It seems to happen all of a sudden. You are striding through, page after page, day after day, hardly even editing, and even when you do, the tweaking is minor. You are unstoppable, a trailblazer, a king, until one surprise hiccup comes and your fingers twitch, stop, mind statics up with nerves and insecurities and shyness and an old heavy shadow comes sweeping over you. It hisses: You? No, you are not a writer.
This fear has haunted every writer that has ever lived and to my understanding, it always will.
My typical response, when I’ve already fallen down the dark hole of insecurity, has been to inspect the mechanics, the grammar, the flow, my ability to make the words sing, the success of my insatiable desire to create invasively good prose that will lodge into the readers’ minds like a vivid memory. Like something that made them feel in a way they hadn’t in a very long time.
And so I study, all the best writers, all the grammar books, compare my older crisper, cleaner work with my latest ambiguous, desperate, wannabe ones, and I try to do the old stuff again, but they seem inaccessible now. Their moods, inimitable. The craft, the dream, quietly collapse into a clump of nothing. I think, no, I’m really not a writer.
I hunched over, frustrated, in front of my laptop the other night, trying to write out a memory, and I kept deleting and rewriting, sweating and cursing, trying and failing, eventually falling back into the chair, asking: Why am I even doing this?
There. Right there.
Most often I think the source of our writer’s block/blues/funk/frustration comes from the fact that we forget why we write in the first place. We’ve memorized all the hows of it: Keep your butt in the chair, same time tomorrow, pick a room and build a small writing habitat out of it, select the perfect playlist to give you the right rhythm, keep your finger off the delete button.
And, of course, all these things are deeply important, but they are also bunk if you’ve forgotten why you are writing.
The why is the wind in your sails (to use a forbidden cliché). The Why is what drives you to finish the dang thing in the first place. It keeps your work from becoming nothing other than work.
After I spoke that pinnacle question into the air, the most simple answer returned to me:
Because I enjoy it.
Because I like sharing my stuff and hearing how it reacts in the lives of others. I like hearing someone say, You know what you said in that post? Well it got me think about ___. I like the feeling of knowing I made good prose. That I plucked the right words from the thick dictionary, and dropped them onto the dance floor. It’s fun and satisfying and it’s good to know that in the mountain of crap I can write, some work really shines.
And I thought of some others.
Because I like the way it moves people.
At the GCN conference (an event I promise I will write about) two girls grabbed my arm in the lobby and said “you’re Runaway, right?” I laughed nervously (this was the first time I met followers from far away) and they proceeded to tell me that my blog helped them on their own journeys, and then they told me specifically which posts. And that was such a gift. It was validation. It felt so good to know that over here, in my little corner of the internet, good things can happen.
Because there is joy in being the “host”
For this reason, I cede the floor to Anne Lamott:
“It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person to whom they come for food and drink and company.”
Because it pacifies my crazy
A lot that I write is for my eyes only, and will not ever- EVER, be published, but in both the private work and on here, I am able to process my thoughts and feelings. I can yank them out, one at a time, and evaluate them rationally, decide how true they are. If I am insecure, I write it down, work it out into words and then read it back to myself and, without fail, the insecurity is just that, insecurity. I do the same with my doubts, hopes, and sometimes my most honest prayers. I find new ways in understanding the world and I find that it’s okay to not see it the same way as everyone else does. That this is what it means to be human.
Because I have a story to be told
I think the great inner oppressor that spooks us all is that our story isn’t that important or impactful or priceless. It is a fear that often makes me shut down on the whole writing thing for awhile. What am I saying that is any different? What makes me so special? And, my personal favorite, What if your story, told in all its’ truth, somehow makes the world worse? These things I know how to brush away. I have read enough memoirs by completely ordinary people that have left profound impressions on me to know that this is all just the inner critic. I haven’t finished unrolling my past, nor have I come to completely understand it, but deep down somewhere inside, there is a light encased in a shell, and my job is to keep cracking away at it.
Because I learn more about my past and it impacts my present and future
I was talking to someone recently about writing and how, lately, I have written really long shitty drafts only to find out, several hundred clumpy words later, what it was that I really wanted to write. What my subconscious had been holding onto for dear life until, due to my relentless typing, it let go and I saw it fall out. I saw the thing I had felt beneath all the other things I thought I was feeling. I learned a little more about my past and my present. The way I perceive the world is different now. Even in the most basic conversations. I understand how I value some words and detest others, how I hold onto to some things and brush off others, without ever realizing it. Until years later, when I try to recover it through writing.
This is the way I break my writing pains. What is yours? Why do you write?