Every writer eventually writes about writing. Some of my favorite authors incorporate writers into their plot. I’ve vacillated between scoffing at and then sympathizing with this practice: Scoffing because it seems so self serving, sympathizing because I find myself wanting to do the same. I guess when it comes down to it, most people love to talk about themselves and how they got to where they are now.
I’m no different. The thing is, like the authors who write about writing, writing has been part of my life since I learned how to form letters and write correct sentences.
When I was a kid, I wrote stories and essays for contests, often winning some sort of prize. While others I know wrote mini novellas or won first place one competition or another, I wrote short pieces that won second or third pretty consistently. I have fond memories of going to the school district’s central offices and shaking hands with the superintendent.
I don’t know if I got tired of trying to win, or I decided to focus my energies elsewhere, but as I approached my teenage years, I stopped entering those contests. Was it fear? Insecurity? Was it the fact that my teachers didn’t step in and recommend it to me? I don’t know. Probably all of the above.
The fact is that I journaled daily from the time I was 8 until I graduated from college. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that all of my journal entries were centered on what was happening in my life. I felt that other people must be writing about more important things. Yet I continued to process the world through journals until I graduated from college. I have a box full of my old musings that has accompanied me to every place I’ve settled. They’re neatly stashed away in some cupboard. I never read them, but I want them close to me: a sort of reminder of the person I used to be.
When I graduated from college, I suddenly lost the urge to write in my journal. Don’t get me wrong, though. It seems that if you have the instinct to write, it is always there, lurking. I have bought many a beautiful journal, looking forward to filling its pages with thoughts and reflections. I write in them for a couple of weeks and then the journal sits forlornly in my bedroom, waiting for me to pick it up. It calls to me. However, the words don’t come.
I spent years in therapy, talking about my issues, hashing things out. Maybe that’s why the journal doesn’t work for me as well anymore. Slowly but surely, what I used to write about in my journal became an internalized process. At least that’s what I tell myself. There is so much I don’t understand about the impulse to write.
The desire to write creeps into the crevices of thought when you leave it alone for too long. Though I could not write in a journal, I found myself writing poetry. The short bursts of image based writing worked for me while I was busy being single and establishing a career in teaching. Metaphors bombarded me, and I found an outlet for a while.
But when poetry became harder for me to focus on, and I wrote less, the idea of writing became more romantic to me. As teaching became less enjoyable and more burdensome, I dreamt of becoming a writer. I soaked myself in the autobiographies of favorite authors, trying to learn about how they came to write like they do, and hoping to hear a story that sounded like mine. I never quite found one. But that is not stopping me now!
The bottom line of what I learned from them is that writing is not just an emotion driven, you-have-to-feel-like-it activity. Like anything that you want to take seriously, it takes discipline and practice. Writers spend much time looking at blank screens and sheets of paper, wondering what idea will pop into their heads. They also feel the drive to write. Some of them are extremely religious about writing; their desire compels them to fill paper constantly. Somewhere along the way, my drive to write diminished.
I fall into the camp of writers who dream of writing and often don’t do anything about it. I know plenty of people like this. We talk about writing. We dream of getting that story down on paper or making the story line that has been brewing reality. Then life gets the better of us, and the story continues to sit there. I have the call of writing stamped on my soul.
The way of making it work for me is to sit and write. So here I am, practicing the work that I have dreamt of, hoping that what I have to say matters to someone. Either way, at least I know that I am doing what calls to me.