I may have mentioned to you that this was going to be, for me, the year of "getting shit done." Shit, in this case, meant writing. Writing and submissions and rejections. One could argue (and I have been for two months) that the following commitments count towards the "shit" that needs getting done:
- Taking two writing courses at UCLA -- one about character development & one about journalism as I'm now also...
- ...writing for the LAist on a regular basis.
- Any reading, research, attendance at author events, guest blogging, intense scrutiny and overall enjoyment in multiple daily visits to other blogs and the like, all in the name of extending the breadth and depth of this blog.
I have become so adept at avoiding the writing of fiction that I've allowed myself to believe the above counts as the actual writing of fiction. Or that it will in some way contribute to it, even if only tangentially. Worse, I've gotten so comfortable with being so busy at these and other things (like paying work), that in the past two months I've actually said to myself (at least nine times): "Maybe you don't really want to be a writer after all. Maybe you can just be a really great blogger. Maybe that's enough." (I never said this was going to be pretty.)
Perhaps worse still is that after I rejected this thought again and again over these past eight weeks, I started to succumb to it. I even grew to like it a bit. The weight off my shoulders. The sudden freedom from guilt at not writing enough, freedom from frustration at not being good enough, at not having enough work I'm pleased with to send out. So much easier to just deem it not for me. Dream not so much deferred but more like, left on the side of the road, thrashing in the wind. I began to imagine -- and then actually live it in real-time -- my life as if I didn't want to be a writer. It didn't feel great, but it didn't feel as bad as the guilt of not writing when I was supposed to.
I was just about to start month three on this I'm no longer a writer plan when the universe knocked me down flat. Flat on my back, facing up. I'm still writhing around on the floor trying to catch my wind-knocked-out-of-me breath.
It began slowly, as most one-two punches from the universe seem to, and has swelled to unseemly proportions. It started yesterday with an innocent post from Gwenda about "What you do every day counts more than what you do once in awhile." I liked it, but in my new i'm not a writer state, I thought: nice but not for me. Something about it hit straight to the core of it -- if you aren't writing all the time you aren't a writer. Yet I resisted, left a comment, moved on. No longer for me to worry about. For the rest of the day I toyed with the idea of setting up a writing spreadsheet, maybe giving it one more go. I wavered. I waffled. I picked up a book instead, reminding myself that I should finish this next book, attend the author's reading next week and do an excellent write-up for the blog. I gently reminded myself of my revised dream: good blogger, not writer.
Upon waking, I felt no different. I went about my non-writing morning and didn't even feel guilt about skipping my writing time, so far I was down my own spiral that it would seem unnatural to do so. I busied myself with work, with wedding hoo-hah that must be planned, with things other. Simply other. I flipped through the stack of literary journals on my desk, not really taking anything in. I then began making my morning blog rounds. I don't even remember which blog I went to first, because they were all proclaiming the same news: Mark Sarvas sold his book to Bloomsbury. Excellent, excellent news. My pulse quickened, but then I moved on. I busied myself with work throughout the day, but kept coming back to this notion of finally being published, after so much focused, dedicated work...over years of consistent production...over years of showing up and making it happen every day, without fail.
Again, I reminded myself, this is no longer for me. But when the universe wants to have its way with you, small inklings & seemingly unrelated things start to snowball pretty quickly into one large tumbleweed careening toward you. I opened Poets & Writers tonight to read the Tom Bissell piece I mentioned on my blog today. In truly uncharacteristic fashion for me (as I always jump around when I read P&W), I started at the beginning. Here is what I found:
- "The Writer's Triangle" by Caitlin O'Neil about the difficulties writers face in finding a balance between the work they must do to pay the bills, the life they know they must have in order to have anything to write about and then, of course, the writing itself. Fine, I thought. Interesting. But I'm just here to read the Tom Bissell piece.
- Next Up: "The Art of Reading Joy Williams" by Adam Hill. I've not read much of Joy's work, but Hill's piece focused on her unique characters, their oddities, and the inability of readers to view these characters as "likeable" which has resulted in many not fully appreciating her work. Throughout the article I kept thinking: yes! yes! this sounds like my characters, this is what i'm trying to do and no one understands them either! yes! Strange reaction for a writer who is no longer a writer, no?
- This was too much so I skipped to: "All the Things He Did Not Know" (aka the Tom Bissell piece that led me down this tortuous path) by Frank Bures. The quick summary is that Tom Bissell has been writing his entire life and has faced mountains of rejection and almost faltered several times, but still stayed the course. There is a moment when Bissell shows his work to family friend Philip Caputo who tells Bissell: "Anyone who wants to become a writer will not become a writer. The only people who become writers are those who have to, [who] almost cannot do anything else." So. Snowball building. Tumbleweed picking up speed.
- And then, as if all this weren't enough: "The Nothing That Is" by Mary Gannon. A piece about author Matthew Sharpe and his long journey to publication, his even longer list of publishers who wouldn't have him, and what his very accomplished life looks like now. Fine. Whatever. I get it. Sort of.
- And then the universe pulled out all the stops: Walter fucking Mosley. I have a weird irritation with him. I'm not entirely sure why but I always found his earlier book titles (a colour craftily woven into each title, the red dress, the blue dress, whatever) to be a bit obvious and cheesy so I've kind of avoided his work on spec. I know, unwise and misguided, but there you have it. Yet here he is in the latest P&W with an article called "Writing Every Day". Of course. Now we've come full circle. I surprised myself by reading this article and not thinking "walter fucking mosley" but by thinking "okay, universe, you've got me...i'm pinned down and can't move and so what the hell else would you like to say to me?"
For truly, it would seem near to impossible that all these "coincidences" are simply random. It feels as if the universe actually conspired with all of these article writers and their deadlines and their editors and the rearranging of the issue to ensure that ALL of these pieces were contained in the SAME issue and could be easily read in a complete sitting on the very evening that Gwenda's post and Sarvas' book deal were slowly working on my subconscious, leaving an opening for conversion. Doesn't this seem odd to you? Convenient? So clearly orchestrated by something larger than myself?
Either way, my response should seem less odd: Alright! I get it! I'm supposed to write and I need to write every day and I just need to stop distracting myself with classes (with their deadlines and other stories to read and assignments that make me feel "writerly" but get me no closer to my goals) and all this other hoo-hah. I get it.
And you know what? It feels SO good to be a writer again. To set my sights on that long road once more. To hold fast to that dream that is as essential as breathing for me. To take up the pen (laptop) and do what it is I know I must do, what I have to do in order to be fully me - write and write and write. There is no other way.