What Does It Mean to Be a Writer – Part Two

This essay is in two parts and was written by Elizabeth Simons. In case you missed it, here’s part one.

Part Two: Make Room For Writing

Writing is hard work. It’s so hard, I spend hours avoiding it. Sitting in front of a computer screen creates anxiety, so instead of composing words I play mindless games. Simple games to put me into a no-write zone until the Muse arrives.

But she hasn’t been showing up lately.

It’s all about time management, isn’t it? Some call it rhythm and settle into a routine. Some see it as rigidity and chafe against the perceived reins. It’s a mixed bag.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My love for writing began when I started a journal. Someone gave me a diary when I was 11 years old. I didn’t write every day, but often enough to record my impressions of life as an introspective fifth-grader. The entries were initially cautious. I was either unable to write about more complex feelings, or I was guarded about revealing emotions I didn’t know how to handle.

There wasn’t a lot of time to write, so the entries were brief. Much of my time was taken up with endless household chores. There was school and homework and housework.

I was a dreamy child with unreasonable expectations. The fact that I had many interests and a very short attention span meant that even when I did have personal time, I didn’t know what to do with it. If I couldn’t finish a project in one sitting, I abandoned it. Or did a poor job because I’d lost interest long before it was finished. I had the attention span of a gnat.

While the first entries in my diary were brief, they became longer as I neared puberty. One-entry-per-day diaries were replaced by black-and-white composition books. I wrote page after introspective page through high school and college. I wrote feverishly when I was depressed, which was often, or euphoric, which was brief and short-lived but no less intense.

I wrote poetry as well. It was my outlet for expressing love, hate, fear, pain, sorrow, addiction and revenge. I’d grab a notebook and pen and spend hours searching for the perfect words, rhymes and rhythms that reflected the powerful emotions I was experiencing.

I loved these moments of inspiration, these interruptions from daily life. They were my power in a world in which I often felt powerless.

To this day I find it very hard to undertake any task that can’t be completed either in one sitting or by devoting several days of undivided attention to it. Not surprisingly, this single-mindedness results in the neglect of daily chores.

Which then sets me up for guilt. Old habits die hard.

Rhythm is not my strong suit. I’m envious of people who can dedicate several hours to a project, then switch to something else, then after an hour go on to another task, then take up the effort again the next day without losing momentum. I struggle with bringing my attention back from its dream-like wandering. Projects that begin with so much hope and enthusiasm often get orphaned.

I resent routine, even when I’ve created it. I don’t like having to do repetitive things, things like brushing my teeth or making my bed or cooking a meal or working out. I remember a professor in college who told the class he jogged daily for exercise. He said he had been doing it for more than twenty years. My admiration turned to astonishment, however, when he announced he hated every minute of it. Why did he do it if he hated it? Why not find another form of exercise?

Is it possible to love what you choose? More to the point, is it possible to choose to love something you have to do, anyway?

I find the idea of writing feels more satisfying than actual writing. Ideas rattle around in my head, and they are especially exciting when I’m nowhere near a computer. Scenarios play themselves out like a movie reel while I’m doing the dishes or sweeping the floor or driving. Potential is more exciting than reality.  I love the warm glow, the ironic certainty of thoughts that have yet to be defined.

I tell myself I’ll remember these flights of fancy and write them down shortly. But I don’t. When I finally sit down to write, these thoughts, ever ephemeral, degenerate into incoherence. I might capture one fleeting thought while the others wither in the telling.

The bottom line is that I need to write in order to feel whole. I need to write even though I struggle with time that seems to accelerate with each passing year, crushing the day’s hours into infinitesimal increments. I need to write even though the thoughts I put down are far less noble than they appear at first blush. I need to write even though I don’t know who will be reading my words. I need to write because only I can say what I have to say.

At this point I’d like to reveal that I have discovered the secret to time management and am churning out hundreds of words each day, but the truth is that I still struggle with a short attention span. Some days I might write 1,000 words. Some days I don’t write at all.

What I can say is this: I just try to show up. I don’t wait for the Muse to come calling.

Some hours, some days, some weeks are better than others. I continue to wrestle with the inexplicable urge to run from that which I love, but I dedicate myself to becoming more awake each day. Each day I struggle so that my ordinary words may one day be extraordinary.

I may not write the way you write. I may not be consistent with my time in a predictable rhythm, but in the long run I do write regularly. I’ve learned to accept my limitations, and I’ve even relinquished guilt for not being perfect.

I may not be a prolific writer, but I am a writer.

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Elizabeth Simons is a writer who lives in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. She is the author of “Dancing With Words,” a creative writing course she wrote for the University of Missouri’s online curriculum for advanced middle school students. She also edits manuscripts for publication at Prosecraft. You can see samples of her writing at Words By Heart. Elizabeth is currently making peace with her muse and is working on her novel “To Die For.”

Photo: Some rights reserved by Desi.

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