From time to time, I like to flip through my old work, especially the stuff that is in my limbo file (almost but not finished or finished but not published). I find this particularly helpful when I think I don’t have any new ideas. Often I find I can revise things easily, or I realize why the work never got finished (no central dramatic question! uneven point of view!) and make strides to complete it. Sometimes I just get a good laugh at how terrible some of my writing has been.
Many of these works are saved in files on my laptop, but some of them are merely print outs or pieces in my grad school files. Although I can find out the rough date most of them were written, it’s unnecessary because, like a child, I seem to go through phases. College was the Urban Girl Phase. Post College was the Non-linear Narrative and Shifting Point of View Phase. Grad School was the Heavy Allusion and Intertextuality Phase. (There are more, but those are the ones that come to mind.)
Of interest at the present is what appears to be my current phase: The Masculine Identity Phase. It’s not something I realized I was doing (and still am), but a survey of my fiction writing turns up cherries on some common themes and characters. For some reason, I went into grad school writing female protagonists and left writing males. Other recurring things?
- Sense of identity, especially in questioning traditional ideas of masculinity. “What makes a man?” my characters all seem to ask in their own ways.
- The inheritance of disappointment or failure from parent to child.
- Reality versus perception.
None of these are unique–they are in fact very common themes, but reviewing my work, beginning interestingly enough with my thesis, I seem hell-bent to look at these things repeatedly through different narrators and circumstances. Even my non-fiction work seems to focus on the male members of my family.
I don’t think there is a discernible reason for this phase (I’m sure a critic or therapist would beg to differ, pointing out my ‘daddy issues’). Pondering it further, one thing that did occur to me is that I shy away from female protagonists because I don’t want to be pegged as a chick lit writer.
The idea that a female writer can’t craft a female lead without being labeled in that way is disheartening. Perhaps that is all in my head, but I can think of too many adherences and not too many exceptions to that rule.
When my creative writing students tell me they are afraid to write something, I smile and then tell them that is exactly what they must write, that they must work through what they fear. One of my former students takes great pride in throwing my own advice back at me, so I will beat her to the punch: My new assignment is to write a female protagonist, even if her story only ends up in limbo. At least it will be a break from a phase that I don’t want to turn into a rut.
What about you, readers? Do you go through phases? What are you afraid to do in your writing? What assignment do you need to give yourself?