Thursday, March 02, 2006

writing season

It's March already and I've received the digital Palanca contest forms (if you want the set, email me - sorry, I lost access to my FTP thing). I've never hidden the fact that competition makes me happy - it keeps my writing muscles limber, forces me to do my best, and involves me in the act of creation. If I don't compete, I'm likely to fall into the easy default of resting on my previous achievements, and I never want to do that. I like questioning my ability, challenging myself, pitting my skill against other authors, some older, some young wunderkinds. I'm not ashamed of my addiction to competition, not one whit. If I fall, I just get back up for more. The moment I cease to try is when I truly fail.

Some friends have asked me if I still need to prove myself to myself or to other people. The answer is yes and no, in that order. I need to prove myself to myself constantly, because I am only as a good as my latest work (and if that latest work is years in the past, that is a truly devastating thing). But I do not need to prove my worth to anyone, writer or judge, for the purpose of validation, for someone to tell me "Hey, you're a Writer with a capital 'W'." I know at this point in time that I do have some writing ability, but I cannot say the same about tomorrow. I have to find out when the dawn breaks, just like everyone else.

They ask why, after eight Palancas, don't I stop. Asking me to stop competing in contests like the Palancas is like asking a basketball team who won a championship not to compete the following year because they already have a trophy. An absurd request.

This Palanca season, like every writing season, I begin with a list of categories I plan to compete in. It's all blue-sky thinking; never have I been happy enough with my material to enter in everything. My soon-to-be-whittled-down category list includes: short story, short story for children, futuristic fiction, one act play, full length play and essay (why not go for broke and throw in poetry for good measure? Because I am absolutely dismal at poetry).

Of this list, only the essay is anywhere near completion. A have bits of the short story, a notion for the children's story and a little conceit for the future fic that looks weaker each time I think about it. I have a dialogue exchange for the one act play, and zero for the full length. Oddly enough, this disastrous-looking state of affairs actually thrills me. With the looming deadline plus the time demanded by other aspects of my personal life and my businesses, I feel the onset of a mad adrenalin rush. Most likely, I'll be happy with only one or two things when the dust settles, but the first step of the reward is in the act of creation. The second step, always beyond my control, is actually winning.

I'll need to sequester some time alone to write. A loving daughter is 100% pure distraction, an irresistable black hole of love. Friends and games and books and video and music eat time.

Of everything and everyone around me, my wife is my lone chosen companion when I am transformed into a world-hating hermit. She understands my need for barriers of silence, translates my unwholesome grunts into assertions of my continued love for her, becomes the gatekeeper and intermediatrix for my friends and family, and makes sure that I eat from time to time even if I seemingly subsist on smoke and syllables. Her patience and devotion become her armor against the growls and hisses that issue from my corner of the room if I am disturbed in the midst of my bloody struggle with words. When I'm in the zone I am unpleasant, unwashed and mercurial - she ensures that I regain my humanity (and take a shower) when I leave my writing cave.

So when can I do this? Hopefully, next month, when things at work quiet down a little.


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