I would like to be able to say that what I love most about writing is being able to share it with other people… but I don’t think that’s actually true.
This week my short story “Ocean Jumper” was published on Joyland Magazine. The story, at only 4,000 words long, took many rounds of workshops and revisions to complete. In fact, its first iteration was written for a workshop hosted by Kweli Journal called “The Art of the Short Story” back in late 2017. From there, I shared it with my writing group, worked on it more, shared it with my writing group again, continued to work on it, and then, once it was finally accepted at Joyland more than a year and a half after initially writing it, I made several more edits under the guidance of an editor before its promised publication day.
But then the story was published in an instant, publicized in a tweet that took no more than a minute to compose. Despite wanting so badly for my story to find a home, it was a bit… anti-climactic. This isn’t the fault of the story itself or the magazine or the particular graphic that ran alongside the piece (thank you very much, I made it myself). In fact, after the initial high of reading an acceptance email for one of my pieces, what follows always feels a bit anti-climactic.
The process of writing is more than a bit maddening. Even very accomplished writers acknowledge the tedious and seemingly never-ending process of revision. Like George Saunders puts it, “What does an artist do, mostly? She tweaks that which she’s already done.”
Here’s a horrifying yet humbling statistic per my favorite window into human behavior, Quora: 2 million articles are published online everyday. Endlessly tweaking something which has already been done, of revisiting a work and cocking your head at it only to find that something indiscernible isn’t quite right with it, and doing this not once, but several times, perhaps over several years, only to finally have it join the ranks of ONE of 2 million articles that will be published on the very same day? Well, it doesn’t seem like worth all that effort.
In order to write you need to be able to find the process inherently rewarding, because the material reward may never justify the effort you put into it. You don’t need to like failing, but you do need to like sitting in front of a computer for hours and still have no idea what a story you wrote about years ago is actually about yet. There needs to be something guiding you toward the challenge of solving your story, something always with you when you sit down, clueless, in front of that overworked page.
That something is what I call instinct. Writers sometimes have trouble admitting that no matter what time we wake up or what quirky disciplined regiment we develop, what will determine whether you write or not comes down to something that’s largely not in your control. When I was in college, I remember being criticized by various men who will remain unnamed as having “no maternal instinct.” Maybe they were right. But that same young woman had one hell of an instinct for converting her feelings into Tumblr poems every day.
Your writer’s instinct, no matter how refined, is simply what calls you to the page. You have to prioritize it above all else. Of course I catch myself fantasizing about awards or beautiful reviews, but I also try to remember a day when I had no reason to open a diary other than the deep joy I derived from writing my own private observations. It was this highly personal practice that made me fall in love with writing, the same love that despite being as old I am makes the process endlessly invigorating as it constantly leads me to something brand new.
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