Tag Archives: Writing

History of literary criticism

I can’t think of anything to write about. I just spent a good chunk of time getting my reading done for class tomorrow. It’s a graduate class, all about the history of literary criticism. And I have no idea what anybody’s talking about. When I got accepted into this program to get my MFA in creative writing, one of the professors I talked with suggested that I get this class out of the way as soon as possible.


And I thought to myself, why? I don’t get it. But now I get it. Because this class is insane. I wish I could even explain how tough it is, but that would require an ability to actually articulate what I find difficult. I don’t even know how to talk about anything. I’m reading these texts, and I’m rereading them, and it’s like, yes, the words are all in English, but nothing makes sense.

Did you know that according to some critics, there’s a difference between a work and a text? Yeah, I have no idea what that means either. And I’m not just throwing my hands up in the air and claiming ignorance. No, I’m really struggling to wrap my head around some way in which this will all make sense. Because I know that this stuff has to be for real. Someone wrote this book that I can’t read. And my professor is making a living teaching it.

So yeah, the problem is with me. But it’s like I thought that admitting that I had a problem would somehow make it better. But it’s not better. Like the relationship between a work and a text (in these anthology textbooks, I feel like so many random words are italicized, for some reason that I just don’t get) is that a text can cut across the work, or several works.

That’s straight out of the textbook, the whole cutting across business. And I’m sitting here and scratching my head and trying to imagine that at some point in time, someone actually had to sit down and write that out. To what end? What’s the point of coming up with all of these ridiculously impenetrable smart-sounding sentences that refuse to make sense in my head?

And it’s just, man, I’m so screwed. Every week we’re supposed to write these one-page response papers based on the reading that week. Last week I handed in my first paper, and I was actually somewhat pleased with myself. I told myself, yeah, I’m smart, I read the readings, I put something smart sounding together. Nice job, Rob.

And then as everyone handed his or her paper in, I saw the person in front of me, she handed in a single-spaced page. I thought to myself, wow, that person’s probably going to be penalized for sticking two pages worth of material onto one. But then I looked around, everyone else had it single-spaced also. “Is this single-spaced?” I asked the professor as I handed mine in. “Yeah …” he told me, and I just kind of stared back at him, like shit, I can’t believe it, how did I miss that?

Because yeah, I went back to the assignment, and it was printed out, “one single-spaced page.” Man, talk about starting off on the wrong foot. And then throughout the course of that class, I realized that the half-page of response I had written down was in fact all garbage. No, I had not understood the reading, and therefore whatever I handed in was similarly way off.

I don’t know, I want to do well, but this is all just so hard. And I have to get this next response paper in by tomorrow, and I’m trying to get something single spaced, which sounds easy, because I write all of this nonsense on this blog every day. But here’s all I have so far:

“Well … you see … it’s just that … the point I’m trying to make is … upon close examination of the reading … it’s obvious that the author was trying to … I mean, after a close interpretation of …”

And it goes on like that for another paragraph or so before whatever cohesiveness existed that managed to even link those words together disappears. In fact, after a while, the Word software sent me a popup message, it said, “Something isn’t right here, please wait while Word runs a diagnostic to make sure everything is OK on our end.”

So yeah, that’s where I’m at. Maybe if I sit up in the front of class, I can cross out the name on that smart girl who sits two seats back, and I’ll write my name in her place. And then when the professor hands them back the week after that, I’ll go up to her, she’ll be holding my paper with her name penciled in on top, hers will say D and mine (really hers) will say A. And I’ll say, “Oooh, too bad. Hey, don’t take it personally. This is some really hard work. Not everybody has what it takes to master the history of literary criticism.”

My brain is empty

Sometimes I can’t get my mind to think about anything. A lot of the time, I’ll just start writing about how I can’t think of anything to write about. But this is different. I’m sitting here and I can’t even describe what’s going through my head right now. It feels like there’s nothing turned on . It’s like, usually if I’m really struggling I can at least start by just acknowledging where I am, what I’m doing.


Like right now, I’m sitting here at my kitchen table, I can hear the birds outside doing their thing. Sometimes just writing out an observation like that will jog something, all of the sudden I’ll realize that I haven’t been thinking about nothing, that there’s always something going on inside that I just haven’t been aware of.

But right now? I don’t know. I’m just sitting here. I’m typing on a really old laptop that my parents gave me after my house was robbed a little over a year ago. I remember at the time it felt like life was over. They got our computers, my XBOX, it was a mess. But now it doesn’t really feel like a big deal anymore. I don’t get to play video games, but that’s probably a good thing, because every once in a while I’d lose five or six hours at a time playing some online first-person shooter, getting yelled at by twelve-year-old gamers kicking my ass from all around the world.

And this computer is old, but it works fine. I bought more memory, upgraded the operating system. Aside from the cosmetic differences, it’s more or less the same than any new computer. Although, a couple of months ago, the screen died. I thought that it was going to be this huge deal, getting a replacement part, having it installed. The guy at the Genius Bar was like, “Even if Apple still made parts for this machine, which it doesn’t, it won’t make sense to put more money into an eight-year-old computer. Sorry.”

So I was a little bummed about that. But then on a whim I took it to one of those “We fix computers!” shops all the way downtown, and this Chinese guy took the computer out of my hand, unplugged it, plugged it in, started and restarted it a few times, and then held down command, option, r, and p, and bingo, it came to life. I couldn’t even understand what he was trying to tell me, but he wouldn’t accept the money I was holding out.

OK, so I just wrote about my computer. It was boring, but it was something. And I don’t think that I was thinking about that story before I started writing about how there was nothing going on inside of my head.

Right before I sat down to the computer, I got out an ice-cold can of Coke Classic from the fridge. I don’t drink soda that often, but I love it. I love drinking soda. I try not to keep it in the house because I know that, if it’s there, if there’s ice-cold Coke at my disposal, I’ll always go for it. Like right now. I don’t know how they got in there, but there were like three cans just right there, I noticed them yesterday.

And so I’ve been drinking them. And I don’t know what your opinion is, but to me, Coke is at its absolute best when it’s drank right out of the can. It just tastes better. You know what never tastes good? Coke out of a twenty-ounce bottle. It always tastes less carbonated, not as flavorful. I keep thinking that there has to be a reason, but nothing really makes sense in my head. So maybe it’s just that, maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Maybe this is as good as it’s going to get today, talking about old computers and Coca-Cola in a can. Is that better than nothing? I don’t know. I’m trying to think about it but I can’t come up with any conclusions. My mind’s a total blank.

Fear of writing

Every once in a while I get afraid, like that’s it, like I’ve written all that I’m ever going to write, that the best is behind me, and that from here on out, it’s all going to be derivative nonsense. And this fear is always with me to some extent, I mean, I’m not doing this professionally yet, I’m still for the most part writing during my free time, before work, after work, on my days off.

And I’ve been doing it long enough that, well, hopefully I’ve improved somewhat, just through the day-to-day practice. Yeah, I know that I can put words down on a page on a regular basis. But is what I’m doing any good? That I can never really tell. I know that I’ve had stuff in the past fly out of my fingertips, stories that I don’t even know where they came from.

And I’ve had stretches of time where that mysterious sense of creation happened on a daily basis. Of course there’s the flipside to that, where I go on and on for days or weeks and I feel like I don’t have anything new to say, kind of like right now. I’ve been sitting here at the computer since last night. I was committed to writing something, anything. And now it’s the morning and I have nothing to show for it. I don’t know why. Everything was coming up empty.

Finally I decided to just get anything down, which is this, I’m really just kind of going off on how I can’t think of anything to write about right now, about how I’m worried that I’ll never be able to get in that groove again. It’s crazy because even when I don’t have anything specific to say, I still have that feeling inside, like I need to be sitting down at my computer, like something’s about to bubble up, right below the surface.

But, and I don’t know if this is going to make any sense, a lot of the time I’ll feel the ideas down there, but they never breach through to my conscious mind. And so I’m left just kind of sitting at the computer, ready to write, willing to put words down, but unable to make that first step. It’s very similar to that feeling when you have a sneeze coming, you feel it, you scrunch up your face and bring your hand to your mouth. And then nothing. That’s it. It goes away and you’re left with a sense that you just missed out on something.

There are so many more things that I want to do. I’d love to write a comic book, to write a longer short story, eventually a novel. And then I get to days like this where I can’t even get a page down to put on my blog, and that feeling is just so frustrating. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on this blog. I’m conflicted, because I haven’t missed a day in about two years now, and so I don’t want to break that streak. It gives me that added sense of urgency, like right now, when I can’t think of anything, at least I’ll get something, and even if it’s terrible, I don’t know, maybe I need to be willing to just put down something stupid in order to get back to not taking myself too seriously.

I could go on and on forever, overanalyzing this, rationalizing that. I have no idea what’s going on. But it feels like working out, like when I’m training for a race. Some days I’ll go out there and the runs will be so easy. Other days I’ll struggle just to get the bare minimum done. There are so many different factors that go into exercise, writing, working, everything. There’s the time of day, how much I’ve eaten, am I well rested enough?

I don’t know. I’m glad I got this out, because even though it doesn’t seem like much, it was a big deal for me just to get some writing done. I’ve just got to chill out. I’ve just got to ignore that fear, the voice telling me that I don’t have what it takes, that maybe I’ve written some cool stuff in the past, but that was it, and now it’s just going to be boring paragraph after boring paragraph for the rest of my life.

I’ve got ninety-nine problems, and they’re all logistical computer stuff

I used to write on my laptop, but after a while, after an hour or two hours, my wrists would get so hot, resting on the computer, right below the keyboard. I could feel the heat irradiating my blood, I worried that it was poisoning my system. So I got rid of the laptop and bought a desktop.


And it was better, I mean, I didn’t have that hotspot anymore. But working with a mouse was so much different than working with the laptop’s track pad. I guess I took it for granted, what with all of the excessive wrist-worry, just how convenient it was navigating my graphic user interface right there, right below my keyboard, I didn’t really have to move my hands.

What I gained in peace of mind, I lost in convenience. Because even though I tried to give it time, to adjust to the new setup, I couldn’t get a good workflow going, I kept having to pick up my hand and put it on the mouse.

And besides, now I’m basically stuck here, upstairs on my desk. I guess I also took for granted just how comfortable my typing setup was downstairs at the kitchen table. Because I just naturally assumed that writing at a desk would be more of an ideal setup. But it’s not. My wrists are just slightly more elevated. And with all of the moving back and forth from keyboard to mouse, it’s exhausting. I can totally relate to people making up all of that stuff about carpel-tunnel.

And this mouse, it’s supposed to be a Mighty Mouse. Like, it’s just a solid piece with a little ball on it to scroll up and down. But I keep squeezing it the wrong way, even though I don’t really feel like I’m doing anything, nothing conscious enough to actually activate one of the hidden side buttons, but it keeps clicking, it switches between windows, it shows the desktop when I’m not asking it to show the desktop.

So I threw that mouse away and bought a Magic Mouse. It doesn’t have a ball, nothing to get stuck and prevent me from scrolling up and down. And I thought it would have worked much better, but, and I don’t know if it’s the mouse, or my computer, but it’s so laggy. Like, the cursor is so choppy, lurching across the screen. I move the mouse, nothing happens, and I can’t click on anything that I want to click on.

And this keyboard, it’s just not as smooth as working on my laptop’s keyboard. I don’t know how to explain it. Like, it feels like there’s a really heavy spring under each key, and if I don’t hit exactly the right spot, somewhere in the dead center of the key, it’s like, boing! It springs my finger onto the next key, and so I’m just constantly making typos.

So finally I was like, you know what? I can’t do this, it’s just not working out. So I sold my desktop at a loss and bought a new laptop. I’m back downstairs at the kitchen table, it’s really nice, to be able to just write, uninterrupted, not having to worry about all of those logistical nightmares that were plaguing me upstairs.

Only, now that the weather is getting warm out again, I can feel my wrists heating up, just like before. And it feels worse. Could it be worse? Could this keyboard be hotter than my other one? Or is that just in my head?

I reacted a little too dramatically, pulling my hands off the machine like I would something that was really hot, like a stove, like if my wrist accidentally made contact with one of the burners, even though that’s totally unlikely. And when I did that, I knocked my cup of iced tea onto the computer. And thankfully nothing happened, like with the computer, everything still works, which is lucky, because that could have killed it.

But now, every time I type, it’s like the keys are all stuck with dried out iced tea, and so it’s just really annoying, I feel like I’m making even more typos than ever. Sticky typos like hhhhhhhhh or ttttttttttt. I just, it’s really getting in the way of my writing. I just feel like, how am I supposed to get any writing done? With all of these computer problems? What’s the solution?

X reasons why writing stuff for the Internet is all about lists

  1. I feel like I’m forgetting how to write anything that’s not in list form

A lot of these web sites that I submit material to, it’s not like anybody’s telling me, Rob, you’d better write us a list. But all of the popular pieces are always lists, and even though I want to tell myself that I’m better than that, that I can’t be bound by any format, I know that I’m not better. And I want to have popular stuff too. And so I figured I’d just start small, a few lists here, a bunch of indented numbers there.


But now I can’t stop. I open up a new Word document and my wrist automatically directs the mouse to the bullet point button. Before I even know what I’m doing, I’m writing out the beginnings of a numbered headline, and I’m off. It’s just part of what I’m doing now, I’m writing out things in numbers.

  1. And I look back at all of the other stuff that I’ve written

And it wasn’t always this way. I think I made it like a whole year and a half without ever having written something in list form. But, now that I’ve taken the art of list writing and incorporated it into my writing style, I can’t imagine how I’d ever written any differently. Because list writing is so easy. If the idea of filling up a whole page of text is too intimidating, don’t worry about it. Just write a sentence. Add a number before that sentence. Then write a paragraph or two.

When those paragraphs start to get stale, seriously, who cares? Just hit the return key, and start all over again. The form is so simple, but very addictive. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get back to basics, that I’m going to write stories, something with a beginning and an end. But here I am again, just another list.

  1. It’s got to be the Internet’s fault, right?

I mean, before the Internet, did anybody else ever write stuff in lists? I can’t remember ever seeing any lists outside of a computer screen. Lists were always for notes, right, like if you were writing out a list, the idea was that it was just an outline, something that would eventually form the basis of an actual piece of writing. If I had any of my old high school notebooks around, I’m sure it would be full of lists.

But somewhere along the way, it’s like we cut out that last step. Why bother going any further? We’ve already got this. No need for a finished piece. This is good enough, right? Yeah sure, whatever.

  1. And you just need some really loose sort of title to kind of bind all of these numbers together

Like for this piece that I’m writing right now, I have no idea where I’m going, there’s no sort of plan guiding any of these words that are coming out of my fingertips. But it’s fine, because I can just make up some ridiculous numbered title, like “X reasons why writing stuff for the Internet is all about lists.”

That’s total nonsense, but whatever, they’re words. I’m getting words down. And if this particular paragraph isn’t going anywhere, well, I only need like two or three sentences, and then I can start all over again with a new number.

  1. How many numbers do I even need?

It doesn’t matter. I always just start out writing “X reasons why …” and then whenever I’ve completely exhausted everything that I have to say, I just go back and count up however many bullet points I’ve made, and bingo, there’s the number. More often than not, for me anyway, that number usually happens to be five. But sometimes it’s six.

One time early on, when I just started list writing, I committed myself to ten. And it was just way too much. Like I got to number three and I started panicking, what did I get myself into? So now I never commit to anything in advance. And that way when I run out of words streaming through my head, I can just stop abruptly. And it won’t be a shock. Like by itself, sure, maybe it won’t feel like an ending. But to the reader, you already knew that it’s only going up to number five. After that, it’s done. So I don’t have to worry about wrapping anything up. You’ve already checked out just by reading the title. No surprises. No endings. It doesn’t matter.