Going to New York

Everyone’s heard me say this, by now, but I’m writing it anyway.

The first time I ever wrote anything of size was a play in one act called “Divide by Zero”. Sam Dulmage helped me edit it: the first draft was practically a series of essays glued together with two goopy characters that said their lines like they were news headlines. The structure was interesting. That was about all you could say to recommend that first draft.

Sam did not treat me as a fool without a brain, nor a helpless case, although he could have. First thing he did was have a couple of actresses read it to us. That exercise quickly put paid to the essay: hearing actresses struggling to get the weight of words off their backs made me realize what I’d done.

But I didn’t have the fix, right away. I had essays with holes.

Sam helped me realize that my problem (still sometimes my problem) was  pulling my punches. I was writing a play about friends,  woven together privately and professionally, clinging together in graduate school. Then one of them had life happen to her, big stresses, and her perspective on life changed. She decided to drop out.

The conflict between the women was multi-layered and pulling several directions; I’d made the play mainly about the arithmetic of the situation. I’d set up a powerful set of emotional pushes and pulls, and then had them discuss the situation bloodlessly.

Sam called the need to follow through, emotionally, “Going to New York”. I don’t know why that metaphor, but it’s worked wonders for me. I’ve been catching myself stopping in Boston ever since.

I have trouble with New York specifically because I’m  passionate and opinionated on one side and people pleasing and conflict avoidant on the other. But I’ve decided it’s not just a quirk of my personality type: I’ve really noted that “going to New York” is difficult for many of the writers I know that are trying for honesty. It is big and loud and you are bombarded with feelings. You and your characters are more vulnerable to judgment right where you’re most sensitive. Your characters will make mistakes and embarrass you.

These days, I almost always write in New York, but I’ll have the rest of the world drop away and it’ll just be emotions and dialogue. I’m working on making it concrete; being all-in present. There is nowhere to hide, really, in fiction. But I do have a greater resistance for the first draft because of it. I’m more likely to have – not writer’s block, exactly, but vicious procrastination.

I’ve been considering my blog, in relation: writing Rants has both helped and hindered my process in going to New York. I’ve been really honest and have made  mistakes. I’ve been passionate & angry about things and had people disagree. I have told my life stories from my perspective. I have argued a point or three. It’s helped in that I’ve seen the spark in me roar heat; I’ve got no end of experience and emotion to take to New York. But it’s hindered because I’m aware of my own anxiety when putting forward opinions – I hoped it’d become easier, but it hasn’t, really.


  1. I’m not convinced it ever becomes easier, exactly. Just like parenting: it becomes hard in different ways.

    And I’m not sure it SHOULD become easier. I think it’s the struggle — the agon! — that makes it worth doing in the first place.

    And I have to pick up the boy, so I’ll just remain brief and cryptic for now.

  2. I agree that Going to New York should never become rally easy, but I really do hope to finally slay the social-anxiety side.

    I don’t imagine *that* does any good, and stressing that people will think I’m a jerk because I or my characters were grumpy or bitchy or long winded or unfair or short tempered is, I imagine, more ego than art.

  3. You’re worried that if people don’t like your characters they won’t like YOU?

    Y’know, just as a new spin on an old project, last night I was reading bad reviews of books I LOVE, and it was very instructive. There are people who hate every single book there is. There are people who — I swear I am not making this up — found The Curse of Chalion badly written, cliched, predictable and trite (my favourite bad review complained of Deus Ex Machina. Why yes, numbskull, the Goddess DID literally reach in and affect the outcome — because Cazaril let her, because that was the ENTIRE POINT OF THE BOOK). But y’know, it cheers my heart, much more than bad reviews of bad books (which was just an exercise in peevishness). People hate wonderful books. Maybe they even hate their authors, who knows? It has nothing to do with the quality of the book or the author. That is really nice to know.

    People are wrong! On the internets!

  4. Um, well. It’s Grendelly. I s’pose it’s not quite the same as being afraid of people not liking *me* – more like irrational terror of giving offense, even when I know I’m going to be offensive sometimes.

    I rather like the “negative reviews of good books” game. “Negative reviews of unknown/bad books” is a popular game I know but feeds offense-Grendel for me; I wonder if this game could be my way-to-play.

  5. What is this Grendel of which you speak? I mean, aside from the monster dude in Beowulf? What I mean I guess is, how are you using it metaphorically?

    captcha is “cloneri world” and isn’t THAT a frightening prospect.

  6. Oh, Grendels. Sources of irrational shame that beat us about the head and neck and drive much of the neurotic hi-jinks we get up to. I don’t know whether Rachel first coined the term or not.
    Known otherwise as things as various as “tapes” or “patterns” or what have you, only I prefer the monstrous personification. Most of our monsters in lit have roots in these internal monsters, so why not? Most of our projection of other humans as monstrous, also. Plus, our damage can adapt and change, too: other metaphors are too static for my liking.

  7. Ah, just saw your tweet. Grendel = Little Hater.

  8. It wasn’t me that came up with Grendel as the name for it. That was your own coining, you modest (or maybe just forgetful) thing.

  9. Ah, mainly forgetful!

  10. You’re so right. New York is raw, real, full of assholes and beauty. You can also go to Vegas and stay at “New York New York” but it ain’t the same. Overemotion is vulgar to me for some reason (because of my father, I suspect) I am going to be practicing overemoting, to see if I can ridiculous myself to New York.

  11. Ah, the Little Hater! Got it. Yep. Thanks.

  12. I had not heard this metaphor before, so thank you for it. (Still thinking on it, but I’m behind on a deadline, argh, argh, argh.)

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