When I first started writing after my daughter died, I couldn’t not write. At first, I felt I had too much inside of me that simply could not remain there if I were going to survive. Then for a while, I felt that if I didn’t write every day, I’d start leaving her behind. And finally, I began to write in order to help myself understand what was happening to me and around me. But at all times, the writing was for me. I was grateful to share it with others and interact with others about it, particularly during those times when I most needed support, but ultimately, the writing was still for me.
When I quit my full-time job last December to pursue writing, writing became my job (or one of a few I have now, mom and part-time lawyer included). When writing became my job, it was no longer for me anymore. Or it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s no longer only for me. All of a sudden, I felt a new sense of responsibility to the art and to other writers and to the people I am lucky enough to call readers and to the people I hope to call readers. I had a responsibility not simply to just throw words on the page for catharsis, for therapy, for support, but to shape those words into something that is meaningful for others, whether we have shared experiences or not. And on top of that, I had a new responsibility to my family to contribute to our household budget without drawing a monthly salary from anyone.
To be quite frank, I froze under the weight (or perceived weight) of all of these new responsibilities. The pressure not only to write something but to write something “publishable” and perhaps make some money at the same time (this latter bit is something of a joke–the pay for the kind of writing I currently do is absolutely abysmal; even if I could write and publish ten or more essays a month for some of the best-paying sites, I still couldn’t cover the cost of preschool for ONE of my two kids) turned writing into a chore. I’m not a person who believes that you must love writing in order to be a writer–I think you can either write well or you can’t (but I don’t believe these are static conditions, either–I think you can have natural writing talent that can deteriorate without practice, and I think most people can become good writers with practice). You don’t have to love it in order to do it successfully. I do think writers who love writing, those who have never wanted to be anything but writers, have a very tiny advantage over those of us who don’t feel that way, but it’s a really tiny advantage. In either case, the writing is hard–rare is the moment that the writer sits down in front of the blank page and doesn’t feel uncomfortable–but the writer who loves it may be ever-so-slightly less inclined to throw up her hands and say “WHAT IS THE POINT?” because for them, the writing itself is the point, because they love it. But that’s a tiny advantage, because either way, the writing is still hard. Those magical, fleeting moments when it is not hard, when the ideas and the words flow from a source that you can’t even identify, are some of the best moments of a writer’s life. Like many (most? all?), I enjoy having written something far more than I enjoy the actual writing of it.
So when writing became my job, it also became a chore. I thought I’d be publishing a few essays a month, revising my memoir manuscript, planning for my next memoir.
Not even close. Not that the number of publications is actually somehow indicative of anything important, but when you’ve taken a leap and your family is making sacrifices so that you can do this crazy thing, that number feels important. And when it’s a low number, well, blargh.
When National Blog Posting Month began, requiring me to write something every day but without the pressure to publish it anywhere other than my own blog, I found that in fact, I do still enjoy writing. It’s not always a chore. I like the process of figuring things out in words. I like having a platform for my voice (when I can find it). I always like interacting with readers and connecting over our stories and thoughts and emotions. It’s the publishing part that is so hard. Every single time I submit something, I risk the significant likelihood that it will be rejected. And I am not so good at failure. And I have failed a shit-ton in the past year, at least to the extent that publication is an indication of success. And because I am not so good at failure, I haven’t been writing and submitting nearly as often as I thought I would be. I’ve got three or four essays right now in need of revision that I’ve been avoiding like the plague, because part of me feels like I’ll never get them into “publishable” shape, so WHAT IS THE POINT? And yet I know that this is the writing life, in a nutshell. And I’m trying to take the long view here.
I’m not sure WHAT IS THE POINT of this post, either, except to speak a little hard truth about what I’m struggling with right now and to say that I’ve enjoyed interacting with everyone who’s been reading and commenting here over the last few weeks.