Here’s a sticky subject we should drag out from the back of the cupboard.
Up until (as recently as, frighteningly) a year or two ago, I was being plagued. By what, you ask. By this mythological image of The Writer. It stalked me like something that pulled itself out of a swamp and was looking for the tasty flesh of insecure writers to gorge itself on.
In your writerly travels, you may have seen (or even personally said) these desperate platitudes: “I write because otherwise I’d go mad” or “I write because I have no choice.”
These phrases psyched the crap out of me as a struggling teenage writer. I don’t feel the Need to write. It doesn’t invade my skin like a savage spirit, dive into my belly and grab a fistful of my guts and refuse to let go until I put pen to paper. Honestly, I think I’d mosey along just fine if I up and stopped writing one day. And because I didn’t identify with the Desperate Artist that seemed to define everybody but me, I felt alienated from the very community I wanted to be apart of but felt like I wouldn’t fit into, because I lacked this Need.
Then. I got over it. I got over it by realizing, “Hey, I’m a damn good writer. And this whole insecurity gambit is hella depressing, and is keeping me from what I’d like to be doing, and that’s writing–and hell, darlin’, I’ve got bigger things to worry about. How about my student loan debt for some perspective?”
And I figured out something that had been staring me in the face forever: that I’m going to keep writing. How did I know this? Because I know myself. I know full well that if I didn’t love writing, if it didn’t satisfy me in some way, I would’ve given it up after the first month–over ten years ago.
And guess what? That’s all it takes to be a “Real Writer:” you write.
When I let go of this particular insecurity, I saw all those desperate platitudes in a new light. It never occurred to me that what the Cool Writers were saying was they’d tried giving up and found they couldn’t. It was the way they were describing it–as a need–that made me think I was somehow lacking the right amount of passion to call myself a Writer.
Here’s the thing. I don’t love writing less than they do. I just don’t think about writing in those terms. And that’s totally fine, because we’re all different. I have come back to my writing again and again over the years despite the crippling bouts of frustration and debilitating self-doubt, self-doubt that whispered to me in its slithery tongue that I didn’t have what it took to be a Writer, and They did.
My Need is just on a low simmer, but, like a kerosene lamp set in the window, will burn soft and low all through the night, a beacon for me to return to no matter how lost I get.
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Thank you to Betsy Lerner and her brilliant book The Forest for the Trees for cluing me into this.