Dispatches | August 04, 2011
Present Tense, Past Tense, Future Tense
Roxane Gay posted a blog at HTML Giant yesterday titled “It’s Okay to Hug Your Ten Years Ago Writing Self.” Reading it was an odd experience for me, because I am constantly thinking of my present writing self as my future “Ten Years Ago Writing Self.” Since I spend several hours a week reading submissions and talking to the seasoned writers that populate The Missouri Review’s staff, I think a lot about how much my writing is going to change between now and some indeterminate point in the future which we can call 10 years, or 5, or 30. Mostly I worry that I won’t get any better, that I’ll be an amateur forever, that something will happen and I’ll – whoops! – forget everything I’ve learned about writing and proceed to suck, a lot, and embarrass myself.
Being insecure about my writing comes easy to me these days. I’ve read enough of the things other people have written to know that most of my work is “young” and “slight” and “not quite there yet,” and I’m okay with that for now. I know I’ve got time. Unfortunately, I’ve also got a mental block about sending my work out for consideration. It feels like making my “Ten Years Ago Writing Self” public ten years too soon. One of the commenters touched on this as he talked about what he was writing at age 25, posting:
I’m glad that in 2001 I was not techy enough to be doing any writing online. Because that would mean the Wayback Machine would have it embalmed in digital amber forever, and that would be doing no one any favors.
I wonder if the young folks out there today will ultimately be helped or hurt by having various of their juvenilia out there in in googleable form, 10 years or more down the road?
Speaking for myself, the prospect is terrifying. It’s not just a matter of the things I posted on the internet as a teen, but of knowing that what I am writing at this point in my life could come back to haunt me later. I care too much about a self-image I don’t even have yet to feel comfortable showing off my work. Ridiculous, I know.
All this makes me wonder about how honest I’m being about my motivation to enroll in an MFA program, and soon. It’s not that I don’t want the things that everyone wants from an MFA program, because I do. What I mean is that I wonder… if I do an MFA program now, will it be, in part, a way to excuse my reluctance to send work out? At the end of an MFA program, will I be whatever “ready” means, or will I still be uncertain and all to eager to say “I’m not there yet” and keep my work under wraps? I feel like everybody is uncertain, but I don’t know how much of my thinking is prudence and how much is cowardice and how much is a willful insistence that someday I will be writing better things than I am writing now. What if I’m not?
I think I need to give myself a hug.
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