Friday, May 8, 2009

Whenever I Feel Like Being a Writer, I Lie Down Until the Feeling Goes Away

Imogen Cunningham

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.     

Clouds, 1936 (32CL)

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.” 

Shadow.jpg Shadow image by Solar-Flash

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.         

928476yqhwghka8d.jpg nature image by chevygirl1064

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. 

003ZJx-8948484.jpg picture by Best Black & White Photography

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.

backflip.jpg back flip image by slowwkidd3923


Unknown said...

love the title of this post

Zuzana said...

I too wrote small stories as a child and I loved assay writing in school.
However, my joy for writing was forever complicated by the fact that I am multilingual and I do not master perfectly one single language; I am only average in a few. I will never ever be able to write a novel and like you, I am in awe of anyone who does.

With that said though, I think you have everything that it takes to write a work of art, if you so chose.
Until you do, I am so happy that you do share your talent for the written word here, with the rest of us.;)

Have a great Friday.;)

Frugal Scholar said...

Very thought-provoking. You know, I never really wanted to be a writer. I do have to produce some scholarship now and then because of my job. But I am really a teacher. But blogging . . .maybe I AM a writer. One of my colleagues (also a military wife, who has published several novels, and is writing her memoirs of the time her husband was in Vietnam) read the blog (because I had written a bit about her) and said, "I can't believe what a good writer you are!"

So maybe blogging offers a new technology--just as print did, several hundred years ago. Being a writer is perhaps an evolving concept.

Stephanie N. said...

This made my heart go pitter-patter and ache a little. Hard to explain, so I'll leave it at that. Thanks for sharing with us.

sallymandy said...

RERead: A friend had a poster in her college dorm room that said, "Every Time I Feel Like Studying, I Lie Down Until the Feeling Goes Away." I always loved that.

Protege: I never thought of this part of being multi-lingual--which in itself seems very wonderful. I see what you mean. I guess my point here was how many ways there are to "be a writer" beyond the traditional definition. Writing is putting words on paper, not ONLY publishing in the traditional sense. Blogging seems lovely to me because I get the things I wanted to get but was frustrated with trying the standard approach. For me the important part is the human connection. And we get to connect with you, Z, and learn your fascinating history and insights on things, and I appreciate that immensely.

Thank you for your supportive words.

Frugal: you're expressing thoughts I've also had--new technology, new "art form?" Compelling thought. You ARE a good writer; I agree with your friend.

Stephanie: I wish I knew more about what you said. Hmm. Thanks, though. ♥

La Belette Rouge said...

"regret for the past; fears for the future". Have you been reading my novel? It is HARD to write the novel. And, yet, I seem to be in a phase in my life where writing is all I can seem to do. There have been other phases with 4 year writing blocks and in those days I quit calling myself a writer because "writers write", right? Well, now I believe that even when writers are not writing "writing" they are still a writer.

Duchesse said...

I have a mean little post sitting in my drafts file on this topic. I will be concise here: many bloggers who describe themselves as writers cannot write well. Blogging, with its instant 'publish' capacity, makes people think they are writers just because their words can be retrieved and someone is willing to read them.

Pyzahn said...

I went through many years of wanting to be a writer. First inspired by Nellie Bly to be a reporter, then fueled by the exciting life of Brenda Star.

I always had my nose in a book as a kid and in early adulthood decided I wanted to be a serious writer.

Ha. Then I found out what hard work it is and decided to move on to something else.

Now hear I am blogging. Loving it for the reasons you mentioned. Still fretting over just the right adjective but learning to let it go and have fun with the process.

And you are correct. Your voice will come pouring out when you least expect it.

The Clever Pup said...

So funny. On my nearest commercial strip there are two restaurants where an amazing number of "writers" take up a table for 4 with their laptops coffee cups etc. It IRKS me to death. I feel like saying -Don't you have a home to go to?"

But if it were Paris in the '20s, I'd find it so cool. Very Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Maybe I should take my Dell and spread out with my Chai Latte while I blog.

sallymandy said...

Belette: I agree with you, completely. My post was kind of about finding one's own definition of a writing life--this is a hard fought lesson for me. You are a beautiful writer and multi-year blocks don't change that.

Duchesse: Interesting to note the connection between "publication" and "writing well." I feel that good writing isn't required to get published--at least not in the U.S. That's a very large reason I wasn't willing to suffer and fight for a chance to enter that club. I just lost faith in the American publishing world. And conversely, I believe poor writing is required for achieving good writing. In the end though, my post was mostly about letting go of labels like "Writer" in favor of finding one's own creative path. A label does not a writer make.

Pyzahn: I'm glad you've found an outlet for that early desire!

Hazel: We have those places too! I always feel self-conscious telling folks I have a "writing studio" because it sounds affected, but the truth is I get NOTHING done at home because of the dogs, the phone, my husband's get the picture. I could not do my paid work without a place to sequester myself.

Jane said...

i write, therefore I am

Ingrid Mida said...

Gosh, I could have written this post...but you said it better than I could or would. I too tried to write literary fiction which was the thinly disguised story of my life. It was painful stuff. I now take great joy in writing non-fiction. And the great thing about blogging is that you don't have to convince an editor to publish it.

Maria Killam said...

I had just started reading your post (loved the headline) when I saw your comments come thru! We are connected. Interesting what you said here. Penelope Trunk said in one of her posts that her writing teacher had said--this is one of the most difficult careers there is so if you can do something else, you should do it!!

Also writing a blog gives you ALMOST as much credibility as writing a book, so your blog can be your book--for now, until the story comes out of you and you become a bestselling author. I'll be able to say, I knew her when. . .

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Perfect post. And timely too.
I just can't stop writing, it heals me. You have talent in that pen.

I will re-read this post and sleep on it. Then I will return tomorrow and comment on it again.

Ciao, Sallymandy. I admire you

littlebyrd said...

I loved reading your words here - about your journey. Have a wonderful weekend!

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

I'm glad that you've come to terms with the kind of writing that works for you.

I'm no writer, but having worked in publishing, have met lots of writers, and it's not an easy life, most don't enjoy writing but are compelled to do it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. What a lovely, honest post. I've always struggled with this. I live in Los Angeles, the land of "I am whatever I tell you I am."

I wanted to be an actor from the time I was very little. After almost 20 years I had earned maybe $4,000 as a professional actor. So I gave up. (I know - what a quitter!) I have friends in their 50's who've never earned a dime but are in plays all the time. I have friends on TV who earn tons of money standing next to the star and saying two lines. Who's the "real" actor? And what was I? A ghost?

I'd always written, as well, and when I left acting I wrote screenplays for a few years. Never sold a thing. So I quit. (Again! What a loser.) In the last ten or so years I've worked as a professional copywriter (laid off due to economy), and I've worked at a day job (laid off due to economy.) What am I? Am I a writer? Am I a failure? Am I whatever I tell you I am?

I'm still writing. I'm still working on letting go of expectations. I'm still working on paying the mortgage. And for what it's worth, I really enjoy reading your words, whatever you are.

Unknown said...

You are correct. When the time is right; the words will over flow. You are a natural. Your blogs are thought provoking, entertaining and comforting all in their own way. And I enjoy reading them :)

Rosaria Williams said...

I'm late to this conversation, literally. Only after I retired I began indulging my fantasy of writing and sharing my writing with others. I too thought that if I couldn't get published, I should stop writing.

I have come to accept a couple of things:
1. if you don't enjoy doing something, and it doesn't need to be done to pay the rent, stop doing it.
2. If you enjoy doing something, even if it difficult and it doesn't sell or give you any compensation, if you enjoy it, do it well, and do it with all your heart. It will still bring you pleasure.

3. Think of all those monks in the Dark Ages, religiously copying manuscripts, adding their illuminated illustrations to break the monotony and to highlight a good story, they were doing what bloggers are doing today: they were passing on the thoughts of civilized people.

So, I'm sure that you and I and millions of us are adding illuminated illustrations to the daily events of life that would be unreported, unappreciated.

sallymandy said...

Jane: right, thanks!

Ingrid: It's wonderful that you found an avenue that makes you happy. And selfishly I'm glad you blog because I love what you do there.

Maria: yes, we were connected this afternoon. I noticed it too...
Interesting thoughts from the writing instructor. I guess I wouldn't say not to write because it's hard--I have no problem with hard--I guess I think it can be self defeating to get stuck on one definition of what it means to write. I think that's what I mean!

Lola, dear, thanks. Your words mean a lot. I admire you too. I feel like amending my post to make it clear I would never discourage anyone from writing...and I'm so glad you do it. I love what you write. And I understand about it being necessary for you. It's necessary for me also. Maybe I finally learned that it's ENOUGH for it to be necessary for me. I don't need to wear the black turtleneck to qualify for anything. If the writing I do heals, if it enlightens my life, if it enables me to say things to other people...what more could I want? xo

Thank you, Littlebyrd!

Imogen: thanks dear. That's such an interesting insight about the writers you knew not enjoying it but being compelled to do it. The nature of true compulsion is part of my personal journey, and I'm sure is at the heart of my post

Doll: I'm so very glad you stopped by tonight and shared all that about your own life. Thank you very much. You raised the key question, I think--what is a "real" actor/writer/artist? The one who says two lines and rakes in the dough, or the consummate performer who can't live on her pay? Etc. You really got to the heart of it. Which is why I feel so strongly that given all the vagueness, all the more reason for us to work out our own definitions and hang the limitations of others. And for the record: in my opinion, giving something a good go and then moving on to something better does not make a loser. Hope you come back!

Thank you so much, Sher dear.

Lakeviewer: To all three points---Yes, yes, yes! I had not thought of the manuscript illuminators as an analogy to the newness of blogging--but what a wonderful comparison. I had pondered whether photography was considered a sub-par art form at first--whether there might be a parallel with that history. In any case, I'm glad you've been thinking this through also. Thank you...

LenoreNeverM♡re said...

What a moving post dear! Words & the visuals...This might be the begining of that great journey no?! Lovely weekend!!

Unknown said...

so this is what goes on in the mind of a writer. good job sallymandy!! you go girl! you probably don't realize it but you did just write something very profound.

Valerie said...

Hello, I was directed here by Lakeviewer. I've read your various posts and am impressed by your style. I hope you realise what joy you give others by your writing.

I don't know if my creative bits are enjoyable, some say they are but who knows if they tell the truth. It doesn't matter, I enjoy what I do, I enjoy being creative, it fulfils my life.

Keep going, you're doing well.... Valerie

Woman in a Window said...

I'm right there with Lakeviewer, "If you enjoy doing something, even if it difficult and it doesn't sell or give you any compensation, if you enjoy it, do it well, and do it with all your heart. It will still bring you pleasure." What else is there?

Eleonora Baldwin said...

"Maybe I finally learned that it's ENOUGH for it to be necessary for me." Exactly. You nailed it in the head, girl. I take pleasure in writing, above everything else. For you it's the same.

Ok, enough with this quiet virtual world, this cyber epistolary. We should MEET! I want to be in the same room with my blogger friends now. I need a promotion to "live encounter." Like every respectful Italian, I need to get physical and kiss you on both cheeks, hug and cook together. Laugh, drink wine and talk 'til dawn. Now that we've come to know each other's writing, I feel the need to look into each other's eyes, see the smiles, feel the weight of spoken words.

What a rich community of illuminated people we could gather... What a party it would be!

(getting this tattooed around my navel: dreaming is gratis)

Ciao, black turtleneck - I can't stop laughing at that, what a perfect cliché.
xx Lola

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. It was as though you were writing my thoughts down for me. I love writing and I always thought, as a Bronte-reading teenager, that I would become a writer. Now I am a writer, but a commercial copywriter, not a novellist or poet. Is it enough? Maybe not, but I think what I love is words - even the ugly ones I have to deal with for my clients! - and perhaps I'm better at that than at stories. And that will do, for now.

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

Hi Sally,

You're a lovely writer. If you wanted to and had a thick skin, you could get published. I work in publishing and not everything that's written is extreme or negative.

But I also like the fact that you recognize that it's OK if you DON'T become a writer (in the traditional sense) in your lifetime--apart from the blogging and journaling you like to do. You're happy with who you are now, and that's a great and valuable thing.

I also have aspirations to be a published writer, but like so many I talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. Still, its always in the back of my mind.


sallymandy said...

Dear All,

Thank you so much for your comments and observations. This has been a very thought-provoking few days as I've posted about writing and art and I've heard from many people with new ideas I'd never considered. Much to think about.

Normally I would respond to every post in here, but the days have gone by and I'm now behind, so please accept my thanks for leaving your thoughts. I appreciated them all.

Love, Sallymandy

Patsy said...

Sallymandy, I read your post very quickly and will have to re-read it. I needed to write you this comment because I know what I am feeling and I know that it is important,

First of all, if I was meant to be a writer, I would have already written something that people call a novel. But one thing that I find difficult to do is to be so thoroughly truthful that I hurt not just others, but myself, by revealing so much of me that is not likable.

Writing with truth takes some level of cruelty to oneself and others.