I’ve recently had to face head-on some challenges, both personal and professional. Some are unprecedented (at least in my life anyway); others are familiar, or are ones that I never thought I’d have to deal with again.
Many (but certainly not all) of these events and scenarios came from outside of my own life but still spoke to my own personal situation: requests for advice from friends struggling with relationship issues. Or facing a bone-deep dissatisfaction with their chosen career. Some are questions of ethics, or morals. Or that come from fear of death. Or of losing hold of whatever tenuous spark is responsible for the urge and ability to create.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been one that felt the urge to journal. Something about it always seemed wasteful somehow, as if the one doing the recording was trying to replace “true” creativity with a false sense of it. As if the person’s life became their art, rather than influencing it. In short, it seemed like a cop-out. A rejection of the more “noble” impulse to turn experience and adversity into something all could share and benefit from.
A friend of mine recently made the difficult decision to remove their blog from public view because of a promise made to someone very dear to them. The site this person decided to kill was more than the random collection of personal minutia – it had, for lack of a better description, much more in common with Allison Pierson’s bitingly satirical and marvelously funny I Don’t Know How She Does It or McLaughlin and Kraus’s equally scathing, equally hilarious The Nanny Diaries, than it did with the everyday, ho-hum laundry list of daily activities that I generally see being passed off as someone’s “blog”. Really, it was a form of literature, one that shared humorous and occasionally bittersweet stories, illustrating a facet of human life that I’d never experienced before, all while employing language that was as disarming as it was honest: art and artifice all in one.
In short: this person changed my mind about blogs and journaling, and I’m glad that they did. Because of this, and purely for selfish reasons (after all, I only started writing stories because I loved reading them so much), I was sorry to see it go, even as I understood and even applauded the site creator’s reasons and justifications for eliminating it.
But that doesn’t mean that I think they should stop writing. Far from it, in fact. For, if I’ve learned nothing over the past five years (and perhaps I really haven’t – give me the benefit of the doubt for just a minute longer, if you’d be so kind), it’s that there is a vast gulf between writing down your ideas and publishing them.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to get on my rickety soapbox and bore anyone with “why I write”, or even give a single reason why anyone else should, for that matter. I honestly sometimes believe that a person would have to be crazy to actually want to engage in such an activity. The hours are long and lonely, often with no promise of any sort of material compensation or payoff. There are issues of self doubt that can crush even the hardiest of egos. Sometimes friends and family may even resent the time that writing takes away from other things. But sometimes, for some reason, people still decide to do it anyway. Thank God they do, because those that do make the world a better place for the rest of us.
But only because they got their message - their words and phrases and ideas, whether ugly or beautiful; humorous or poignant – out into the world and into a reader’s hands. Make no mistake, however - this act of sharing, of publishing, whether it be in a magazine or a short story anthology, or even in a novel or on a personal blog, can only happen if the author has something to say. Something interesting. Something true. Something heartfelt.
So here’s a challenge to anyone out there that’s “always wanted to write a book” or that sometimes feels the desire to “put down some of the odd little stories” floating around in their head:
Do it. Stop worrying about whether or not it will be “good enough” to publish one day. If that worries you, take what you write and find a critiquing group to help you with your craft, but above and before all else, write first.
Don’t let your problems and your challenges still your voice. Even though you may not be ready to publish, not ready, even, to share your thoughts with your best friend, or your spouse, keep recording them. Keep working on your own unique voice. Don’t count on the imperfect mechanism of memory to carry you, otherwise all you’ll have are vague memories of ideas you had once, long ago.
If you have been writing, trying to improve your “craft”, don’t invest any of your energy in trying to game the process or to figure out the best possible way to catch the attention of an editor. This isn’t a game. Publishers publish, that’s what they do, but they can only tell if you’re worth investing in by reading your words. Say what you want to say, because you never know who else might be hungering to read those words and know that there’s at least one other person out in the world that feels the same way that they do. Many won’t. Some will. Even if the time isn’t right to share your words with the world, never stop putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard when the urge strikes you.
Just write. It’s what writers do.