Writing Thoughts

My friends write books. They do this a lot. I watch them write. Not in person, that would be kind of creepy, but via their social media posts or when we get together then we talk about the book they are writing and how it is going. It is rarely the same book. My opening question is not “how is your book going?” but “which book are you working on now?” Because each friend writes books, plural. More than one book. They live in plot and story. I watch them mid conversation, when we’re talking about something else and just for a moment their brain shutters over, and I know that my friend has had a writing thought and filed it away for later. I’ve had that experience, had a story live in my brain and snatch bits and pieces of my day to be part of it. I’ve written more than one story. What I have failed to do is sit down and write regularly.

I’m quite able to point at my life and say, “but look how busy I was.” I will be telling the truth, no one will argue that I live my life in an insanely busy way. I keep trying to slow down and not doing that either. The thing is my writer friends are also busy, but they write fiction anyway. Lately I have been watching them more, as if that would help me figure out how it is done, but watching won’t reveal a secret. There isn’t one. People who write books, plural, are people who choose to sit down and write instead of sitting down and doing something else.

Then I have to ask myself the question, how important is it that I write? Because the world is full of things I can do. Some of them may be better uses of my time than writing fiction. What does my fiction matter when weighed on a scale of all the things I could have done with the hours I’m allotted daily? Sometimes our lives are measurably better if I spend time on laundry instead of typing. Yet the regular processing of laundry from dirty to clean does not feel like adding something of import to the universe, it is merely the front lines of beating back entropy. When I ponder the worth of my writing, knowing other writers hampers me some, because I know the hard stories. I know about the beloved books that did not sell. I know about the months, weeks, and years spent waiting for some kind of response from the glacially slow publishing process. In social media it is word counts, interviews, and book releases. Behind the scenes are two years of work put into a book that will never see print. I have one of those books. It reminds me that work does not always equal success. So I can’t dive into the work of writing with a rosy eyed dream that as soon as I’m done my book will be packaged and put into the hands of readers.

I sometimes envy writers who are able to dream. One of my friends said that she’s not sure she could write a book without believing it will be published. I wonder if that is why I have not been writing. Things have calmed down. July has gifted me with enough time to write and I have not been using that time for writing. I am sadly jaded before my first novel is even written. It makes turning away very attractive. There are so many things I could do. Good things. I should spend more time with the kids. I should organize the house. I should reconnect with my friends and communities. I should pull the weeds from my flowerbeds. I should look around and see who needs help. In comparison, writing feels selfish, a thing I do that takes me away from all of the other things rather than something that connects me to others. And that is sad, because the point of story is to travel between people. My finished stories don’t go very far. Ah, but there I’ve spotted a lie in my brain. Hold Onto Your Horses keeps filtering outward, making friends, bringing happiness. It is the reminder that sometimes a book doesn’t make a big splash, but it keeps going and existing for a very long time. I think of that and I find a little pocket of hope because I love my novel Amelia and her eponymous protagonist. I would love for her to go out in the world and make friends. I’m not sure I can believe in publishing success for me, but I can hope for it for her. Which is a weird mental trick, but I suppose if it lets me finish writing the book, I’ll take it.

7 thoughts on “Writing Thoughts”

  1. I love your mental trick. It’s all about the tricks, in my experience. My current trick is that I think of my writing as a fixed point around which the rest of my life flows. I’m going to do the laundry, because we need clothes. I’m going to clean the kitchen, because the mess will bother me. I’m going to take care of my child, because she’s both adorable and demanding. But I’m not necessarily going to write. So the writing is a fixed point in my day, and I have a time when I sit down to do it, and all other things flow around the fixed point. You have a lot of other fixed points, so that might not work for you, but I wish you luck with your brain hack of choice.

  2. I once assumed I’d be a writer because I loved to read. And then I met writers. They were not published, but they seemed to have an internal drive to write. It was a reinforcing habit. They had story ideas boiling out of their heads.

    And I had an epiphany. I am not a writer. I could with work and effort acquire more skills. But I don’t seem to get an intrinsic lift from writing. I can do something like it if there is a purpose or an obligation involved. But I don’t get much more than a mild sense of satisfaction. Nor do I think I’ve ever had story ideas boiling out of my head.

    For me it was something of a relief to give up the obligation to be a writer. I’m still not sure what creative thing ought to be filling that spot in my dreams. But it is very nice to hear interesting people talk about writing and stories and to listen, knowing I’m only going to listen, without guilt.

    1. I’m actually glad that there are people in the world who love reading without wanting to be writers. Creators need an audience. I feel that way about movies. I love to watch them and analyze them. I have no desire to participate in creating them.

  3. I really relate to this post. It’s really only been the last year and a half when I’ve really carved out the time for writing. And I’ve sacrificed a LOT of other good things I love doing in order to do it. And I think I’m a happier, better person for it, but I don’t know if that’s true. I’m a happier, better person if I have something like writing, but sometimes that has been film or other things. And then I think about moral and spiritual responsibility, and then I have to wonder, it is even okay for me to write, when there are things I could be doing that are contributing to things of greater, more lasting worth? I was going through this thought process and my husband said, why do you beat yourself up for the one thing you’re giving yourself that’s really not for others. So I think for now it’s good for me to spend all that time writing that I steal from other things. Just like you and Janci, I have mental tricks I have to play on myself to make writing happen. And slowly but surely, it happens.

  4. All my friends write books, too. I love watching their successes. I keep wondering why my own beloved project is still languishing after 8 years on the back burner. I cling to the belief that someday, soon, it will be Finished, and that I will be able to parlay that accomplishment via a series of mental tricks into continued justification of the time I spend on creative pursuits.

    Sometimes I think my brain needs something concrete. Something I can hold up while I say, “Here, look! This thing I made did something good. Not just for me, but for the people I love.”

    1. Does none of the praise and reaction to Movement count as concrete? (Not trying to be accusational, just curious. Because I know my brain is very quick to discount evidence of value in my writing.)

      1. Oh, yes, the praise for movement counts as concrete. But that’s in the past, you see. It’s the future that my brain needs to believe in. 🙂

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