Writing for me is like breathing. It is something I have to do to stay alive. It is, simply, who I am. However, and there is a big resounding BUT here, I do not write enough. Writers want to be noticed, they want to be recognised, and they want to, more than anything, connect with people. But it is a double edged sword. What happens if you don’t get noticed, recognised or, more disastrously, don’t connect. What if people don’t like what you have to say, what if what you feel you have to say, doesn’t matter, doesn’t make one single ripple in the pond of life. It is a terrifying thought for a writer. One that, sadly, could and does become a reality.
For me, I have listened to that fear for a very long time. It has prevented me from writing – literally anything – for a very long time. For me, it is not enough to write in a journal. I have to impart my thoughts to someone on some level. I am, in essence, not really writing for myself, but writing to make my voice heard. It is my way of speaking so that the world may listen and perhaps, if I am lucky, hear.
The result of this fear and subsequent lack of verbosity on paper, is that my thoughts remain in my head and oh my, what a mess!! The nice thing about writing is that you can put a thought to paper, draw it out, embellish it and then it is out of your head and on the paper. There for eternity, for history and posterity (okay, I’m being a bit overly ambitious here!). The trouble for a writer that doesn’t write is the fact that when it stays in your head, you frankly become insane.
Buddhists have a wonderful term called The Monkey Mind. In my opinion, this perfectly describes my life. My life is a series of story lines. I am constantly thinking about how people I meet could make wonderful characters, how events that have happened to me would make great story lines. This all makes for a very messy neural network that keeps me awake for hours at night. I meditate to try and ease this pain, but meditating is not my strength. Of course, one might ask why I don’t just write. Indeed, I ask myself that very same question.
Why is it that a lot of us writers don’t write? Of course, it is the fear. The fear of rejection, the fear of admitting that it is all that you want to do in the world, but may in fact not put a good chunk of food on your table, the fear of facing a reality that you have in fact been blessed with a gift that the world does not really appreciate in the way that they appreciate the calling of say, teachers, nurses and stockbrokers (dammit). Of course, we all compare ourselves with the big name authors. We pour over their life stories. My personal favourite is J.K Rowling – conjuring her famous stories on the train ride to and from work and being rejected a number of times before a publisher took their chance on Harry Potter (bet the other publishers are kicking themselves now!).
But I don’t have a Harry Potter in me, nor a Twilight or Hunger Games, or anything that I think will blow the world away. But I want to blow the world away (yes, I am stamping my foot). I want to write something that is so magnanimous that hollywood is banging down my door to make a movie of it, for isn’t that the ultimate validation that we as writers have made it? But why, why do we want this? Is it because of the validation or is it because we want to be able to put a decent income into our households?
I feel like writing is a crap gift to have (I call it a gift without really knowing if I am any good at it, because writing is all I think about and I have been told that whatever gives you joy is a gift). Why is it crap? Because it is so damn competitive and bloody political. I once was planning to go to a writers festival. Before I went, I attended a writer’s workshop. All the writer’s there wanted to go to the festival, so we asked our tutor about it. She told us how because of the competitive nature of it all (“it” being writing), we should be careful who we talk to and who we approach. We didn’t want to come off as naive, or inexperienced, don’t you know. Oh, of course not, because that’s not what festivals are all about. I left with the distinct impression that writer’s festivals are all about self promotion of published writers and since I didn’t qualify, I shouldn’t go.
When are you a bonafide writer? When do you reach that threshold where you can legitimately call yourself a writer? I mean in the sense of “Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m a writer.” If I say that, people automatically ask me if I’ve written a book (and by written, they mean published a book) and secondly am I published AT ALL (and by that they mean perhaps an article in a magazine). The answer, for me, on both counts, is a resounding no. But that doesn’t mean I am not a writer. Writing is how I breathe, it is how I function, it is how my life becomes bearable to live. But we have to have that validation, don’t we? Society dictates it. I just don’t see people from other professions having to validate what they do. “I’m a doctor.” Oh really, have you saved a life? Okay, bad example, but you get my drift. No-one asks those questions. They just take it as a read, you’re a doctor. But writers have to validate their passion, who they are. Yes, yes, I hear you saying that by the very definition of being a writer, you have to write, which is very true. But do you have to be published, and in what sense do you have to be published?
I sound cynical in my own musings, but I cannot help that. I am angry, partly at myself for allowing myself to buckle under the fear of non-validation, but also at society for putting the fear of failure into us hesitant writers in the first place. Of course, people say that writing has to sell, because after all it is the money that makes the world go round. Perhaps. But there are a great many people with a great many gifts to impart in the written word that are lost to us because of this wretched fear of failure.
I do applaud Amazon in this instance. With its Kindle publishing project authors can now get “published” at the click of a button, allowing society at large to determine if the author is worth the effort he/she put onto paper, and not the publishing house. I suspect though that writers at the writers festival would not consider this a legitimate form of becoming a writer (much like getting a medical degree through the post, I suspect). I do not poo-poo it (no, that isn’t a word, but I like it!). I have yet to go down this road (the fear of rejection strikes me even now) but I do intend to do it. I intend to write that book, which is no mean feat by the way, and to press that button, and upload my book so that when I next say “Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m a writer,” and the question of “are you published?” yet again accosts my ears, I can give a resounding, legitimate “Yes, actually, yes I am!!”