A Real Writer?

I have a confession to make: I’m not a real writer. I must not be because I can’t seem to write fiction. And real writers can write anything. I can’t even come up with ideas, let alone be able to write the story afterward. Every idea I do have is about something that really happened, and then I find myself wanting to write an essay instead. I just can’t get away from wanting to write the facts, and just the facts.

I know that fiction can be as true as nonfiction and maybe even more so sometimes. I get that. But I’ve always thought, “Why gussy up an idea and hide it in a story? Why not just come right out and say what you mean to say?”

I don’t think I’m a bad essay writer. But essays don’t get noticed. And I find it hard to find markets for them. A lot of journals and small presses take what they call creative nonfiction, but I’m not even sure that I can write that. I took two courses in writing creative nonfiction and it turned out that I didn’t write enough scenes; my essays weren’t enough like stories to qualify as creative nonfiction.

I also took a magazine article writing course and felt a little more comfortable there, but I don’t have the guts to query magazines with my article ideas. So the bottom line is, I don’t get published. Which further proves that I’m not a real writer.

And yet I feel like a writer. I’ve felt like one ever since I started writing stories and poems for my grandfather when I was a little girl. He paid me fifty cents for the stories and a quarter for the poems. So I guess I was a professional (read: real) writer even then. What happened to my ability to write fiction?

They say that children are naturally creative and that school and life experiences (including that of growing up) gradually leach it out of them. I wonder what leached it out of me, if I indeed had any to begin with. What I don’t understand is that my dreams are incredibly vivid and inventive. If my brain can do that while I’m sleeping, why can’t it do it while I’m awake?

I suspect that it’s not true that a real writer can write anything. But I used to believe that I could. And I feel like a failure because I can’t. I envy short story writers (I’m not even getting into how I feel about novel writers!) for their facility for telling stories. I seem to have lost mine.

I truly believe that God gave me the talent I do have and that He means for me to use it. But how? I already write every day. I write posts for my blogs, work on my essays, and if all else fails, I write in my journal. But I tend to judge myself on whether or not I get published. I’ve had a few things published, but that was a while ago. It would be a little hard for me to get published now because I never send anything out.

I need to be patient with myself. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been able to devote myself to my writing. I’m still developing the discipline of writing every day and finishing what I write. The next step is to submit. I’ll get there, I know. I feel overwhelmed by the prospect, but because I can’t stop writing, I know that eventually I’ll get off my duff and get my stuff out there. I’ll keep doing it until I get published and then I’ll keep on doing it.

And then maybe I’ll feel like a real writer.

A Writer First?

In Marion Winik’s book, Rules For an Unruly Life, she writes that she finally got to the point in her life where being a writer wasn’t her be-all and end-all. (pp. 86-88) She actually took a four-year hiatus from writing. She ended up going back, but with a different perspective: people are more important than any achievements, even as a writer.

I, too, took a hiatus (except for writing in my journals), but it wasn’t by choice. It was during the years when I was having and raising children (four in six years, before I was 28). I’ve often said that having children is like having ADD: you can’t keep your mind on what you’re doing for two minutes at a time. If I tried to write, something always came up with the kids. I finally gave up.

It wasn’t until I was forty that I found real chunks of uninterrupted time to write again. My then-husband bought me a Brother word processor for my birthday, bless his soul. It changed my life. Most of my submissions and acceptances (and just a few rejections) took place in the three years afterward. But then I got waylaid by my parents’ deaths, a divorce, and a “breakdown” and I found myself in another hiatus. After that I went back to school, where I finally got my bachelor’s degree. I did a lot of writing in those three years, but it was for school, not publication.

I’ve been struggling ever since I finished school to “get my groove back” as a writer. I’ve found that I’m not the writer I used to be. I don’t have the same perspective I had when I was forty, let alone when I was twenty. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that writing is still more important to me than anything else on earth (except for reading).

I feel terrible admitting that. Don’t get me wrong: people mean a lot to me. But without writing to help me sort out my feelings and my actions, I don’t think I’d be worth all that much in the people-department. My writing keeps me from going crazy. And yes, it gives me a sense of accomplishment (on the days when my writing goes well, I’m much happier). In fact, I would love to achieve some level of fame, as a way of validating–and perhaps justifying–all the time and effort I put into writing.

But at the same time, without relationships in my life, what would I have to write about? Part of my problem in finding things to write about is that I write too much about myself and not enough about and for others. That’s probably why I get so bored with what I write: I’m not that fascinating of a subject. But it’s more than that. I need interaction with others to give my life real, not artificial, meaning. My essays and stories tend to be dry and intellectual. I live too much in my own head.

What I know about life I get from my reading. Oh, some of it comes from my own life, as I’ve lived it. But I don’t often make the connection between my truths and universal truths. Or maybe I do too much of that instead of using my writing to open up the worlds of others.

If I were to describe myself in order of importance (to me), I would say that I am a writer first, a mother second, a wife third, a Christian fourth, and a friend last. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value my friendships, just that I don’t spend as much time cultivating them as I do my writing. It doesn’t mean that being a mother doesn’t define so much of who I am, I can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. Nor does it mean that I don’t know that I owe my very life and well-being to God. And as for husbands, well, I’ve had four: I’m still not sure that I’m getting that part of my life right. (Just kidding, hon!)

I guess I don’t want my tombstone to say: “Beloved writer, mother and wife.” Or do I? Okay, maybe not in that order. But it would mean everything to me to know that my words and my love of words left an impact on people’s lives. To do that, though, I need to have a better idea of what others’ lives are like. I need to work on this.

Realizing that I put writing first is quite a revelation to me. If that’s true, then I need to be taking it even more seriously than I already do. I need to allow myself to put it first in fact as well as in my heart. Writing every day is one way to do that. Opening my heart is another.

Fire in the Belly

The other day I read this advice: To write a best-seller, you should write from the fire in your belly. That until you do this, you can’t move onto the next thing. I agree with that. It’s just that many things fuel the fire in my belly and I can’t distinguish the one that generates the greatest flame.

There is one thing that lurks in my mind and my heart that I hardly ever write about. And that is my faith. I’m what I consider to be a “born-again” Christian. I was raised in the Lutheran Church, baptized as an infant, confirmed at fifteen, accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was 21, started to attend a Methodist church, was baptized again in light of my renewed faith, married a man who became a minister, and was a minister’s wife for ten years before we were divorced.

That was a major blow to my Christian life. I lost the church we had been attending (I’m the one who had to leave) and many of our Christian friends. I briefly took my kids to an Episcopal church, but because I got a job which required me to work on Sundays, I soon stopped attending church altogether. I didn’t start attending church again until after I was remarried, at my new husband’s request. We were active in that church (another Methodist one) for another eight years, until that marriage ended in divorce as well. I attended that church a couple of times after that, but since I had moved out of the area, I found it too inconvenient and stopped going. The last time I attended church was at a Catholic mass. I cried my way all the way through it and I haven’t been back since. That was in 2000.

Sometimes I look back and wonder how I got here. I also wonder how I could get back to where I once was. But do I want that? I still consider myself to be an orthodox Christian, but I hesitate to write about my faith because I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be considered to be “legitimate.” Not unless I had a new experience in Christ. An indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A renewed commitment to Jesus. But I hold back because I don’t want to become a “Bible-thumper.” My beliefs don’t line up exactly with the evangelical or fundamentalist communities. Is there a place for a Christian writer who doesn’t go to church?

Perhaps this is the “fire in my belly.” At the very least it feels like unfinished business. But I feel stuck. I don’t know where I want to go to church. I don’t know that I do want to go to church. I do want to be closer to God and I don’t know how to get there. Perhaps I’m at a crossroads and I need to choose a direction before I can get where I’m meant to be.