Some nights are spent settling into the dark, recalling the day’s thoughts, finding that subconscious place, and when the sleep begins to take me at that moment my body sinks deeply into the mattress, the fragment, the inspiration comes to me. I spend the next hour with the image on repeat, words quietly, almost silently recounted as if in prayer until it’s committed to memory. I feel the twitching, fingers shifting, flexing, but this place is too delicate for movement. It’s like when your hand brushes against a silken spider web. Jerk your hand or move too suddenly, the web turns to mist beneath even the smallest touch and it’s gone. This idea is like that. The wrong move, my husband’s snore, a car’s headlights in the window, and it’s gone forever. It’s a tired place; the kind of tired that is even too tired to grab the notebook from the bedside.
Yes, I sleep with a notebook and a flashlight next to my bed, and every damn time I forget to bring it up is precisely when I have these kinds of ideas that can never be remembered on the way to find that elusive scrap of paper as the thought turns first to a spider web and then to dust.
Why do I do this?
I’m a writer.
It’s only recently that my writer’s mind has shifted to where I think I want to be, but facing what’s been holding me back is almost as hard as looking at the blank page, much like I’ve been staring at it for the last couple of hours. I know that if I didn’t give myself this deadline, the words would flow, and I’d turn around in an hour and have two thousand words on what happened last night in politics (Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucus in case you were wondering), but I’ve put so much pressure on this one essay and on the outcome that it’s blocked what I want to say.
What I want is to write, but when I do, I hold back. I parse every word, every syllable, hoping to find the courage, but only finding procrastination, and when it passes from one day into the next, I talk myself into a new deadline. Procrastination puts off not only the work itself, but the rejection; the comments that don’t say what I want them to say or not enough petting to get me to be consistent in the output of my work. Do people really want to read it? It almost doesn’t matter.
Weirdly, the fear of being rejected is always there, but while I want people to read and want more, most of the time, I don’t write for others. I write for me. If I don’t write, I die. It’s that simple.
If I don’t write, I die.
And while the fear of rejection is always there, always ready to rear its ugly head with I told you so’s and you’re not good enoughs, it still doesn’t matter. Well, of course, it matters, but I still write. I can’t not.
And now with three kids full time in school, and the proverbial mid-life crisis crushing me, I’m reminded that it’s time for me to get a paying job, and that is quite literally the last thing I want. It’s always easier finding what I don’t want, but the one thing I do want is to write. I want to share my voice and my experiences. I want it more than ever; want to do it and get paid for it, and the question isn’t can I, but do I have the stamina to? Do I have the kind of stamina that can answer the question, what do you do for a living and answer boldly, I write; I’m a writer? And can I do it without casting my eyes downward with an embarrassed shrug as if to say, I’m sorry; I’m a writer. Do I have the kind of stamina to put out quality work and face the rejection and lay myself bare to the world, a world that is not the one I intended on being a part of forty years ago when I began this writing journey?
Writing has been with me since a very young age. I’ve always had journals, stationery, fancy pens (because everyone knows you need fancy pens to write anything). I carry notebooks everywhere because some ideas do come during the daytime. The one idea that no one else has; the one that would set my writing on its way and if it didn’t fit into my pretend fictional life, it would be good for that magazine article that I’m not writing or that book that’s not getting published. I had a notebook, still do come to think of it with all my false starts, all my half stories, opening paragraphs, marketing ideas and notes.
I thought I had all the time in the world. That’s what I was told.
Writing will always be there.
Writing wasn’t useful, was it? Being a lawyer was useful. Being a teacher was useful. Being a mother was useful. Writing is a fun hobby to do in high school or through the summer or when your studies are finished. Go to college. Get a job. Have a career. Get married. Have kids. Do this first. Do that first. You can always write later.
Writing would come later.
I don’t know if anyone actually said this to me, or if I ever said it out loud, but it was there in my mind; clearly. I believed it.
I believed that I had all the time in the world. When I wrote my first embarrassing self-insert Mary Sue fan fiction for The White Shadow, I had no idea there was such a thing as fan fiction. I had a crush on the actor and really, really, really wanted my pre-teenager self to be part of the show, and so I was. At least in my little black marble composition book.
After that, and all through high school and college, I created wonderful characters for Dungeons & Dragons, and gave them elaborate back stories, almost always non-Human because what fun were Humans anyway? Top Secret lent itself to Monique Jonquille, a French spy, not that I knew anything about that, and of course, as the photographer for 100 Club, a pretend opening act for Duran Duran who also wrote on the side, I wrote. Even in my pretend fantasy life, there wasn’t enough courage to actually be in the pretend band with pretend instruments. Someone had to stand in the background and take the pretend pictures. Someone had to write the pretend press releases after all.
And that’s how it went. I was an almost writer, carrying my notebook, listing names and places and quotations and funny ideas, but nothing of substance, and everything I have still is really nothing of substance. Through it all, I assumed my paralyzing procrastination would always serve me well. It wasn’t procrastination; it was perseverance. It was practice. It was becoming a professional. I wrote and I honed and I re-wrote and I edited and in the end, it was a perfect example of writing and dryer than the paper it was written on. I went to seminars and conferences and despite no published credits aside from a favor and a self-published chapbook, I was still a writer. Because I said so.
That was okay, though. Real writing would come later. This was as far as I could put myself. If I put myself too far out there, I might get rejected and rejected was bad. Getting rejected wasn’t part of the plan in my head.
All the while I thought I was writing and planning things perfectly and getting ready for just the right story and the perfect submission, I turned around and discovered that while writing will always be there, a writing job might not be if I wasn’t willing to change my outlook.
The print media, which I’d really trained myself for has mostly gone away. Yes, there are still many newspapers and periodicals, but there are so many actual professionals to write for them. Even looking at a magazine like Newsweek, which is now part of The Daily Beast, an online magazine, and everything’s consolidated and everyone else is so much better, not to mention that some writers write for free for, and how do I break into that as a nobody, which I am in so many ways? How do I change everything I thought I was working for and become what’s there now?
It’s almost too much.
I don’t want to be afraid anymore.