I went to a tarot card reader last week. After she spent some time on my love life, she asked me if I had two jobs at the moment. I shouldn’t have, but I threw her a bone to chew on. I told her I had one job, but I was also a writer. I said it sheepishly, because I am embarrassed about being a writer these days. When I tell people I’m a writer it’s sort of like telling them I have a mole on my thigh that I’m going to get checked out soon. They make a pretty sad face.
My reader made me flip up some cards for her about my writing. She told me all was not lost, but something something, I don’t know. She was kind of full of shit. She said she saw an older woman in my future who would be my agent. She told me writing would be a thorn in my side for my entire life, but I would publish. She said I’m an impatient person and I need to be better at revising. Then she went back to talking about my love life.
So I’ve been thinking about this lately–what my writing is in the grand scheme of things. Is it a job? A hobby? A waste of time? Pretentious to even spend so much time thinking about it?
I don’t make any money from my writing, because I haven’t been published. I have yet to write anything worthy of being published–I am not one of those people bitterly wondering why magazines won’t publish me. I know why. So, it makes sense to call writing a hobby, as it is something I will gladly put my time and money into without any promise of benefit.
Right now my main hobby is running, which took me a few tries to get into. I have pretty pathetic lungs. Let’s just say running isn’t always fun. But I found things I liked about it–I liked getting better, in small but noticeable ways. (My lungs don’t burn anymore! I can run a 5k in less than 30 minutes! I only fall sometimes!) I like the feeling of keeping myself accountable, and feeling like I accomplished something when I do improve. But I know I will never win any races. I just don’t have that natural talent. So it’s a hobby, and I don’t mean to disparage hobbies–there can be a lot to gain from hobbies. It’s just that the ambition isn’t always there. The only person I compete with is myself, at the end of the day.
I would be lying if I said I don’t feel my own ambition gnawing on me when I write. I want to be good, not just better.
I don’t have a natural talent for writing, but I spent most of my childhood reading rather than going outside, which means I have more of a flare for words than, say, beach volleyball. If I have any natural talent, it’s in my ability to observe myself and others and think about it enough until I can grind it down into some sort of thought that reflects the way I view the world. I think of my brain like a meat grinder, basically. And I need this because otherwise I just can’t handle being a human very much. It’s like, you get broken up with? Take those feelings, put them all in the meat grinder that is your brain, and spit out a poem, shape it however you want. You’ll feel a little bit better, I promise. This is also what books were to me growing up. If I felt sad or lonely, there were characters in books that felt the same, and I felt better.
When I’m not writing regularly, I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I am skirting my own responsibility. This is why I think of it like a job, even though there’s no money and no boss and let’s face it, I don’t really need to do it at all. But when I don’t make time for it, I am letting myself down. It’s really not about the passion or desire to write, at the end of the day. It is this feeling of responsibility to myself.
When I have a good writing session, it is a relief. It feels remarkably similar to getting up to stretch my legs after a long drive. The problem is that it isn’t always that way–somedays, everything I write feels stiff, clumsy, and boring. I’ve been feeling like this a lot lately.
Writing is fun when I have already trudged through the mud of a story to get to the part where it flows. After that, my mind suddenly feels organized, and everything has a point. It is like clearing a cluttered table. It is satisfying. When it’s good a story gets to the point where your brain is drunk on it all the time, and everything in your life is more interesting and useful because of it.
Ever since I read Tenth of December, this quote from George Saunders from the little special edition part of the book has obsessed me:
“What I think good writing does: It enlivens that part of us that actually believes we are in this world, right now, and that being here somehow matters. It reawakens the reader to the fact and the value of her own existence. How? Hmm. Well, maybe just by holding the things of the world up for examination in a semi-sacred way. Just the act of reading ‘The dog licked his ass, not even budging as the huge riding lawn mower powered past and the sky clouded ominously’ makes us suddenly think about dogs/asses/lawn mowers/clouds – and I’d say that this reminder (this momentary redirection of our attention) makes dogs/asses/et al. holy again, in a certain sense.”
Because: exactly. Reading and writing are sort of ‘soft’ interests. They’re easy to dismiss as unimportant. But I chose them, because writing is the best way I have found to connect with the world around me. To remind me that life is important. There are other ways, but this is the way that has been given to me. Not a gift like a talent but a gift like an offering. I have a responsibility as a human being to cherish and grow whatever it is that makes me feel closer to the world around me.
The problem is the pressure I feel to prove something, the feeling that being a “writer” means something other than just being a person who writes. If I were an actual writer, I would be published by now, or I would have at least written something I felt was good enough to publish. If I had actual talent the world would constantly sing my praises, obviously. If I were any good at all, it would take me less than six months to finish a story. I feel like this most when I am out of touch with why I do this in the first place. When it starts to feel like just a way to get people to notice me, I don’t feel like an actual writer at all. And then I am not entirely sure what I actually am.
I haven’t felt the relief much lately, that satisfied feeling when the words come out, simple and true and easy. The current status of my writing life is this: words come out and they are very slow and very bad. But I am still writing.
This is all part of it: the connection, the disconnection, the wading through mud. I’m learning how to trust the process. All is not lost.
This is all just to say I will be taking a hiatus from this blog in November, because I want to concentrate on NaNoWriMo, which I do every year but haven’t won in a few. I’m challenging myself this year to write 1) A lot and 2) Something Not Bad and 3) All of it fiction. So, sorry blog, see you in December.
If you are participating and want to connect, please add me as a buddy. I would love to see what sort of stories you are all writing!