Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dear Struggling Writer

From Friday's Comments:

Dear robin,
A few years a go I began writing. I wrote because my sister was a writer and people always fawned that "wow, a writer?" while my dad bragged proudly.
I...I guess I was jealous. That I wanted praise.
So I started a book, purely out of envy.
The book failed. I moved on to another idea.
Now I believe myself to be a writer, I'm no longer jealous.
I enjoy writing but the reason I started to write haunts me.(Is 'haunts' too dramatic?)
Because of that I can't fully give myself over to my 'muse'. I feel I can't truthfully say that I love writing and, while my sister has finished three books, I've yet to write one full rough draft.
Your the only person I could think of asking, um, do?

Dear Struggling Writer,

Here’s what I think. And be forewarned—it’s long.

I think pretty much whatever means brings creativity into your life is perfectly okay.

Some people are born believing in their talent and their “right” to spend their time and energy and resources pursuing and honoring that talent. Those lucky devils. For the rest of us, we sometimes need to trick ourselves into finding permission to pursue creativity. In today’s culture, creativity for its own sake isn’t particularly valued or treasured. It’s not practical enough, doesn’t reap great enough financial rewards, and causes people to spend long periods of time alone. It’s often only valued if it leads to a specific end, usually in the form of prestige or lots of money. And yet . . .

I think it is one of the single most important things we can invite into our life—whatever form it might take and by any means it might show up. Mostly because I think the act of creating is one of the single most spiritual activities we mere humans can experience, whatever your definition of spirituality may be.

There is only a small portion of us who will initially feel confident enough or brave enough or worthy enough to devote the time and energy to something creative. The rest of us will need excuses.

Some people will tell themselves they are writing so they can produce the kinds of stories their own kid hunger after.

Others will tell themselves they are writing because they (mistakenly!) think it is a way to make a little money on the side.

Others think it is a way to fame or recognition, validation or a way to impress people.

For others still, perhaps it was the only thing they were ever good at.

Or maybe they write to learn about something or come to some understanding of themselves.

But here’s the thing: Whatever wild and crazy reason you can name for first beginning to write—I can almost guarantee you that there is a wildly successful author out there who started for that exact reason.

Permission takes many forms.

If you love writing, no matter what caused you to pick up that pen initially, you love writing. Nothing--nothing--can take that away from you. Not even the reason you first started to write in the first place. It was simply a trick the Universe played on you to give you that little nudge you needed.

Is writing to gain your father’s regard any less noble than writing to become rich and famous? Is writing to keep up with your sister any more onerous than writing so you can be on Oprah?

I don’t think so.

Besides, I don’t think envy is all that bad an emotion. It’s not like jealousy, for example, which is much stronger and more toxic. Envy means you want it, too. Jealousy means you don’t want the other person to have it. Jealousy also includes suspicion and mistrust and anger. From what I hear you saying, you’re not trying to take away your sister’s love of writing; you’ve just found it’s your calling as well.

And the Universe has a wild sense of humor when it comes to handing out callings to us unsuspecting mortals.

Elizabeth Gilbert is an amazing writer and she’d written a number of terrific books before her sister, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch picked up a pen and wrote the equally amazing Dairy Queen. There is no rule that says only one writer allowed per family.

So in answer to "What should I do?" (Finally! poor Struggling Writers gasps.)

Embrace it.

At school visits I constantly tell kids that one of their most powerful tools in being a great writer is their Secret Crazy Self. That very part of them that gets them in the most amount of trouble or causes them a great deal of embarrassment.

That part of you that was compelled to pick up a pen to earn your father’s admiration and compete with your sister may very well be part of your Secret Crazy Self. Maybe it will make you more competitive and you will never give up, which brings you just that much closer to success. Or perhaps the ability to admit such things to yourself will give your writing a raw emotional honesty. Either way, I think you need to recognize it as having the potential to be a strength, and not just let it be something that haunts you.

Or you could just consider this as good as a confessional and let it go.

Either way, check back in with us when you’ve finished that first draft. We’ll want to celebrate with you.


Struggling Writer (Not anymore!) said...

Thank you so much.
I'm kind of in AWE right now. I've got a tingly feeling on my skin and a warm glow in my chest.I feel like anything is possible.
Thank you again.

Celtic Traveler said...

You mentioned that a whole family can be writers. Like the Bronte family, huh? EVERY one of the sister's books became classics, even though Jane started writing first!

Robin L said...

Struggling Writer, I'm so glad you feel like anything is possible now, because it's pretty much true. You're so welcome!

Celtic Traveler, having a major d'oh! moment here about the Bronte sisters. YES. They are a prime example, one that escaped me last night. Thanks for pointing them out!

Fellow Blogger and Patron said...

Yes, i know. yet another blogge technical question.
My account has not returned to normal but I was just wondering, if i'm not bothering you, could you tell me how you got your brevnet counter? I got my counter's code but I don't know how to paste it on my template.
Sorry for being so annoying.

Robin L said...

FB&P, go to the layout section of your blog controls.

Click one of the "add a gadget" boxes.

Select the HTML/Java script choice.

Then cut and paste your code in there. It should work! Good luck!

Dave Johnson said...

No truer statement - "the act of creating is one of the single most spiritual activities we mere humans can experience." I'm not a religious person (any more) but I am also a musician and I find that if I don't write or play for a long period of time, it's like my "spirit" becomes almost sickly. That's starting to happen with writing as well.

I used to be a pastor and when I taught on worship, I often said that creating art is the closest we can ever come to being like God because we are creating something from nothing, just like the creation story of Genesis 1. I think it's particularly true of writing and music because with any other craft, you use pre-made materials or semi-complex machines, but when you create a story or a song, it comes purely from your intangible imagination.

Robin L said...

I totally agree, Dave. (And how interesting you used to be a pastor. That would be a fascinating conversation...)

I actually think reaching that point, when our soul gets cranky without our art, is a huge turning point. Almost every successful writer I know has had to get to a point where the recognized they could walk away from publishing or trying to get published, but they would continue to write for themselves. I think some huge shift in our internal landscape occurs when we reach that point.