How do writers keep writing?

Today I skipped my daily hour or more of writing. A discipline I’ve maintained for many years, it has resulted in over four novels, numerous short stories, poems, essays, and now a hybrid memoir. Not writing today made me think of a toddler I dreamt of last night. He told me he didn’t feel emotionally connected to me. At the moment, that’s how I feel about writing. Since I’m currently not immersed in writing a novel or poetry, I feel emotionally detached from the process, but not because I’ve stopped producing. I’m working on a manuscript that starts with my days as a high-school drop out—a memoir that is also an analysis of the genre.

Since memoirs seem to sell better than novels, I thought I’d focus on it for a while. I’ve enjoyed entering the halls of memory, reconnecting with my younger self. But while working on this project, I’ve felt only half alive. My non-writing life—the time I spend teaching, editing, tutoring, enjoying time with my husband, and managing our household—has suffered. If my writing doesn’t go well, nothing else seems to either.

For a few days, I took a break and worked on a couple of short stories and some poems. They animated me, stimulating my imagination, leading me into unexplored parts of myself. Characters and imagery and situations materialized that hadn’t existed before I took up my pen. Taking over the page, they roused some youthful part of myself that delights in new discoveries, and I was their conduit. It’s addictive, this dance with creation.

However, I don’t want non-fiction writers to think that I’m belittling their genre. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy writing more factual pieces. But the effort doesn’t give me the highs (and lows) of poetry and fiction. They invigorate me, revealing what hovers in and around the mundane, the everyday, lifting me out of myself. That’s the most exciting aspect: fiction and poetry open me up and allow me to inhabit multiple identities.

When I’m socializing with friends, I rarely discuss my writing process. Most aren’t aware of the commitment I’ve made to the writer’s life. I rarely mention my work, and they usually don’t ask. But they must wonder how I can continue writing books when the publishing world is so unfriendly to unknown writers.

Still, nothing measures up to the act of creation itself. Why do I write? Because if I don’t, it feels as if part of myself has checked out. It’s as important to me as food. It is food, the word like a communion wafer that melts on my tongue, nourishing body and soul. It’s also like having a lover that never loses his attractiveness, always beckoning on the fringes of my days, waiting to embrace me.

Writing itself is a mysterious act. Putting symbols on a page not only connects us with our own inner worlds but also with others. It’s the ultimate act of communion, as intimate in its way as sexual union. It’s amazing how letters generate other letters, combining into words that lead us out of ourselves and articulate the wonders of this planet.

Perseverance? Is that what it takes to keep writing in the face of adversity and rejection and lack of recognition? The word sounds so duty bound, so driven. To me, a better word is discipline because at the root is disciple. Yet there are many lovely variations on this word that I actually prefer: student, follower, learner, devotee.

I’m devoted to following the intricacies of language and where it takes me. I’m ardent about words and what they evoke in our minds and imaginations, the worlds they create. And I’m constantly learning, a student of the writer’s craft, eager to open myself each day to the endless possibilities this calling presents.


8 thoughts on “How do writers keep writing?

  1. rjanetwalraven

    Needing to write urges me on. However, when I get to the point of marketing, that’s where I dig in my heels. It’s time-consuming, can get expensive, and seems if I’m not writing horror or murder mysteries or poetry that doesn’t fit my style or fantasy…. it just falls by the wayside. But I like to write so I’ll keep doing it. If someone reads it and likes it, I guess that’s all that matters. What’s in my head goes into a book, and that feels gratifying enough. Best wishes! Janet

  2. Graham MacKenzie

    I know what you mean. When I writeI’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Your post has inspired me to do it more often. I guess I need to develop my discipline.

  3. Well voiced, Lily. I seem to be on the same street corner as you. I’ve started digging into my memory box. My family has asked and urged, repeatedly, for a memoir. Perchance, that’s the street I’ll take. Marlene Cheng-author

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