When I came to the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio I was writing regularly, a few times a week. During summer break I’d been babysitting, and when the kids watched their morning cartoons, I would write, every day, for an hour. I felt good about myself.
Until I realized that that scribbled notebook was full of terrible writing. I was far into a story about a girl, an empire, and dragons, and it was terrible. I was about to leave for a prestigious writing camp, and I hadn’t done any actual, good writing for weeks.
Perhaps the title statement should be amended to, You Should Write Well More Often (It’s Really Good For You).
This is something we all know. Of course good writing is better than bad. But it takes real discipline to move away from the easy problems of my fantasy universe, and force myself to write about death, and betrayal, and beauty, and terror. My fantasy universe contained all of these things, but in a sentimentally, so that they did not mean anything at all.
At Iowa, I have worked on three pieces of short fiction. One, already drafted, was about a girl and her grandfather. A second was about a murder. A third, which I just thought of yesterday, is pseudo-biographical. I have hated working on all of them. Writing is hard. It is tempting to leave in the heavy-handed descriptions and the overwrought dialogue. It is hard to slash those pieces, and force myself to write something real in their place. I had to set aside the murder story because it was not coming together; I have drafted and re-drafted the biographical piece ten times in two days, and I am exhausted.
But I have been writing, not just an hour a day, occasionally, but multiple hours every day, when I don’t feel like it, when I want to go for a run or get dinner or go to bed. That’s the beautiful thing about IYWS, and about being in a community of other writers: they encourage you not only to do the things you love doing, but they force you to do the things you ought to have been doing. If I had remained home all summer, I would have continued blissfully slaying dragons. But Iowa has let me lay that story down in a gentle grave, and forced me not only to write, but write well. It has forced me to edit and redraft relentlessly, so that a true story can emerge, not just a cute or easy story. I will return home with a body of work that I worked very hard at, and am very proud of.
Ruth Serven lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she just graduated from Veritas Classical Academy. She’s currently attending the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.