Are You Better Off Treating Your Writing Like a Marriage or a Love Affair?
As 2015 broke open with the dauntingly pristine blankness of a new notebook, writers swore fervent new promises of commitment to their writing. Whispered in secret or emblazoned nakedly across the digital landscape, writers everywhere renewed their vows with craft and muse.
Not being one for resolutions, I sat on the sidelines of this annual frenzy of fealty, but it got me thinking about the kinds of relationships writers have with their writing. For most of us, writing is not our primary profession. It is more avocation than vocation – more a calling than a career. In my case, though I do make my living as a writer, the words that keep a roof over my head and books on my shelf are not the words that stir my dreams as I drift off to sleep each night. Though, technically, the work I do each day is writing, it is not Writing. (You understand.)
How many times have you wished that you could catch a break and (finally) be one of the lucky few who earns an actual, sustainable living from creative writing? How many times have you fantasized about a life in which you are free to spend all the hours of your days (and nights, if you like) writing what you want to write?
But, is that really what you want?
You have heard, I am sure, the many stories about lottery winners who end up cursing their winning tickets. I wonder if writers who win the proverbial publishing lottery sometimes end up feeling the same way. After all, it’s hard to transition from a life in which writing is something that you do because you are passionate about it, stealing minutes and hours to connect with your creativity and your keyboard, to a life in which writing is something that you must do because you have deadlines and contracts and commitments.
Like a marriage between two people, a marriage between a writer and writing is a union with a delicate alchemy. On the one hand it can provide a strong foundation for your creative work by providing structure, support, and a certain confidence. On the other hand, there is a reason we say that familiarity breeds contempt. What was once a joyful pursuit becomes a tired obligation, hitting your word count is suddenly (and sadly) more a routine slog than a passionate dance with the muse.
Perhaps if you were married to your writing, you would no longer taste the inspiring sweetness of illicit interludes with your imagination. Perhaps, you would realize that your creativity was fueled in part by the need to fight so hard for what you thought couldn’t have. Perhaps, gods forbid, you would begin to take the privilege of writing for granted.
I recently watched a wonderful movie called The Hundred-Foot Journey starring, among others, the marvelous Helen Mirren. Mirren plays the pretentious owner of a high-class French restaurant that she runs in memory of her deceased husband. In one scene, she castigates her kitchen staff over the sub-par preparation of some asparagus. Holding up a limp spear of the offending vegetable, she says, “Cuisine is not a tired old marriage, it is a passionate affair of the heart”
Indeed. And so it should be with writing as well.
But, maybe you don’t have to choose wedded “bliss” or forbidden affair. Maybe there is a middle ground. Aren’t there relationships that are true and strong even without the binds of official sanctions? Couldn’t you create an enduring relationship with your writing, one that is deep and vulnerable, without someone else’s blessing? I think you could.
The artist’s relationship with art should never be defined by rules, limited by expectations, or judged by traditional standards. You are the writer – the artist. You create things. You can create your relationship with your art in whatever way best serves your artistic endeavors. And that freedom of choice, whether you choose to pursue betrothal or an endless courtship, will keep the fires of inspiration burning in your writer’s heart.
What I’m Learning About Writing:
For those of you who are regular readers, I’m replacing the “What I’m Writing” section of the weekend edition with this new “What I’m Learning About Writing” tid-bit. I hope you like it!
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the local concert of a musical group called Project Trio. Featuring Peter Seymour on double pass, Greg Pattillo on flute (and beat boxing!), and Eric Stephensen on some kick ass cello, this unique and delightfully entertaining collection of world-class musicians have a sound that Downbeat Magazine calls “Packed with musicianship, joy, and surprise!” I couldn’t agree more. Here’s a little taste:
Isn’t that fun?
One of the most interesting things about Project Trio is the way they take all kinds of music – classical, jazz, bluegrass, Indian, salsa, rock, you name it – and make it completely their own … which made me think about how, as writers, we can do the same thing with the stories we write.
It’s said that there are no new stories. Every possible story has been told and retold thousands and thousands of times. The characters, setting, and other details change, but the underlying story is the same – boy meets girl or good vs. evil or whatever. The creative opportunity lies in taking these ubiquitous and eternal truths and using them as the basis to create our own reality. Like the musicians of Project Trio, we can take the raw material and turn it into something that is uniquely our own. We can make the old new again, help people see it in a new way.
What stories are you retelling? How are you making them your own?
What I’m Reading:
My daughter and I just finished a swashbuckling read by author Kenneth Oppel. Airborn is a young adult novel that is part steampunk, part fantasy, and part pirate adventure. From Oppel’s website:
Matt Cruse is the 15-year-old cabin boy aboard the Aurora, the 900-foot luxury airship he has called home for the past two years. While crossing the Pacificus, Matt fearlessly rescues the unconscious pilot of a crippled hot air balloon. Before he dies, the balloonist tells him about the fantastic, impossible creatures he has seen flying through the clouds. Matt dismisses the story as the ravings of a dying man, but when Kate de Vries arrives on the Aurora a year later, determined to prove the story is true, Matt finds himself caught up in her quest. Then one night, over the middle of the ocean, deadly air pirates board the Aurora. Far from any hope of rescue, Kate and Matt are flung into adventures beyond all imagining. . .
I read this out loud to my daughter at bedtime and I have to say that I often felt it was a poor choice for pre-sleep reading because it was so exciting. I have never had such an easy time getting dramatic with my reading. To say I was swept up in the action is an understatement.
Though this award-winning title has a male protagonist (not a bad thing – at all – but I like to find books with strong female leads for my daughter), I loved that he was paired with a smart and dauntless female character who is largely responsible for the events that drive the story forward.
If you or any young readers you know enjoy well-written adventure stories with a touch of fantasy, I highly recommend Airborn. I’m so glad that it’s the first of a trilogy. We’re starting the second book, Skybreaker, tonight. I can’t wait.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to keeping the love alive (however you can), putting your own spin on classic stories, and embracing adventure along the way.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Photo Credit (love note): Send me adrift. via Compfight cc