Friday, March 24, 2006

Am I, or am I not, a writer?

It bugs me that I am always so intent on deciding whether or not I am going to invest in exploring myself as a writer. Why can’t I just write, or not, as I feel like it? Why do I always have to analyze, and DECIDE—or try to—whether or not I am a “writer”?

Maybe because it IS an investment. It takes time and, yes, money. How can I justify putting my time and money into writing when these things could be spent on soccer lessons for the kids, say, or a trip to Disneyland (well, over time, anyway)?

Which is why I feel pressure to succeed. If I succeed (and the definition of success is up for debate), then I can claim that I have talent. And, of course, if I have Talent, then I am justified in the investment because we are commanded, after all, not to hide our candles under bushels.

But that’s just so much pressure. There’s the pressure to be good, so that I can justify the time and money it took to produce, and then there’s the pressure to SHARE what I’ve done. Two problems, then: 1) How do I become good without investing some time in practicing (and some of that practice is going to be lousy)? How much time to I give myself being not-yet-good in the hopes that I will become good before I give up and decide I might not be good after all? And 2) How do I quit thinking about that need to SHARE and get some privacy in my mind to explore what I really have to say? I am always so very concerned with audience, always planning on sharing things eventually. And that is stilting to the creation of art. It is as if I am making little deals with God: “Make this poem/essay/story turn out well, and I will use it to build up the kingdom.” So then, whenever I am tempted to write anything that might not build up the kingdom—might hurt feelings, or (perish the thought) give someone the wrong impression or (worst of all) possibly lead someone AWAY from the kingdom, I hesitate to write it. And hesitation impairs me. My work is shallow because I worry about these things. It will never be truly great if I do not allow the possibility of pain, misinterpretation and all to come into what I’m doing.

By avoiding risk I am condemning myself to fluff. I might possibly entertain, but I will never really move people.

And look, here I am again talking about moving people as my goal. Can’t I just write for the joy of it? Why do I need to have an altruistic goal? Well, as I said above, to justify it. Because, although I don’t think it is wrong to have a hobby just for the joy of it, with no value for anyone but myself, I’m not exactly sure that writing is all that joyous to me, or good for me.

But maybe it could be, if I could someday really give myself free rein to write WHATEVER I wanted, whenever I wanted it, with no thought of audience. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about this.

I DO know that I get joy out of producing a good poem that really says what I want to do. So maybe I WOULD do it just for myself.

Hmmmm. I will ponder this some more . . .


Angie said...

You're a writer. I know, because only a writer asks herself these kinds of questions. I also know because I am also a writer (I didn't say a good one, just a writer by temperament)so I understand what you are saying. Someone like my husband, for example, would just shake his head and go turn on the nintendo.

I think it's hard to tell people you're a writer if you're a bad writer (like me). There's something so wonderfully artsy about the phrase "I'm a writer," and we all hope that our writing is good enough to merit that. But I also know that we writers need to write, whether well or poorly, so we might as well get on with it.

By the way, I love your poetry. I want to be like you if I ever grow up. Welcome to Segullah.

Darlene said...

Thanks for your comment, Angie. I'm glad you came to check out my blog. I'm shy about it, so it's nice to get some friendly words.

Thanks for the compliment on my poetry. For me, a lot of my motivation in writing comes from knowing that someone, somewhere, appreciates it.

I'm so happy to have found you Segullah chics. What a cool group of people.

Brad Mortensen said...

Hi, I linked to your blog from Chris Bigelow's. I hope you don't mind. I enjoyed reading your musings.

I enjoy some of Natalie Goldberg's books on writing ("Writing down the bones" is the title that comes to mind, though there are others). She's a strong advocate of writing for the sake of writing. She imbues writing with something akin to therapy, but maybe even better. Having tried the methods she advocates, I can attest to the fact that they are helpful, and enjoyable.

If anything, I'm one step worse than you. I'm a "writer" who doesn't write much. Like you, I obsess endless about it, and consequently don't do it much.

My friend, who is an artist, draws and paints constantly. He hopes to support his family through his work eventually, but so far seems to be honing his craft. I admire his willingness to continue with it despite the relative lack of commercial success. The other day he asked what I'd written lately. I started to use my standard excuses, too busy, need to think about my projects a bit more, etc., and then I thought about his incessent work, and realized my excuses sounded hollow. I just need to write. Alot. I've tried to do this lately, and it's been great.

Goldberg talks about sh**ty first drafts. She says it's much more important to get the ideas out of your head and onto paper than to try to ensure that they are high quality at first. That idea has helped me be less self conscious about it.

Thanks for the chance to get these ideas out of my head. I hope they help. I wish you much continued success as a "writer" even if the only person that is ever helped by it is you.

Darlene said...

Hey, thanks for your comments, Brad. I guess this navel-gazing is a common disease among writers. I've done lots and lots better since I've begun to realize where my heart is (poetry) instead of forcing myself into fiction.

Many people have recommended "Writing Down the Bones" to me. I have read it, sort of. I listened to it on tape. That was unfortunate because I couldn't stand Goldman's voice. Even now I can hear it in my head. She had some nasal thing going that drove me batty. I need to try it again in print.

I enjoyed what'shername's Bird by Bird. Oh yeah--Anne LaMott. But generally it is good writing that inspires me more than books about writing. When I read Annie Dillard, I want to write essays, for example. Right now I am reading Marilyn Bushman-Carlton's poetry and blossoming as a poet.

Darlene said...

Oops. Make that "Goldberg," not "Goldman."