I just came across a Tweet that quoted William Faulkner and his dismissal of writers who don’t write:
I have no patience, I don’t hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if he’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. He can blame the fact that he’s not turning out work on lots of things. I’ve heard people say, “Well if I were not married and had kids, I would be a writer.” I’ve heard people say, “If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer.” I don’t believe that. I think if you’re going to write you’re going to write, and nothing will stop you.
Perhaps another time, this quote would have spoken to me in the way intended by the person who posted that Tweet. I would have felt the dustings of self-reproach tickle my skin and feel the heat of an imaginary disappointed glare and think, “My god he’s right! No more excuses! Off I go to go to finish my story!”
The secret to writing is no secret, and manifests itself in various words, but the essential message is this: If you want to write, you will write. You will make it a priority. You will make sacrifices in your life in order to write.
As a financially-dependent creative writing student, I have arranged my life in such a way where writing is the priority. Most days I am free to write, at least until my job prospects improve. Every week I am beholden to submitting a piece of writing, and critiquing other people’s writing, and reading books that teach me how to be a better writer. I work at a desk by the window that gets a generous hit of light, and when I’m bored or restless I can spy on people in the office building across the street or study the ads of the double-decker buses caught at the red light. I wish I had a more comfortable chair and higher standards for coffee, but otherwise I have very few reasons to complain.
Yet the words don’t come. Instead, I will do anything but write. Cleaning is a popular option. Another current favorite is art journaling. Sometimes I will find a reason not to go on with a story. More often, the trouble hits before I even turn to the page.
I have too many ideas. They crowd around the tunnel in my mind through which ideas are made real, a tunnel no wider than a speck of dust. All ideas clamor to be first. That’s not the worst of it–they are also ideas in different forms and genres. Young adult. Narrative nonfiction. Personal essays. Short stories. Romance. The breadth of all the things I’d like to tackle could not be any wider
Depending on the day or the news or my mood, one idea might edge in the lead, and I try to coax it out as far as I can. But then–snip!–suddenly our connection is severed. Back it goes to fight amongst the other ideas.
Times like this, I wish that I were driven by a demon inside me. I’m not the type of person who must write a story, at the expense of my physical health and quality of life–but is it wrong to wish that I was sometimes? To feel an almost compulsory urge to write not just something, but a very specific thing, against all odds? To unload some of the burden of writing to an incessant and powerful force?
To be fair, most people tend to not be fueled by demonic possession. It is pointless to compare oneself to someone like Nawal El Saadawi, who in prison wrote parts of her manuscript with black eyeliner and a roll of toilet paper. Also pointless to compare oneself to Herman Melville, who completed Moby Dick in an obsessive haze, vanquishing everything non-whale related (wife and family included) from his mind.
But demon-driven people exist to a degree, don’t they? There are people who cannot stand to watch TV or movies because they’d rather work on their own art, and writers who forgo social gatherings to spend time alone with their words (and probably a glass of something strong). Others write in whatever minute they can grab–standing up, upside down, in bed and between their children’s waking moments.
Ah, but maybe it isn’t a demon that eludes me, but another D-word. One infinitely more frightening, because it requires a mastery of oneself over one’s surrender to the aforementioned demon.
Frankly, I’d rather throw myself at the mercy of a higher creative power*.
I know that’s not the answer. It’s more like wishful thinking. It also serves as a balm for my continuous fear that there is an essential ingredient of writing that is absent in me.
*As I realize that it’s October 31, I’d like to remind the spirit world that this post should not be considered an invitation for bodily possession. Thanks and be good tonight.