Writing Without Hope

I feel, and have for some time felt, that I’m not a writer. As I’ve written in the past, I have always been hesitant about laying claim to the title of writer. In the past, it was a feeling of simply not achieving something yet, but that there was some actual thing I could achieve. Once I achieved that thing, I would be able to claim the title. I felt that I just needed to keep writing and submitting, and eventually I would be a writer. I knew that, despite whatever milestone I crossed, it would never be enough to let me feel like I was a writer. Still there was a sense that this was a goal worth working towards and that it was a goal that was achievable. Even if I was never satisfied with my achievement and kept pushing myself further, I still saw the effort as worthwhile in and of itself.

More recently though, I feel like a fraud. The very act of putting words on the page, for me, is a lie and a waste of time. Not that I’ve stopped enjoying writing—I still love it. It’s just that when I do write it’s a transgression or a sin of some sort. There are better and more honest things I could be doing with my time like binge watching Netflix. True nothing productive would come of it, but I would no longer be perpetrating the lie that I had something to say.

In the past, I believed that I had something worth saying, that I could say it in an interesting and artful manner, and that there was an audience for my words. I no longer believe any of that. I have lost my faith in my words. In fact, this feeling towards my writing is the same feeling that I had when I lost my faith in God, but this loss is much more distressing to me. When I try to sit down to write, some part of me—the part that, when I am particularly depressed, would bring up suicide—whispers that I should wipe my hard drive and burn those overstuffed binders filled with my poems. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad that the voice of my self-destructive, malfunctioning brain chemistry now wants to kill my writing rather than just myself, yet this change in self-destructive ideation points to how wrapped up my identity is with writing. In losing my faith in my words, much like when I lost faith in God, I am left without meaning and purpose. Now you understand why I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long.

I keep thinking of this year as a year where I didn’t write, but that isn’t true. I didn’t write as consistently nor did I create as many new pieces as I’ve done in other years. I don’t find myself filled with as many ideas for poems and stories. Still it would be a lie to say I didn’t write. Over the year, I’ve dismantled my first manuscript of poetry, set aside half of it, and combined the other half with newer poems to create a completely new manuscript. I’ve revised many of the poems in that new manuscript. Despite my gnawing self-doubt, I’ve recently requested that some friends read and critique it. During the summer, I was struck by inspiration and wrote several short stories. I joined an online poetry workshop for which I wrote a few new poems. I even got a couple of poems published. This is not the year of someone who hasn’t been writing.

Still it hasn’t been a particularly good year. This year I started to weep upon receiving rejection letters. This year several people said to me “but I’m a writer” as explanation for why I couldn’t understand their ideas. This year an acquaintance, who I had been in the MFA program with, exclaimed, “I didn’t know you write” when I mentioned working on some short stories. Perhaps what has changed was that before the doubt had always been that internal voice, which I’ve long ago learned I should, for my health, ignore, but now the outside world was telling me that I am not, in fact, a writer.

I’ve stopped submitting my work. I’m waiting for one last rejection letter, and then no more of my poems or stories will be “under consideration.” As my husband pointed out, it is alright to take a break from submitting. I can use this time to focus on my work and get it to the place where I want it without worrying whether or not X or Y journal would even consider publishing it. For the past seven years, I have consistently and frequently submitted my work. It is alright to put that on the back-burner for the moment. Still there is a part of me that wonders if this is just the first step to giving up.

I’m not sure what to do now. It is December and the days are short, which means that my outlook is bit bleaker than normal. The part of myself that urges me to quit is a part that I’ve learned needs to be ignored. In the past when it spoke, I would remind myself that I needed to endure until spring and everything—without actually changing—would be better. It’s amazing the effect sunlight can have on a perspective. Maybe I need to have a bit of a fallow period, to rest, before I can submit again? Maybe I need some time where I’m not preoccupied with finding a home for a poem? Maybe writing is nothing more than a hobby, and I should stop trying to define myself by it. Maybe this is as good as I’m going to get. Maybe if I endure, this feeling will pass, and I will have faith in my words again. Maybe I’ve just wasted several years of my life.

I don’t really know if I’m wasting my time with writing or if this is just an off-year. All I know is that there is nothing I love as much as writing. I’ve often read articles that advise aspiring writers to write for themselves and not for others. Surely that should be enough for me. I should just work on my poems and stories until I’m happy with them and then put them away in the drawer for no one to read. Why can’t that be enough? What vanity and egotism drives me to try to find an audience? While I agree with the intention of that advice—don’t try to change your writing to please someone else—the implication that you should be happy even if you never find an audience is distressing. The idea of writing for myself alone is about as appealing as talking to myself—I’ll always prefer an actual conversation to a monologue. I don’t speak for the sake of the air pressure applied to my vocal cords, I speak to be heard. I don’t write for myself alone, but I write to be read. Still I’ll talk to myself, if no conversation is to be had.

It’s strange that, unlike I did with God, I’m not willing to give up on my writing. All I can do is sit down at my desk every day and try to get words down on the page—even if sometimes I weep at my fraudulence. All I can do is endure. I tell myself that maybe my faith in my words will return, that this is just a rough patch that will pass. I don’t believe myself for an instant.  I can only hope that I, once again, am wrong.

The Morning After the Deluge by J. M. W. Turner

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