Thursday, March 3, 2011

on writing

I am cross-posting this from my tumblr, because. . . what the hell.


My writerly friends, I am curious.

How do you define a good day of writing?

I’m not really a writer…

A good day of writing —

Oh laws.

You know, I didn’t use to have issues with identifying myself as a writer? And one would think it was fairly straightforward, whether or not one is a writer: But I have a HISTORY with that word. From the age of about seven, on up until the age of thirteen — before the onslaught of high school and sanctioned extracurriculars — I actually got up at 6 every morning (in middle school, it got pushed back to 5) to write. Just to write, for an hour, or two, or three. My daily output started at about a page a day in “Creative Writer” (did anyone else have this word processor for kids???? am I alone in my appreciation of Zeke the purple-skinned facilitator of artistic pursuits???) — maybe 500 words — and was probably up to 2,000 to 5,000 words a day by the time high school hit. These were stories, almost universally fantasy fiction, lots of talking animals and unicorns and sorcerers. With sixth grade came a journal — holy shit did I journal the hell out of my life. I had ideas, dammit! I was not going to forget my ideas! I had zero problem with the word “writer” at that point, and have around eighty partially-finished stories, ranging in length from 2,500 to around 90,000 words, to prove the point (and that’s not including the stuff that was lost on my family’s very first computer.)

And then high school, when writing started getting slotted in: Unless you’re doing itfor something, a paper or contest or speech or what-have-you, there’s no point. There’s no time. And yeah, I was still a pretty prolific writer in high school, and I won some awards and crap for things I had produced — American Legion speeches, Scholastic Writing Awards, a few other minor things. I should note that every three months saw me producing a 20- to 40-page package of letters and writing for my beloved penpal and editing a similar-size package for her in return.

Writing, to me, was a big fucking deal.

And then college, where I got confused all to hell.

I don’t know why I picked the major I picked — because up until college there was never any doubt in my mind that the ultimate goal was to make my living writing. Not an iota of a doubt. I might study something else, I might do something else to pay bills and put a roof over my head, but WRITING. That was the thing.

I blame college (okay, and AP English Literature) for teaching me to write truly shitty papers. For teaching me that, yeah, I can get up at 5 AM the morning a paper is due and pound something out that will get me at A-. If I didn’t have to put in the effort to survive, I wasn’t gonna. There was that — but there was also, for the first time in my life, an actual social scene that I, personally, could participate in; there was food to eat and places to explore; there was architecture; there was design; there were a host of things (like Japanese and theater) that were really cool and interesting but that I wasn’t really that good at. Instead of honing and specializing my interests I seemed to have given them steroids and encouraged them to metastasize all over the damn place.

I wrote papers — I wrote a couple essays — I started a blog — I started two stories. I wrote a couple poems, particularly after the flood that swept through my family’s home and business in spring 2007 — but at some point, I seem to have broken my self-designation as writer.

And yeah, I’d like it back. I’ve blogged (in my other blog! heh) about my “resolutions” — to be focused, to be write more. But I don’t think I really set down my anxiety, my skittishness, the way I feel my heart and mind to be hopskotching over the world and back — I was that to quiet. I’m hesitant to classify myself using a medical term, but my inability to stay still for long enough to write out — to spin my experiences and my dreams and the stories that my brain continues to churn in hopes that some day I will manage to sit down and knit them together into a kind of reality (only it’s more like getting in shape to run a marathon, really) — it makes me feel disordered. In all senses of the word; wrong, messy, difficult to describe, entropic.

So with this mess — what makes a good day of writing?

I like numbers, solid things, even though they don’t tell much of the whole business — 1,000 words is okay; 3,000 words is pretty good. Stuff like what I’ve just written here — this doesn’t make for a “good writing day,” for me. Something needs to be about more than me, to pull from more than just my brain smashing around inside my skull, to be good. In general, fiction makes me feel good; a good paper, with careful thoughts, makes me feel good; it helps, on the nonfiction side, if it’s aboutmy research and my project. (At least, judging from the papers I can re-read and not flinch at.)

I am not the sort of person who typically posts things without a few rounds of basic editing — at least, checking for typos and sensibility and good stuff like that. I’m not so good at checking for insufferability and obnoxious levels of navel-gazingness.

It’s a good day of writing if… if I can re-read what I’ve written and clearly see myself in it. I don’t know if this happens to other people, but I tend to become an echo chamber for whatever I’m reading at the time — whatever its particular ideas, sense of humor, style of writing tend to be. It takes me a while to digest and incorporate and re-issue in Sharonized (TM) format. (And maybe that’s why I could never write much in college? Because there was too much going in and not enough time to let it settle down into a buildable material instead of uncatchable dust motes.) I have a very particular sense of humor while writing — it’s not loud and it’s not laughing-outright funny; it’s queer and pokey and rather gentle, and if it’s present in what I finished it’s a safe bet that I feel like I had a good day writing.

I once had a writing instructor tell me that for me, it wasn’t so much that I was creating a new world with my words as cutting swathes through my imagination for a reader to follow.

Maybe that explains why it’s so intimidating to start with anything I’ve been dreaming about for a while; but, that too, defines a good day writing: When I actually have the energy and the courage to dive into the tangle with a machete, instead of wimping out and taking a walk around the edge.


  1. For the record:

    I have always thought of you as a writer, and still do.

    I love what you write, and love being right behind you, peering eagerly over your shoulder, as you hack through your imagination with great, sweeping strokes. Or sometimes poke at it suspiciously, or prod it tentatively--those times, too.

    I have never had any doubt that I will be reading your books one day, and find them looking shiny and appealing on a bookstore shelf. I know I'm looking forward to that novel you were sending me once upon had a talking horse, I believe, and an endearing heroine and some staggering geography. It was delightful.

  2. Holy crap I should get back to that. . .

    Thank you so much. Your reassurance is always much-appreciated, for both the spirit and eloquence of the word. :)

    Incidentally, next time I write to you, I will have at least 15 pages of new writing to send. . . so being at home has done me some good.