Imogen Cunningham, The Unmade Bed, 1957
My hat is off to my friends in blogland who are working on novels. I hope I never discourage you. I hope you write the novels that I will never write.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t think about being a writer. I wrote. Journals, poems, cynical nonsense, and sad stories—“typical” teenage emotions that still tug my heart. I loved the feeling of ink on paper. I could be making a grocery list or writing a term paper. I enjoyed writing anything.
Later, after college, I thought about being a writer. I could see it—the coffee shops and the black turtlenecks. The life of the mind. I could romanticize that life. I wasn’t sure how people like that paid the rent, though. And I kept thinking of Ernest Hemingway, and tortured artists of all stripes. I freaked out. I could also see that reality being true for me. So I put the “pure” vision aside and chose a different path.
Edward Weston, Clouds, 1938
My professional life emerged to take advantage of writing anyway, and I always found satisfaction in that. Later, I learned from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron that it isn’t necessary to be addicted or suicidal to Produce Art (though I still think that gives some people an edge). This began to change my perspective.
Other things happened. I took a correspondence course in short non-fiction writing. I participated in a fiction and poetry writer’s group in Alaska. I went to workshop in Bloomington, Indiana, at which the instructor said my experiences as a military wife were “my material.”
I rented a writing studio and wrote 1000 words a day for months. As you can see by the length of some of my posts, including this one, getting words out isn’t difficult. But making them into something recognizable in the literary world is very difficult.
Good writers are a dime a dozen where I live. I’m old enough now to believe that there’s nothing new under the sun; no original human story.
Through therapy and a lot of 12-step meetings, I realized I could not write what sells. I’m talking about fierce political criticism; weird sex; regret for the past; fears for the future; excruciating love stories. I’ve had my share of drama. Writing for therapy is one thing, but stepping back and using this stuff as paint on a canvas is, at the moment, not for me. My attempts to do it caused more suffering than they cured.
I realized I wanted to have written literary fiction more than I want to write it. I wanted respect; and to be thought cool by black turtleneck-wearers. But I also wanted to be happy. Maybe earn a living. I didn’t want to cut off my ear to send to a prostitute.
Today, once again I love putting words together within the context of a real day. Crafting a well-written grant proposal makes me happy a lot of the time. Journaling makes me happy all the time. Blogging sends me into fits of joy, because the finished product is achievable. I love the visual creativity, too; and best of all—I get to connect with fabulous, fascinating people.
I may still write a pain-filled novel someday. The opportunity will always be there. But for now, whenever I want to “be a writer” I wait a little. If the words are there, they’ll find a way out.