For anyone who thinks that being a writer is glamorous, I have two words for you: as if. Being a writer is a lot of things — challenging, all-encompassing, sleep-reducing, stress-inducing, and, if you’re very, very lucky, satisfying and well-received — but glamorous is not one of them. On the days when the words just elude you, when the next idea is not even a seed but whatever precedes the seed, when it feels like your imagination needs recalibration — those are the moments when, to quote the advice that Edward Norton’s character (a young priest) receives from his mentor, played by Milos Forman, in Keeping the Faith: “if you can see yourself being happy doing anything else you should do that.”
I once worked with someone who would say to me each time she came into my office, “I don’t know how you keep coming up with new creative ideas. Don’t you ever run out?” My response — “I can’t worry about that. If I do, I will run out” — was somewhat disingenuous. Of course, I worry about that. Every. Single. Day. Because my words are my living. Fortunately for me, for every moment I wish I had gone to law school instead, there are more times when the words show up and writer’s block has been blocked. At least for that day.
The other tough thing about being a writer is the price it exacts from you. Your time and energy. Your self-esteem and self-consciousness. Your heart. And your soul. Because, as a writer, you leave a piece of yourself behind on the page. You open yourself up to your readers and trust that they will not trample all over your way-too-sensitive feelings. You fight back the fear of being so vulnerable and hope that your readers get you. You play the game of devil’s advocate with yourself — it is / it isn’t good enough, funny enough, clever enough, touching enough, smart enough — because you cannot play anything but yourself to your reading audience.
A good writing day is like finishing a marathon. Like landing a quadruple toe loop on the ice. Like swinging for the fences and watching the ball go up, up and all the way over the Green Monster.
A not-so-good writing day? Let’s just say that you spend so much time hitting the “delete” key that you hope it doesn’t portend your future — and doesn’t end up tattooed on your forehead.
So why do it? Because for all of the scary, what-do-I-do-now moments; for all those impasses where I have no clue as to what exactly my point is and where exactly the piece is going; for all the time spent cleaning out a closet, or color-coordinating my crayons, or trying to determine whether bangs are a good idea (alas, not for me) instead of staring at a blinking cursor that is making me feel cursed — for all of that, there is the exhilaration of finding my way, of discovering the exact words I need, of crafting a piece of writing that I absolutely fall in love with.
Because that’s the other thing about choosing the writing path. It’s an act of love, of commitment, of faith.
Until commas do us part.
ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman