I feel I need to contextualize my rant of last week.
Nine years ago, I finished my MFA. Two years later, I finished the book I had begun writing as part of my MFA. Five years after that I started this blog.
Did you catch what I just said? Maybe you were distracted by the big number nine that I started with, but nine isn’t the number that concerns me right now. Let me repeat: five years after finishing my first book, I started this blog. Five years. Half a decade – which isn’t even beginning to consider the fact that it’s been almost a full decade since finishing my degree in writing. And what did I do in those years? I got married, had a baby, advanced in my career, built some modicum of financial and emotional stability. In short, I grew up.
During those five years, I also spent a lot of time writing into dead ends – a hundred pages into a novel about living in Athens, six chapters into another memoir about living in LA, countless rehashed but not quite revived short stories that hadn’t been worth the effort the first time – and I spent even more time making lists of agents and small presses and poetry awards and chapbook competitions (never mind that I write neither poetry nor chapbooks) in some backwards attempt to get myself published without ever actually submitting any of my writing to anyone, as though by just thinking about it hard enough I might make it so.
Surprisingly, this approach worked a couple of times (or not surprisingly, considering the company I used to keep). A hipster scene small batch magazine printing here, a friend of a friend’s art journal there. But then the coincidental opportunities dried up, and so did my creative practice. Which is when I started to spend a lot of time not writing, because what was the point of writing if there was no one to read it? If a tree falls in the forest, can it still win a Pulitzer?
I both worried and hoped that by not writing I would simply cease to be a writer. That the urge to create would eventually evaporate and I would have endless open time in which I could sew or cook or read or drink. Which is what I did, sort of. I did cook a lot, and I read a bit, but usually the reading made me frustrated at my own lack of creation, and the cooking wasn’t quite the stand-in I needed. And so I drank. And smoked pot. And worked a lot and cleaned a lot and started running with my dog early in the mornings to give me an excuse to not feel bad about getting into bed instead of sticking my butt in front of my desk and chopping away through another chapter of the book or another page in the journal or whatever it was that I was intentionally not writing at that given moment in time.
And then I had a child. And in having a child, free time was no longer a luxury, it was lunacy, and so any free moment I had now needed to be filled with value. And it turns out, no activity in my life had quite so much value as writing.
It’s been two years since I started this blog. In that time, I have written nearly one hundred little posts of around a thousand words each (ninety-nine, to be exact, including the one you’re reading now). Ninety-nine thousand words. Which happens to be the length of one well sized novel, or because I write the way I write, also happens to be three times the length of the book I finished five years ago, and that took me nearly four years to write.
In the two years since I started this blog, I have also rekindled my creative practice and established a new voice for the new work I am creating. I have also started work on a new book, a book I thought would never come, and a book I fear I will never finish.
It took me four years to write a tiny book during a time in my life when all I had going for myself was time to write. How long might it take me to finish a book of properly publishable length when time is the one thing I can’t seem to get a hold of? I want to finish this book and I want to publish this book. I also know that this drive would disappear if I were to slow down in any other area of my life.
Writing a book is a long, lonely, hopeless act. Blogging is the opposite of this, fast and flashy and immediate. I don’t think I could survive one without the other, but I have convinced myself of late that if one grows the other must shrink. My experience tells me this is not true, that in fact the process works as an impossible and illogical expansion on both ends, but lately I am feeling so very, very tired. Lately I am looking for a way out of all this hard work.
I hope you’ll forgive my rants and my complaints. I suppose it’s the nature of artists to be discontent, to create beauty from friction. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway (while telling everyone else that it’s just a silly stereotype, of course).
Tomorrow, I tell myself, I’ll take the night off. I’ll watch a British mystery or a Southern California sitcom. I’ll eat fruit or sweets or starchy things. I’ll do yoga and I’ll read a book and I’ll give my brain a rest.
But I know that at ten o’clock, instead of climbing into bed, I’ll climb back into this chair and start eking out my one-hundredth blog post or my one-hundredth day of new fictional words. And then maybe next week I’ll see you back here, or then maybe next decade I’ll see you on a shelf at your favorite indy bookstore. And I can promise that I’ll be just as conflicted then as I am now, and I will also be just as content.