Sunday, July 27, 2008

Writing New York

A Writer Takes on Grad School and New York City… and Lives To Tell About It

Deonne Kahler


Is it possible to be strategic about creativity? Grad school starts in a month, so I’m starting to ponder the book length manuscript that’s required for my degree. I realize I’m probably one of the few right-brainers that thinks this far in advance, but I can’t help it. I need a blueprint to feel relatively sane, even if it changes fourteen times. It’s either that or I comfort myself with jumbo bags of Skittles, and my grad school budget can’t afford the insulin treatments.

I’ve got four potential book projects, but the two that feel most solid are a novel, which I’ve had encouraging feedback on but feels a bit stale to me, and a memoir, which seems more interesting but way more emotionally difficult. Then there’s the fact that I’m enrolled as a fiction student – novels are fiction, memoirs are not – and in fact Queens College doesn’t even offer a nonfiction track, but no matter, I’ll figure that out later. (Said like a real Not Worried About the Future Right-Brainer.)

I’m wondering if there’s a strategy here. Is one idea better than the other in terms of literary value? Should I be worried about which type of book I publish first? What about what the market wants? Should I chuck it all and write any old book with the words Sex, Money, and Free in the title to ensure a fat publishing contract?

After doing a few fruitless mental laps with my quandary, I decided to take a breather and ask an expert. Ericka Lutz is an author, avid blogger, performance artist, teacher and all around Kick Ass Human. (Check out her website here, which is chock full of helpful info and terrific writing.) Here’s what she said:

“While I do understand the need for strategy, I also think the strategy will emerge from the work itself. I think just start... but start with the one that has to be written FIRST. Which one presses? I decide on a project based on the juice. You can't think about the market and choose, because if you choose based on the market rather than on how the project resonates for you, it won't work. You won't do it, or you'll do it reluctantly and without passion... if you're lucky, the juicy project will also work with the market.”

The expert says Go for the Juicy, which seems like sound advice, and for me right this second that means the memoir. Emotionally difficult, here I come! Maybe I’d better stock up on Skittles after all.

Deonne Kahler has been a freelance writer for seven years, and decided it was time to move to New York and get her MFA. And really, why not? Contact her at deonne [at] deonnekahler [dot] com, or check out her blog at


Kelly Pollard said...

Great post! Looking forward to hearing about your grad writing adventures

deonne kahler said...

Thanks, Kelly! Adventures R Us, that's for sure.

michelle said...

I really like the advice to just start! I'm sure you will find your way once you do, especially once you are in your workshop.

Good luck with either the memoir or the novel (I hope I get to read some of it).

deonne kahler said...

Michelle - exactly. Once I get that structure with its assignments and deadlines I know it will become clearer. I'm allowed to slide around, even throughout the first year, although I'd like to have something more concrete before then. You'll definitely get to read whatever I land on - whether you want to or not (ha).