Writing is not for the faint-hearted. If we write about our own lives, we face criticism from others who see our story differently. If we write about others’ lives, especially if it involves exposing to the world things that they would rather not share, we risk a lot more.
Even if we write fiction, at the very least, we open ourselves up to criticism about our writing ability, and the merits of our work will be criticized and dissected (if we are lucky) or else completely ignored (if we are not so lucky).
Worst of all, we must sit in our writing space for hours on end, pushing out words, agonising over the right phrases, feeling like failures when inspiration does not come.
The paradox for writers is that we have to have enough self-belief to know we can actually write something that is OK, so that people might want to read it, but without the expectation that anyone actually will read it. And while we might start with the idea that writing will somehow earn us a living, in the end it is all about whether or not we can actually finish something that really matters.
I have found, that in order to write, I need my writing muse on my right side and my warrior on my left, fending off the dark forces. She reminds me that the fight is worth fighting, but she is doing that for me and I am worth it, and whether or not the battle ends in victory, I must still keep writing – there is no alternative, because the alternative is a kind of death: death to my inspiration, death to my core being, death to my will to live a full and authentic life.
Until I stopped procrastinating, until I stopped dabbling and started finishing something, I hadn’t realised how close I was to shutting off altogether. It has taken an almighty effort to drag myself out of the quicksand that was squeezing the life out of me. A week ago I made a pact with my muse, she was very sickly from lack of nourishment. Together embarked on a project called ‘a month of raw stories’, writing a new story each day with the dual aims of getting something finished and published. A secondary aim is to write on different topics, using different styles if possible – so far so good, but we have only written five stories so far.
I have been publishing these on my facebook author page as we write them, my muse and I – unedited and raw, hence the name of this project.
One day (yesterday), I started three stories, each of which went nowhere. My muse was on a day off, evidently. As much as I tried, I could not work out an ending to any of these stories. At 10 pm, brain-dead, I let myself off the hook. ‘Tomorrow is another day!’ I told my warrior, sorry that couldn’t come up with anything original, but that is OK sometimes too).
Today was better. My muse returned from her day off and we got to work. For the first time in a while, on top of actually publishing something, I felt exhilaration rather than fear when I published it – not because I thought it was great writing, but because I knew I had done my job. It is not a job that was given to me, it was not something I was required to do by anyone else, but it felt like a job. More than that; it felt like the best job in the world.
For more than a decade, writing made up a large part of my ‘day job’. I could be able to write ‘on command’, churning out copy like a machine. I never questioned myself, my message or my writing ability. So what changed?
A number of things happened that created a perfect storm, in the process of which my writing self was lost at sea. Instead of a rich source of material, my own life, my experiences, and my expertise became heavy and uncomfortable, like they belonged to a person who I no longer identified with. I seemed to have no past, and I couldn’t envision a future.
This is not to be unexpected. A few years back I put myself into a process of transformation. There were many reasons for this, and looking back I am not sure how sound some of them were – let’s just say that it was an experiment, I wanted to find out what true transformation felt like, how it played out. All I can say is that it is hard, and it is even harder to write about. This transformation, by the way, has nothing to do with denial, rather, it is an affirmation of my authentic self. I will write more about this over time.
Part of this transformation involves writing authentically. I am still finding out what this is. All I know is that, in this point in the process, I can’t go back, I can only go forward. I will write things that I think need to be said, and that is so much harder than the kinds of things I used to write. I know that, in order to do this, I really need my warrior to fight for me while I am doing my work, to engage in battle with real and imagined threats, to know the end goal and to keep moving forward until I get there.
Another part of my transformation is to know that I am worthy of this pursuit. In my previous work, I could justify my worthiness because I felt I was helping others. Writing appears to be a much more selfish pursuit (although if it is so selfish, why don’t I feel satisfied most of the time?). Even if we can justify that what we are writing is important, useful or interesting, there is the constant battle with ourselves over our own worthiness to do it. I have often found myself apologising to people that I can’t do something or other because I am writing. This simply has to change if I am going to ever get a whole book published! I know my warrior is there to fight those battles for me, I just have to let her do her job.
Finally, letting go of the end view that I will most definitely be paid for what I write has been the hardest thing of all, especially in a society that does not value creative arts in terms of financial reward. Write anyway, I am telling myself, because the writing is what is important.