I understand the sentiment behind the advice that to be a “real” writer, you should write everyday. To get good at a craft, you have to practice. You have to be dedicated. It’s a lot like any other creative discipline. You also have to study the masters. And you have to do things that aren’t fun, a lot, to enable those moments of transcendent creation, those moments that truly make it all worth it.
When you study creative writing, you are challenged to write in a multitude of styles, adhering to different forms, rules, and limitations. You try everything out. You study many works critically to see how other writers employ literary techniques. You read a lot. And you write every day. And you read your work out. And you go to every reading you possibly can. And you organize multiple reading series and writing workshops. And you become a shining pillar of the literary community. Of course this is the only way to become a legitimate writer.
Here’s a paragraph that resonated so hard with me:
Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.
Beginning with forgiveness revolutionizes the writing process, returns it being to a journey of creativity rather than an exercise in self-flagellation. I forgive myself for not sitting down to write sooner, for taking yesterday off, for living my life.
I’m working on some things right now. Letting go of guilt and shame. Trusting my gut, my inner voice. Knowing what’s right for me. Trusting that. Not pushing things when they feel too forced, or lying to myself about who I really am and what I really want. As I move into the next major chapter of life, this authenticity and truthfulness to myself is crucial.
Here are some personal truths I’ve accepted. I don’t like reading my work out in public a lot. I don’t want to go to events because it’s what I’m “supposed to do” when it isn’t always the best choice for me. I want to go because I’m eager and excited to.
I deal with chronic anxiety and depression, as well as other related mental health conditions. I am still learning to live in the face of a tumultuous past. I don’t want to feel guilty or like a fraud because I’m not doing enough right now.
The truth is that at about age seven, I became a writer. When forced to clean my room, I hid behind the bed and read instead, until all the books were confiscated. I wrote and illustrated a YA series with my best friend, and began journaling prolifically, a practice I continued through high school. Those were pre-internet, pre-cell phone years, and in many ways they were glorious.
Here are some other things I think are fine:
I think a lot of contemporary writing is formulaic and pretentious.
It’s ok if I don’t want to write flash fiction.
It’s ok if I don’t want to write fiction at all.
The article mentions a quote from Anais Nin, that “shame is the lie someone told you about yourself”. So right on. I idolize that woman.
Tied up in this mandate to write every day is the question of who is and isn’t a writer. The same institutions and writing gurus that demand you adhere to a schedule that isn’t yours will insist on delineating what makes a real writer. At my MFA graduation, the speaker informed us that we were all writers now and I just shook my head. We’d been writers, all of us, long before we set foot in those hallowed halls. We’re writers because we write. No MFA, no book contract, no blurb or byline changes that.
I sometimes feel like the slew of creative writing undergrad programs and MFA programs have created this new school of writing, where you have to be snarky and abrupt and tell a story in five words. It has to be clever. It has to be succinct. But does it have to have a voice? Must it be genuine? Is it stunning? Breathtaking? Gorgeous? Moving? (actually)Funny? Does it compel me? Why should I care? Should I like it because I’m told it’s serious literature? Because it’s presented in a literary magazine?
I spent all this time in my undergrad trying to wrestle my voice into a box, to tame it into forms. And I’m glad. I’m so glad I did that. I’m so glad I learned everything I did from that.
Writing fiction is a challenge for me. But I have stories to tell. Stories that are dying to be told. And they aren’t fiction, but I’ve sometimes actually repackaged them as fiction, and people always love these the most. Non-fiction is calling out to me. Memoir. Essay. Non-fiction stories. These are the forms that are begging me to come, learn, pour forth. I still love poetry, and I will never stop writing it. I may even try my hand at fiction again someday. I had to study those forms and listen to the rules to come to this conclusion, and what I learned from them holds value in any style of writing I choose to do in the future.
I’m learning what kind of writer I am, what kind I want to be, and figuring out how to get there. So far I don’t write every day. I don’t go to that many readings right now. I’m not(yet) in a place to be recommitted to and fully invested in writer’s groups. I’m still not there. And it’s ok. It’s not a place anyone ever fully arrives. But I am finding my way, and my voice, and it’s ready to scream.