On Doing That Writing Thing — Part 1
At first, it was about publication. I wanted to publish my work.
That’s actually not correct . First, it was about getting the flow from my head onto someplace that wasn’t the inside of my cranium. I was desperate for it, and I was also ten years old.
That’s when I learned about computers. My family didn’t have one, but my elementary school had a whole room full of Macintosh computers. In fifth grade, I was playing Oregon Trail and learning how to use the word processor. We’d write and we’d save the words on floppy discs. My big takeaway from those days was that I could write, and have it be permanent, and so I wanted a computer. And I wanted as many blank floppy discs as I could stash in a drawer in my room.
Sometime later, we got a computer. I think that was the next year, the year I started the sixth grade. It was a Windows machine, but the machine didn’t matter as long as I could write on it. I can’t remember what Microsoft Word was in those days, but I remember that I could write, and I could save it. I would one day revisit the few floppy discs that I actually used. I would lament that we no longer owned a computer that could read them. For all its bounty, technological progress seemed like a misstep. But no matter, I would devise other ways to save my work.
I opened up a lot in high school. A few incredible teachers solidified English as my favorite subject. In my Junior year, I found something close to my voice. I wrote like I ate and slept. I wrote short stories, poems, little essays to myself. I just loved it as a medium. It was my version of being God. Back then, I didn’t believe in any kind of God; I was more or less agnostic. But I believed in my voice. I knew it. I realized that it was important, that if I didn’t use it, it was just going to get stuck up inside my head. Not in the back near my spine where I could ignore it, but right up at the front. All those words could be heavy. So I filled many pages. I had never, up to, and even beyond, that point considered writing as a profession. I knew that the people made a business of words. They were my teachers. They were the authors I was reading — Anne Rice, Gwendolyn Brooks, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But somehow, it never clicked that I should consider a life of writing.
That would come later, and it would ruin me.
I don’t remember when I first had an idea and thought, “What if I sold this? What if I became a famous author?” That horrible thought came in college. It was an immediate self-sabotage. College was the end of my time filling page after page of thoughts and ideas. It was the end of the poetry that I so loved to write. Thinking back, I can only liken it to a fire being completely forgotten about in an instant, and then dying.
I didn’t write for me anymore. I wrote for some might-be future. I wrote for some possible and distant compilation of my work. If I was going to write anything, it had to be the thing that I was going to publish. My breakout work. My grand debut on the “writing scene,” whatever the hell that was. I had ideas all the time. I still do. But it was too much, and too many. I had to execute all, and in perfect style. But I didn’t know what a perfect style was. And I didn’t know what my ideas looked like. I didn’t know where they started, or where they were going. I didn’t know anything about the characters I was dreaming up. I was seeing scenes, but they weren’t detailed. So I didn’t know how to write them into existence. I tried, and always came up short.
So finally, I just didn’t write. I was a starter of many projects. And each time I started one, I became a little less ambitious. I found myself at a place where anything started was just exploratory. But I was getting older, my interests were growing in a lot of different directions, and I just didn’t focus on it. And the ideas kept coming, and I just let them come, and I ignored them. They haunted me. The bigger ideas stuck around for weeks or months. They would finally subside for more pressing matters or new writing ideas.
In my infinite optimism, I called them “writing ideas,” as if I was actually going to write them.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which is a short read, and such a delight. I wanted to stay in it forever. I want to go back and take notes, which I guess I should have been doing before I realized that I should have been doing it. It’s full of wisdom for writing. But also for just getting by in the world. For dealing with all the crap that buzzes around in your sphere of understanding, just out of reach. Now it’s been buzzing for so long that you’re deaf to it. And maybe deaf to a lot more, too.
I started finally writing for myself. For my sanity. For relief. I was taking Lamott’s advice. It was a struggle, because it wasn’t intuitive. I’ve been dealing with things from my past that I pushed out of my active thoughts. I have tried to avoid them, but they needed my voice for resolution. I practice writing raw, honest, to get through another day and make it lighter than all the ones before. I think I’m making a dent, in a small way.
I notice things more. Sensations are more pleasing. I have flashbacks of the past. I remember pleasant and unfortunate things. They sometimes occur with tastes and smells and sounds. I write these when they happen, or else try to make a note to write them down when I get to a place where I can. I recognize these as my life. These are the things that create the rest of the world, the nuclei of everything I think and am.
I haven’t written on Medium for a few months. I liked the kinds of things I was putting here before, but I noticed they lacked a definite structure. I was spitting. I’m still spitting, but now I know it and I enjoy it, and I’m just trying to see how far I can spit. I can’t say with certainty that my writing will improve, but I don’t care. I’m not aiming to improve. Just to understand.
I’m exploring now. I’m reaching back, not because I resent that it went sour, but because I’d like to know why it did. In these paragraphs, I feel the germs of an interesting stroll through my own story.