Last night my colleague Becca Patterson and I attended a reading for graduating MFA students at Hamline University in St. Paul. I had the pleasure of hearing a piece that I’d read in an early draft, recognizable still but with all the awkward bits burned away, and found myself drawn in. “Tell me a story,” we say, in the act of opening the book. A great reading takes it back another step, to the origin of our squiggles on paper: a semicircle of listeners, and a storyteller.
We were well entertained, and left hungry for more.
Those graduating writers began their training at Hamline the year that I finished my first completed NaNo novel, The Shape-Shifter’s Tale. In between, they and I did the thing that writers do to learn their craft: we wrote, and we read, and we gave our writing over to expert readers, to see how it read to them.
The room was full of the elation of the finish line, and it showed in the pride of the mentors who introduced the readers. There are many roads to the goal, and the real writer is always beginning again.
Afterward, Becca and I did the thing that writers do when they’re fired up: we got our stuff and went to my house and closed the evening with a write-in. Becca continued work on an ongoing project, and I leaped into the ocean of a new one. Last night, I wrote the opening scenes of Ship’s Heart, the story that precedes Inside the Jump. It’s quite a transition, going from writing characters on the verge of forty to the same characters at age six. It felt awkward, and impossible, and I wrote anyway.
This morning I reread it, and it’s not totally awful. Beginnings are slow, I have to remind myself. I’m on the next leg of the marathon, and no matter how triumphantly I finished the last part, beginning again is awkward.