The Faint of Heart Need Not Apply

When people find out that I am a writer, they have a lot of questions. What’s it like? Why do you do it? How do you do it? Do you enjoy it?

I can’t speak for all writers, but I can tell you my perspective. Writers don’t write because we enjoy it, we write because we can’t not write. Whether it’s a diary, a blog post, a novel, or a poem, we have something to say, and we need to say it, so we write it down. We may never publish it; sometimes, we write only for ourselves, and no one else ever reads it. But whatever form it takes, and whether or not anyone ever knows about it, we write, because writers cannot be happy unless they are writing.

Writing does not equal happiness; it allows for the possibility of it. Writing is hard work, and editing is harder. Anyone can bang out a crappy first draft, but transforming it into something that effectively communicates a meaningful observation about the human experience – that’s the tricky part. Taking that idea in your head or that feeling in your heart and using words to convey it to someone else so they can understand it and feel it, too – that’s divine, and that does not happen every day. When the words flow and the editing is productive, writing is exhilarating. Saying what you want to say without caring what anyone else thinks is liberating, and successfully expressing what’s in your heart is satisfaction at its best. But when you write, rewrite, and revise a piece that you’ve invested countless hours in, and you realize that it’s a DNR – despite your best efforts, you can’t save it – that is frustration at its worst.

The beauty of writing is this: every once in a while you write something, toy with it a bit, and then put it away. You forget about it for a time, and when you come back and read it, you feel the emotions that inspired you to write it like a punch in the gut – you laugh out loud, or you weep, and you realize that you nailed it. The piece is not perfect; no piece ever is. But it is moving, it is honest, and you know that it is not just words on that page, it’s your soul. Or you write something, and you share it. Someone reads it, and they tell you they cried, because they’ve felt that way, too, and they thought they were the only ones. And you realize that the words that didn’t exist until you brought them into the world comforted someone, made them laugh, inspired them, or made them feel a little less alone. And at that moment you know that all the effort it took for you to wrestle that piece out of your head and bring it into submission on the page was worth it.

This is what writing is to me:

A God-given gift to be used for the benefit of others.

Almost never getting a good night’s sleep because I frequently wake up in the wee hours with an idea that I don’t want to forget, so I get up, write it down, and resuming sleep becomes impossible.

Every wastebasket in my house overflowing with crumpled up papers, because I edit on hard copy. (Dear trees, thank you for your sacrifice. I hope you haven’t died in vain.)

A million random bits of inspiration in the notes app on my phone.

A trail of post-it notes everywhere I go. (I’m easy to find! Follow the breadcrumb trail of post-its!)

A kitchen table constantly littered with in-progress drafts, red pens, empty coffee cups, and manila folders. (Sorry, kids, you’ll have to eat on your laps, Mommy is working!)

Books covering every surface in my house.

Spending nights, weekends, and holidays agonizing over word choice, punctuation and sentence structure. Spending sunny days indoors, hunched over a keyboard or a pad, gnawing on pen caps and asking myself if there is still room for improvement or if I’ve transitioned from editing to dismantling.

Spending so much time alone indoors with my words that sometimes I think I might be going insane.

Gratitude for the people in my life that drag me out of the house, and remind me that there is a world outside of my head.

Working through my heartbreak, my happiness, my hopes and my regrets on the page.

Getting to know myself through my writing; finding out how I feel, what I want, and what haunts me.

My friends and family rolling their eyes when they get my multi-paragraph text messages. (That’s not a text message, Mandy, it’s a novella!). Apologies, loved ones – occupational hazard!

Getting pregnant with a piece, letting it germinate inside me, bringing it out into the world, nurturing it with everything that I have, and then pushing it out of the nest and hoping that it can fly.

Obsessively nit-picking every word in a piece until I hit the post button, and then refusing ever to read it again because I’ll find things that I wish I could change and I’ll be mortified that it’s too late – oh no, people have read it!

Publishing a piece and desperately hoping that everyone reads it, gets it, loves it, and shares it.

Publishing a piece and not being able to sleep, or eat, or concentrate, because I’m terrified that someone might read it, or share it.

Constant rejection. Rejection in my mailbox, rejection in my inbox, rejection online. Rejection from agents, publishers, editors, and readers. Learning through this process that I must write for myself alone; I must write what is in my heart to the best of my ability and let the work be my reward.  My self-worth cannot be dependent on people’s reaction to my writing, or this work will destroy me.

Vulnerability. Feeling as if the entire world has access to my diary.

Exploiting my friends and family as first readers, editors, publicists, and therapists. (Should I post this, or take my laptop to a field with a shotgun and put it out of its misery?)

Learning that my childhood fantasy of a writer’s life is not reality. I dreamed of being a writer because I’m a shy homebody. Being a writer entails socializing, publicity, an online presence, and lots of pictures; it’s impossible to hide. Writing has pushed me out of the comfort zone that I envisioned spending my life in. Outside my comfort zone is where adventures happen, so this is an unexpected gift that writing has given me.

Forgetting to eat. Forgetting to sleep. Forgetting that I have to go somewhere, call someone, or pick up a child. Losing track of time and reality. Did I mention that I might be going insane?

Falling in love with words. Having a knock-down, drag-out fight with them. Breaking up with words, and hating their guts. Missing them, and the good times that we’ve shared. Deciding to give them one more chance, because no matter how much they infuriate me, when it’s good, it’s so good, that I can’t walk away. Surrendering and throwing my hands up on this roller coaster because words and I are in a passionate, life-long love affair, and no matter how much it hurts, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My dining room table mid-project. Brought to you by Staples, a leading office supply retailer, and proud owner of most of my paychecks.

My dining room table mid-project. Brought to you by Staples, a leading office supply retailer, and proud owner of most of my paychecks.

Amanda RoweComment