The Courage to Write

I am currently reading Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write. It’s not a very long book–203 pages, not counting the notes and bibliography. It was written in 1995 and you can also find it in paperback. I forget where I heard about it. It might have been when I was browsing at Barnes and Noble. Instead of buying books I might not like, I write down the titles and try to get them from the library. Then if I do like them, I buy them, but usually from Amazon or Half.com. I’m not sure if I’m going to want to buy The Courage to Write yet. But so far it seems promising.

Here is an excerpt from page 7:
“I’ve learned that a rising tide of anxiety isn’t necessarily bad. It’s a sign that I’m getting serious. Nervousness keeps me alert. Fear forces me to focus and to work longer hours. Restless nights mean I’m gaining momentum. The end is in sight. Getting there isn’t always pleasant. Neither is running in a marathon. Or staging a play. Or climbing a mountain. All such activities take courage. And all reward those who complete them not only with an unparalleled feeling of achievement but with a thrilling sense of adventure along the way.”

I don’t know about the thrilling sense of adventure, but the part about anxiety makes a lot of sense to me. I suffer from anxiety anyway, about everything. I take medication for it, but it creeps into my psyche several times a day. And it is worse when I’m trying to write. I get so far and then start feeling anxious and can’t continue. Apparently this isn’t as unusual as one might think. But it sure wreaks havoc with my writing career.

If I could just learn to work through the anxiety, I might be able to finish more pieces and even submit them. But I even experience anxiety about writing query letters. The only reason I’m able to write my posts for my blogs is because they don’t feel real. I don’t think anyone is really reading them. So I can make mistakes, write sloppily, even be incoherent and who’s going to know? I almost dread the day when (if) someone lets me know that they’re reading my posts. I wonder if I’ll start experiencing anxiety once that happens and not be able to write them anymore.

Right now the blog posts I write are the only writing outlet I have, besides my journals. I’ve gotten addicted to them. I don’t often write good ones, but every once in a while I think I’ve done a pretty good job and then my spirits soar. But it’s very hard for me to maintain a sense of self-confidence. Especially when I’m working on other things besides blog posts. I’ve started countless essays and I just can’t finish them. I’ve written over 50,000 words of a novel and it’s awful, but I don’t have the guts to start over.

Maybe this book will give me some insight into why I let myself choke so often when I’m writing. I’ll keep you posted.

Thoughts on Writing

I’ve heard some writers say that they hate to write. I don’t believe them. Maybe they hate to rewrite; I can understand that. But I can’t imagine why anyone would do this if they truly hate it. The closest I come to that is when I hate what I’ve written–that’s actually a common experience for me. But that doesn’t negate the pleasure I get from putting the words down in the first place. It’s just that they don’t always work out the way I’d like for them to.

My doctor recently told me that I should do something for myself at least once a week. What he doesn’t realize is that I do that every time I sit down to write. I agree that it’s good to do something different every once in a while or else your writing becomes sterile. You need to feed your mind. Of course, I do that every time I read a book about something I never knew that much about before. I’m so busy writing and reading, I rarely find time to go outside the house. I worry that I’m becoming a recluse. But I’m happy in my little world. So why should I have to change what I do and the way I do it?

I could make some improvements, however. I read a lot of non-fiction, but the fiction I read is usually genre stuff. I’m especially drawn to books about serial killers (I know, I’m sick). But I can’t imagine writing one, even though I’ve often heard the advice that you should write what you like to read. Perhaps the reverse is also true: you should read what you like to write. I have trouble making myself read the classics and literary giants. That could be an indicator that I’m not meant to write like those authors. (As if I could.)

What I really like to write are essays. Which is a pity, because essays are as hard to sell as poetry, in my opinion. And I do read a fair amount of essays. I love essay collections. I fell in love with essays years ago when I read Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. And I also love memoirs, which are really book-length personal essays. I should probably write a memoir some day. One reason I have trouble writing anything other than essays is because I keep trying to interject my life experiences into what I write. So maybe I need to get that all out at one time and get it over with. But can you ever exhaust your life experiences as material?

Maybe I’m destined to write about myself and my opinions for the rest of my life. I’m not sure how I feel about that prospect. I keep thinking that I should be able to write all kinds of writing (see my post “A Real Writer?”). But then I keep writing the same old thing. I don’t know why I disparage my efforts. What’s wrong with striving to excel at essays? If that’s what keeps coming out of my mind, who am I to question it?