The Re-Learning Curve
May has been a pretty exciting month for me. I launched this website, started querying my novel and working on other writing projects, and the Cinescopers podcast returned after a three year hiatus. While some of these experiences are brand new, others are old hat—or they were when I was in practice. Reconnecting with old skills to work on these projects has been something of a challenge.
Podcasting again after three years has been part of that re-learning curve. We’ve recorded three episodes so far and while there are a lot of things I remember, some of those memories are vague, and some things that came naturally to me at the end of our first podcast run now feel foreign.
One of those foreign elements is our intro and outro. I was perfectly comfortable listening to my co-host run through the familiar spiel, but when he asked me to do it for the second episode, I froze. This was a script I knew cold at the end of our 2013 run, and even after Matthew provided a script, I was still struggling with pacing and naturalness and, basically, confidence. Podcasting isn’t part of my regular routine any more and while I’m not quite starting from scratch, I’m not coming from a place that feels like I have three years of experience.
I had a similar feeling when I went to grad school and had to write papers again. It had been eleven years since my undergraduate degree, and while I’d been working in academic publishing, it wasn’t a career in writing papers and following MLA style for citations. I had done this for years as a student! I had been confident writing papers! I had been good at it, judging by my grades! But those first few papers for grad school were like pulling teeth, and I felt awkward (the writing felt awkward) and I had to check and double check and triple check to make sure I was getting the MLA formatting right. The first semester was rough as I relearned the lingo, the thinking, and basically how to approach this very different kind of writing.
Writing short fiction has been a similar struggle. I’ve been focused on long-form fiction for a number of years, so trying to come back to smaller ideas, to constrain the story, to only hint at the larger world, has been a special kind of torture. I’ve read expertly written short fiction to help inspire myself and to analyze how other people do it, and yet when it comes to applying those techniques, I falter. I’ll think I have an angle on how to tackle my idea, and then, 7,000 words later I have people telling me I need another 3,000 words or more. How do you write short fiction? I feel like I’ve completely lost the thread on working that out. (This may be a conversation that is To Be Continued as I try to tackle more short fiction.)
I feel like I’m constantly judging myself against my previously perceived expertise. “I used to know how to do this” is a constant refrain. It’s difficult to know something used to be familiar and then struggle at it now. The set backs have a way of diminishing successes and enhancing flaws.
But here’s the thing I need to remember: It took me the first semester of grad school to get the hang of writing papers, but I did it. I even remembered how to make the process less painful (even if I was still a bit dodgy on citations). I have to assume the same will happen for podcasting and writing short fiction. It may take a few months for me to get comfortable behind a microphone and to relearn the rhythms of our podcast, but it will happen. For short stories? Oh man, if someone can tell me I’ll have it within a year, that would be swell. I suppose the key is patience. I need to be patient with myself while I’m on this re-learning curve and trust that with enough repeated practice, I’ll get the hang of it again.
I got back into writing fiction this year after a really long break and it was so difficult! I had to fight with my brain to stop thinking about what *I* would say or do and start thinking what the made-up person I was writing about would say or do. It’s tough when you’re out of the way of something, even if you’ve done it loads before.
I had a break in fiction writing as well and that was an even worse re-learning curve (and a longer story, which is why I skipped it for this post). Falling out of habits and trying to make new ones can be so difficult. One of my biggest frustrations is the knowledge that I let myself fall out of practice—but then again, I used the time for other things, so how frustrated can I really be with myself?
Glad to hear that it sounds like you’re out of the writing weeds now.