What is my biggest challenge with writing? Solitary confinement & personal encouragement.
Okay, so that’s two, but I’ll break it down.
There is a misconception about the kind of person who wants to be a writer:
Writers must enjoy solitude and being still. Writers must be the kind of person who can sit at a computer (or with a notebook) for hours on end, with no break, and feel satisfied through the interaction of their characters.
To an extent, that’s true. I am certainly captivated by the world of my characters and their movement through it; it’s why when I put aside novel writing to focus on graduate school, the story never left my mind.
But I am crap with solitude and sitting still.
I survived paper-writing weeks in graduate school by getting together every day with other students and writing furiously around a table or three pushed together. By taking breaks to share the best and worst sentences composed in the previous hour of work; to share breakthroughs and commiserate over, “I now hate this topic, and it’s still due on Thursday!”; to throw Cheerios into my friend’s hoodie across the table (in public), and get scolded by another friend about “picking those up off the floor!”
For me, writing has to be as social and interactive as anything else in my life. I’m an introvert with an insatiable need to spend time with the people who inspire my productivity and creativity. I am motivated by their own successes and struggles with writing and art; not all of my “productive” friends are writers nor are they all artists, but they are all creative.
This is not to say I am incapable of writing alone. I am writing this post alone. But even then, only sort of. I keep checking back in with L. on Twitter, and talking about the challenges of writing this post at all.
I like to touch base about writing, about my productivity or lack thereof. Usually the latter. Which leads into my second writing challenge: personal encouragement.
All writers are their own worst critic. Well, really, that’s a human thing, but in this case we’re talking about writing. Being my own worst critic is not a surprise, nor does it make me any kind of special. But it also doesn’t mean my own self critique isn’t crippling to my writing; I’m not immune to self-sabotage.
The truth I believe about my writing is this: I am a very strong academic writer. I am good at arguing points in academic papers, at composing articles about public knowledge creation. My first drafts are still crap, but I know the end result is going to be good and meaningful and insightful and inspiring. Which doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with academic writing, or believe I have no more room for improvement -- because I do. I still fail at academic writing sometimes, but on the whole, I am a successful academic.
As with the “creative writing” world, “Publish or perish” is alive and well and running the show in academia. But I’ve met that goal there. I’ve been published.
So this is the second truth I believe about my writing: I am a better academic writer than creative writer. The use of “better” here is important and purposeful because somehow my belief that I am better at one prevents me from becoming better at the other.
To make an analogy out of academic writing and creative writing, being good at both is like being ambidextrous. They are so very similar and noticeably different. Creative writing feels awkward and clunky to me right now; I’m translating some skills through a new outlet while also learning different skills, too.
In the first case, I embrace that I need camaraderie with writing while acknowledging that I need to also embrace the solitude a little more. I schedule one or two writing dates with others a week; sometimes these are online, or in person with academic friends, or sometimes it’s just with my husband and I, him studying and me writing. But when others aren’t around, I still have to be productive. I have to be productive for myself and by myself.
In the second case, this is the first year where I’ve only had to worry about and focus on creative writing. I am writing a novel on my own (affectionately known as that ghost story for now), and I’m writing a novel with my friend Jordyn (@jordynface on Twitter), and both are helping me relearn writing-as-storytelling. While I still think my writing trends towards awkward, I have realized that some of my academic writing habits serve me very well in novel writing. Taking time to revise while I write, to fix clunky narration or dragging exposition, helps me feel more confident about the writing to come. Some of my writing habits are cited as “do not do” on the creative-side of things, but they are my writing habits and I trust in them; in turn, I’m remembering how to trust my writing.