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?

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.