On days like this I compose reviews of my (non-existent) short story collection in my mind. I caught myself doing this just now, as I lugged wet washing to the line. The reviews aren’t harsh – they’re tepid, like milk left out too long. They say things like: While the stories are generally well-written, they are also stolid and unsurprising.
I realised what I was doing and stopped. I looked for the silver lining and congratulated myself for at least imagining a published anthology. But I know those negative thoughts are there, I know the limp reviewer hasn’t gone very far.
It’s a mug’s game, this writing gig. We write and re-write, edit and edit some more, send out our precious baby (manuscript/story/poem), and often don’t even hear back at all. Nothing. Not even a form rejection. Who would do this to themselves?!
And yet there’s that world we inhabit when we write, the places we create exactly as we please. We play with words and mix them up and tumble them into sentences. We bring characters, places, stories to life. It’s an enormous joy and I truly love to write.
Fellow writers, may your week be free of negativity and filled with writing bliss!
I came across an article in Friday’s The Australian in which author Charlotte Wood shared the contents of an email she sent to a couple of close friends when she was writing her novel, The Natural Way of Things. She’d begun to lose faith in her project and wondered how it could possibly benefit the world. This is part of that email.
But I have bucked myself up a little bit, by writing a list of reasons to keep going. Here’s what I came up with. Reasons to write:
To make something beautiful. Beauty does not have to mean prettiness, but can emerge from the scope of one’s imagination, the precision of one’s words, the steadiness and honesty of one’s gaze.
To make something truthful. ‘Truth is beauty, beauty truth.’
To make use of what you have and who you are. Even a limited talent brings with it an obligation to explore it, develop it, exercise it, be grateful for it.
To make, at all. To create is to defy emptiness. It is generous, it affirms. To make is to add to the world, not subtract from it. It enlarges, does not diminish.
Because as Iris Murdoch said, paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.
I read this section intently and as I read it the words blurred with tears. I realised Charlotte’s words were a balm to my heart, because it is my secret fear that in writing stories I’m wasting time. Wasting the time of others and wasting my own time. Whiling away hours in fictitious worlds when I could be doing something concrete and helpful. Maybe having a medical degree makes this feeling more acute (even though I still work as a surgical assistant, it’s not the same level of ‘helping’ as being a GP). But I suspect a lot of writers have this same fear, at least until they write a bestseller and get hundreds of emails about how the book changed the correspondent’s life. 🙂
So to any writers out there who get doubts, feel uncertain, lose faith … you’re definitely not alone. And this post is for you.