Why We Write and How it Can Save Us
As writers, we often do our very best work when we're living in the moment, spilling truth onto the page. After all, inhabiting the present rather than rushing ahead in time is important when we're crafting our work. When we're truly in the moment, the work can come alive. But how can we stay in the present while the Internet keeps prodding, the phone keeps ringing, the kitchen needs cleaning, the boss needs that report?
My answer? By taking "career" out of the picture.
It's only one way of doing things, but for me, it's an important one. After all, when I stop worrying about my career, I let go of my ego. My ego is the voice that says, "Yes, but is this good enough? You should do something differently. Definitely differently. And what about your career? I mean, if you include that scene, it won't be marketable. I think this needs compression anyway. No wait! You need to sit there longer and that character is so flat...."
That isn't to say that I shouldn't try to make my work as good as it can be. Rather, I want to make sure I'm not trapped or stalled by self-criticism and bottomless doubt. You know what I mean, I'm sure. It's all too easy to make my writing an attempt at pride or an expression of shame. But when I focus on the work and how it might affect people's lives, my own life included, something inside me shifts. I say, "My work isn't about whether I'm good enough. My work is about my work."
For one thing, when we remember this, we often start to have more fun. And when we're not interfering with our flow, the work gets to live and breathe. "This work will touch someone deeply," we might say. "It will help them to [insert phrase that feels meaningful]. It will help me to [another phrase needed]." And this can support us through critiques or moments when we realize something along the lines of "Oh no! My protagonist can't do that! I need to rewrite this whole section."
After all, why do we write? I don't know about you, but I write because I want to touch someone, or find meaning, or make meaning, or live truth. I know I will publish what I need to publish, because whether I indie publish or work with a press isn't actually so important. What is important is the work, the words, the art. This is what I remind myself to remember.
Van Gogh knew this. You may well have heard me share his story before, but it bears repeating. He sold one painting in his lifetime. One single work. And this didn't make him any less of an artist. (I mean, given the power his work now holds for so many, would you say Van Gogh was unsuccessful in his work?) In fact, when he suffered from acute psychological illness, he painted the ravine* he could see from his asylum window.
When I was going through a very hard time in my life, I used to go the MFA in Boston and sit in front of Van Gogh's Ravine. I'd sit for an hour, lost in the piece. And then I'd remember. I'd remember why I'm on this earth. I'd tell myself, I'm here to love and create. And then, I'd breathe again. All this, because Van Gogh loved a piece enough to create it. Van Gogh deeply affected my life — and the lives of many others.
So, next time you find yourself wallowing in fear, pride, shame, or worry, remind yourself that your work isn't about being good enough, or selling a zillion copies, or creating a work of staggering genius.
I'll bet your work is about something else. Something far deeper. Can you put your finger on what that is?
Is it something to do with love?
*The featured image is of Van Gogh's Ravine, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the MFA.
Sue Williams is co-founder of Here Booky Booky (herebookybooky.com) where authors' works are made into beautiful books. With a background in psychology, education, and online marketing, she is an instructor and confidence coach at Grub Street and has published her short stories at a variety of magazines and journals including Narrative (where she also worked as an editor), Salamander, the Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere. Under her pen name, Sue is agented, has published a novel and several collections, writes columns on sexuality and spirituality, and also runs an indie press. As Sue, she works as a marketing assistant for branding and marketing expert Dorie Clark, and also coaches writers who are looking to build their confidence and platforms. Find out more at www.herebookybooky.com and www.suewilliams.co.ukSee other articles by Susan Williams