I’ve Been Doing It Wrong

Shit just got real.

That can’t possibly be a good “lede”. It’s a crass–not to mention unoriginal–idea for a hook. But I looked it up in the Urban Dictionary (which is overdue for a renaming, isn’t it?) and the definition– “a sudden crescendo of danger and/or sudden understanding of dangerous circumstances”– is so satisfying that I’m sticking with it. 

You know that scene in An Officer and a Gentleman when Richard Gere is doing a bajillion sit-ups and Lou Gossett, Jr. is all, “Quit! Quit, you worthless piece of shit.” (This is from memory, by the way, bear with me). And Richard’s coughing up chunky sobs with spit hanging from his mouth when thinks, then whimpers, then yells, “I got nowhere else to go!”

That’s me.

This weekend I sat on the edge of the sofa where Andy reclined and admitted my desperation as a writer. I thought of quitting and then I cried–hard–at the thought of quitting.


Here’s the YouTube clip to compare to my memory. I kind of like my version better.

But the scene makes me cry all the same.

I feel what Mayo feels.


This is what happened.

Last week, I decided that rather than being a consumer lapping up any old writing conference that money can buy, I wanted to attend one of the workshops offered for writers who pass an application process. I did my research and found a couple I would try for.


The first deadline was pushed from April 2nd to the 5th, so I planned to spend the whole weekend rewriting one of my existing essays. I turned to Marion Roach Smith’s book on writing and took notes. I downloaded excerpts from the Best American Essay anthologies and analyzed what I read. I put some of my existing drafts (i.e., blog posts) into manuscript form so that I could start moving the puzzle pieces around.


And after hours of this, I realized I suck. Or, to put it more intelligently, the fact is:

I am in no way prepared to submit a workshop-ready manuscript anytime in the next week. 

The application assignment I intended to complete was for one or two essays totaling a maximum of 500o words. Sounds doable, right?

Wrong. In editing my blog posts, I began to wake up to the nuances that separate blogging from longer forms of writing.

By mid-day Sunday, I had come to the conclusion–and I still believe it’s correct–that everything I have ever written (except maybe two of seven hundred pieces) is nothing but an embryo.

You want another bad metaphor? I’ve been practicing variations of an underdeveloped golf swing publicly for more than five years. Swing. Swing. Swing. The ball doesn’t make it onto the green all that often. But I keep swinging. Incorrectly. Swing. Swing. The evidence–my lack of success–has been apparent all this time. But that didn’t stop me from swinging on.

Mom, please, don’t offer encouraging arguments. You know it would be unwise for me to take your praise as anything but love, so let’s just skip that.

This weekend, sitting on the sofa with Andy, I cried like a short order cook trying to make it into flight school. To say I’ve got nothing else would be an unhelpful exaggeration. But that doesn’t negate the truth.

I’m 43 fucking years old and I’m a beginner.

So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to begin.

“All right Mayo, on your feet.”

I enrolled in another class and this time I’m walking in the door with a more realistic notion of what I need to learn than ever before. Enough tears for one week; back on my feet.

How much do you love Adam Ant in this video?

6 thoughts on “I’ve Been Doing It Wrong

  1. Hi Ruth,

    Doesn’t sound like you’ve been doing it wrong. Although it may seem like a long road, you needed to do this to get to the next step and clear the way for more. You get to where you need to go only as fast as you can.
    I’m still reading whatever you write…

    1. Thanks so much, iRun. You’re right. Thanks for being a faithful reader — hopefully I’ll reward that with better & better writing.

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