Every now and then, I like to go back to my original thought, the one that leads into the maze, and follow Ariadne’s thread to get back to the center of my purpose.
When I got started working with writers (as opposed to working on my own writing) it was as an offshoot of being an editor, typesetter, and collaborator/co-writer. In addition to these jobs, I had been an English major, and I loved history and literature.
The question of “why I write” never occurred to me in those years, but subsequently, having dealt with many students whose response to a writing prompt was some version of “why bother,” it dawned on me that not everyone had a lust for self-expression; that not everyone was raised to value or desire the need to respond, to have an opinion, to say something.
That was only one problem during the years it took me to get here; another problem was that the writers I worked with, including published writers who I’d assumed had loads of self-confidence, too often told me some version of “I don’t believe in myself enough to do this.”
Eventually I reached my own crisis of confidence, because I faced the yawning abyss of wanting to write fiction (after having had early work consistently rejected), yet having no credible reason to do so. “Why another piece of fiction,” I muttered to myself on bad days. Why now? The world is swimming in fiction; surely, another mystery does not have to be written by me.
In fact, this is how I stop myself a lot of the time from writing many things I would otherwise feel compelled to write: someone else has said it already. You might think this is an excuse not to write, and on one level, I’m sure you’re right. It probably is an excuse. But another way of looking at it is that I don’t have to write everything; I do not have to have my thumb in every pie.
I have an opinion about too many things, and many people’s responses through the years have taught me that I really can shut up and let others talk.
The day I decided I wanted and needed to write my mystery story was the day I also decided that the world needs entertainment, and that entertainment, on its own, is not a bad thing. In other words, I gave myself permission to write something that I did not have to write, but nonetheless wanted to write.
Largely, I wanted to write it because no one else has written it yet, or if they have, they haven’t written it the way I want to, from my perspective and research, in my voice.
I had had enough of wandering up and down the aisles of mysteries in Barnes & Noble, never seeing my book already written by someone else, never seeing my own name stuck somewhere, even haphazardly, in the “G’s”. I wasn’t there because I hadn’t written the book that belongs there, and it seemed like no one else was writing it either.
And this is why you should write what you want to write.
It is a truism that “everything’s been said,” but what is more true is that you haven’t had your shot to say it yet. No one has heard you say it, whatever it is, in your voice, from your perspective, in quite the way you would tell the tale.
This is where I could break into lyric song and tell you that you are a unique snowflake, and I will tell you a version of that. You are unique. No one knows the story you want to tell the way you do, and no one will ever tell the story you want to tell the way you want to tell it, which is why you should give yourself permission to write it, whatever it is.
The world thrives on stories—we need more stories. Human beings absolutely crave stories; it’s how we make order out of what happens to us. Our brains do it each night when we dream—we create narratives, themes, metaphors, and plots to make sense of what happened to us in our lives.
We never tire of hearing, reading, or writing stories, narratives of some kind. It is part of who we are, it’s part of how we order our brains. We’ll create a story around a blade of grass if you let us.
Somewhere during my crisis of confidence I was also reading neuroscience about how the brain works, and the power and importance of stories, so it was then that I realised that it wasn’t infantile or useless or unnecessary to write one more story.
One more story, I realised, is exactly what people want and need, and if other people can write the stories they feel compelled to tell, so can I.
Ultimately, I stopped judging myself for not writing what I should have been writing (which was scholarly and tedious) and began writing what I wanted to write, which requires a lot of historical research, but is fun and is important to me. Eventually, if I ever get it to an agent and/or a publisher, it might see the light of day and mean something to someone else, but that cannot be the reason I write, since “someday” cannot sustain you; it’s too amorphous, too built on fantasy. I have to write because it matters to me, but also because I believe in the story itself, in the need for this story. Without that belief, I was not writing—I was holding myself back because, at the time, I did not believe in the story.
What story do you need permission to write? Are you giving yourself that permission?
- Past Tense: A Tale of Overcoming Writer’s Block, And Becoming The Hero Of My Own Journey (collaborativewriter.wordpress.com)
- 3 Surprising Things I’ve Learned About Writing Fiction (lauriesterbens.wordpress.com)