Title: Dominic Carrillo
Author: Dominic Carrillo
From: College Are
Blogging since: 2011
Post Title: Getting Over the Hump
Post Date: June 20, 2012
I was in a beautiful place in Guatemala when the illness hit. A foreign stomach bug had abruptly changed my plans. No daily excursions or tropical exploration for me. Nobody to talk to, either, because no one with a sense of smell would’ve wanted to be within a 20-foot radius of me. For two weeks I couldn’t do much besides read and write (there was no TV; no internet).
That was about two years ago.
That’s when I started writing this novel, To Be Frank Diego.
Despite my physical condition, writing the first draft was fun. Oddly, the title was the first thing that came to mind as I thought up a story about a guy who resembled me and walked through San Diego one day, venting about its history and culture and his ex-girlfriend. The problem was that the first draft was a self-indulgent rant — pure therapy. And it came across as bitter and frustrated. After the second re-read, I realized that it needed a lot of work if I wanted it to be accessible to the reader, and humorous rather than harsh. I read Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird about the writing process. Her chapter “Shitty First Drafts” made me feel a little bit better. On Writing, by Stephen King, gave me some inspiration and guidance, too. I continued to write upon my return to teaching that fall semester in San Diego, but the time and attention I gave to Frank Diego soon diminished and almost disappeared.
If it weren’t for my high school English students, I might have quit writing To Be Frank Diego altogether. But because the academic culture at High Tech High values critique and professionalism, I felt I couldn’t be a complete hypocrite — encouraging my students to do peer critiques and multiple rewrites while I avoided my own writing project. So I continued to work on my novel, sometimes sharing my chapters with students, sometimes with trusted friends. As a teacher, I witnessed the value of good critique versus destructive criticism or (on the other end of the spectrum) vague compliments — so I sought real feedback. After sharing later drafts, I didn’t want a pat on the back. I wanted critical details, patterns and new ideas to build on. But because writing wasn’t quite as fun after a nine-hour day of work, I reserved only my weekend days and vacation time to sit and write — or at least tried to.
That year passed by in a flash. And though I continued to write, my output was nothing compared to that first two-week burst while bedridden in Guatemala. I recognized that since I’d returned to San Diego, Frank Diego had inched forward at a sluggish pace. I could picture myself 10 or 20 years into the future: the English high school teacher with the mangy beard and elbow-patched corduroy jacket who occasionally referred to the unfinished Great American Novel collecting dust in the bottom drawer of his desk. I didn’t want to be that guy. So, after a month of thinking about it, I quit teaching in order to finish my book.
Soon after I quit my job, I moved to Italy for four months. The only reason I could afford it was because I rented an attic in a friend’s apartment for next to nothing and taught private English lessons to put food in my mouth. I lived in Padua, which is about 15 miles west of Venice. I had unlimited time to write there. I drank a lot of coffee and wine, made cheap pasta, and gained inspiration by exploring places like Venice and Bologna. Then, like that, I ran out of money and the dream I’d been living was over. But Frank Diego was finished — kind of.
Because the manuscript was so close to being done, it made it easier to write and revise when I returned to San Diego. There was finally light at the end of the tunnel. I had made it over the writing hump. Now, a dozen complete drafts later, I feel good about my novel. I also feel a lot better about where I’m at in life now — pursuing creative projects and passions after years of putting those things on hold.
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