Fear and the Will to Write

I do what I can to get work done.  That doesn’t mean any one thing, though.  It just means I try everything. On a daily basis.  (From “An Interview with David Anthony Durham” in The Writer’s Chronicle, Volume 46, Number 4, February 2014)

Gent confessed in a new preface he wrote for “North Dallas Forty” in 2003, that “writing is the only thing I have done that comes to being as terrifying as being a football player.”  (From the essay on George Sauer from The New York Times Magazine, December 29, 2013)

For the vast majority of us, launching a book means almost nothing in terms of dollars earned. What it does mean is that somewhere out there, someone is closing the loop — truly hearing what we needed to say — and that is why we do this in the first place. (From One Last Word, blog post by Kim Triedman)

It’s late Sunday afternoon and these three quotes are swirling around in my head.  I’ve transcribed them in the order in which I read them, all within an a 24-hour period:  the interview with Durham last night, the essay on George Sauer this morning, and the quote from Kim Triedman this afternoon when I finally logged onto to my email.  And while trying to compose this post, I had a wonderful exchange with Margaret Langstaff regarding her post on Flannery O’Connor‘s letters.  By the way, that exchange took me to reminiscing about my English grad student days, some twenty years ago now.  There’s much I miss about those days; there’s much that I don’t.

But what about these quotes?  First, the interview with Durham.  Here is a young man (ok, young relative to my age) who has published six novels, three of which comprise a fantasy triology.  Before I even start reading the interview, my eyes land on this quote showcased in the middle of the page:  I’ve never believed in waiting for inspiration. I find inspired moments and plot developments and character growth come as a product of putting fingers to keys and typing.  I like that quote very much, especially since he goes on to say: Breakthroughs are my version of a runner’s high.  They only happen after I’ve been exhausting myself with slogging forward for a while.   In this part of the interview, he describes how his writing process has “devolved” because life seems busier, with more distractions.  I always feel a little gratified and even a little vindicated when I read that an author of many published books struggles to find time to write, perhaps in part because the writing process for him is a “slog.”  Writing for me is a slog, too.  I’m a slow reader.  I’m a slow writer.  Writing 50,000 words in 30 days does not make me a fast writer.  As long as I don’t have to reread and revise, I can write fast.  But when it’s time to take the measure of those 50,000 words, my “writing” slows to a pace that looks pretty much like standing still.

Which brings me to the second quote:  Fear.  The suggestion that writing could be almost as terrifying as being a football player (and this being said by a former football player) made me almost spill my coffee.  It broke my heart to read that Sauer spent the rest of his life wandering, writing constantly but never publishing. He couldn’t bear the imperfections of his own prose […].  I know my writing is imperfect.  But what will keep me from being published:  my fear or my imperfections? I can only try to improve on the latter but the former feels like a constant companion, one that has promised to stay with me until death do us part.

And this fear I ruminated on (and moped about) for the rest of my Sunday until I opened my email account and found Kim Triedman‘s post.  Specifically, the point about why we write (to make money or to “close the loop”) was like a kick in my butt (albeit, a soft one).  I realized then (or rather, remembered) that my drive to write is mainly born out of that need to “close the loop.”  To be heard, to be read.  Why else would have I have started telling/writing stories when I was a kid?  Why else would I have a blog? Why else do I experience that perpetual push-pull of my fear of rejection with my desire to be read, even by someone who eventually rejects my story?

Maybe because I’m inspired by Kim’s quote, or maybe because I’m starting to fancy getting a coffee and cookie from our local B&N, I feel better about being a writer.  Despite my imperfections (or maybe to spite them), I will reread and rewrite and revise and eventually find my way to publication.

Or maybe it’s really George Sauer who inspires me.  To write constantly and yet never be published, even in your own blog, seems very very sad.  I wish that Sauer had been able to “close the loop.”

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About 1WriteWay

Writer, blogger, knitter, and cat lover.
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15 Responses to Fear and the Will to Write

  1. Dave says:

    Thank you for passing along these wonderful quotes, Marie. Durham’s and Triedman’s quotes were awesome and truly lifted my spirits. Of all, I think Triedman’s resonated the most, because in the end that’s what it’s really all about … closing that loop. This makes me look forward to it all the more.

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  2. Pingback: Group Therapy: December « HACKER. NINJA. HOOKER. SPY.

  3. Marie, keep in mind it took O’Connor seven years to write WISE BLOOD and five to write THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY. She wrote, she said, “very slowly,” revised and revised, and claimed several times that she did not know what she had to say until she said it, looked at it on the page to see if it was true, then let it simmer to make sure, then edited it and revised some more, showed it to trusted confidantes for their advice, then re-worked it until it sang. What’s the hurry? Books are forever and should be written with that in mind. 😉

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  4. Aussa Lorens says:

    It is always a comfort to read that someone else feels my (our) pain. Thanks for sharing these, as well as your thoughts on them.

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    • 1WriteWay says:

      Thanks, Aussa. I should have noted as well that although Durham has published six novels, he still has a “day job.” He teaches writing and I suspect he does it in part to augment the huge royalties that he doesn’t get 😉

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      • Aussa Lorens says:

        So you’re telling me I have to give up on the dream of being the next JK Rowling? That’s not common? Dang… 😉

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        • 1WriteWay says:

          I know. I was willing to settle for being the next Louise Penny, my fav crime novelist who puts out a book a year and has won a slew of book awards. She seems to live a “charmed” life, but her hubby is a retired doctor … hmmmmm …

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  5. What a great examination of the nits and grits behind what we do. I think I’m in the “close-the-loop” camp now, having experienced it in recent weeks in a way that has helped me see how important, and satisfying, it is. It really is like an electrical circuit; if the loop isn’t closed, there’s no juice and your light bulb don’t glow!

    I have to think that a George Sauer would have found a way to close the loop if he’d developed as a writer more recently, with all of the outlets available now and all the positive feedback that writers’ communities (like WP) offer.

    PS — I agree with Margaret, above, that we might feel pressure to produce quickly, but it’s better to take a long view and craft the best work you can.

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  6. My Muted Voice says:

    Lovely quotes and definitely makes me feel a bit more comfortable in my own fear in regards to writing and publication.

    Happy New Year!
    Deanna

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