Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Am I a writer?

I've always made my living in writing-related industries. I started out doing mindless data entry at a newspaper, because I respected the role of journalism in our society and hoped to be a journalist myself one day. Then I got hip to magazines, and that magazine writing paid more (most of the time). After almost five years of that, I moved to another country and when I came back, I couldn't get my foot back in the door of the old company. So I started writing ad copy, which was insanely easy for me to do. But I hated myself for it being so easy, if that makes any sense. Then I quit and started freelance writing. Fell into it, actually. I didn't have to look for anything, because all my clients were word-of-mouth or friends of friends. I also didn't make much money because I wasn't willing or able to do the hard work involved in finding and keeping clients.

While freelancing, my portfolio (pretty from working with so many great designers) caught the attention of someone who put me on the short list to edit a new magazine. I'd never been a "real" editor before. I felt up to the challenge. But then I hardly ever got to write anything. Wasn't that what I really wanted to do?

This is where I'm stuck right now. Isn't writing what I'm supposed to be doing? Everyone thinks so. Any time I bring up my frustration to my mom, she says, "But you're such a talented writer!" to which I wonder, when was the last time she read something I wrote? Can I spin a yarn about my early years or highlight the absurdity of my former in-laws or reveal embarrassing details about myself? Sure, because I was born into a family of natural storytellers. And I was born in a weird place in Mississippi (all places in Mississippi are weird to an extent, but Foxworth is special) that has all the elements of Southern Gothic with more absurdity and without any of the highbrow literary leanings. Everybody's got a hundred funny and/or morbid stories.

But a talented writer can weave a story out of thin air. I cannot do this. My mind starts out in high gear but quickly shuts down when I see the illogic in what I'm going to say. I think I would have made a better lawyer than writer, because I can argue against myself and win every time. I shoot down my own ideas and nothing, nothing is ever good enough.

So, fine. I have high (-ish) standards. Most good writers do. But here's where good writers and I part company: They work at their craft. I don't know what has happened to me, but I can barely make myself tweet something and I certainly don't write in a journal any more. I'm not sure if it's just the physical nature of writing -- it does require you to be pinned down, sometimes for hours at a time, and often with little to show for it at the end -- or the fact that I feel like my imagination and creativity have been completely dessicated. I don't really have "ideas" any more. I have random, fleeting thoughts ("I wonder if the neighbor who never comes out of the house during the day is a drug dealer") but I don't act on them. I don't jot dialogue down in a notebook I keep in my purse (I used to do this). I don't write.

I have managed to make a bland blog post about my frustration, but is that writing? The ability to string words together does not make you a writer. Having a blog does not make you a writer. A writer can't imagine doing anything else but writing. It's both a career and a lifestyle. Is it possible that I ended up in a career by circumstance when I should have been doing something else? How does anyone ever know that the path they're on is the right one?

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