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Pretend writer suffers existential crisis

I flamed out at 16,265 words. 

Truthfully, I declared National Novel Writing Month defeat a few days before that when I wrote a nasty email to one of my main characters and told her she was lame. "Who cares about you anyway?" I wrote. "You're just a whiny bitch of a mother."

I tried to hang in there for a few more days and my work sessions consisted mainly of me inhaling chocolate as I sat slack-jawed at the computer, tapping out dreck so horrid it made my brain hurt and crying. I did a lot of crying, most notably in the coffee shop with my face buried in my fleece as Kent sat next to me, a pumpkin custard shake in hand. 

I cried hot tears of anger and shame when I told him about the email I wrote to Mary, a character very loosely based on me. 

A friend suggested the writing exercise as a way to break through my writer's block. Just zip off some emails from one character to another or from the narrator to a character, she said. And so I did. My characters traded emails, some of them funny, some informative or revelatory. My narrator wrote only one: to Mary. It was short and vicious. "You're a lame character."

As I shared this with Kent, I realized I wasn't talking to Mary. I was chiding myself. "I'm just a housewife playing at being a writer," I said from behind my fleece.

Here's the thing: I've never understood all the handwringing among many bloggers about whether they're writers or not. I've always thought, if you write, you're a writer. Because I worked as a reporter, for terrible pay, I suppose I've never had the illusion that writing was anything other than an unglamorous, often lonely, thankless slog by people who adore words, stories and the craft of storytelling. Wanna join the club? Sure! Welcome!

And yet, I was wallowing in the same quicksand of insecurities.

I loved my characters for about a week and thrilled at the ritual of writing every day. I was blown away when I sat at the computer, totally uninspired, and saw scenes unfold behind closed eyes. And then, I got tired. I caved to frustration. I ran like a toddler at a haunted house from my inner critic. A pretend writer suffers an existential crisis in a coffee shop. I'd become a pitiful cliche.

"Tobias told a stranger he loved me," I said to Kent, still not looking out from the sweatshirt. "At least I'm doing one thing right."

The proud mother of four kind, interesting, creative, beautiful kids? I know it should be enough. It's just that sometimes, I need more.

Reader Comments (9)

I refer you to point 10 of the NaNoWritMo "How to" page:

10) Win or lose, you rock for even trying.

You wrote 16, 265 words. That hardly qualifies as a "pretend" writer!! If you don't hit the 50k mark, you still rock as a writer :)

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

I sat down tonight and managed another 1843 words. Thanks for the encouragement, Tracy!

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDana

(this likely will not be brief)

Here's the deal. From what I see, it's not whether you write or not that makes you a writer. It's how you feel about your writing. If you sit down in front of a keyboard, bang out a couple thousand words, look it over, smile, click save and go to bed feeling fulfilled, you're not a writer. Not as I see it. You've written, yes, but you're not a writer.

If you sit down in front of the keyboard, bang out a couple thousand words, delete half of them, force your characters to speak to one another in order to figure out who they really are--if you cry into your fucking fleece in public--you're a writer. You may not have written, but you're a writer.

Writers understand that the world, the beauty and the darknesses of it, are things that are indescribable. We do the very best we can to come as close as possible to pinning all that flesh to a page. We try to make reality one dimensional--or rather we try to expand the dimensions of a page in order to fit in all the truth of the world. And it'll never be enough. If we know that, but we keep trying anyway--we're writers.

You're a writer. NaNo is a contest--an artificial clock. Whether you beat that clock or not is a thing independent of your abilities.

I think you're fucking amazing. It's no wonder Tobias is smitten.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterseeking elevation

Putting words...no matter how many words...on a page is not really writing. It's putting words on a page.

Rewriting, where you first listen to the words you put down, then try to understand what they are trying to say, is the first step to writing. It's the pushing and pulling, the taking out and putting in until a new world has been built where feelings are given flesh...that's writing.

I think of it a little as "dancing with the devil you think you know." Because you don't really know the devil (the dark scary edges of yourself and the world around you) until you start to play with those dark scary edges through your words and ideas.

Sometimes it's not pretty. Sometimes it is elegant. But, I believe the truth lies in what Kafka had to say:

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

Writing is that axe, and it is our responsiblity, as well as our joy as writers, to swing that axe to break the frozen sea inside of us.

I like Tobias. He understands.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie Knowles

16,265 words?!? That is awesome. Well done, you.

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNichole

I agree with the first commenter. Win or loose, you rock for trying.
How many people in this world dream of doing something beyond what their lives are right now.... and how many of those "something"s are something creative and sharing of their selves? Many dream, few act. You are one of the few.

You were right the first time. If you write you are a writer. The Inner Critic is just a bitch whose afraid you're going to go off, make new friends like Self Esteem and Creative Expression, and leave her behind, all alone. And she's right! :)

btw, found you through write on edge weekend linkup.

November 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRosemary

I so feel you on this! So much.

I don't know how people do NaNo. It's torturous really. How do you write anything decent without letting it sit and stew for a while between sessions. And how does the insecurity of the inevitably horrible first draft not give you writer's block? I mean, really!

November 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAll Adither

Popping in from Write On Edge weekend linky
I really admire you for even attempting the NaNo thinggie... the thought of doing it petrifies me!!
16,265 words is amazing... awesome stuff!

November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMISH

16,265 Words!! Lady you are (as my daughter's first grade teacher also tells them - and please sing it out Opera Style - "Faaaaabuuuuuulooouuss!!" Now as you sing that out please hold your arms above your head and spread them out until they reach your hips! Strut and feel pride.)

All great writer's have their water hole - we who know where you live are lucky to go by the shop an say - this really great blogger - sits here most mornings before leading a very Posh, Busy Lifestyle.

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbusybees-

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