A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To Write or Not to Write

The headline is as follows: Self-Proclaimed Writer Gives in to Bout of Selfish Lethargy, Questions Identity Due to Lack of Discipline and Product.

It may seem over-dramatic for me to be thinking along these lines when all that’s really happened is that I’ve let my blogging slide, but I feel like a contestant on a reality show that isn’t making the cut. I’m like one of those chefs that hasn’t prepared enough for the final bake-off on The Next Great Baker; my German Chocolate layers are going to be sagging and I’ll have to try to even out the finished product with extra fondant – but you can always tell that someone has cheated when you cut into the cake. In other words, my blog is the regular writing exercise that I need to maintain at least a sense that I’m moving forward as a writer – that I’m continuing to use and hone my skills, keep track of my thoughts, and amass material for the book that I will theoretically someday write. But I haven’t been writing and posting too much lately – I’ve been more interested in sleeping and reading after work.

This leads to the dramatic question of whether or not I really have the chops to make it as a writer – or am I simply a good communicator? I am, after all, only a self-declared writer and don’t really feel comfortable calling myself an author at this point, since I have only published a couple of academic articles, and haven’t even produced (let alone published) any short stories, novels or non-fiction books.

Of course, anyone is free to disagree with the way I am parsing the definitions of writer and author, but it is important to understand that in my mind, having published my critical opinions on other people’s works of fiction does not fulfill my ultimate goal of writing and publishing memoirs and fiction. This isn’t to say that one type of writing is better than others, merely that they are different, and that I still feel as though my goal of writing stories of any kind is a far-off dream. I think I have become one of those people who says things like, “I always meant to write a novel…” Or perhaps I qualify as one of those people that says, “I’m writing a novel,” when really they have a few scribbles and dead-end ideas that they haven’t worked on for months but they can’t consciously acknowledge that they will never actually finish their project. I’m not sure whether it would feel worse to know that I am someone who failed because I didn’t have the discipline to even start, or someone who failed because I didn’t have the discipline to keep going.

In any case, I sometimes question whether or not I should really call myself a writer. Sure, I write for a living now, so I suppose that counts – I write pages and pages about how communities in the Bronx and other parts of New York are poverty-stricken and need various types of support services; I write blurbs and press releases about the events and fundraisers at our social services organization. I write web content and email updates; I engage in the act of writing plenty. I can even claim fairly accurately that I do all that well – because I am a skilled communicator. My boss seems fairly pleased with me, others have praised what I have contributed to the organization so far – I should be happy.

But although I have found a good career, it doesn’t help meet my personal creative goals. Writing for a living isn’t the same as being the author of a novel, something that I would be proud to contribute to the world’s accumulation of art. (Cue the song “Glory” from Rent – the one where Roger sings about his desire to leave behind one thing that will “redeem this empty life” when he dies.)

Maybe the problem is that we aspiring artists set the bar too high – Roger wants to “find Glory / in a song that rings true / truth like a blazing fire / an eternal flame.” But that is a seriously ambitious goal, and we can’t all be Bonos and Dostoevskys. Even if I published a novel and it got some buzz for a while, what are the chances that it would gain the kind of readership that Fyodor and Charles Dickens still enjoy? How many of us really express “truth like a blazing fire” that cuts to the heart of everyone who reads our work?

The other day, my husband asked me, “Do you still want to write a book someday?” His question seemed to come out of nowhere, and it bewildered me for a minute. Yes, of course I want to write a book… perhaps even more than one. But how realistic is that dream? Is it realistic enough for me to consider it a goal and not just a fantasy? Is it any more realistic than my dream of owning a yacht?? I have to question the practicality of my own goals if I can’t even maintain a regular (creative) writing schedule while I’m working a nine-to-five job.

It was nice to realize that my wonderful husband was asking that very question because he was contemplating scenarios in which he would work full time and I would stay home with our kid(s) and write a book, so perhaps it will be more feasible for me to devote more time and energy to writing longer projects at some point in the future. But even so, one has to question the feasibility of a goal that may always have to be put off for something more immediate. I’m reminded of a refrigerator magnet that my grandma used to have: a bright pink elephant with the words “I’ll diet tomorrow” stamped into his flank. More than a reality show contestant, I resemble that elephant; I might as well be tattooed with the words, “I’ll write tomorrow.”

My lack of desire to sit down and write is not from lack of material, though – I still haven’t blogged about the rest of my weekend in D.C., which on some level I am eager to get down on paper and share with my small but devoted audience. I had some thoughts and experiences that I, being the egomaniac that I am, think were pretty interesting. The stuff of epiphanies, -- absolutely brilliant, you know.

I’ll force myself to get back to that subject in a day or two, but once I realized that I had been putting off the writing most of the week, I couldn’t help but mull over my identity as a writer a bit. My title at work is “Communications Associate and Grant Writer,” which may be a more accurate reflection of my identity overall as my life follows its new course. I communicate skillfully and I write very specific forms. Does that make me an author? Not in my opinion.

But maybe I need to be a little less hard on myself. Maybe I also need to take heart from the very thing that shook me to the core this past December/January – the crazy new direction that my life has taken. I suppose that if it has already happened once or twice, it could happen again. I could end up living on a yacht off the coast of Greece, writing novels and collecting a paycheck as big as Stephen Kings. Of course, it’s more likely that I’ll pop out a baby or two, then try to write a novel in between soccer practices and swim meets.

(Hey, if Stephenie Meyer can do it, then why can’t I? I have to admit that I'm rather taken by the whole story of how she wrote Twilight, staying up late at night after her husband and children had gone to bed, afraid to show anyone but her sister what she was working on. And now she has five novels and as many movie adaptations to her name, not to mention all the fan paraphernalia and a flirty little red sports car that she bought with her bonus check.)

In the meantime, my modest goal is to continue blogging – because if nothing else, it allows me to keep track of my thoughts, accumulate ideas and stretch my narrative muscles in a way that I just can’t do when I’m writing a grant. I don’t need to be a Nazi when it comes to maintaining a strict schedule for my blog, but if I let it slip by too much, I will be abandoning something much larger than just the blog itself. I will be abandoning the idea that I am working toward the book that I promised my grandmother that I would write – and if nothing else, I can’t let her down. That is a pretty good reason to keep thinking of myself as a writer and working toward that goal.

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