It has been a rough week in the news, and I imagine that I don’t speak for just me when I say that what’s playing out in the screens is also affecting us in our hearts. On weeks like this, writing feels like looking up to the sky, lifting my face towards a God I don’t believe in, waiting for an answer. What can I possibly write to make anything better–for me or anyone else?
I have worked in many activist spaces and I think that activism requires much of the same thing that writing does. It requires an exceeding amount of work and dedication. It requires channeling money and time and effort, things that are highly prized and lauded in the eyes of society, into something that is generally devalued. It requires being OK with so much failure, and above all, it requires relentless, open-eyed faith that what you’re working toward has a greater purpose. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t wish that their book would impact someone else’s life.
Lots of people say that they write the best from sadness. The tormented artist. The misunderstood genius. And I’ve coaxed words out of my despair, but more often, losing faith in the world, for me, manifests as writer’s block.
This month, I have started and stopped several short pieces. I have tried to fill out grant applications and have consistently left them half-done. I have spent countless hours rewriting the same 20 first pages of my next book project (something that I was recently reminded I shouldn’t do) and I have fallen asleep in the middle of writing a single sentence more times than I can count.
Yesterday, I felt a ping of encouragement when I saw Jasmine Guillory, author of The Wedding Date, tweet that it must be hard for anyone trying to write a book right now. But I can think of so many meaningful things that must be so hard to do right now. Teaching a high school classroom, working at an understaffed health clinic, raising a little kid.
Shout out to everyone trying to write a book in the middle of all of this. Sending virtual cocktails, chocolates, pizza, or whatever else you need to get through.
— Jasmine Guillory (@thebestjasmine) September 26, 2018
In an earlier post this week, fellow author and contributor to this blog Devi S. Laskar said something about work life balance that I thought was so beautiful: “It’s all life. It’s all work.”
I want to think of this the next time I come down on myself for not meeting some arbitrary deadline. If you’d caught me on another day, I might have given different advice about how to write a novel that nobody believes in but you: maybe something about enrolling in generative novel-writing classes, about finding a partner who also makes art, about setting aside weekends to cancel all plans and hole yourself up in your room.
Those things are all helpful tips, but I think what you need, above all, is faith that what you’re producing is worthwhile somehow, however worthwhile is measured for you.
Many of us have been led to believe in some pretty grandiose and even narrow-minded ideas about what a writer is. But you don’t need to think of yourself as a writer to write. Write lists. Write thank-you cards. Write down something hokey–like something you’re grateful for. Find the faith that what you’re writing matters somehow, and once you have it, hold on.
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