Monday, June 2, 2014

The Myth That Writing is a "Dream"

I was shocked at the response to my last blog. So many people wrote to tell me that they related- that they had the kind of unsupportive families that might qualify them for an ABC Afterschool Special. And yet, they kept writing, whole-heartedly embracing my "Screw 'em, do it anyway," mentality. A few wrote to share just how supportive spouses, friends, etc. actually were, to the point that these writers don't feel they could make it without them. Like most things in life, I suspect the vast majority of us fall somewhere in the middle. But one common sentiment arose again and again:

Follow your dreams. Don't let anyone stand in the way of your dreams. Cherish your dream. Your dreams are a vital part of your happiness.

Here's a closely guarded personal truth: Writing is not a dream. Not for me. Never has been. And believe me, I wish it was.

For me, writing is a way of navigating the world, of trying to make peace with it, to make sense of my place in it, and to translate that experience into something that lets me be a happy and productive member of the human race. It's exhilarating and painful and lonely and hard.

But it's also beautiful. And completely, totally mandatory.

The truth is, for many of us, writing is not a choice. We have to do it, or we sicken, slow down, and sometimes outright break down. I don't know why this is. I suspect the reasons are different for everyone. I know I can look back through the course of my life and identify the times when I was the most miserable, and every single one of them has to do with me choosing to not write in favor of something more grown-up, or practical, or some other such line.

That's as far from a "dream" as I can imagine. Gwendolyn Brooks deconstucts the word so beautifully in "Kitchenette Building*": "Dream makes a giddy sound, not strong like 'rent,' 'feeding a wife,' 'satisfying a man.'" It is a word loaded with privilege and frivolity, and I believe it can be yet another way society devalues what writers, or any creative person, does.

This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you that, as caring humans, we must have priorities. We must put the college fund and the mortgage first. Many of us do this, and  maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. But some of us can't. Some of us have to plod onward and hope everything will come out balanced in the end.  

By no means do I intend to imply that creative expression shouldn't be an intimate, beautiful, cherished thing. And whether that is a dream or a compulsion, I'm wary of those who try to devalue it in any way.

*Brooks, Gwendolyn. "Kitchenette Building." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 June 2014.


  1. This is actually true. Thanks for this. Selling my writing is the dream. Actually writing it is just this thing I do or else I start feeling icky. (I think Amanda Hocking described it like having to pee. Sometimes your bladder gets full and it's uncomfortable. So, you let it out. That's writing to her. :P)

    My friends and family have been supportive, if disinterested (which is just fine with me. I'd rather my family didn't read my stuff--too weird to know they'd seen in my head like that). However, I must admit, I've had relatively few responsibilities until now. After this baby comes, if my income is still fluctuating and crazy, maybe they'll all start yelling at me to get a real job.

    1. There is a huge difference in writing with a baby- which I know is a "duh" statement, but really- can't emphasize it enough. Steady and routine are the watchwords. When mine were little, I actually got more done with a low-stress day job. Part of the time I was a receprtionist, and part of the time, I was in a Master's program. (Financial aid and scholarships helped me meet my share of the bills, but it was definitely work.) Daycare wasmy best friend. It enabled me to have time to write, and have the occassional lunch date with my partner. All things you need to keep you sane. Being home full time with a baby now? One of the least productive times, writing-wise, of my life. Part-time job and daycare was the way to go before. Just my two cents. I found that I actually got more done when I had less money worry, and it gave me dedicated blocks of time to write- half a day twice a week, or two days off a week, and then a lunch hour every day I worked. Whatever the hours, you *will* find the time. Except for those first few weeks of nighttime feedings. Just don't plan on anything then. The good news about that is that it passes. :)