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Let Yourself Write

When people undertake writing, it is often not with the agenda of writing but with the agenda of "becoming a writer." ... The bottom line, the fact that the act of writing makes you a writer, barely enters the equation at all. Instead, we come up with ideas like "Real writers are published," or "Real writers make a living from their writing." In a sense, we are saying, "Real writers get validation from others that they are writers."
This essay is weak. That was my initial thought. A weak exercise. I gave myself permission to skip it and planned a blog entry about how grown up I am now, that I can merrily neglect the assignment because I recognize it for the busy seatwork it really is.

Reality: The assignment isn't weak. I struggle with it. It's easier to skip it than to work through it. Ah, hell. Here goes.
Step one: What are your hidden associations with the term "writer"? Fill in the following as rapidly as possible.
  1. Writers are published.
  2. Writers are passionate.
  3. Writers are critically acclaimed.
  4. Writers are better informed than me.
  5. Writers are bottomless wells of creativity.
  6. Writers are organized: they make plot outlines and character summaries, write easy rough drafts that they spend hours perfecting.
  7. Writers are members of writers' groups that buoy them up.
  8. Writers are in tune with humanity.
  9. Writers are confident in their abilities.
  10. Writers are up on my pedestal.
Step two: Convert the negative associations to positive affirmations.
Here's where I struggle. Writers have what I don't have and could never hope to attain. Think of the Greek Gods: the perfection of ideals. Real writers appear to me a pantheon of gods: Margaret Atwood is Zeus; John Steinbeck is Hera; Stephen King is Hades; Cormac McCarthy is Ares; Mo Willems is, ah hell I don't know who he is but he's up there too, along with Luis Alberto Urrea, Anne Lamott, Sarah Waters, Jodi Picoult, Ursula LeGuin, the myriad other authors I read and respect. There's no way I could occupy the same space.

Only I have occupied the same space. I sat in the same room with Urrea not 12 months ago at the Tucson Festival of Books. I'd just read In Search of Snow and it floored me. And there he was, sitting on the edge of a plastic 6-foot table, talking easily about his own work, the work of other authors, and answering questions from aspiring writers about their work. Halfway through his talk I realized I was sitting next to his wife. Regular people, not Gods.

The struggle: Writers have what I don't have and could never hope to attain.
Convert: I am a writer. I have what it takes and I can attain a measure of what my most admired published writers have attained.

I think that's what I'm meant to achieve with this exercise. For the sake of completing the busywork, however:

  1. Writers are published becomes Writers write. Applied to myself: I'm writing right now, aren't I?
  2. Writers are passionate becomes Writers are passionate. Applied to myself: The passion is there, it's just been buried for half my life. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes...
  3. Writers are critically acclaimed becomes ... I don't know. This one's hard. Writers are sometimes acclaimed but more often criticized. This assumes the writer's work is published. This assumes publication is the goal of writing. That's where the work lies for this statement, I think. The process of writing in many ways is more important than the product of writing.
  4. Writers are better informed than me becomes Writers pay attention to what's important to them at that point in their lives. I've been carrying so much baggage lately that I'm poorly informed about world events. Survival instinct turns all my thoughts inward, to my own life, so that I didn't even know those Chilean miners were surviving underground until they started coming to the surface this week; I barely knew a thing about Haiti, or Pakistan, or the BP oil spill. The same survival instinct turned me off even to my own thoughts, because if I explored them too deeply I'd find I couldn't cope. I've been body surfing the waves of my own life because I'm too scared to break the surface and scuba dive the coral reef. In a way, writing would force me to break the surface. Before now I wasn't ready to take the plunge. I'm still not too sure.
  5. Writers are bottomless wells of creativity becomes Everyone has blockage somewhere. But "bottomless well of creativity" still seems more positive to me than "blockage." That's not the point, though, is it?
  6. Writers are organized: they make plot outlines and character summaries, write easy rough drafts that they spend hours perfecting becomes Writers have their own methods. Personally, I spend a lot of time rolling ideas around in my head before anything even makes it to paper. And all that rolling around can happen while I'm doing other things, like washing the dishes or walking the dog.
  7. Writers are members of writers' groups that buoy them up becomes I am a member of a writers' group that buoys me up. No matter we haven't met in over a year; I still know I can count on Charlie and Molly and Judy if I want to submit work to them.
  8. Writers are in tune with humanity becomes Writers explore humanity through writing. I can do that, too.
  9. Writers are confident in their abilities. I've got nothing to back this up. It's probably not true, and certainly not true of myself.
  10. Writers are up on my pedestal becomes It's my pedestal, isn't it?

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