Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"writing is a job like any other" and other angry ghosts


Lately I've been freaking out.

Writing is a job like any other.
         I write every day.
It's only professional.
         I write from 4 AM to 7 AM.
Writing is a job.
        
I didn't write yesterday, or the day before that.

         Then I do the blogging and social media stuff at night.
It's only professional.
         If you don't treat it like a job, you'll never succeed.
Writing is—
         It's only—

I don't have an industrial body. It doesn't shut down at night and start up again in the morning like it's "supposed" to, clean-faced and ready for another day's labor. Sometimes, it doesn't shut down for nights and nights, and I berate it and throw pills at it until it lurches to a diseased kind of slumber, only to emerge into a diseased kind of waking, howling with hurt and betrayal like a grizzly bear waking up in a cage.

"Stupid body," I tell it. "I need you to sleep you so I can wake up so I can go to my job. I haven't worked in two days! Two days!"

You're falling behind.
         You're lazy.
Why are you so lazy?
         Stop making excuses.
                  Be professional!
         Be professional!

I don't have an industrial mind. Sometimes, it weeps for days at a time. That isn't very professional. Some days, it wants to sink to the bottom of the sea. Some days, it dissociates, like the key that's supposed to match up to the keyhole of reality just doesn't fit. Some days, I don't have the right key.

         Writing is a job like any other.
I write every day.
         I never take longer than six weeks to finish a first draft.
It's only professional.
         It's only professional.

In the Industrial Revolution, factory owners made peasants stand at the bottom of pits that were filling up with water. They had to keep pumping and pumping, or they would drown. This exercise was intended to teach peasants with no concept of industrial time how to work at the proper pace.

         I write every day
I never take longer than—
         I never take longer—
It's only professional.

I write most days. Most days, I make good "progress." But on days when I don't, I am terrified.

You're lazy.
         You're lazy.
You're falling behind.
         Stop making excuses.
Writing is a job like any other.
         Writing is a—

There's a reason I don't have a job like any other.

There's a reason.

There's a reason that people with minds and bodies that don't work how they're "supposed to" become writers and actors and painters instead of hotel managers.

It's okay. IT'S OKAY.

It's okay to lose days because you're too cracked out or heartbroken or stunned from medication. It's okay to work in bursts and zigzags. It's okay to have a pace that doesn't conform to industrial time. It's okay, and maybe it's even important. Maybe it even has a value.

Today, I'm getting back to work again, after losing two days to insomnia and poor mental health. Before I started reading blogs or "writing for publication," I wouldn't have even conceived of this as a slip, something to notice and worry about. Now that I have read all about how a professional writer is supposed to operate, I feel ashamed.

I feel ashamed.

         You're lazy.
You're falling behind.
         Stop making excuses.

I don't want to feel ashamed.

If you are a young, not-entirely-stable-and-predictable writer out there reading this, I don't want you to feel ashamed.

There is a strange and painful and horrifying kind of beauty to the way you write your stories and poems and plays and novels that doesn't conform to act professional.

Writing is not a job like any other. And that's okay.





30 comments:

  1. Your words are why I devoured your blog when I first found it. You are why I keep coming back and look forward to those words. Thank you, Hilary. Go gently with yourself.

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  2. This helped me today. Thank you.

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  3. It's very difficult to write every day, because there's always something that comes up. I haven't written any fiction in a couple weeks, because I have to focus on my dissertation right now. But even with academic writing, I feel guilty if I haven't done it in a couple days.

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  5. Yes! Though I don't know who's telling you these ridiculous things about writing, don't listen. I wrote a post recently about writing advice that says much the same thing (though not nearly as poetically): http://susanadrian.blogspot.com/2013/01/notes-on-writing-advice.html

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  6. "Writing is a job like any other..."- Pheh!

    First- no job is 'like any other.'

    "Write every day..." Really?
    Even "all other jobs" don't comprise of doing the same things every day, unless you work on an assembly line a la Chaplin's Modern Times. And look what a kink in the neck that sort of "same every hour-every day" cause Charlie.

    So shed the shame, and raise your flag, writer Hillary.

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  7. Given the welome to the jungle extras in your life, it's no surprise you have days and days like this.

    It is enough that we are all fighting our own great fights in life. Leave expectations of normality to others. Just live your own life -- and stay strong.


    -- Tom

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  8. A-F*CKING-MEN.

    And can I just say? Writing is a craft. Yes. It is a job. Yes. But before either of those things, it is an art. And while words may be the vessel, the medium of our art, they are not the end result. The finished product for a writer is emotion. Everything you put on a page is there to create emotion, to evoke it in the reader, to call into being the fundamental experiences of the human heart - and the only way that happens is if you evoke all that in yourself first. No wonder we walk around like zombies half the time.

    Just a job like any other? Really? No. Eff that. If it's just a job like any other THEN WHY THE HELL WOULD WE PUT OURSELVES THROUGH THIS?

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  9. I lost a few days to insomnia too!

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  10. Thank you thank you thank you -- a really important post that will remind so many of us that different does not mean broken, that zigzags and bursts are not wrong, that "my way" is the right way for me.

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  11. True effing story, girl. True story.

    (even when you're in exotic locales full of inspiration and culture and romance.)

    Art is hard.

    Writing is EFFING HARD.

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  12. Beautifully said!! Thanks for this (from a youngish not-entirely-stable-and-predictable writer ;P

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  13. I live and love life first, hoping I can become the writer I want to be as I move through life. Deadlines I meet, otherwise I struggle, but I no longer blame myself for not writing everyday. I find peace in this. So relax and remove the word blame.

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  14. Probably my favorite post yet. Hope you're happy and well, wherever the heck you are now (heehee).

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  15. Thank you for this! Made my day. So many wonderful truths.

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  16. I go through this all the time! the guilt and shame and then I feel like Im a hack and am never going to make it as a "real Writer." thank you so much for posting this!

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  17. Couldn't agree more. Of course writing isn't a job like any other. In what other job can you turn up to work in your pyjamas? Without being sent home, that is...

    Feel no shame. Work in a way that works for you. As long as it produces results, who cares, right?

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  18. These Bell Jar weeds. Compelling, yes. But scary. I hope we row away from them soon.

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  19. Here's the thing: sometimes a writer (painter/composer/etc) does 6 weeks of work in 4 days. Hotel managers never do that.

    Art is art. When it's on, it's on. But sometimes it's not on.

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  20. Thank you. I've been trying to force myself into self-imposed deadlines, yanking at my hair over stories of 4-7K whipped out in a day.

    But this is truth.

    <3

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  21. That was beautiful. Thank you for posting it. I definitely needed to hear that.

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  22. Wow, did I ever need to read this. Thanks for sharing it.

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  23. Thank you, thank you. You summed it up. These are the things I have been thinking about and agonizing over and never quite able to put into real, actual words.

    Thank you.

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  24. I have PTSD. I'm on an SSRI, a sleep medication, and an anxiolytic. I cannot work a normal job.

    Writing is what I'm meant to do. I learnt to speak at six months, how to speak in full sentences at twelve months, and how to read poetry to an audience properly at age four.

    It's my calling. I should do it like me and not like anybody else.

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this.

    Love,
    Alice

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  25. So true! I work a fulltime job. I poke and prode my writing time into small corners of my schedule, because that's the only place they fit. I outline on the bus, wrankle subplots on my dining room table and write in the morning and feel horrible when I'm not being productive. "Am I not committed enough to being a writer?" I think to myself. But that's the great thing about what you're point out: writing is an art, and art doesn't always follow a schedule.

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  26. this came to me at the perfect, perfect time. thank you for giving specificity to the feeling i was somehow failing at being a writer. i'm not failing after all. writing's just the most brutal and wonderful thing i've done. loved every word.

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