Letting Life Lead
Don Music lives in my head.
A question for a promotional writing contest for a book pinged in my mailbox the other day. It asked subscribers to describe a time in their lives when they were struck by writer’s doubt and how they overcame it and wrote anyway. And by “wrote anyway,” I presume they meant publish and I snorted. I did. I’ve got a nasty, phlegmy, nose-centered cold and it was a worthy snort befitting the derision and bah humbugs swirling in my brains (plural because of the voices in my head.)
And it’s been bugging me for days. Like that little bit of plastic that gets stuck in your sock from a tag and you can’t find that sucker for a week because it pokes then disappears. You turn that sock inside out to find it, think you’ve gotten it out, and then it pokes you again.
Did that mocking e-mail mean publish or did it mean just sitting down and writing something? Anything? What counts as “writing anyway?” When I was a teenager I wrote every day, for hours, by hand, in spiral bound notebooks. I read multiple books a week. I wrote what I wanted, when I wanted, and I didn’t care. Of course, only one or two friends ever read what I wrote. Maybe a teacher or two who had given a rare non-academic writing assignment (thanks Mr. Pepin and Mrs. Hutchinson). Certainly not Ms. B– who gave me a D minus minus on a paper my junior year simply because I used four references instead of five. I entered one contest and one open call for a kid’s magazine (which gave me a very kind, constructive rejection). Doubt was there though. It kept me from joining the high school newspaper because I thought I lacked the skill. Because, you know, all the other hormonal, greasy teenagers had vast experience.
Doubts crept. I took a correspondence course for writing children’s literature (for you youngsters that means I took a course by mail. No, not e-mail. Postage stamp mail.) I enjoyed it, but I did that for fun. It cost almost $600 dollars (a lot of money for an 18 year old getting paid only $4.50 an hour). Nothing ever came of it because I was too busy with work and college and being awkward. I wrote and read pleasure books less and less every day. My first year, I once walked all the way to my college’s newspaper office tucked away in some dark, dusty hidden corner. I stared at that door for ten minutes; I knocked. No one was there and I never went back. I was a faithful reader, but never mustered the courage to become a contributor. I managed to create a crude webpage blog in 1991 when there were only a handful of pages on the Internet. I did that for a lot of years. Does that count as “writing anyway”?
I crushed Greek Myth and Drama my third year of college and I felt renewed — energized — in a sea full of dry, formulaic academic papers. I rode that wave and took a creative writing course my fifth year. It’s funny, but I don’t recall that professor’s name. She did write this on one of my pride and joy stories, “These characters are unrealistic and no one will ever believe it.” I was crushed. I had based the characters off of real people I knew. How could I have written them so poorly? It had not been a good year overall and after that semester, I stopped writing fiction altogether.
I wrote more academic papers, but my final college paper was rejected twice. I was out of money and out of patience and just out done.
The only writing I did while I got down to the business of paying for rent, bills, student loans, and decent food was centered around emails, journals, bulletin boards, and text-based games (does that count as “writing anyway”?). Every so often I’d open an old fiction file and read it or try to write something small, but nothing ever manifested beyond a paragraph. The doubt shut down any enthusiasm I used to have.
I am in my forties now and the doubt has only gotten louder. I re-started writing blogs in 2008, though no fiction until last year in this blog. Stories float in my head all the time, but very few ever make it to print because I usually think the idea is too whack-a-doo. If I do write something, I hesitate to share it. What if it sucks? It is one thing to think my own work sucks, it’s another thing if other people think my writing sucks. Even if they don’t think it sucks the torture doesn’t end there. How could I have misinterpreted that prompt so thoroughly? Why aren’t they noticing that cool or funny or profound line I wrote? Did they notice that clue? Did they get that reference? Did they laugh at that joke? If they read it today, is it memorable enough to think about it tomorrow? Did they share it? Did they read it twice? Oh no, what if they didn’t even finish reading it!? I’ll never be writer! Never, never, never!
Don Music lives in my head.
Does this blog count as “writing anyway”? I haven’t finished my novella. I’m in the middle of a writing contest and I may not make it to round two. I am writing fiction pieces for this blog (more than I have written in decades), but I haven’t mustered the courage to submit to a site to get paid.
I guess I can only conclude that I haven’t overcome my writer’s doubt at all. I live with it every day. It’s a bully; it tries to make me cry. Sometimes, though, I get the rare jolt of “I am a writing goddess” that tasers the doubt into a twitching heap. The temporary quiet allows me to write those stories before the doubt recovers enough to stop me. It is with me right now and I wasn’t going to write this entry at all, but I decided to ride that Don Music joke all the way to a 1000 word post.
What about you? What does your Writer’s Doubt look like?
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