Friday, May 25, 2012

Why Do You Write?

The last few years in my (writing) life have been a roller-coaster. I state that parenthetically because it seems that what I am learning as a writer is being wildly influenced by what I am learning in my life. And vice versa. 

I don't know why at forty-blah-blah years old I am finally learning stuff I really should have learned in my thirties (and preferably in my twenties; I mean it would have been nice to get it over with way back then), but here I am. All fresh and nearly fifty and finally figuring out that, Baby, your self-esteem had better be coming from the right place, or your writing life is going to be death on melba toast. And so will a lot of the rest of your life too.

Here's the thing: Like most people, I've survived some crazy stuff in life. I'm proud of it (not as proud as surviving a bird-beak to my back, or a weekend in Barsoom, but still. Proud.) I could be a whackadoo who spends her life wearing a tea-cozy on her head and banging on an old ceiling fan with a Harry Potter wand-replica whilst singing "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy" in Sanskrit. (Which would be a trick.) But I'm not. Mostly. And that's a good thing.

Yet somehow, I have reached a certain age--which, according to everything I read should render me altogether wise, mysterious, and alluring--and still find myself struggling with the ole self-image.

And that, as a writer, is disastrous.

Writing is solitary. Meaning, you don't do it in front of a crowd and you don't get a lot of instant feedback.   If you're a member of a writer's group, you might get some feedback once or twice a month. But not every day. And if your group is full of your besties, then the feedback you are getting may not be entirely, shall we say, objective. Or even truthful. Nope. Most of the time as a writer you sit in front of your computer churning out words that people may or may not care about, and it is very possible that you will never know. An agent may never pick you up. Your blog may never gather a crowd. And if you do gather a crowd, they may be the shy quiet types who don't comment. 

If your self-esteem is tied up in all of this--if at the end of the day you are writing (or doing anything, really) in order to fill yourself up with worth, it's gonna be a tough ride. I know. I tried it.

What happens is this: "OMIGOSH! I have followers! Wooot! People like me! I might succeed! Yay! Wait! I lost a follower! AAAUUUGH! Why? Why did they leave me? Was it something I said? Ooh, I got a compliment! WOW! I might be really cool and a great writer and probably I have awesome hair! How come no one commented on THAT post? Maybe it was badly written. Maybe it wasn't edgy enough. Maybe I'm out of touch. MAYBE I CAN'T WRITE. What? You liked my post? You, dear agent, would represent me because you like my style except the market is glutted with sparkly paranormals right now? YAY! I CAN WRITE! I'M THE NEXT JK ROWLING! I JUST NEED A NEW PLOT IDEA! GASP! I lost two Twitter followers! Maybe I offended them! I'M NOT THE PIONEER WOMAN! I can't write! ACK! I should quit! And my haircut is probably bad!

Yeah. That is exhausting. And not particularly productive. Instead, why not write, create, build, make, paint, choreograph, account, invent, act, sing, dance, engineer, medicate, bake, or whatever it is that you want to do--for the pure joy of doing it? Let the ends of your creating be the creating itself. Not you yourself. That way whatever you do will live longer. And so will you.

Here's what I think we should do instead: Go out there and love. Ourselves and others. Then once we're all full of esteem--because that's what love freely given does-- we go knock the socks off of a plot. That's what I'm working on. And I'm starting all over with a blank page creating the world of my book. Without my security attached. We'll see how it's different this time.


J. M. Dow said...

Good grief do I relate to this. I get followers and views on my blog and my mood bounces all around like a superball in a rubber room. I worry about being too commercial, too uncommercial, blah, blah, blah.

Your idea is the right idea, I think. Write what you want to write how you want to write it and the audience will find you.

Great post.

Janiel Miller said...

Thanks JM! And even if the audience doesn't find you, or takes forever to find you. you're still a good and valuable person. So it's all good. :)

Cassidy Wadsworth said...

Love this, Janiel! I'm making a new mantra.

postmormon girl said...

Sounds so familiar. I love writing but sometimes my self-esteem gets just a little too tangled up in needing self-validation. Then I have to take a step back and just write for myself, no audience required.

William Kendall said...

Does it count if I answer that I write because my silly side wishes to be unleashed?

Maegan Langer said...

I think this is why we're always being told "write the book you want to read." That's what I try to keep in mind whenever I'm writing, to write something I would enjoy. That's not to say I always get it right, because I sure don't, but it's a healthy place to start, IMHO.

And there are definitely a few people in my head who represent my silly side and need to be unleashed in some form, or else I would be the one with a tea cozy on my head, singing I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy in Sanskrit.

Janiel Miller said...

Unleashing the silly side--or any side--might be the best reason to write. It feels so good to get some of that stuff out of the head to where you can look it square in the eye. Love that.

Write what you want to read. I've lost track of that over the years I think. Glad to be reminded. That's a very healthy approach.

densleyjazzfan said...

i dig the fot now I gots to read the words

Russo said...

You made me giggle when you mentioned my bird post. You are so kind, girl. And you could pull off wearing a tea-cozy on your head.

I loved your advice-Go out there and love. beautiful, my dear friend.