My joy in writing had gradually dissolved — until I remembered where it began.
The other day, when I introduced myself to a stranger as a writer, instead of asking the dreaded yet routine “Who do you write for?” they asked me “What do you like to write?”
I’ve been through this introductory routine so many times, and had the answer “I’m freelance” ready — but the new question threw me off. I stuttered out a hesitant response about how for the past several years, I’ve been writing about arts and politics, and then quickly excused myself.
Out of nowhere, that one small question shook me up.
A few days later, I was telling another person about my first book, which I plan on publishing in August. Their response was, “You wrote a whole book? I just don’t know how you could write that much!”
Again, I was strangely shaken up. I thought of the long-ignored folder that holds roughly 40 novel-length documents, all written on a creaky old desktop PC between the ages of 10 and 21. Back then, if I weren’t reading in my spare time, I was scribbling furiously in a notebook or causing Microsoft Word to crash because I was saving so many large word documents.
I wrote adventure and fantasy stories as if they were as important to my survival on this planet as the ability to breathe oxygen. And they were! They were my passion, my way of expressing myself, my way of coping with depression and anxiety. Through my stories, I could turn all the pieces of my soul into something that was more easily understandable, not only by those I let read them, but by myself.
But somewhere in my late teen years, I began to lose sight of why I wrote. Teachers told me writing wasn’t a solid career path, that I needed to go to college for something practical. I sent out manuscripts to publishers and agents and received multiple rejection letters, and despite their suggestions and encouragement to “keep writing” I was disheartened by their rejection of my stories. When I went to put “writer” as my job title on Facebook, it required a company name in order to save it. Blow after blow, my thoughts on writing shifted.
I didn’t stop writing — but I stopped writing for the joy of creating. For several years, I didn’t write fiction at all. My writing all became about other people — sharing the stories of independent artists and inspiring places. I developed a great passion for it, and plan to continue this sort of writing. But somewhere along the way, I began to view it too much as work. I began writing about things I didn’t want to and using styles that didn’t fit my voice, because I thought I needed to in order to be seen as worthy of being paid or even recognized for my work.
Proud though I am of my publication, Meridian Creators, a large part of the reason I launched it is because I thought I needed a name other than my own behind my writing. Yet even then, when people would react with interest, I would demure and say “It’s not a major company, just a small website that I run” — as if that were a bad thing, as if that made my work less than simply because there wasn’t some well known logo stamped above my name.
And that’s exactly what I believed.
Luckily, because of the amount of time I have spent talking with independent, up-and-coming artists, I know I’m not alone in these sort of thoughts and feelings. Society tells us that our creations need to be “worth” something, whether it’s a paycheck, or a contract with an influential company, or more followers on social media. We’re told that our own individual names aren’t enough.
Nowadays, publishing is much different than what I learned about while perusing old copies of Writer’s Market in the library. The entire arts industry has and continues to change with the growth of the internet and social media, anyone can publish and promote articles or a book or music or recipes or photography themselves. If you’re dedicated to what you want to create and willing to put in the work, artists of all mediums can share their work with audiences that weren’t accessible unless you scored some sort of contract in the recent past.
Yet I continue holding myself back and stunting my own creativity by telling myself it doesn’t count. I downplay the work I put in, as well as my own passion and skill, because the only name attached to my work is mine and not some company’s.
Since childhood, I’ve never cared what company published the books I read — I just want to become immersed in the worlds brought to life by the writers I enjoyed. With the amount of effort and passion I put into my writing in addition to all the resources at my disposal in this day and age, why should I put that sort of requirement on myself when I don’t put it on the writers and other creators that inspire me?
Now 28, I look back on the stories I wrote seven plus years ago and am glad to see how much my own voice and skill have developed — but wish I could go back to that feeling of writing because I needed to feed my soul, instead of the now-constant pressure to turn my writing into a career that can pay to feed my dog and I.
On the first page of every single one of those old MSWord documents, you can read the words “By Taralei N. Griffin.” The stories following came naturally and made me feel energized instead of drained. The fact that they were worlds of my own creation; that they were a great form of personal introspection and growth; that they were stories that I had both the right and ability to type my own unique name at the top of… that was all I needed.
It’s going to take some time and effort, but I believe I can get myself back to where I truly enjoy writing again. I just have to continue to remind myself of why I started writing in the first place, and why all my writing heroes did the same before me, and kept at it —
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou