When writing fades to black

Writing haunts me like a bad-burrito-and-beer night; it stings my gut, a constant reminder of the denial that I have consumed for well over a decade.

I had my chance when I was accepted into journalism long ago, but it faded to black when, among a myriad of personal hiccoughs, I realized I had to do TV.

TV? Are you kidding me? I want to write. Then came radio and voice-overs (um, not really my thing) and spelling, oh lord, the spelling. I got my first F on an assignment when I spelled Michael with the “e” before the “a.” Curses spell check. When a straight-A student gets her first F in her coveted craft, confidence will take a nosedive — guaranteed.

In the end, the only real tangible thing that came out of out of two years of journalism for me was — m-i-c-h-a-e-l. Yea, I know, an utterly crappy and uninspired lesson to carry with you for the majority of your adult life. Mind you, I never wrote Michael wrong — ever again. Actually, I did not write anything again, period, for a long time. Naturally, it’s a little more complicated than that, and to be clear: I don’t blame journalism. I take full responsibility for my shortcomings at the time.

I just figured there were those who wrote — the chosen ones — and those who dreamed about writing but couldn’t spell Michael. So, I dropped out of journalism in third year to pursue a much more salient and transferable degree — English literature. Seriously.

But the truth is, I never stopped wanting to write, not for one second. I never stopped seeing stories unfold before me, or eavesdropping and appropriating conversations in the grocery line, writing haiku in bathroom stalls after too many tequilas and pitching ideas to strangely benign and supportive imaginary editors.

I also never shook the feeling that I was, somehow, not entitled to write. I have friends who are real artists, I would think — the chosen ones. I see now that’s a cart load of malarkey. But back then I had sufficient levels of post-adolescent angst to make quitting a hell of a lot easier than trying, and absolutely no common sense to persuade me that writing is just a skill. A skill by its very definition is something you learn and develop, a practiced ability.

Writing is not for the chosen few; it is for the committed and hardworking few who choose it. It is for people who exercise daily and allow themselves to fail along the way. Stephen King says it well: “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” But still you shovel.

So listen up. Here’s what happens when you don’t satisfy that writing itch. It doesn’t go away. It keeps on making noise. I don’t want to go all Oprah on you, but when you don’t follow your bliss, it follows you, several steps behind — submissive, gagged but present, always present. It becomes your indentured servant, waiting for little sound bites of freedom.

You may find yourself volunteering to start your company’s newsletter with an urgency that surprises and, frankly, scares your colleagues. You pour your very soul into letters-to-the-editor, and bask in the glory of publication when they print your three sentences berating the public transit system. Then you enter short story contests, amazed when you place second. It doesn’t even matter that they don’t pay you the $50 you won or that your friend won the year before and they didn’t pay her either. They published your story and that’s better than $50 — regardless of their questionable ethics. Then, when your confidence reaches a crescendo, you gather enough nerve to start blogging and even volunteer for a community paper. You’re still not ready to call yourself a writer, not by a long shot, but hey, you’re making progress.

So, go ahead, try to push it down. But like a great big plastic beach ball, I promise you it will bob back to the surface every time. Eventually, you may want to call a truce and pick it up, play with it a bit — have some fun.

One day, you may even find yourself writing a short cautionary tale on how not to pursue your writing career. And the day you see it in print, you will be nervous but downright giddy, because you’re finally getting the hang of this writing thing. Now, if only someone would pay you. When you don’t follow your bliss, it follows you, several steps behind — submissive, gagged but present, always present.

2 Comments on "When writing fades to black"

  1. Writing is in your blood and it shows!!

  2. Marnie Thomas | March 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm |

    Wow -hope it keeps on haunting you-good stuff.

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