First of all, thanks so much for your support regarding my last post! I was super nervous about putting it out there, but y’all were so kind, and I received so many notes from people going through similar things and needing the encouragement, that it was absolutely worth it.
Anyways, on to today’s post – I used to live really far from my family, but now that I live closer, my baby sister has spent a week or two at a time with me over this summer so far. Sometimes it shrinks the amount of time I can work, but it’s totally worth it: a) because I love my sister, and b) because she wants to write books, and has started working on one already. And the thing is, watching her both at work and at play reminded me about some things I forgot, things that I used to know when I first started writing and that seem to have escaped me more recently. Maybe you’ve forgotten too.
First: Creativity is a good thing! I remember in middle and high school, staying up as late as I possibly could tapping away on an ancient Gateway laptop that creaked noisily at all times and occasionally went white screened for a few minutes for no particular reason. It had no Internet capabilities, and the Internet was slow back then. I didn’t have a cell phone, and then even when I did it was just a prepaid one with limited minutes and zero other functions. So when I wrote, I wrote. For hours, alone in the lamplight, lost in the story. I lived for those chunks of writing time, and at a time when so much of my identity was still under development and tangled up in the messy confusion of those years, I knew for a fact that I was a writer. I was a creative person, and my creativity exhilarated me with it’s potential.
I forget that now. Writing is a part of my life I generally take for granted. Sometimes it’s more burden than anything else. I still love the words, but fitting it into an extremely busy schedule does feel like work more than not, and as I dive deeper into the bloodletting of revision, the science and study and art of carving up a story from my fingers and turning it into a Book, there are times when it’s really not all that fun. I get distracted by Twitter and texting and staring into space. I carve out huge chunks of time but really only focus for maybe 40 or 50%. When I watched my baby sister write, it was sheer joy. Her face would light up and her pen would go so fast it seemed like she could hardly keep up with herself. When she did get stuck or lose track of her way, she tucked her notebook back in it’s spot and went on with her life, content and able to wait until she found her way again. No stress. And more importantly, no fear.
Creativity is joy and passion. It is often work, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be because I firmly believe that if you abandon everything that doesn’t bring you immediate joy or requires effort from you, you’ll never really complete anything. But it doesn’t have to be drudgery or based in fear.
Second: My sister made writing part of her life, but not in this dreary, proscribed, dutiful fashion. Her heart was in it, intensely, for brief periods of time, and then when she wasn’t writing she flung herself into other activities. She still plays with Barbies, and she’d have the floor of my living room covered in various families and clothing and shoes and whatever little paper-based structures and things she made for them. She engaged in play unselfconsciously, sometimes related to her book but usually not, and she was entirely focused on that. She colored, she helped me cook, she did lots of things that had nothing at all to do with her book, and she had no guilt for that.
I’m an achiever. I can’t help it, I’ve always thrown my whole self into everything, but it can become problematic at times. I have workaholic tendencies, and sometimes I get tunnel vision so I can’t see beyond the immediacy of what I’m doing in the moment. I have to remind myself that other hobbies, things that have nothing whatsoever to do with words, are okay. Healthy, even. I could take up playing the piano again, or do more with my growing cooking hobby, or play a videogame or even color a picture myself, and I don’t have to feel guilty that that time’s not going to writing. Writing will always be there, words aren’t going to leave, but time is going to pass and my life will be what I construct it to be. I want it to be a whole, healthy, flourishing thing – and that, in turn, will feed my writing much more than some kind of forced and dutiful routine. That’s not to say routine isn’t important. My sister wrote every single day she was here. But routine and obligation don’t have to be synonyms.
Third: My sister’s heart is in her story. It is uniquely hers in every possible way, and she’s proud of it. She loves it. She’s very aware of it’s faults (both real and imagined, like any good writer) and she’s the first to spot mistakes, but she loves it. She talks about it with everyone. It comes up in casual conversation. She doesn’t criticize it as compared to other writers, and she’s not so focused on how it’ll fit in the market, whether it’s conventional or edgy or YA or adult, she doesn’t have the first clue about pacing. But she loves the story, and it shows in her work.
This last lesson is a tricky one to transmit. As a more developed writer, it’s natural for me to have a strong awareness of the market, people’s expectations, expected reader reactions, categories and style, and all the other structural pieces of writing a good book. But sometimes, because of our intimacy with the nuts and bolts, we can’t stand back and see the creation as a whole. We notice the slight tilt of the flooring, that corner where the paint already chipped, how the front door window is just barely not quite in the center, but we miss the comfortable grace of the story home we’ve built. This kind of intense focus on our story faults can make us shyer and quieter, hesitant to discuss our stories for fear someone will ask how it’s going and we’ll have to answer honestly. It can make us afraid, which in turn can crush the very creativity we so need to foster. If we can find that illusive balance between knowing our markets and our publishing business, and still loving the little seeds of stories we carry in our hearts, and more importantly find a way to transplant that seed from our hearts to the page without judging the sapling for not being so sturdy, I think we’d all be more joyful, and more creative, writers. Don’t let fear, or your own judgement, crush your heart and your individual voice.
Grow and learn. Read, research, develop, make yourself the best you can be and always push yourself to do bigger things. But don’t forget to enjoy the work you do and the life you live.