On Being a Writer

There are days I write sentences that I hate. I blame it on lots of things. My lack of B12. Not enough sleep. Too much coffee. My boyfriend coming in to hug me when I’m in the middle of a paragraph that I can only hope is going somewhere. I can fall into spaces of abysmal negativity: you’re not good at this. You’re already twenty-eight, don’t you know Zadie Smith published White Teeth when she was twenty-two? You should submit more. You should submit less and focus your submissions. You should buy this literary journal, that one. You need to study, study, study. You need an MFA. You should have gotten an MFA. An MA is not enough, not nearly enough. And the worst, the absolute worst: What is the point? Waking up an hour earlier than needed in order to work on a novel that may never be seen by anyone? Should I even be writing a novel? Who ever said I could write a novel? I should write shorter stories. Short shorts. Digestible things. Things that can be broken into little, fragmented bits. Who ever said I was allowed to be in love with language?

I have a way of nitpicking at every choice I’ve made in my life and questioning it. I can waste several minutes of my day inventing an entirely different life course, daydreaming about where I would be now had I taken that path instead of this one. I should have been more dedicated to learning Spanish. I should have applied to Iowa. I’m distracted. Reticent. Too much. Not enough. Never, ever enough.

Sometimes, on weekends, when I have all the time in the world, I don’t write a thing. There are Sundays that pass with me laying on my couch, stretching my body along the length of the cushions, this cheap thing from IKEA that my boyfriend and I still haven’t paid off, reading a book or a barrage of magazines, thinking I should be writing, angry at myself for not writing. Some days, I write so much that my hands hurt.

I study the accomplishments of writers I have never met. If I allow it, I can spend scary amounts of time doing this, reading the bylines of writers my age living in California or Virginia or Mississippi or hell, I don’t know, Nebraska, who’ve been published in journals I’ve never heard of and some I have, wondering how it is they’ve managed to accomplish so much in so little time. One female writer in particular, with whom I’ve never met, stands out in my mind. Is she not bound by anxiety? Does she not have student loan debt and a job she needs to spend 40 hours a week at in order to pay her rent? Does she worry that the age of having children is slowly passing her by? Does she (sometimes, deep down) believe that writing is in itself a selfish act? Does she feel guilt? Is she working on a novel, too?

I bet painters don’t go through this.

I should travel more, I think. I should meet more people. I should attend conferences. Apply to residencies. Attend more workshops. But, ultimately, I should write more, more, more, more.

Some days I write sentences that I love. Sentences that tumble elegantly into paragraphs. Words that when spoken, roll off the tongue in exquisite ways. Words that are interesting. Words that are purposeful. Words that work to mean different things. Who could ever write such perfect sentences? I think. There are days where I can read the work of others, published and not, and think my work is better. Know my work is better. Some days, I’m the best writer in the room.

But I can celebrate my accomplishments for up to a day before I forget they even happened. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy. My mom doesn’t understand what I do. Half of my friends work in healthcare. They think I’m crazy, too, but for other reasons.

I’ve heard other writers say this: they just want to be read. They don’t want an advance. They don’t want that residency, or that book tour, or that teaching position. They just want someone to find meaning in the words they so delicately, arduously, placed on the page. It’s like we’re all waiting with big signs on our chests, arms open, screaming Please, love me!

I don’t know, I don’t know. Some days I want to shout for someone to lead me in the right direction before I throw everything I’ve ever written out the window, all the while shouting No, let me go! Let me do it my way! I don’t know, I don’t know. Idon’tknowIdon’tknow. I’m just a writer.

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