Thoughts on Writing
Starting to write again. |
This is hard, as I haven’t written anything much in a long time. Sure, there's the occasional impulse-driven thing about Conrad Aiken, a writer I'm trying to like and understand, but whose work is so morose and nihilistic it's best suited as background music for a pity party. And as I glance up at the screen, I see the results of my hunt-and-peck typing style- misspellings everywhere, as that voice from the past- some young guy at work who was always telling me to learn touch typing- the advice and the disbelieving look on that guy's face (as I told him I would not learn TT) coming back to me again and again. But though I did make the effort for a few months, I ultimately gave up. It was too much work, and it appeared that even if I would eventually learn to type sans continual glances at the keyboard, the effort would be bereft of any belief that I'd ever develop decent speed.
So here I sit, typing away in an effort to jump-start my writing. Projects sitting on the launch pad or stuck out in space: Girls I've Dated, Cars I Have Owned; Creatures I Have Known; Working for a Living; The Prodigal; Rest In Pieces. And that doesn’t include the fiction stuff. I blame the journal project for much of my burnout- a months-long effort to cull the more pertinent or best entries from forty years of journaling. Part of the challenge was tracking what had been typed- an effort so distracting I sunk into a soul-sapping cycle of retyping, review and eventual malaise.
Across the street an ambulance has arrived. The senior citizen woman and long-time resident suffered a stroke hours ago and the family has just now called for medical assistance. They're hauling her away for hospital observation. Whatever happens to her is a shock for the family members, as close-knit as they are. This is their world, and those of us who've been here less than twenty years are mere strangers. Callous and petty of me to say, but that's what we get for moving around so much.
Maybe this freewriting effort will get me started on writing again- or revising (again and again) what I've been writing. But there's that fear that the burnout will return, spurred on by the very activity that brought it about in the first place.
|Blog posts don't have to be inspiring, do they? After all, they're nothing more than glorified journal entries, minus the epiphanies: 'Dear Diary: Today I shaved the cat. Went outside and looked at the world, then crawled back into my bed for the rest of the day...'
But this blog post contains no such folderol as epiphanies- so on I'll go, describing the daily slog that is mine and mine alone:
7 am: I hear Albert the cat meowing outside my bedroom door. He needs to begin his morning round of flowerbed defilement in the neighborhood, so I let him out the front door, grumbling about the fact that I am now the cat's servant.
7:05 am: Visit my litter box, then look in the fridge. Though I've recently learned to cook some basic items- Jimmy Dean pure pork sausage and fried eggs and hash browns (and all washed down with copious amounts of Mt. Dew and my blood pressure meds)- five days in a row of the same cuisine is becoming a drag.
7:10 am: I swallow some Oreos and either go back to bed, or start in again writing reviews of old TV programs. I don't know why I do this; it is fun, but having posted said reviews here at WDC, I doubt that few will read them. After all, I'm talking about TV shows that are 50-60 years old. Ancient history to most, yet I treasure those shows for their ability to tell stories in an economic and entertaining fashion. And after all, isn't TV at its best when it's entertaining us?
7:30 am: Bored with the review process, I put on the headphones and start playing Subsistence, on the Steam site. (I don't want to wake up my wife with the sounds of snarling wolves, growling bears, squealing pigs, and hopefully my gun blasting them into dinner-sized portions.) Some call it a game; I prefer to define it as a "crafting" game.
You start out in a beautiful, wooded area with nary a sign of technology in view. You gather wood and other building materials to fashion a base where you can hide from the wolves, bears, moose, and aggro boars that want to remind you of your position in the food chain. If you're still breathing the next day, you build a fire and craft a bow and arrow for a little payback against the wildlife. Hunting accomplished, you then cook the meat, then hunt for veggies, fruit and a water source, while continuing to avoid the animal life, which- except for the chickens and rabbits- will continue to have it in for you for the rest of eternity.
9:00 am: Feeling guilty about all the "crafting" I'm doing, I remove the headphones, save the game, and head for the shower.
9:10 am: Let Albert back in for his soothing drink from either the toilet bowl or a running faucet.
9:13 am: Let Albert back outside.
9:15 am: Reluctant to visit McDonalds, I cook some Jimmy Dean pure pork sausage and fried eggs and hash browns (and all washed down with copious amounts of Mt. Dew and my blood pressure meds), as I contemplate the day.
9:45 am: If it's Monday or Saturday, I grab my tool bag and head to the local tire store. A neighbor asked me last summer if I'd like something to do to pass the time- that he needed someone to handle the used tire inventory at his shop. Bored and looking for spare change, now that I'm ungainfully unemployed, I said "Yes."
Into the dark warehouse I go, where I turn on the lights and locate the latest stack of used tires the employees have pulled off of vehicles in exchange for new ones. If it's summertime, I hope I won't need to work upstairs, for it's hotter than hell up there, there being no ventilation. If it's the dead of winter here in SE Idaho (elevation 4800 feet above sea level), I hope the diesel heater is functioning, or I will surely freeze.
But I digress...
Grabbing the printed inventory sheets for the hundreds of tires residing on their metal racks, I do an inventory of the eight rows. Then I examine the new batch of used tires, measuring the tread depth with a gauge and recording it, along with the tire make, size and age. I grab a roll of tape and attach a shelf number to the tire and toss it onto the rack, the action of doing so causing the rack to sway way more than I'm comfortable with. I used to use a flashlight in the warehouse, since there's nothing darker than a dark room full of even darker tires, but now I'm used to the gloom.
11:30 am: Home I go, having earned about $45.00.
11:32 am: Let Albert back in for more water.
11:34 am: Let Albert back out.
11:35 am: Wash up, eat a hot dog for lunch, then check for messages on the PC.
12:00: Out on the back deck, I resume the latest DIY project: attaching aluminum soffit sheets to the deck ceiling. The task seems endless, since the sheets are a foot wide, and I've only covered thirty of the sixty-seven feet out there. But what really takes time is the preparation. I have to cut a sheet to length, then have my wife hold it against the ceiling while I try to fit the slotted edges into each other- and they fight me every step of the way. Then it's time for more measuring and cutting.
Before I've finished fitting and stapling several sheets into place, I'm so pissed off that I've flung a screwdriver and measuring stick across the deck, cursed frequently and with abandon, and probably offended my wife- again.
1:00 pm: Needing a break, I return to the PC and check my WDC messages, write more reviews and/or shoot more bears and wolves and wild boars.
1:30 pm: More soffit installation.
1:50 pm: Let Albert back in for his catnap.
2:45: Go for a walk with my wife.
3:05 PM: Let Albert in for his afternoon meal of pate. (Yes, the cat is spoiled, but as long as he keeps catching mice, we'll put up with him.)
3:08 pm: Let Albert out.
3:10 pm: Walk out back and look at the soffits and decide I've had enough aggravation for one day- and I'm off for more "crafting" on the PC.
4:00 pm: Guilt coursing through me for having neglected to write much of anything all day, I go back to the TV reviews.
5:00: Dinnertime: another hot dog, or Nalley's chili con carne with melted cheese on top- washed down with Mt. Dew.
5:20 pm: Sit on a lawn chair out in the driveway, watching the neighborhood activity- though one can only observe so much lawn mowing before deciding to move on to something else.
5:45 pm: Sitting in front of the PC, trying to decide what to write about. Instead, I kill time rearranging Port articles and getting depressed when I see how few of them have been reviewed. Then I get further depressed, realizing I haven't reviewed anyone else's stuff. Why am I so damned lazy?
6:00 pm: I load up the DVD player and binge on several hour-long episodes of either "The Invaders," "The F.B.I." or Ernie Kovacs shows (all from the 50s or 60s).
6:20 pm: Pause the DVD player to let the damned cat back in.
6:23 PM: Pause the DVD player. Albert is scratching the furniture, a sign I'd better let him out again before he destroys our new couch.
9:00 pm: The guilt returns as I realize I really didn't need that much time away from writing- so off I go to the PC, where I work on one of the many projects I keep leapfrogging around in to avoid burnout.
11:00 pm: Climb into bed and try to read myself to sleep with either "Swann's Way" (Proust), anything by Henry James, or selections from an essay collection.
Midnight (or later): Having failed to fall asleep, due to excessive Mt. Dew consumption throughout the preceding day, I get dressed and go for a walk through my darkened neighborhood, noticing that most of the normal people have long since gone to bed, all house lights out for the night.
As I walk along the deserted streets, I think about how this might provide inspiration for my writing. After all, didn't Dickens used to roam London's night streets for hours, seeking ideas for his books? But then reality hits, for Dickens wasn't writing TV show reviews to pass the time. Regardless, it feels good to be out where the sawdust gets blown out of my head for a while.
12:45 am: I return home, refreshed and ready to sleep.
1:00 am: I let Albert in...
|Let's talk about resistance for a moment.
While I usually hesitate to offer extensive quotes from other authors, since this activity can easily be misconstrued as a form of plagiarism, misappropriation, or plain old laziness, my intent here is to share some insight that has had a positive effect on me, as a writer.
In his book "The War of Art," Steven Pressfield spends a lot of time talking about resistance- the thing that causes writers more grief than nearly anything else. He speaks specifically about "those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance":
* The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
* The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
* Any diet or health regimen.
* Any program of spiritual enhancement.
* Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
* Education of every kind.
* Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
* The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
* Any act that entails commitment of the heart...
* The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.
I love this list because it reminds me that any worthy endeavor will face resistance- that what I'm dealing with when I encounter obstacles is not bad luck or circumstances beyond my control, but more like a natural law- that there must be an opposition in all things, for therein lies the path to growth.
|Whenever I need motivation to write, I look at Jack London's musings during his 25th year of life.
The year is 1899...
Some are born to fortune, and some have fortune thrust upon them. But in my case I was clubbed into fortune, and bitter necessity wielded the club…
I employed the time between odd jobs with writing a 21,000-word serial for the “Youth’s Companion.” I turned it out and typed it in seven days. I fancy that was what was the matter with it, for it came back. It took some time for it to go and come, and in the meantime I tried my hand at short stories…
My difficulty was that I had no one to advise me. I didn’t know a soul who had written or who had ever tried to write. I didn’t even know one reporter. Also, to succeed at the writing game, I found I had to unlearn about everything the teachers and professors of literature of the high school and university had taught me.
I struggled along, stood off the butcher and the grocer, pawned my watch and bicycle and my father’s mackintosh, and I worked. I really did work, and went on short commons of sleep.
Having burned one ship, I plunged into writing. I’m afraid I always was an extremist. Early and late I was at it- writing, typing, studying grammar, studying writing and all the forms of writing, and studying the writers who succeeded in order to find out how they succeeded. I managed on five hours’ sleep in the twenty-four, and came pretty close to working the nineteen waking hours left to me. My light burned till two and three in the morning…
The trouble with the beginner at the writing game is the long, dry spells, where there is never an editor’s check, and everything pawnable is pawned. I wore my summer suit pretty well through that winter, and the following summer experienced the longest, driest spell of all, in the period when salaried men are gone on vacation and manuscripts lie in editorial offices until vacation is over.
I had no one to give me tips, no one’s experience to profit by. So I sat down and wrote in order to get an experience of my own. I wrote everything- short stories, anecdotes, jokes, essays, sonnets, ballads, villanelles, triolets, songs, light plays in iambic pentameter, and heavy tragedies in blank verse. These various creations I stuck into envelopes, enclosed return postage, and dropped into the mail. Oh, I was prolific…
All my manuscripts came back. They continued to come back. The process seemed like the working of a soulless machine. I dropped the manuscript into the mail box. After the lapse of a certain approximate length of time, the manuscript was brought back to me by the postman. Accompanying it was a stereotyped rejection slip.
This went on for some months. I was still in the dark, I had not yet gained the smallest particle of experience. Concerning which was the more marketable, poetry or prose, jokes or sonnets, short stories or essays, I knew no more than when I began…
…and then one morning, the postman brought me a letter, mark you, a letter, not a long thick one but a short thin one, and from a magazine. I could not open the letter right away. It seemed a sacred thing. It contained the written words of an editor. The gist of the letter was coldly to the effect that my story was available, that they would print it in the next number, and that they would pay me for it the sum of five dollars…
Some time later…
The postman brought me an offer … of forty dollars for a 4,000-word story… I forgot my coal-shoveling resolution and continued to whang away at the typewriter…
At the end of three working years, two of which were spent in high school and the university and one spent at writing, and all three in studying immensely and intensely, I was publishing stories in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, was correcting proofs of my first book, was selling sociological articles to Cosmopolitan and McLure’s, had declined an associate editorship proffered me by telegraph from New York City, and was getting ready to marry …
|For those who see writing as a calling, there's only one way to stay motivated- look at all your trials, successes, failures and achievements as necessary elements of a journey toward perfection of the craft (or skill).
I was interviewed once by a man in my church who I greatly admired. I knew he was a successful entrepreneur, and- frustrated by my own ability to remain gainfully employed for more than a couple years at a stretch- I asked him how he'd been able to achieve success.
He told me that when he was first working in manufacturing production, he wanted to progress, which meant rising above his surroundings to a higher plane, so to speak. He noticed that the most accomplished craftsman in the shop was an older fellow- a crusty, cantankerous type hardly anyone could get along with. But my friend decided to befriend the fellow. And why? Because he wanted to learn what that other man knew- for that grouchy dude was a person who'd achieved that "higher plane." The result was that my friend learned valuable techniques and processes that helped him get where could not have by any other means. He went on to success he never before could have dreamed possible.
My friend went on to say that it took a lot of hard work, risk-taking and faith- and that as he looked back later at the astounding success he eventually enjoyed, he saw the path there as a kind of spiderweb of fragile connections, one leading to the next as he progressed, ascending from one plateau to another.
I came away from the interview realizing that I wasn't as misguided as I'd believed. Sure, I wasn't making the kind of money my friend was, but then again I was a different person than he, with my own aspirations and desires. His world and mine existed on separate but parallel planes, yet the rules for succeeding applied to us equally: hard work, and humility (coupled with a belief in myself), and the ability to persist in the face of adversity (that would always be there to goad me on).
Though it's taken me years to see this, adversity and failure are obstacles that strengthen me only through the effort I expend to overcome them.
|The other day my daughter dropped off some stuff a friend of hers is donating to a church fund-raiser. Amongst the blankets, clothes, quilts and books was a 4” by 6” yellow-colored hardbound tome. It’s called the “Jane-a-Day Five Year Journal.” Always on the lookout for blank journals I can add to my collection (for later use), I took a closer look.
I liked the 1.25” thickness, which promised lots of space inside for scribbling notes and thoughts and events. Then I noticed that it contains “365 Witticisms by Jane Austen,” and my enthusiasm waned. The last thing I need is someone else’s distracting advice intruding on my thought process. The fact that the former owner had included many entries from her life was troubling, for I believed I was engaging in some sort of privacy invasion. But unable to stay away, I started reading the entries.
One profession after another of undying love for her spouse; bad days at work; that day’s weather; a date with her husband. And then I realized why the woman had tossed the book; its structure is such that there’s only room for four short lines for each day. What an abomination, for if any book were produced with the intent of killing the desire to write, they couldn't do better than this. Four lines? There’s not enough room to even get started on a thought before the space runs out.
One entry in particular made me wonder why the owner even bothered. The woman started by saying she’d miscarried, the entry then moving on to other events, as if losing a child were just one of those things. While I don’t believe for a second that she intended to be cavalier in her brevity, I believe that even if she wanted to embellish on the heartbreaking incident, the journal didn’t allow her to- unless she dared cross the boundaries imposed by whoever the hell thought this format was good idea.
Novel the concept of mini-entries is. But good or useful or wise it is not.
|It is with a touch of sadness and regret that I pen this note to you.
It appears that our relationship must come to an end.
No- I haven’t met someone else.
More like some thing else.
You see, since 1975, I’ve confided in you about so many things in my life. You know that. And though the journals I’ve written in have taken different shapes and sizes, it was you and not the book I was confiding in and sharing things with. Until a blank page is written on, it is just a page, but once graced with the written word, it becomes a journal, or diary, or essay or ledger, or whatever else the author’s intent for the information be.
And don’t think I’m not grateful. Many are the times when you were the only one who listened and remembered- the only one besides God and my memory banks that’s been with me from Oregon to Canada, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Florida, Virginia and South America.
You’ve seen me through scores of girlfriends, dates, jury duty, cars, sickness, health, epiphany, stupidity, marriage, birth, death, jobs, layoffs, and everything else life has deemed worthy or necessary to toss in my direction.
"Why does it have to end?" you ask.
Well, it’s not that it has to, as much as I choose for it to stop. I could continue to record life’s events large and small, but I won’t, and for what I consider to be a valid reason- that I’ve found a better way.
“But what could be better,” you query, “than to serve as the repository and chronicler of your life?”
“This is what’s better,” I reply. “Writing these self-same events with the intent of sharing them with others, and in a more meaningful way.
As I said before, I value your service- yea, your very existence- more than I can say. It was because of the 32 years of scribbling on your pages that I learned how to write. Without your continued presence I would be lost. At the same time, I find that something inside me has changed. While the desire to share and story-tell has always lurked in the background, it was when I became serious about putting pen to paper, and letting my imagination take over, that I drifted away from you.
I discovered another place inside my mind that had been tapping, then pounding on the door, wanting out in the worst way. And once released, the writing process began to unfold on the page in front of me, one surprise after another.
While I did have the occasional epiphany during my toils amidst your pages, I found that recording what had actually occurred was becoming less fulfilling than allowing my heart and soul to show me what could be, and that the mental exercise was also helping show me what is, and more important, who I am and what I should be doing with my time.
You see, I decided a long time ago what church to attend, and which woman to marry, but the thorn in my side has always been, what should I be devoting my non-work efforts to? Why I am here is an important- nay, vital- question to answer, but for years I asked the question without doing the research. I liken it to a man wondering how to produce the water that will satisfy his thirst, when all around him are streams and lakes, ponds and rivers full of fresh H2O. All he has to do is reach out and touch it, then jump in.
You know as well as I do that you weren’t the first one, though that’s caused no problem between us.
There was that time when I was 12 or 13, and had started reading “Harriet The Spy.” I was so taken with her journal writing that I started one myself. Was it the aura of mystery, intrigue and most of all the secrecy surrounding Harriet’s spy-and-report lifestyle that fascinated me? I don’t know for sure, but the idea that I was on a mission to observe and report seemed to give my life added meaning and some adventure, both of which were lacking from the farm life I experienced day in and day out.
Maybe it was the fact that I could write pages of stuff and be able to hold it in my hands and say :This is mine. I made it and no one can take it away from me.”
Strangely enough, though, in the process of emulating Harriet, I fell into the same trap as she: not keeping a close enough watch on my notebook. In Harriet’s case, one of her classmates came upon the journal, with disastrous results. In my case it was my sister who did the job, and after reading it she began mocking me, reading passages from it and laughing about how stupid they sounded. While we’d had our childish disagreements, I was puzzled by the cruel manner in which she taunted me with my own words, and I wondered what the hell I had done to her to deserve such treatment.
I still remember one of the passages. It concerned some drum and bugle corps event, and took place, in part, at an old building in SE Portland, near the river. There’d been some sort of magician-comedian hired to entertain us, but his efforts were lacking. I commented in the journal about how sorry I felt for him. His jokes fell flat and on deaf ears, and his whole shtick was old-fashioned and just plain unfunny. I think he did some magic tricks, as well, also going over like the proverbial lead balloon.
My sister would recite to me some passages she recalled, only making me madder and madder. When she finally relinquished the pages, I destroyed them, thus adding another entry to the category of “Things I Wish I’d Never Done”- though it seemed like a good idea at the time. It always does, though, doesn’t it?
The desire to keep a journal pretty much snuffed out, I pursued other little writing projects, but nothing substantial until about six years later. I was attending college at La Grande, Oregon, having followed my father’s advice about attending college in a small town. Around the time I joined the LDS Church in October 1972, I started keeping another journal. I wrote in it off and on for most of the school year.
Upon returning to Portland the following spring, I drifted away from the Church, and my journaling habit went away as well. And at some point, probably borne of frustration and anger, I destroyed that journal as well- one of the poorer “small”, choices I’ve ever made. All of those experiences as a freshman in a dorm, as well as my impression of the conversion process and baptism- and last but not least, my first real girlfriend- all gone.
It wasn’t until 1975, when I returned to La Grande for a fresh start at school and the Church, that I resolved to start keeping a journal again. It was April 16 when I penned those first words in the empty ledger book I’d purchased. It was a black book about 8 inches tall by 5 inches wide, with a red binder label, the word “RECORD” printed on the spine in gold leaf lettering. The last entry, on Page 160, was written nine months later while I was attending a language training school in Provo, Utah. So it was that first book that formed the foundation for our relationship- one that’s lasted over 30 years, and taken 3,700 pages large and small to tell my story.
But a couple years ago those entries became fewer and farther between. For, you see, something was happening to me. Though I’d walked out of a recent Creative Writing class, at odds with the instructor, the fires of my imagination were rekindled. I knew that I wanted to write. I also knew that I’d need to practice writing every day. And along with that decision I purchased a few composition notebooks in which I recorded journal entries, random thoughts, poetry attempts, story ideas, etc.
In a funny way you could say that all those entries in the 17 ½ journals have spawned another set of ten notebooks, all full of writing I could not have accomplished without the previous years of practice. And with these words I bring to an end my explanation and farewell. Maybe someday, when I figure out how to truly write well, I will start scribbling in that 18th volume again. But until that moment I will continue to scribble the occasional journal entry in one of the many composition books stacked on a shelf in my bedroom...
|When people ask what I “do,” I say I’m not working. Then they ask if I’m retired, to which I laughingly reply that I am until I can find a new job. But I’m not looking; I’m writing. And that’s a damn sight better than the answer I used to give people about my career plans …
Back in the day, I escaped high school with a GPA that was on life support. Thus, a final tally of four years’ academic effort guaranteed that the only college I’d be accepted to without a fight was some small-town institution more interested in tuition money than my inability to have developed good study skills, or a semblance of critical thinking.
It wasn’t that I was stupid; far from it. But ambition- the desire to achieve, or the drive to excel- just wasn’t there. At the end of three terms, my college GPA was a clone of the high school tabulation. Sick of academia by that time, I embarked on a journey from one sub-standard job to another: construction, mobile home maintenance, assembly line work, warehouse employment, and mop-making, of all things.
Having gotten a taste of the real world, I sought out six more months of college courses, positive that somewhere along the line, amongst all those classes, I’d find out what I was meant to do in life. Instead, it was a repeat of freshman year at the university- in fact, worse. And fleeing school again, I did yard work, bucked hay bales, delivered dairy products, washed a lot of dishes, and spent three months down on the farm, that last gig being the only satisfactory employment I’d experienced since leaving high school. The only thing that became a habit during this time was journal-writing.
Due to the intervention of friends and a couple leaders at my local church, I was persuaded to go on a two-year mission, and ended up being sent to Argentina, of all places. To say it was life-changing pretty much sums up that 24-month period. Through it all I maintained a written record of the whole adventure. When I returned home, I was a better person with a stronger self-image.
But without a trade or a college degree to fall back on, it was back to the sub-standard job world again. Construction laborer, security guard, warehouseman, door-to-door sales, census work, mail order clerking, and the like. And I’m not knocking these jobs. Many folks excel at them.
But for someone like me, who flinched every time I was asked “What do you want to do when you grow up?” no job ever seemed to fill the emotional bill for long. Sure, there was furniture moving work with a nationwide company, and a titanium inspection job that was starting to pay decent money- until I was laid off.
Despair became part of my emotional makeup, as I approached my fortieth year, without a clue about meaningful work. I was still recording my life and times in a growing stack of journal books, but to gaze upon their pages only served as a painful reminder of how I’d faithfully maintained a pattern of settling for less with the jobs I chose to accept.
And then it happened. I was hired on as a data collection tech for a manufacturing firm. And why did this happen? Because the last place that had laid me off had also paid enough tuition for me to receive an associate’s degree- back when that two-year accomplishment still meant something to a potential employer.
With the passage of time, my boss noticed that I was skilled in writing, and asked me to help clean up the company’s abysmal SOP’s and work instructions. And with that I embarked on a rewarding career as a technical writer. Though the job eventually deteriorated, some twelve years later, the experience I gained was invaluable. The company also paid for another two years of school, from which I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree.
And from there I went on to another, even better-paying TW job, in another state- before the company shut down, five years later. After another writing job at a substandard company blew up in my face, I realized I was starting to spin my wheels again, and got depressed. What was I “supposed” to be doing? I kept asking myself- until it finally hit me, one day. I was supposed to be writing.
I’d been keeping journals for forty years. Several creative writing classes had forced me to unearth a talent for writing stories. Essays were starting to come forth from seemingly random writing sessions. And so I started writing a memoir. After several years of trial and painful error, I self-published the memoir online. I’d finally done it.
And so, for those of you out there who agonize about what you’re supposed to be doing with your life, all I can say is that the answers lie within you- or are sitting there next to you every day, patiently waiting for you to stop long enough and take notice of them.
And if you get down about having taken so many years to figure out what to do with your life, be thankful you did find out while there was still time to do something about it...
|There it is- the Writing.Com tee shirt the site used to offer, back in 2007. And like me, it is battered and worn and full of holes, but still functional. Looking at it now reminds me of how far I've come as a writer. I used to want recognition on a big scale, which drove me to self-pub two memoirs and a batch of lit zines. But failure to gain said recognition- while emotionally devastating- taught me a lesson about fame. Having never achieved it caused me to realize how worthless it is, in the grand scheme of things. To pursue fame cankers the soul, while hard-earned humility broadens and enriches whoever seeks it.
On the other hand, earned recognition can be the badge of honor worn by those who share their work with others, out of a desire to entertain, enlighten or uplift. And while my reasons for wearing the Writing.Com shirt out in public may differ now, the questions it brings my way are more of a pleasure to answer than they used to be...
|It’s been a few years since I was really down in the literary dumps, but true to form, here I am back again. It’s an occupational hazard, I keep telling myself- and for proof, all I have to do is revisit old journal entries…
“I write this down in an attempt at self-understanding…”
Such were the words I began writing last night, just before hurling this notebook across the room in a fit of anger and frustration. I had been attempting to document my antics of earlier, when I took the Mining Game I’d been working so hard on over the last week or two, and put it away on a back closet shelf, convinced it was a waste of time, mainly because no one but me likes to play it.
Later, after the book-tossing incident, I suddenly got angry at the sight of all the idle writing paperwork stacked above and below the writing desk, and started tossing several piles of it into the closet. It’s going to be a hell of a mess to clean up, but I’m not doing it any time soon. I’m so burned out on the Mission Book project.
Yes, it was a bad night, me feeling by turns worthless and a failed writer and an emotional basket case- a premonition of unemployment haunting me, due to the weird things happening at work- at least they seem weird to me. I told Carol at one point that all my efforts at writing seemed a waste of time- not going anywhere- that by the time I did figure out how to write something saleable, I’d be too old to enjoy the fruits of my labors, blah, blah, blah. It was messy.
Some 24 hours later I feel somewhat better. The thought occurs to me that I could line up all my stories and choose one that needs work, then rewrite it. After that, start working on another, and so on. Could I stand to look at any of them after having developed such a sour attitude about the labor necessary to write? Maybe, if I took it slow and easy. First print a fresh copy of one of the stories and do some superficial tweaks, then go a little deeper, and then ask someone to read it all and tell me what they think.
I look at the bookshelves to the right of the writing desk and shake my head. Supported by large cans of wheat (instead of cinder blocks), the second and third shelves hold some 40-50 books on the craft of writing- tomes of varying quality and age and scope. Some have been helpful, others serving more as a panacea, and the rest mainly taking up space. I just straightened them out, but though they look better now, grouped neatly in rows, they’ve served their usefulness for the time being.
This evening, after putting up the Christmas lights out front, I returned to the bedroom to atone for my sins of the other night. I straightened up the bookshelf some more, and pulled all the notebooks out of the closet, where I’d flung them a couple days ago. They do look better lined up than in a jumbled heap in the dark recesses of the clothes closet. I’m not ready, though, to face the stacks of paper sitting in the back, yet. As for the stories, it is possible I could spruce up one of them and maybe learn enough from that to move on to another. Gotta take this slow.
After organizing the notebooks out in the SoCal sunshine on the front porch, I started creating an index. I had written a number on the front of each volume, and began with Book 1, listing the date and topic of each story. While it is tedious work- but the type I like- I have discovered some work I’d forgotten about. That was part of the reason I embarked on this short project- to find and demarcate the stories, fragments and journal entries. Having stopped writing in dedicated journal books back in ’06 or ’07 (as they were becoming too restraining), I was surprised to discover how much the journaling continued- to a greater extent than I’d remembered- from 2007-2010, before the writing turned almost exclusively to my memoir project and thoughts about writing (and the books I’ve been reading).
By only making entries for a couple of notebooks each night, I’ve avoided burnout. It’s also helped me digest the large amount of topics and events and emotions I’ve written about or considered covering. Unfortunately, my impulsive side keeps pointing to the entries and saying “Look! Look! Wouldn’t that make a great book?” And I have to shudder and shake my head and say “No, no- let’s not go there, okay?”
Finished the notebook index tonight. Now I have a clear view of where to go to transcribe pieces to the PC. A lot of the passages about the development on the Mission Book will be avoided, for the time being, but the partial stories and essays and train trips are interesting and worthy of capture on paper. And until the desire to write the mission book returns, I could be doing worse things with my time.
|I feel like I need to write, but not sure what. It's like there's a lot of ideas inside a darkened room. I know there's stories and such in there, but I can’t see them clearly. Where's the light that will help me see them? Is the light turned on by just writing and writing?
For example... I have trouble trying to write dialogue:
"How's it going, Tom?"
"Just fine, Bob- and you?"
"How's the family?"
"Fine. And yours?"
"I think someone's watching us."
"I think it's the writer- waiting for us to start an interesting conversation or something."
"Well, if the writer wants that to happen, he'd better give us something to talk about, and a place to do it in. I don’t know where we're at- inside out outside a building? Are we sitting or standing? And by the way, who are you, anyway?"
"What do you mean? Who am I? Don’t you remember?"
"I'm your younger brother! Come on…"
"News to me. It would have been nice if someone had told me- like the writer!"
"What a whiner!"
Bob leaps from his seat, lurches toward Tom, landing a quick right hook on Tom's waiting nose…