Sunday, April 18, 2010

Giving up on writing

The last few weeks, I've heard the same question from several well-meaning friends and relatives: "Have you given up?"

Ignoring the thought for the moment that, in my relatives' cases at least, this refers to my weight -- which has ballooned far north of the ability to wear the fat clothes in my closet -- I'm pretty sure they're talking about my writing. Or lack of it. I still do contract writing for small businesses (and one large corporation I will decline to name), but this is not what anyone I know thinks of as "writing." They want me to write stories.

In the not-so-distant past, I used to write stories. Stories about funny episodes from my childhood, or something absurd that had happened to me as an adult or, more likely, something completely ridiculous I had done that had turned out all screwy. I also used to blog, too, although we all know I was never really consistent at that.

But back to this question, which I guess I was not all that surprised to hear. I have wondered this same thing myself over the last year and a half, during which I got laid off from the magazine I helped found and struggled to find anyone who would give me even the most menial work. The writing I did during this time was angry, self-pitying sometimes and not at all good. Not at all. I am a terrible critic of my own work (aren't we all?) but I felt like whatever creative spark lived inside me had said, "That's it, I'm getting out of here," packed up and joined the Peace Corps. If it ever came back, it was going to be changed and probably all self-righteous. Then I realized it wasn't creativity I was missing -- it was the ability to actually work long and hard at the craft of writing. It's not easy. And those of you who say writing  comes easily are probably writing bullshit anyway.

Here's my struggle with all of this: There's a huge disconnect between what I want to write and what I think I "can" write. I mean what's acceptable to write. I prefer reading, and writing about, the darker, smudgy side of life. I like ambiguity and uncertainty and shades of gray. Humans are more interesting as stained, imperfect creatures. I don't want to write sweet, happy prose about how awesome my neighborhood is or how I am an expert on yada yada subject. I want to tear your heart out. If I can't do that, then I really will give up.


  1. I like. I like a lot. I'm just too tired to think of anything better to comment, but I'll be back.

  2. Hi,

    I just found your blog by googling "hopelessly square" and wondering what I would get. I left a comment after that post before I realized it was from November. I just wanted to tell you not to give up. People will say things like that because they are well-meaning and think it will help and don't realize it does the opposite. Write for yourself. Write all the stuff you want. Do it because you can and you're funny and good at it. For now, don't bother thinking about the person on the other end. My two cents.

  3. Linda, I adore you. Bless you for the comment.

  4. A professor once told me to write as if my entire family were dead. As if it were totally anonymous and no one whose opinion I cared about would ever read it. It has proved to be good advice, if a little morbid. I say write what you want, the darker the better, and screw those 23424 people you meet in purgatory or whatever else other folks write about.

    To that end, I love your piece on the paddling. If that's the direction you're wanting to go, keep going.