For the past eight weeks, I’ve been teaching an incredible group of writers. And as much as I hope they’re learning something by listening so generously to me, I suspect I’m the one coming out ahead. Thanks to their questions during our last class, for instance, I found myself articulating something it’s taken me years to fully realize, despite the simplicity of the general idea. It is this: We are 100% responsible for our own writing.
Perhaps that seems 100% obvious. But while most of us, if pressed, might ease our way toward this realization, we oftentimes fail to act on it. Maybe this is because, as writers, we always have potential audiences yammering away in our heads, or we’re always worrying about whether or not agents and publishers will ever look our way, or we’re afraid our mother will find out that the witch in Chapter Three is not fiction after all. Not even a little bit.
But at the end of the day, whether or not we write is up to us. Responsibility, as someone once told me, isn’t just about what we need to take care of – it’s also about how we choose to respond. It’s a little annoying to realize this. I, for one, would much rather pass an afternoon nursing my emotional bruises so tenderly that I ultimately convince myself that I really can’t/shouldn’t write, after all, and that I need to spend the afternoon eating chocolate and staring at a screen because I’m feeling so very sorry for myself. This is delicious work, let me tell you. But ultimately, it sours. Ultimately, it’s far more empowering and invigorating to shut down the pity party and realize this glorious thing: No matter what happens, no matter what anyone says, no matter how many real or imagined rejections I receive, all I have to do to write is pull out a piece of paper and a pencil.
And, as I’ve said so many times before, the more we write, the better the writing becomes. I don’t simply mean that we produce better writing, though that is true. But what counts, what changes our lives is when the writing — the expression of our voices, the discovery of new lines of thought and connection, the relationship to language and communication – gets better. This is worth sacrificing any number of afternoons on the couch, no matter how soft and comforting it might be there. The feeling of new muscles flexing and our hearts beating surely and soundly; this is what it feels like to actually be living our lives.
Art: Georgia O’Keefe, White Flower #1