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.