but has left me no time to blog. I'll try to get back here with a thought or two soon. Bear with me.

In the meantime, for any writers living in New York state, don't forget that the deadline to apply for a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship is coming up fast. It's a $7000 grant and every other year fiction is one of the categories--poets, you'll have your turn next year--so I'm busily working up my application. I've tried several times before, and I have no reason for optimism that this'll be my year. For one thing, they get scads, I'm talking thousands, of applications. For another, they're not favorably inclined toward explicitly political fiction. For another, the applications are not anonymous, and despite all NYFA's assurances that the judges are impartial even if they're mostly MFA professors and two-thirds of the applicants are or have been their students, I'm skeptical that an unknown shmuck like me has a real chance. Which impression was strengthened last night at my writing group, where one of the members told of having served on the judging panel a couple times, and how she was horrified at the way the other judges pushed for awards to applicants they knew personally even when their writing she for one didn't think had merit. Ah well. I'm going to try anyway. Seven thousand dollars would be an almost unimaginable pile of riches to Teresa and me, even after the Pentagon took its share out in taxes. Wish me luck. And the rest of you might as well give it a shot too.

Since I'm in writer mode, I'll throw this in before I leave for now. A few weeks ago I read Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, Julia Briggs' very interesting biography that, unlike all those besotted-with-Bloomsbury tomes, concentrates on Woolf the writer. If you can leave aside at least temporarily all thoughts about the contradictions that abound in her life and work, in order to ponder exclusively the question of how she did what she did, you'll find much to chew on in this book. I was struck for example by this:
She talked about the creative process, describing it as one of apparent inertia, of '"mooning," in which the artist as fisherwoman lets herself "down into the nosings about, feelings round, darts and dashes and sudden discoveries of that very shy and illusive fish the imagination." But the process is interrupted from time to time as the line slackens, and the diving imagination floats "limply and dully and lifelessly" to the surface, frustrated because it lacks sufficient experience, or because it is not allowed to say what it wants ...
The quotations are from a talk Woolf gave in 1931. Not to compare myself to the genius, of course, but her description here of what it's like to write hits home with me. I like it that, even if I can never hope to reach the depths or catch the prey she did, I'm fishing around down there in the same way.