I wrote because I felt a need to create something beyond what I perceived life to be. I did it in the woods, upon rocks, like a sun-bathing salamander; in my bed, with a book lamp, before the lights went out; and in hidden spaces I would crawl inside quietly, trying to escape the everyday woes of being an eleven year old.
I kept journals, as a sacred form of expression for my pre-adolescent self. My entries weren’t all truth and honesty either, but a construction of how I wanted things to be. I fantasized, I pined, I wrote out my anger, letting my inner-monologue do all the talking. I developed insomnia, because I feared what lurked in the dark; and when I did get to sleep, my dreams were filled with such a vivid kind of world, that at times I found difficult to separate myself from. Some would call this an over-active imagination, but for me it was just part of who I was.
Why this means anything to me now, is what I am coming to recognize in my development as a writer. In my late teens and early twenties, when I really began to take my passion seriously, there was this shift in how I viewed the act of writing; where before it was simply something I enjoyed doing. Suddenly, I started needing assurance of whether or not I was any good. I implored teachers about my grades, and asked for suggestions in making my writing better. I was hard on myself to a fault, and yet I felt inadequate on every level. I gave up, and tried not to think much of it, but really I couldn’t bear the thought of not making the cut.
I went to school for business, then for art education, and finally settled on the social sciences as a last ditch effort (when it was almost too late to choose). I fell in love with a musician, who challenged my choices, who thought I was crazy for thinking about law school, and who could not understand how I could keep living this lie I told myself each day, that was: I wasn’t any good, that I would never be a writer, and that no one gave a damn about what I had to say.“Writers write,” he would say to me. And it wasn’t that I had stopped writing altogether, it was just that I was too self-conscious to show anything off I had written.
In 2008, I started a blog (this blog). And at the time, it was a way to “feel out my audience,” in a similar practice as a musician who tries out a new song at an open mic. The feedback was mixed, and it was clear I needed a lot of work. Subsequently, I started a longer project, though I can’t say I knew in that moment that it would become my first attempt at a novel.
I decided to leave my decent paying job in the city, and move home. I applied to graduate school for writing, not actually believing I would get in. And in the midst of all this, my relationship floundered, as I looked for the sort of reciprocity I just couldn't see.
Why I am laying this all out, is because it is the basis for my most recent observations—
“Writers write,” he used to say, and I would get all pissy about the assertion. Now, I see things for what they are, and that is: writing as a one-sided relationship—the real relationship starting with one’s self—the creative one, within.
Before blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, what writers wrote about didn’t require constant affirmation, a “platform”, or a band of followers who praised their every word. What they needed was time, and solitude, and a place to detach, if only for a temporary period, from all the others fraught with opinions, and suggestions, and demands.
Just like in a relationship, we want to be the best possible version of ourselves for our counterparts (or audience), which can only happen after we have worked on who we are first. We love because we are better people for doing so, not because an expectation exists, or is forced upon us. And we as writers (and artists) create, not because someone is telling us we should, or could. But because we must.Henry Miller, I believe said it best: “Artists never thrive in colonies. Ants do. What the budding artist needs is the privilege of wrestling with his (or her) problems in solitude--and now and then a piece of red meat.”
And if that isn’t a note of reason (if there ever was one), than this may be: Miller’s first real attempt at writing was a book he wrote while on a three-week vacation from his low-paying job at Western Union. It was never published, and seen by very few. For ten more years, he worked on novel after novel, rarely sharing his work with anyone, until finally at the age of forty-two, a piece slipped out worthy enough for print. It was called, The Tropic of Cancer.