January 9, 2017 by Julia
I am waiting while working. I am waiting for the novel I’m supposed to write. On my good days, I believe that there must exist a story I can wholeheartedly devote myself to, so much so that I am excited to spend countless hours writing it. I know to “wait for inspiration” is not the usual advice. Everyone says that you must just write. So, I keep writing, and waiting.
I like the practical skill-building ethic of “just write,” and have found the other options intolerable. (Melt into a depressed puddle, pretend I don’t care about writing, or falsely comfort myself in procrastination with dreams of how good I could be if only _______.) I am writing because I don’t really have a choice; it’s my first creative desire as well as my last resort.
Even if it’s confused rambling crap, I aim for ten hours a week, in between volunteering and appointments and doing mom stuff. Sometimes I dissect half-baked ideas for a possible novel, or I write for this blog, or submit an essay or story for the occasional contest or publication, trying to make the writing more real. Despite my doubts about the point of it all, stumbling around on the page rather than just inside my head is better than not-writing – barely.
It’s hard to keep going when you know it’s terrible, and sometimes it’s terrible for a while. There have been serious bouts of writer’s block, which I experience as lacking a clear story or subject but still feeling an overwhelming desire to write about something, anything. It’s like you have all these feelings bottled up but can’t cry, yell or speak. The only antidote that I know of is to write even when the writing is bad.
Having school-aged kids for the first time this year, I am feeling the pressure to suddenly “be a writer” in ways that I wasn’t before. But already the days fill up and I still feel busy. I long for something substantial, a project that I can keep coming back to. My life is scattered; it would be nice if my writing were a less-scattered place of refuge. I am not afraid of work. I just want meaningful work. Don’t we all? I am working now, but still waiting for the meaning.
I love stories. Long stories, that give you a chance to get to know everyone and have feelings about them. But I am unsure of myself with fiction, now that I am ready to try it again. My blog has fostered a memoir-like habit: I write from wherever I’m at personally, go along until it starts to show a theme or point, and then I edit it down (usually not enough). I’m afraid though that I’ve forgotten how to imagine plots. My inner devil’s advocate tears every idea down before it has a chance to ferment, or blossom.
I have moments of certainty and excitement when it feels like I’ve come upon something, and then the feeling fades by the next day when I look back at the idea. It might present practical difficulties that I am already bored by, or it sounds too heavy-handed, or there is no real conflict, or it’s not my story to tell and I sound presumptuous. Or it contains things I don’t like, such as aliens. Yes, aliens. My gut tells me I’m not the person to write about aliens.
And with each discarded plot I lose confidence, which doesn’t help. Writing is such an independent, solitary endeavor, especially in the beginning; if you can’t believe in yourself, who will push you along? If you can’t trust your own instincts, who will be your guide? We’ve all been led astray by our own intuition at points, straight into creative dead ends. I recognize that as part of the process. But I’ve got to keep believing that despite the detours, when it matters most, I will know the difference between what is crap, and what is inspired. And if I haven’t yet felt that certainty about a story, then I must not have come up with the right one yet. Hence, the waiting.
I am learning that there is no “arrival,” in any endeavor. I don’t imagine that even fulfilling my wildest dreams of publication would satisfy me for very long if I weren’t still writing and enjoying the work. There will be no “done.” I still feel a bit petulant about that, even frightened to find out how disillusioning it could be to finally “make it.”
Then I must remind myself, really – it’s okay. Because I love to write. If I write forever and it never becomes a career, I will still have that love. And I can still engage the world with my writing, on my own terms, if need be. I don’t want to fixate on publication as my only goal. I know it will carry its own disappointments and struggles just like anything else. But if I can hold fast to this love of writing, and keep sharing my writing, and continue to increase my dexterity and insight, though – then I will probably be okay, whether I’m ever published or not.
Sometimes, when I am questioning everything, I do wonder if I am wrong to wait on my next novel. Maybe I should just start with a few characters, a situation, and see what kind of story develops as I go along. It sounds to me like trying to make cookies without a recipe, though. Novels are hard enough to bake even with a recipe – I wrote my first novel with a complete outline, and it wasn’t easy. Maybe I should be cooking, instead of baking. Chefs can make it up as they go along, inspired by what’s in season, by what looks good on a plate, by what ingredients look most fresh and enticing to them in the moment. It takes experience and training to know what works, though. Maybe I am still in culinary school.
Moments of desperation over the past few months tell me that it’s time to drop the comforting superiority that disparages writing prompts or random contests. No reason to pretend that I am anything but a fool for writing, like thousands of others, better than some, worse than some, but that doesn’t matter. Even if I don’t entirely care about the subject of the prompt or question upon first glance – I want to learn to find the right angle on just about anything, so that I can care enough to write about it with power. That seems like a good skill to develop, if you’re obsessed with writing.
It will keep me working while I am waiting.