Alissa Nutting, Central Michigan University, fiction reading, humor, imagination, inner editor, library, mind palace, novel in-progress, plot, self-doubt, stories, Tampa, Unclean jobs for women and girls, writing advice
The fiction reading with #AlissaNutting was such a cool event! HILARIOUS writer! Good talk during the Q&A and I loved seeing my peers there. I don’t know every single one personally, but I recognized almost all the faces in the Barber room tonight. We’re like this tiny community of writers and poets here in Mount Pleasant. Pretty neat.
Alissa Nutting visited the college library the other day for a fiction reading and read a passage from her intriguing, controversial first novel Tampa. She also read one of her stories from the short story collective book Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls; this story (I think I understood) was about the toxic elements within a magazine publication and the editor who fell apart because of the business and her determination and ambition. I could be wrong. I have to go back and re-read that story at one point. Professor Doyle assigned our class to read “Dinner” from that book, and I still have issues grasping what the fuck that story is supposed to mean. Good story nonetheless.
Once Nutting had completed the obstacle course, she took some questions from the audience. I pride myself in being the first person to raise her hand.I asked, “Where do you get your stories from?” She said she got them from news articles and from cultural aspects (not her exact words, the latter, but something to that effect). She included an example: ‘One day, Dominoes announced that they were going to put a restaurant on the moon. I thought that was so great, because when I look at the moon, the one thing I think is missing is a Dominoes pizza place.’ So she wrote a story about a pizza place on the moon. Cool stuff.
The best part of that Q&A in the Barber room that evening was when someone (I think it was Gino) asked what she does about her self-doubt. Yes, there is no question whether a writer (or poet for that matter) ever has self-doubt. We do. I can tell from personal experience that once you spend enough time with yourself — and writing is rather an activity of solidarity — your mind will begin playing tricks on you. Nutting said her “inner editor” is a bald man who steps in when she least expects it and he waves his arms in flipper movements, like, “Not good, not good!”
Road blocks and my Gnome
My self-doubt and inner editor is a fucking gnome. Not a cute garden gnome with a red hat and white beard; not at all nice like the one in that travel agent commercial that shouts, “Smell the roses!” No, he’s a mean bastard and looks a lot like the garden gnomes from Harry Potter, resembling a stupid potato with arms and legs; sometimes he wears a dark wool cap. His hobby is to crawl on my shoulder whenever I get writer’s block and to hiss in my ear, “You suuuuuuuuuck~!”
It was especially bad once I finished chapter three and realized I had no idea how to kick the plot into gear; I had only evolved some key moments of the book. So I stepped back for a while and revised what I’d written so far. That whole time, my Gnome hissed, “Your story is too complicated. It’s boring. No one is going to want to read it. That Francesca character is such a bitch, I hate her. Why are you wasting your time with this? HOW MANY times have you revised the first chapter? Like ten times. What~ does~ that~ tell~ you~? Get a real job.” Eventually, as I always do, I flicked him off my shoulder and shook off the insults like a dog shakes off water from his fur.
I’ve struggled with my novel for over two weeks and it wasn’t until Monday when I finally knocked down that particularly thick wall. Right before I went to sleep that night, I lied down in my bed, closed my eyes and walked straight into my mind palace (you win brownie points if you get that reference). Pretty awesome journey I traveled as a result, because as I answered certain questions and filled some extremely deep plot holes, the characters showed me where the story would go. It might seem insane to you that I simply lied there and daydreamed for over an hour, but slowing down and thinking does wonders.
I might have lost sleep because of it, working on the novel that is, but sleep is for the weak anyway. This week I’ve found it so annoying that I need to sleep in the first place. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t mind staying awake as long as I pleased so I could spend those eight hours writing instead. Anyhow, now that I’ve sorted out the foundation of the story, I might be able to finish the entire draft by May as planned.