Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Insomnia and the Impossible Ambitions

I can't sleep. These past few days, maybe even weeks, I've had this problem. My head hits the pillow and my mind leaps to overdrive. Every passing thought from the day turns into an infinitely complex obsession. When I do get to sleep it is troubled and often light, and in the morning I feel barely awake. Yet I drag myself up, and tell myself to be productive about all the things that plagued my head the night before.

The only thing that seems to help: writing, writing it down, writing it out, either in ink in my journal or, as with the case tonight, when even that didn't do the job, typing it out, online, for someone else's eyes.

Tonight I am torturing myself with doubts about my novel--you know, the one I just started, today. I'm 5000 words along--I should be happy, excited, proud. Yet I think I'm trying to write a novel that is contrary to the idea of NaNoWriMo: a reckless, impulsive, and fun month of literary abandon, where the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality, and elaborate, unnecessary dream sequences and meticulous detailed descriptions are expected, even encouraged. But as a NaNoWriMo veteran for quite a few times I know that surpassing the 50,000 word count isn't going to be the challenge.

So the challenge, perhaps unrealistic, perhaps impossible, that I've set myself is that the novel I write this month be The One. As in: the one that will tell the story I've always wanted to tell. The one that will be beautiful and heartbreaking and brilliant and innovative and real. The one that will get me the publishing deal, a guaranteed writing career. I'm graduating next month, after all, and this feels like my last chance. While I still have the security of my classes, the protective framework of a college student, to do the thing that will save me from having to figure it out.

I choose to write the novel rather than apply to MFA graduate programs for the fall. Could I have managed both? Probably. But I spent a night reading requirements of MFA programs and felt utterly lost. I didn't think my writing samples were good enough, nor my relationships with professors solid enough for telling recommendations. I wasn't even sure why I wanted an MFA--perhaps because it felt like the inevitable next step. All my classmates were doing it. They were intellectuals and talented and prepared and career minded. And I was fixated on the idea of skipping the progress. A short cut: the novel, the masterpiece.

Which, ironically, is the same line of reasoning that makes me think that I can't apply for an MFA, not yet, because I'm just not good enough. I've finally hit a new turning point in my writing career, from that blissful period of being enamored with every word I wrote, enchanted with my way with language and imagery and that exquisitely sad sensibility, I've come to stand in front of a towering brick wall that tells me: no, not enough, something's missing, something vital. I  can write pretty stories forever and stay on the other side of that wall, but I don't want to. It's not the real story that I want to tell.

Maybe the real story is the fictionalized memoir I found myself writing in my newborn novel, when instead of writing the present tense adventures of the main character I wrote far easier flashbacks and recollections of a past based largely on my own. But then: should I return home to San Diego and read my diary collection from the very beginning and attempt a truer to life memoir? Was I really absurd enough to think that I could write a memoir at age twenty-one? It wasn't any good, anyway, and read like my short stories, not like a novel. Should I then, try to write something light, fun, fantastic? I questioned my imagination for being able to sustain even that. It had before: but before I never had expectations, ambitions as solid and visible as this year.

My insomniac inner monologue finally talked myself out of the mess and into the more calming territory of: this isn't the most crucial time of your life, and there is next month, and next year, and the years after that. And I'll always have my voice and my ideas and always some story, be it the story or not. The worse thing now is to second guess myself, or try to write an impossible perfect first draft. My imagined dialogue with a therapist told me the thing I really knew all along: write, and keep writing, and even if you, in your needy conscious state don't know what you're writing about, something inside of you will.

And if it doesn't? Then I'll be that much closer to writing and writing out the excess until I get there.