Why do we write? Because we have a story to tell. Sometimes it’s a true story; sometimes it’s a story clinging to our heart desperate for liberation.
A friend says to me “You must tell your story” and I’m not certain what he means. He says, “You have a facility for writing” and recounts the opening to a manuscript I’ve been struggling with since last year. But that isn’t my story. It’s just something I made up. Something that has some tenuous association with the truth.
So why do we write?
Twelve days ago I stood in my shower and began to cry. The tears fell spontaneously. They fell without warning. I wasn’t sad. In fact, I was standing on the precipice of happy. But still the tears spilled down my face, merged with Palo Alto’s municipal water supply and joined the wastewater on its way to be cured and returned to San Francisquito Creek.
I began to realize that my tears were a mix of elation for the decision my heart had made without my asking and mourning for the goals I hadn’t achieved. I was liberated. I was a failure.
It used to be different. I wanted to write. That’s all. I didn’t think about writing a best seller, receiving a huge advance or being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. I wanted to write because it brought me joy. I wrote because it filled a void. It was a way to clarify – an outlet. And I loved the challenge.
I took a few classes and created a few blogs before I settled on the one you’re reading. I wrote a few articles for the local paper. I wrote a manuscript that could, with a little polish, become a novel. No small achievement.
I dove deep and was amazed at how long I could hold my breath. I charged into study and schedules and goals. I wrote without thinking. I wrote without feeling. I dreamed of maybe, one day, having a book I could hold in my hand and saying, “I wrote this.”
And then things got ugly. I forgot about the joy. I forgot about how crafting a decent sentence makes me giddy and the magic that happens when a character takes over and becomes the boss of these tired, typing fingers. I forgot about plot, structure and setting all in the race to be there first. But the truth is, I’ll never be there first.
That Tuesday, standing in my shower, finally craving air, I broke the surface and gasped for breath.
It wasn’t working.
The five o’clock alarms. The word count goals. The platform building. The hollow dreams. It wasn’t working.
I wanted to write. This wasn’t writing. It was micro-managing.
I put away all the tables that charted word counts, blogs posted and queries sent to magazine editors. I closed the file on long-range goals, short-term goals and the list of forty-five writing goals I needed to achieve – today – while teaching classes and visiting clients. I gave notice to my critique group – the six people with whom I shared every Wednesday afternoon for the past three years.
And I went back to basics. I pulled out John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist. I opened Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction.
And then, finally relieved of the burden of high expectations, I began.
I write. I will continue to write. It is how I will tell my story.
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