Lately, I’ve been feeling like my life is living me. I have dreamed of being able to make a living as a writer since I was a teenager, but after several years of being a stay-at-home parent/part-time writer, I have recently taken on a new day job. Since I started spending a large chunk of my time in an office, I have been struggling with the feeling that I have given up on my dream of being a writer.
During the early months of my new job, when that feeling was particularly strong, a couple comments on a benign post on the Writer Unboxed Facebook group nearly brought me to despair. The post asked people to tell how long they’d been working on their WIP. The answers varied–from weeks to months to years. Some commenters expressed the opinion that spending years on a work without publication was a waste of time. I have been working on the same unpublished work for several years, so that comment hit hard.
I’ve spent the last few months arguing with that commenter in my head. This post is my answer, and an explanation of why it bothered me so much. It is also a plea for writers to separate writing from publication. They are interlinked, but they are not the same thing.
I also want to be clear that this is not just a lengthy justification for my failure to get published. I have published, just in non-fiction rather than fiction.
Making the distinction between writing and publication is important for me because it clarifies what role writing currently plays in my life. It is hard to explain without giving you a little insight into my writing day. So here is a brief log of what I (and what I think many of you) struggle with in aspiring to be writers.
Daily Log of an Aspiring Writer with a Day Job
- 5 am. If I want to write, I have to get out of this comfortable bed. Is this book really worth it? I’ve spent years working on it and I still don’t think of it as done. How is one more morning going to solve that problem?
- 5:10 am. Coffee cup on desk. Staring at blinking cursor wondering why I’m not in bed. Wondering what I was thinking when I wrote this scene. It’s awful. Wait, it has a nugget here that might shine.
- 5:30 am. Even the nugget sucks. I should go back to bed. There is no saving this work. Maybe if I just delete all my files I would live a happier life.
- 5:45 am. I finally lose awareness of the world around me and make the transition into the world of the story. I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the words.
- 6:30 am. I close the computer down and start getting ready for the day.
- 6:40 am to 8:00 pm. Day job, parenting, family, recreation, duties, responsibilities, events, and chores.
- 8:00 pm. Kids in bed, spouse busy at a hobby. I should write. I’m tired, it was a long day, I could just watch a video and go to bed. Maybe I’ll just read a book.
- 8:20 pm. I suppose I could just do some simple copy-editing on the chapters that are pretty much done.
- 8:40 pm. I find my way back into the story, and spend an hour writing happily.
Every person who dreams of being a writer faces numerous moments in the day, every day, where the choice is to stop or to continue.
Sleeping, reading, watching a movie, all of them are easy. Choosing to get up, to write, is difficult; it is a step into the unknown. It is also an exercise in perseverance. Writing requires more than sitting down and typing away. It requires focusing on an alternate world until it becomes as real as the surrounding world. It means letting go of all the self-doubt and all the modern distractions, and finding that ever-shifting entrance into the fantastical world of the story. That transition takes a whole heart full of devotion and a faith full of words. There are days where I’m just not sufficient to the task; when I choose to sleep the extra hours or read a book in the evening. But at the end of those days I feel somehow diminished, dissatisfied.
I write because it is when I am living my life rather than being lived by it. This is true whether or not I am published. Making the hard choice–to write–is my daily triumph, worthy of celebration for itself.
Oh, I definitely hear all the noise that comes across the internet about how writing without finding representation, publishing, selling movie rights, making a fortune, is a waste of time or a sign of inability. They are right and they are wrong. When the dream of writing is about making a living, then publishing is an essential step. But when the dream of writing is about finding a means of self-expression in a world that leaves so little meaningful room for it, publication is an option, outside of the act. Writing itself can be the reward, and there is room in this world for that kind of writer as well as for writers seeking publication, and for already-published authors.
If I never publish any of my stories, I am still a writer. If I do someday publish any of my stories, I want to hang onto this sense of writing as a vehicle to a life better lived. I have the sense that losing that appreciation for what writing brings to my life would be a great loss.
On a daily basis I am pursuing my dream of being a writer, choosing to get up and write rather than let the words wither away unexpressed. There is no requirement in this dream for me to send those words off for others to read, to judge, to edit, or to critique. Maybe someday, when there is more space and time for me to grow my dreams, I will also dream of being an author. Then on a daily basis I will choose to send those hard-won words out into the world for others to see.
What about you? Are your dreams about writing? Or about publication? Does a writer need an audience?
Image courtesy of VladStudio: http://vladstudio.deviantart.com/art/Choice-34086742