Am I Still a Writer if My Stories Aren’t Screaming to Escape?

Lately, I’ve been posting my writing-related success stories on Facebook. If you look at my wall, it’s mostly bubbly entreaties to check out a piece when it gets published, or a bit of I’m-so-excited news about a story acceptance.

And, yes, I’m proud of what I’ve done since quitting a full-time startup job about a year ago: I’ve gotten stories into three pro-paying markets and three semi-pro-paying ones. Each of those acceptances has felt like a huge, delicious nugget of validation.

But I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m not moving fast enough. I feel displaced on my own timeline, like I was shoved back to a starting point when I should be years’ worth of work ahead. This wouldn’t be so maddening if I didn’t also feel like I could get to where I want to be, if only I wasn’t a passionless slug-person. Sometimes I am stymied by this feeling to the point of paralysis, wherein I think that too much time has elapsed for me to ever hit the maximum of my potential, and so I should just flump around and consume media rather than create it. (Weh. Weeeeh.)

A huge part of this feeling stems from the (obviously unhealthy) practice of comparing myself to others. When it comes to output, I see myself as a doddering tortoise who lays a single, coveted egg once every blue moon, and others as gloriously feathered phoenix-chickens whose eggs pop out with supernatural speed and regularity. When someone complains on Twitter about only writing 1,000 words that day, I cringe with shame. I don’t write every day, and I’ve written 1,000 words in a day perhaps…twice?

It seems like many of the greats have a conveyer belt inside them that cannot be slowed or shut down. They excrete stories—good ones, amazing ones!—uncontrollably. They speak of the story’s need to be born, of the undeniable autonomy of the idea, a force that possesses them and precludes any action other than furious typing. It’s true that I’ve been in the grip of “flow” before—but these authors seem to live in flow. I envy them for it, every day.

Of course, envy will get me nowhere, and it’s not a good motivator. Some people just write slowly! Some people don’t (always) experience writing as a single fiery breath of inspiration that must be expelled, lest it char their brains! I have to remind myself of this fact often because I haven’t found many authors who talk about it. (Daniel José Older is one, though, and this piece gave me much solace.) A lot of writing advice is a bit boot camp-y in its insistence that you write ALL THE FUCKING TIME because otherwise your VERY BLOOD won’t TURN INTO INK.

If you don’t feel like writing all the time, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you’re a passionless slug-person. Passion has no true form, and it doesn’t always involve breakneck urgency. For you it might mean that writing is often a slog, but you believe that you have a knack for it and you would really like to see something emerge from your brain, however shyly it does so. When I’m feeling good about my current M.O., I think of it as thorough, not lazy. (That is, unless I actually do need someone to say, “Just start writing, you whiner.” No one’s above some old-fashioned procrastination.)

It’s hard to let go of the hunch that I’m missing some sort of integral zeal that Stephen King, a personal hero of mine, has in spades. I’ll probably always long for it because it’s something I can’t pin down in myself (yet). But whether I realize the secret one day or not, there are pros and cons to every writing approach. The only thing that ends up mattering is that you wrote. You can release the words like drool or like projectile vomit, so long as they end up outside of you.

When I forget this fact, I become scared that I’m not cut out to be a writer. I get scared when I can’t write a new story every month (or every three months), and I get scared when the stories don’t feel like they’re erupting from my body, cackling as they achieve freedom.

So, I wrote this as a post in my “What Scared Me” blog, hoping it’ll function as a reminder that passion doesn’t have a set pace or face. I have no doubt that other people have written posts/essays/tweets with a similar slant, and I would REALLY like to read them. Please, share likeminded pieces if you can!


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