Stuck in self-realization

I had a lot of thoughts to straighten out yesterday, so I spent some time writing in my journal. (I used to write in it a lot, but then I discovered that I could vent and whine on twitter.) What struck me about the most recent entries (aside from the increasing length of time between entries) was that their themes were so similar. Same concerns, same fears, same complaints, same aspirations.

I've kept journals off and on since ~1992. It's pretty clear to me that anyone who reads them in sequence would come away with the idea that I am a fragile, miserable, inchoate lunatic. This false impression is due to pre-selection of the data. When things are going well in my life, I don't sit down to write about it - I spend my time living and enjoying life.

The only things that I journal about are the difficult, painful, tangled thoughts that require the clarity of the written word to be processed, absorbed and understood. I don't know if other people do it this way, using their journals as a brain dump for the worst of what's going in inside their heads, but that's how I do it.

And what's clear from my half-dozen most recent entries is that my relationship to writing fiction isn't bringing me any satisfaction, let alone joy. How bad is it? When I initially wrote the first sentence of this paragraph, I realized I had to change "my writing fiction" to "my relationship to writing fiction", since I've done so damned little actual writing in the last year. I've spent some time understanding the draft novel I have waiting on my desk, and have come up with the crucial improvement that will lift it from mucky crap to a serious, potent work, one which I'm almost certainly not talented enough to bring to fruition. Those notations and a few pages of fresh prose to frame in the idea are all I have to show by way of progress.

Aside from that? I've been unable (or unwilling?) to write much of anything for more than a year. I occasionally scribble down ideas and concepts for new stories, but my heart isn't in it. There's too much noise, too much self-doubt, too much despair. In the bleakest moments, I feel that I've more or less lost the right to even consider myself a writer, let alone to call myself one.

Why do it if it isn't fun? Why torture myself with a Sisyphean exercise? Why not give it up and devote my energies entirely to something more productive? Why can't I just quit? I'm not getting anywhere, so why can't I quit?

||| Comments are welcome |||
Help keep the words flowing.

8 comments:

  1. Two thoughts here…

    "I'm almost certainly not talented enough to bring [this novel] to fruition." Says who? When I first started reading your #FridayFlash, I went hunting for your work at the bookstore. I figured there was just no way someone who could write that well was not on the shelves. (Okay, I've learned a lot about the publishing boys' club that some laughably call an "industry" since then.) Reading your stuff has made me a better writer. Besides, and now I descend into personal theology here, creation is a gift of the Creator. I firmly believe if you are given a story idea, you have the ability to make it happen.

    "Why can't I just quit?" Because… um… you're a real writer? "If you can quit, quit. If you can't quit, you're a writer."

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    1. I'm humbled by this, Larry. Thank you.

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  2. What Larry said. I couldn't say it any better. He is absolutely spot-on.

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  3. I want to echo Larry's second thought. I was struck, as I believe he was, by the repetition of "why can't I...quit?"

    If you can't quit, you're a writer, a teller of stories. You even hedge on the idea that you've "...more or less lost the right..." That's you being unable (or unwilling?) to give up on the idea of you, the writer.

    As to Sisyphus...it wasn't all bad. He had something to do...and he did it. May not have always been fun...but he did it.

    My eye/ear caught the other line that forms the basis of Larry's first thought: "I'm almost certainly not talented enough..." but I dismissed it. Harsh, I know. But I've read your writing.

    I'm currently reading some of Arthur C Clarke's earlier short stories. The technique he displayed later isn't there...couldn't be. But the stories...they're the important thing. We (and he) get better by writing our stories.

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  4. "If you can quit, quit. If you can't quit, you're a writer."

    This. Also, this needs to be on a t-shirt. And a mug. And a tote bag.

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  5. As I thought about this, I thought about my own situation. I've shared those thoughts ... I look at what gets published and think, "if that's what people want, then who's going to want to read what I write?" And I find myself running into my own anhedonia, not having the drive or energy to take my ideas and put them on paper. But I still manage to break through sometimes, because the creative force doesn't't let me quit, not completely.

    It's like "Fiddler Jones" in Spoon River Anthology, if I may quote:

    THE EARTH keeps some vibration going
    There in your heart, and that is you.
    And if the people find you can fiddle,
    Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.

    Substitute "write" for "fiddle". That's you , Tony. Don't give up.

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  6. Janet, Kevin, Katherine (and Janet again!),

    I've been thinking deeply on your comments this weekend. I appreciate your taking the time to share them.

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  7. I've been on the verge, multiple times, of just giving up on EVERYTHING, much less writing, so I know whereof you speak. Here are a few things that have kept me going:
    1. Accept that not everything you write will be great, and that's okay. You get better from practice. Think about how many strikes Babe Ruth had, but he kept on swinging.
    2. Read somebody else's published crap. This can be a little dangerous if you have the mindset of "if Snooki can get published and I can't, there must be something wrong with me." But I find that reading other people's crap reinvigorates me because, hell, I can do better than that.
    3. Find the right inspiration. If you haven't read Jeff Goins's Writer's Manifesto, that's a good place to start. We might scoff that pep talks are all head games, but they're head games that work.
    4. When you start thinking that writing doesn't make you happy, change your perspective. Get a longer view. There are plenty of times when writing doesn't make me happy, but then I think of what my life would be like if I just stopped. A life without writing, I think, would be utterly miserable.
    5. Find other writers. Are you in a writer's group? I bet you can find one a MeetUp of local writers. It'll give you chance to bitch and moan and WRITE with people who get it the way you do.

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