Friday, January 18, 2013
Wandering in Place and the Writing Life
Not all those who wander are lost.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
My journaling took an odd turn yesterday. Or maybe it wasn’t so odd. It seems I am not finished writing about my process, and perhaps I never will be. “The unexamined life…” and all that.
I have a friend who is an accomplished painter and poet. Lately she has been bemoaning a dry period—so awful for artists and writers. We fear that we will never sculpt words or clay again. We fear for our sanity. In her distress, my friend falls into comparing my work style with hers, commenting on how disciplined and organized I am. And I envy her spontaneity, her impulsiveness.
The conventional wisdom among serious writers, who may be writers of humor, is that you must write every day. Then there is more conventional wisdom about getting published, and that wisdom gets more conventional by the day. You must have an online writer’s platform and a portfolio, so prospective agents and editors can assure themselves of your industry and viability. You should have a blog, and it should have lots of followers and lots of lively commentary from readers to show that you have a ready and waiting audience for your books. If you want to publish a book, you should try to get excerpts of it published in literary magazines, which are in reality a rather solipsistic venue—in other words, read by very few people besides other writers who are looking to reread their own published pieces or the work of their friends. And if you’ve got short, stand-alone work—short stories, poems, essays—you should work to get as many of those published as possible, not as an end in itself necessarily, but as a way to promote your viability as a book author. Self-published work doesn’t count, although such luminaries as Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, and Walt Whitman published themselves. If you’ve been conventionally published already, it may be marginally okay to publish yourself. And on and on.
So back to yesterday’s journal entry. I wrote page after page of “what ifs”. It started with having to tear myself away from Facebook—What if I stayed on Facebook all day? Next question, and this got me going: What would happen if I only did what I feel like doing? Would I have a shorter or a longer life? If I only wrote when and what I felt compelled to write (and get published)? If I gave up believing that I must put myself out there? Lived more for the pleasure of each moment? Didn’t bow to all the marketing shoulds, and oh my, to the market in general? What would I do today if I were living my life this way? Would I write a blog post, force myself to think up something because it’s Thursday, and because I must keep the blog alive for future agents (I didn’t)? Would I bother to create an online portfolio? Does learning new technology in order to prolong my memory by creating new neural pathways constitute living in fear? Is it a way of not living in the now? Would I be beating my brains out to get essays published in venues I don’t care about and maybe no one besides me will read, just to say they were published? Is it all about ego? Is it a game, and aren’t games supposed to be fun? What if I took a month to experiment, to do what I feel like doing, to play, to learn new things, things I want to learn? Would I finish my query to the Harper Collins editor today? Or would I go outside and make rubbings of tree bark in my nature journal? I didn’t really retire when I retired. What if I retired for a whole month? What if, instead of being driven by the need to publish, I let my heart and soul drive my writing? What other creative endeavors might impel me? Would my writing suffer or be better?
I have very often come to a place where I thought about giving up writing altogether. During dry periods or periods when I felt as though real life were passing me by—that I would never, ever get my yard landscaped or tiles laid on the threshold to the yoga room. This isn’t that. This is about letting loose and wondering how it might change my creativity and the quality of my life. But what if I ended up just vegging for a whole month? Would that be so bad?
My yoga and meditation teacher in Sweden, Swami Janakanada often reminded us to change things up and see what happened. “Don’t wear your watch during this three-month course.” “Don’t wear your glasses.” “Sit in a different place for every session in the yoga room.” “Don’t live life out of habit.”
T.S. Eliot said it in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”—“Do I dare to eat a peach?” What if? Diarrhea? What if? The taste of sun and rain, and where did that sweetness come from? What if? My YA novel never gets published? What if?
It seems I may be embarking on yet another time-limited investigation of change. I started yesterday. I felt a lot of anxiety during the day about not driving myself—possibly an indication of an experiment overdue.
What is your work style—disciplined and organized or spontaneous and a bit impulsive? Something else? Have you ever deliberately experimented with changing it? What happened?