On the Compulsion to Write

After my little temper tantrum, which you can read here, and a conversation I had with my sister about artists and art after I told her about this dream, and a brief email exchange with Julianna Baggott, I’ve been thinking about the compulsory need to create.

I need to write.  If I added up all the hours of my life I have spent writing stories, in journals, emails, blogs, angry letters, love letters, songs, on napkins, on placemats, on the stuff we wrote our one-liners on before we tweeted them, I have probably been engaged in writing for at least a third of my cumulative waking hours.

No big deal right?  But think about it:  If I’m awake from about 7 in the morning until about 11 at night, that’s 16 hours of wakefulness, of which a third is 5ish hours, every single day as long as I knew what to do with a pen?  Man.  I do a lot of writing.  And now, as a self-employed editor, I do a lot of thinking about writing.  Which is a different task entirely.    And as a working writer, I do a lot of writing what other people pay me to write, which is always a satisfying stretch.

And I quit all of it feeling answered and soul quenched.  I get a little chest-welling buzz every time I finish editing a manuscript.  I get this thrill of neurotic fear that I’m utter shit every time I finish writing anything.  Doing all this words stuff is better to me than chemical highs.  I’ve joked that I write because I can’t afford therapy.  I bet if you searched that phrase, it’s somewhere else in this blog.  It’s a very Woody Allen thing to say.  I bet Woody Allen is a compulsive writer.

I would rather write than sleep most of the time.  I sleep anyway.  I’m one of those people who sleeps like she means it.  But I get woken up by ideas for stories, essays, ways to improve current stories and essays I’m working on, ways to improve my clients’ work.  I don’t get woken up by fire alarms or my kid.  I sleep through or just shuffle her into bed with me, and when I wake up all sweaty and smooshed between two bodies, I’ll have no memory of the second bedfellow’s arrival.

I feel telepathic when I’m editing, because I can see the writer’s choices, and whenever I don’t know I can guess, somewhat accurately, about the shape of the story prior to revision.

I can’t help it.

I wrote this essay that I’m trying to sell to some publication bigger than the Sun-Gazette (no offense Williamsport, love ya, mwah), and in it I talk about these last 5ish years, starting around when Pearl turned 1 and going until May 2011, how I felt vacant and unfamilliar because besides emails and internet dating profiles and facebook status updates and very sporadic blog posts, I didn’t write much.  I mean there was a stray poem, and I started about 800 stories, but I didn’t make time to write every day.

And oh man I am super excited about these writing workshops I’m starting in September.  The thing that really inspired me to do them was when I went to this writer’s group in my home-home town, and I just felt so comfortable.  So enlivened looking at other people’s work: Analyzing the writing and psychoanalyzing the writer.  More publicly the former than the latter, but sometimes it’s illuminating when someone asks you, “what are you afraid of writing here?”

There’s a lot of fear in writing.  Maybe not for all writers, but for me.  It is a rather constant battle between myself and my inner editor/naysayer.  Anne Lamott talks eloquently about this in her book Operating Instructions.  It’s a beautiful book.  Natalie Goldberg writes elegant prose about it that has a lot less fear, or maybe it’s just about overcoming the fear.  But she always lives in my head for a few months after I read her book, Writing Down the Bones.  She is a healthy influence.

And for me, the compulsion to write is wrapped up in the compulsion to read.  I have not returned to reading with the same vigor as I have returned to writing, but my Must Read pile has grown, as has my zest for tackling it.  Once the child returns to school, I expect that I, too, will return to reading.  And that is exciting too.  I love the company of good, narrative voices.  I unintentionally mimick the writer I’m reading.  I enjoy what it brings out in my writing when I inhabit someone else’s voice.


Author: April Line Writing

Writing about whatever the f*ck I want.

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