Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Writing Isn't for Sissies

Writing isn't for sissies.

That's what a good friend tells me I once said in one of my "inspirational tirades," and I believe her, though I have no memory of the event. I do know I have a habit of attacking like a pit bull when one of my writing buddies says, "I'm a horrible writer!" or "I should just give up on this writing thing!" or some variation thereof. I will latch on to their pant leg, metaphorically speaking, and not let go until they admit that writing is hard work, self-validation is often the only kind we get, and whoever quits first, loses. I often lose consciousness during these tirades, and only come to after the person weepily thanks me for bucking up their spirits. Then, of course, I slink away and wonder if I'm a horrible writer and maybe I should just think about giving all this up.

Yes, it is true. I am in one of my "depressed" periods. Monet had his "blue" period (I think), and I've got my "depressed" periods. Now, I'm not talking depressed in the clinical sense in which normal, non-writing people occasionally endure. No, I'm creatively depressed in the "my gosh, how much longer will this take, and can I hold out until it does?" sense. I realized recently that the five year goal that I had set myself when I first embarked on this "three-hour tour" had been met and passed this January. In Jan 2001, I set a goal that I wanted to be a "working" writer, earning a modest living from my books in five years. How naive was that?

Okay, so, now what? Do I give it up now that I haven't met my goal? Do I devote the time I spend typing at the computer, talking to people who don't exist and making up stories that are important, but not real, to my children? To my husband? My students? All of whom have been mostly patient, unless they want something at the same time I need to write?

Part of why I wanted to publish was, yes, to tell my stories, to entertain. It also had to do with leaving my mark, being something other than a wife, mommy, employee. Those are all important things, don't get me wrong. But as Margaret Atwood says in her poem, "Spelling,"

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child
There is no either/or.
However.


In other words, having either is not a substitute for the other. A child can't fulfill the need I have to "mainline words," as Atwood says in another part of her poem. Nor does writing fulfill my need to be a good mother, wife, and teacher. All which leaves me feeling chronically guilty for not doing any of them well, and yet I can't seem to stop.

When I started this, I let my kids see me struggle, strive, fail, pick myself up, and start again and again. "Mommy's working," I would say, even though I didn't have the paycheck to prove it. I wanted to teach my kids to strive for something hard, something worthwhile that is worth having. I wanted to teach them not to settle, not to give up if what they wanted didn't come easily, if their dreams were too big to fit into other people's perceptions of "should."

They were babies when I started, and now they are old enough to ask with a sigh, "Mommy, when are you ever going to get published?" They know Mommy is a writer, but one who teaches to earn a living. They know not to talk about Mommy's writing outside the home, because, you know, she writes romance, and not everyone will understand. They know writing is hard work, and they've even taken to pecking out their own stories at their own computer, tossing around ideas and searching for just the right words to tell their tale.

Am I teaching them an addiction from which they won't be able to quit? Am I setting them up for failure by pursuing a dream they might never be able to catch? Should I say, "Well, writing well is important, but make sure you get a good degree, so you can earn a living and take care of your family if your writing doesn't take off"?

I don't know. Jennie Crusie said something recently about writers having to choose between relationships and careers (can't be more specific about that, because then the loop police where I saw this posted would have to kill me), and it struck me as truth. To be successful, do I really have to choose?

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child
There is no either/or.
However.


TJB

4 comments:

Robot Dean Martin said...

I'm sorry, but are you sure the acronym should be Im Ho? ;)

TJ Bennett said...

Well, since I've never had anyone stop by my blog with a mind infantile enough to see a corollary between the acronym for insulting the female sex ("wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more") and the commonly used text message shorthand of In My Humble Opinion, it's never been a problem before. I'm pretty sure it won't be again.

If you're looking for a blog about ho's, 'fraid you came to the wrong place. Better tighten up on those Boolean searches, dude. Google garbage in, Google garbage out.

TJB

Robena Grant said...

Ha ha. You told that dude where to go! Who in their right mind calls themself "drunk blogger?" Sorry dude, but I do like the double sunglasses look. Very chic.

But hey, TJB, he was polite, he gave you an I'm sorry and a wink.
Loved your article and to tell you the truth it's exactly the stage I'm in, in this first quarter of 2006.

I keep blaming my lack of writing on the fact that I'm super busy with being President of a writers group. The real reason is I'm as dried up as an old prune.

I've decided to take a break and rework an old manuscript and then completely switch my style.
I've been writing in the same manner for five years, trying to learn the ropes of writing romance. All of my stories start in a similar way, end in a similar way. This next time, I'm going to toss away the rule book and have fun and write it the way I want to write.

TJ Bennett said...

Oh, oh...release the pit bulls! :-)

I think change is always good, Robena. I'm trying that myself. As the one dinosaur said to the other, "Change or die!"

TJB