Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Blank Page

Nearly all of my anxiety dreams take place in high school*. I am unprepared for the final exam. I can’t find my class. I’m not wearing pants. This is pretty standard anxiety fodder.

I recently had the classic neurotic writer version of this dream after spending an evening struggling to revise a challenging scene in my novel-in-progress. In my dream, I was relaxing in a cushy chair on a wood slatted deck, basking in the glow of a late afternoon sun, when I was hit with the realization that I had a story deadline in the morning. I don’t recall if the deadline was for school or work or something else entirely, but I knew that there would be serious repercussions were I to miss it.

The parameters of the piece were almost non-existent; I could focus on any topic I wished, as long as I made a certain word count. The creative world was my oyster, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a damn thing to write about.

Creative Process

Time was ticking ticking and every time I looked at the clock, another hour had passed and still I hadn’t come up with a topic. As my stress levels skyrocketed, all rational thought was forced out of my brain, along with any thread of creativity.

I could write about whatever I liked, yet the anxiety of having to choose a topic prevented me from writing anything at all.

I woke up feeling edgy and unrested. This was due in part to the dream, but also to the troubling reminder of how much time I spend avoiding writing even when I’m not sleeping.**

Sometimes, I can barely wait to get home to my laptop. Other times, I start by taking a hard line with myself (I will write for a minimum of two hours tonight) and then negotiate down my own terms (well, after I eat dinner…and take a shower…oh look Project Runway is on…).

Why do I avoid doing something that I love?

Because I also hate it. There, I said it.

Sometimes I hate writing. It’s frustrating, ego crushing, and lonely. I can spend an hour effing around with one or two paragraphs, only to delete them and slouch away in defeat, feeling much worse about myself than if I’d spent the evening with a House Hunters marathon and a box of Samoas.

We’ve all heard the old adage “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”, which can be applied to just about anything. But if we only write when we are inspired, that means we only write 1% of the time. Settle in, because it’s going to take about 50 years to pen the first draft of that novel. Hope it’s a good one.

So 99% of the time, writing is just damn hard work. This is due not only to the significant challenges of the craft itself; writing also demands that I repeatedly risk my sense of self-worth. And the longer I put it off, the harder it gets. Like going to the gym or filing insurance paperwork.

Doing nothing is easy, but doing too much nothing makes me feel hollow and uneasy. I suppose I could watch three hours of television each evening and save myself the emotional roller coaster that comes with any creative pursuit. But I am confident that I will never experience that glorious, all-over mind and body tingle that comes in the 1% moment of true inspiration while watching Millionaire Matchmaker. I may be able to avoid the low lows, but at the cost of the high highs.

And really, what would life be like without some extremes to help keep the in-between in perspective?

 

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*Anyone who attended high school will not question my subconscious’ reasoning for this.

**Case in Point: I put off writing this here blog post until the night before I was due to publish it. Okay, so it was Valentine’s Day weekend and I was, um, busy with other things. But I’d known what I was going to write about for over a week. I suppose this is why deadlines were invented; without even self-imposed ones, we’d never get anything done.

 

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Life is Unfair. Keep Writing Anyway.

When I was 16 years old, I won first place in the short fiction category of a very small, very local writing contest targeted at teenagers. The prize was $50. This was the first and last time I received payment of any kind for writing fiction.

I figure I’m up by $50 on a lot of writers out there.

Many writers never make a penny off of their work. And those who do often supplement this income with day jobs or less fulfilling freelance work. Some rely on their spouse’s or partner’s income to pay the bills.

A small number of writers were born into wealth and can dedicate their every waking moment to crafting their novels.

Life is unfair. The end.

But of course this isn’t the end.

Last week, Salon.com ran an article by Ann Bauer titled “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. And like any thing on the Internet that features a comments section, the response was immediate and fierce.

WritingSome commenters applauded Bauer for coming clean that – although she is a published writer with a decent list of credits to her name – her income from writing alone doesn’t come close to a living wage. Others raged against her for calling out two unnamed writers for what she saw as a lack of disclosure regarding their inherited wealth and connections. One example: An aspiring writer asked one author how he had paid the bills during the 10 years he spent writing his latest novel. The author – who comes from a very wealthy family – responded that it had been difficult, but that he’d also written a number of magazine articles during that time. The implication was that 1) he was struggling to get by, just like the rest of us, and 2) writing a few magazine articles will pay enough to support your family while you craft your masterpiece.writer

The commenters’ vitriol ranged from Fuck the 1%! to How dare you point fingers at the “privileged” when your writing is largely funded by your husband?  But I didn’t feel that Bauer was suggesting the author was obligated to discuss his personal financial information, or that she was simply bitter he was born into money. Rather, I felt that she was calling him out for being disingenuous, for suggesting to the aspiring writer that his success was based almost purely on drive and determination.

But whether the author has billions in real estate or $37 in his checking account, he has to write. A lot. He has to work damn hard to develop his craft. Just like the rest of us.

writing officeWriters, like any artists, create because it is in our blood. It is a compulsion. It is part of who we are, whether we write late at night in our pajamas while the rest of the family sleeps or once the nanny ushers the kids off to school. The vast majority of us would continue to write even if we were 100% sure that we’d never earn a cent from it.

Does the billionaire have a distinct advantage over the working mom? Hell yes, he does. But like I said, life is unfair. There is no bliss, no inspiration in resenting someone for having more time, more money, or more connections than you do. And at the same time, there is no value in feeling guilty for having money, or because your spouse or partner brings home the bulk of the income, so long as the two of you made this career/lifestyle choice together.

What troubles me is seeing writers turn on one another (and at times, themselves) rather than coming together to call out the increasingly flighty publishing industry, as well as the general lack of value our culture places on creative professions. Writing is hard work, much harder than most of the paying jobs I’ve held in my life.

And after all, we are all in this together.

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PS. For the record, I strongly dislike the term “sponsored” as it suggests that the writer is being supported by a parent or a Sugar Daddy/Mama, not his or her spouse or partner. And I find that not only condescending but also sorta icky.

PPS. I was not born into wealth and I am my only source of income. One could argue that I was born into privilege because I grew up in a middle class suburb and had parental support through college. Then again, one could argue just about anything if one sets his or her mind to it, which is evidenced by the comments section on just about any thing posted on the internet.

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