YOU ARE VERY BAD AT WRITING
You are very bad at writing. Actually, scratch that: you are tremendously bad at writing. You are gargantuanly terrible at writing. You are horrifically incompetent at writing, and not in the way where you just say you’re bad at writing when you’re actually the next Joyce Carol Oates and are just very humble. Oh, no. You are such an imbecile at writing that your words reek like the intellectual equivalent of blue cheese, penetrating the mind-noses of anyone who even so much as glances at your work.
It wasn’t always like this. Last week you thought you were pretty okay, if not good, at writing. Your intermediate poetry workshop went well, and the class seemed to like that metaphor where you compared your heart to an overflowing ceramic mug. But office hours were the beginning of the end.
You were young and naïve when you entered that office. You remember it well: the leaves were just reddening outside the window, and your professor smelled like he had lit himself slightly on fire before you entered the room. (Your professor is Irish and smokes two packs of cigarettes per day and sounds like storm clouds that are deciding whether or not they want to rain but don’t really care either way.) The first twenty seconds of office hours consisted of him saying you have a brilliant imagination. (You later realized he probably meant the Irish version of “brilliant,” as in “sort of decent,” but still.) The next twenty minutes of office hours consisted of him utterly annihilating your work in ways you previously didn’t realize were possible. Overall, his comments involved the terms “cliche,” “vague,” “redundant,” and “periwinkle,” probably because you used the word “periwinkle” twenty-five times throughout the poem. (In your defense, it was a very long poem involving many real and metaphorical objects which were not lilac or mauve, but specifically periwinkle.) When he told you to come back next week for advice on your revisions, you just nodded in response, not because you were planning on coming back next week— you would rather get trampled by multiple giraffes, which would probably be less painful– but because you were about to cry, and if you opened your mouth, the only sound that would come out was a squeaky door noise.
After you got home—and after crying for the length of an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which you used to drown out the sound so your neighbors wouldn’t hear—you decided to read over your classmates’ critiques as a way of reviving your mutilated sense of artistic self-worth. You soon came to the realization that your classmates are much nicer in person when there is a punchable face attached to their comments. One of them left you a letter approximately three times the length of your poem, also favoring the key word “redundant” (whose over-usage, come to think of it, was redundant in itself, and therefore totally hypocritical of both your professor and your classmates). Most critiques were shorter and less colorful: two people just wrote “I don’t like it,” and a third drew a thumbs down sign. (That one was your favorite, actually, because you couldn’t get over how well they did the details on the cuticle.)
Your classmates’ comments filled you with a new, stronger form of misery. Why is it that no one understands what you are trying to say? Will everyone hate everything you ever write for the rest of your life? Is there even a point in writing if everyone will hate everything you ever write for the rest of your life? As a way of grappling with this existential conundrum, you found another podcast to cry to–this time, Office Ladies, which is an hour long–and tore up the critiques in a fit of sorrowful rage. You ended up getting a paper cut in the process, filling you with an even deeper form of grief and forcing you to surrender to the kitchen, where you grabbed the new giant bag of hard pretzels, the tub of hummus and the raisins, all of which you finished before the podcast was over. (You would’ve preferred to down a pint of ice cream–a more classic grief food–but you decided to go on a diet two weeks ago, and have since stolen your roommate’s mint chip oat milk gelato so many times the she has threatened to kick you out of the apartment.)
At this point, you were left lying on your bed in defeat, covered in crumbs. Your tear-encrusted eyes gazed around your room, passing over your desk, then the floor (where you noticed a small, blackish oval-shaped thing which was either a raisin or a very large mouse turd) (it was actually a very large mouse turd), then focusing on your bookshelf. Suddenly, the periwinkle cover of Rita Sykes’ bestselling short fiction collection, Why Not?, caught your eye.
Instantly, you felt a glimmer of hope. Ms. Sykes is your idol. She teaches a master class at your school that you applied for five semesters in a row and were subsequently denied/ denied/ denied/ waitlisted/ denied from. You have decided to conclude that she is a mythical creature until someone proves to you otherwise. She is often portrayed sitting in the park with a notebook in front of an aesthetic pallet of orange and yellow leaves and is married to an Italian American author who is also famous, but slightly less famous than she is. In this way, she is exactly who you would be in your ideal fantasy world twenty years from now. (In this world you have already published a bestselling young adult fiction series about three teenagers fighting to save endangered sea turtles in a post-apocalyptic society and are now living in a lake house in New Hampshire.) Seeing this periwinkle book cover from your corner of shame, you are reminded of why you bother writing in the first place: Rita Sykes and her husband. They are, after all, the epitome of literary greatness. You idolize them to an almost obsessive degree, though not actually obsessively. You would call it a crush, but you mean it in a completely nonsexual way. After all, would you ever screw her? Of course not! Would you ever screw him? No way! Would you ever screw both of them at the same time? Well…
Anyway! In this grave time of emotional vulnerability and hopelessness, you now decide to do some research on Rita and her husband as a source of inspiration. About thirty seconds into your research, you realize this was a very bad idea. As it turns out, neither of them has had a single rough moment since the day they first lifted their pens to record the brilliant inner workings of their precocious young minds. By the time Rita was your age, she had already published her debut short story collection and signed for a book deal with Random House. By the time her husband was your age, he’d already won two national literary prizes in Italy. You have never won any sort of literary prize or had a book published, though you once had a poem published by a Beatles-themed literary blog alongside two other submissions from 2007, which you thought was pretty impressive at the time.
In any event, you are now too physically and emotionally exhausted to cry or feel sorry for yourself any longer. Oddly, you feel determined. You know that, despite all doubts, you are very much competent at something, and you are going to show that to the world. Whether it wants to or not, the world is going to see your writing. You decide that poetry is not your thing after all, nor is literary fiction. From now on you are going to write humor.
Vivian Holland is a current resident of Brooklyn who writes words and does fancy chemistry magic, at least according to her Twitter profile. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming in LIGEIA, Autofocus, West 10th, and elsewhere. You can read more at vivianholland.com or @VivWritesStuff on Twitter.