When my daughter was just freshly born, the doctor on duty watched her noiselessly root about for her clenched fist. When her mouth found it, she gave a contented sigh, and the doctor commented that I was lucky—my baby was a self-soother. I asked what he meant and how he could tell. The general gist was that apparently right from birth, people show signs of personality type and individuals who spend a lot of time around babies can tell those who will work to comfort themselves almost from the get-go and those who need help from someone outside themselves for consolation.
As a neurotic, I mean a writer, I’ve given the doctor’s comments a lot of thought over the years, because I seem to have to search for comfort quite often. Is getting down just a natural accompaniment to thinking? Does everyone share my angst? Does everyone feel completely useless, ill equipped for, and entirely intimidated by the endeavours they pursue? (Excuse me while I suck my clenched fist for a moment, please….)
This past week (month), I’ve been suffering what seems to be a reoccurring crisis in my writing life. Writing gives so much, but it also demands a lot. And every so often, I just feel tired. My pile of rejection slips grows, and along with it, my worry that maybe I’m only a competent writer, not a good one. I wonder if I should stick with what’s easy (business writing), and keep my fiction for myself, hoard it away in a drawer…. I can’t quit writing. I love it. I need it. It brings me (despite what this post may suggest) a lot of joy. I just don’t always love the selling-your-wares side that goes along with it.
Compounding my problem (funny how you can know the source of a problem and not just go and fix it!), I’ve been away from my novel for too long. Always a recipe for madness. Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the insecurity and meanness my brain can throw at me—I’ll cut to the part where I root about for comfort and let out a satisfied sigh.
By now I know that that the cure for writing-related-neurosis is to write. When I’m writing every day, I’m insane with story, not self-doubt. However, you can know the medicine you need and still have to steel yourself to gag it down. Some people recommend an equal dose of sugar. I prefer Stephen King.
I wrote cryptic “am going through stuff/will write you later” e-mails to my close writing friends (accidentally scaring them), then got off the computer (the horror, the horror!) and dug out my old standby for times like this: On Writing. No one calls it like it is quite like S.K.
I appreciate his matter-of-fact assertion that I probably am only a competent writer at best; I LOVE how he goes on to assure me that I can become a good writer if I stop being such a whiny little sot and get back to work. He’s a dragon slayer, making all the insecurity and neurosis I deal seem like normal parts of the writing life. His no-exceptions command to be honest when writing is always beneficial. But perhaps the most important affirmation he provides is the reminder that I don’t write for glory or money (obviously); private, intangible things make writing so crucial, so wonderful, so worth it.
I did some journaling. I stared into space. Then I did what I couldn’t put off anymore. I opened the binder that holds the second draft of my latest novel and read/worked over the first three chapters. And they weren’t that bad. They might be okay—or even good. Ish. (Why can’t I just say, Hey, I actually think they’re good? They’re good. There. Gah.) Does any of this bring me any closer to knowing whether or not I’ll ever find an agent, “get published,” or be able to write fiction as a day job instead of fitting it around one? No. But it did something much more important; it reminded me that none of that matters.
In short (well, not in short, it’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?), I rooted around to find those things near me that I could use to comfort myself, to get myself back at the page again, and in doing so and experiencing that “Ahhhhhh, finally” feeling, I find myself wondering (just like I always do when I’ve let myself get out of hand) what was the big deal anyway? Why didn’t I just sit my butt down and face the page at the first onset of nervousness ages ago. It’s a mystery…. One that I’d promise not to repeat, but by now I know myself too well. It’s not if I need the reminder again… it’s when. Until then though, I’m feeling quite determined to never let a day go by without writing.
(I heard your sceptical snort-laugh! Stop that.)
Wherever you are on the writing sanity spectrum, I hope your project’s going well. And if it’s not? Well, suck it up, Princess, and get back to it. (My extremely modified version of S.K. encouragement. Whaddya think? Did it work?)