I wish I could write fiction like I used to be able to write it in high school. That is: all the time, for nobody’s consumption but mine, with absolutely no self-consciousness.
All the shit I wrote in high school was just that — shit. But it brought me joy, and made me feel like I was expressing a part of myself that needed to be expressed at any cost. Now, I almost never write fiction. I’m constantly self-criticizing, comparing myself to other writers, wondering what’s the point if I never get published, I suck at it anyway, world’s tiniest violin.
The last time I really put time and effort into trying to finish a novel was after grad school in 2013. I wrote about 30,000 words of a book that I remember almost literally nothing about. Maybe it’s because I wrote it while deeply depressed in Utah, but I feel weirdly ashamed when I think about that stupid thing. I tried so hard to write every day — sometimes only writing a few hundred words to keep my streak of daily writing going — but there was absolutely no passion or joy in it. I just mechanically wrote word after word, hoping at the end of a year I’d have something like a first draft in my hands.
I quit working on the book as soon as I left Utah, and I have no regrets. It wasn’t good, and I wasn’t writing it for any reason but to try to do something as a distraction from my empty life. But even though I know that book was conceived in bad circumstances, I have this sort of terror that any fiction I try to write from now on will feel like that. A rote habit that serves no purpose but to fulfill my arbitrary self-imposed “need” to write.
I fully realize that writing only when the muse speaks to you is some kind of bullshit. I know that writing, if you want to do it professionally, requires dedication and regular effort and practiced skill. It’s a job, literally. I’m not under any illusion that it’s not under my own full control whether I write and finish a book or not. But the vast difference in feeling between book #1 (finished) and book #2 (unfinished forever) has thrown me.
It’s possible that I’m not cut out for professional novel writing, and I’m okay with that, I think. It’s true that as soon as you start doing something you love as a job, it begins to feel like — surprise — a job. And while my dream was always to write books for a living, I know it wouldn’t be the blissful experience I always fantasized about while growing up.
So maybe my “calling” is just to write fiction for fun. For myself. Okay, I can do that! Or can I?
My goal for 2018 was to write a book. Not a book to publish, or even necessarily share with anyone, but just for me. To remind myself that I still love fiction. A project to lose myself in, characters to love, a return to a cherished home. This is what I want for myself — I am dedicated.
But here I sit, a few days into the third month of 2018, and I have nothing to show for this dedication but an incomplete plot outline.
I realize I’ve been busy and heartsick and then actually sick, but I can’t help but wonder what the fuck my problem is. Isn’t this, like, your passion, Meg? Your dream? Didn’t you drop tens of thousands of dollars on an overseas postgraduate degree specifically for NOVEL WRITING, the most self-indulgent purchase you have made or will ever make in your entire goddamn life? Yet you just ~can’t get in the right mindset~ to write. Okay.
But it’s, like, hard.
Listen, when I was writing in London, I worked about 10 hours a week and had nothing else going on! I spent every waking hour (when I wasn’t trying to catch mice in my room) thinking about my book, drawing characters from it, plotting scenes, immersing myself in the world I’d created. It was so easy to just pour words onto the page when I was living there with the characters all the time.
Now, though, I’m trying to live a whole life outside of my fictional worlds. I’m working 40 hours a week, taking care of a dog, maintaining a social life, eating real food (kind of) (I only really ate crumpets in London), doing a podcast, following hockey. And sure, I have time to write. I could fit it in. But when I’m only able to sit down for a couple of hours a day, switch to writing mode, and finally be present in that story after a day of focusing on other things — it doesn’t seem to work for me. It feels empty, just like it did when I tried to write that stupid book in Utah.
Maybe, as I said, I’m just not cut out for writing unless I can do it full-time. I have such an obsessive personality that I like to lose myself completely in whatever I do, no matter what it is. So when I wrote my first book, it was my entire life. I’d get impatient on social outings because I wanted to go back home and write. But now, even though I’ve created characters and a setting I truly love for this new book, I just can’t get emotionally involved when I don’t have time to get emotionally involved. If that makes any kind of sense? Which it really doesn’t now that I write it.
I feel like a failure, to be honest. I feel like a failure in many aspects of my life, but mainly the writing. I enjoy writing here, and I’m so glad I decided to start blogging again, because it gives me an outlet for my writing urges, even if these words aren’t exactly good or useful or interesting. But with fiction, I just don’t know if I can do it anymore, not right now. Not for just myself and just for fun.
This is a problem I’ve been dealing with for probably the past… oh, I don’t know, 10 years, so maybe there’s no solution for me. Maybe I’ll just have to wait until I’m retired to finish my next novel, and accept that that’s just the way it’s gotta be.
I wish I knew what I was supposed to do, so I could stop beating myself up over this for no reason.