Often I wonder to myself “what and why am I doing this?” It’s a pervasive question of mine. Maybe of everyone’s. Is it ambition asking the question? Is it neurosis? I am very grateful for my life. I love my family. I love our home. It’s cozy and unique and filled with a history of antique inherited furniture that I also love. But it’s crazy to me how often I hear the little voice in my head asking “why?” Not in a meta way, as in “why am I here?” But in a very specific way, as in “why am I doing what I’m doing right now?”
I have some suspicions. I suspect my desire to begin writing with more seriousness is a big part of it. To give myself a place in a world of stories that I should have joined many years ago. But alas, regret is an all too easy step backward and I should be stepping forward. And that means discipline. Working on a story, working on a poem, working on a novel. Any way in which I pitch it to myself it sounds good to me. And that has to mean something.
I was at a book signing recently and the author talked about catharsis. I don’t recall what the question was but he told a story about sharing a very early work of his, a novel which he admitted was terrible, with his mom. And she didn’t read it and she didn’t read it and he bugged her and asked her about it. For weeks this went on. Then she finally told him she read it. He asked her a specific question or two only to discover very quickly that she had not in fact read the book. And then coming to the realization that she would probably never read the book. “Be careful not to look for catharsis too early.” He said. “It can make you share your work with the wrong person.” That resonated with me. As a writer, I enjoy the process but I of course I enjoy the reward. The reviews and the feedback. Maybe more than some, maybe less than others. For those that say “writing is it’s own reward” I would ask “why then do you publish?” Obviously we want to share our stories and worlds and thoughts because we want to hear what other people think of them. Bringing others into my world adds a depth of reality to it that I could not do on my own.
With the absolute pervasive existence of social media it is so easy to seek and receive catharsis. Post something clever on facebook and get likes. Make a funny comment on twitter and get reposted. Punch that dopamine center regularly in small ways on social media and you lose the ability to achieve real pleasure of immersing yourself in storytelling. But it’s a bit of a catch-22 since social media is also an easy place to get fired up about something and pump out some truly diabolical writing. At least, for me it sometimes is.
So then this catharsis — It has to come during the writing, not after, right? Or can it be both? Do I keep all my stories to myself until I have written them to my standard of perfection? Is that the only way they will get done? I suspect that it’s different for every story. Some have undiminished lives and will be born even if you tell everyone about them. Others need a quieter entrance into the world. They need to evolve privately. And if the impulse to talk about them isn’t checked, they will fizzle and die on the wind. Just an idea you once had.
It is a precarious thing then, this writing craft. There is much to be said for the discipline required to write every day, but for me, it takes just as much discipline not to share my thoughts too early. As much as I love to write, I also love to discuss, to debate, to ponder aloud. And sometimes it feels selfish not to share especially if I really enjoy what I’ve written. But I suppose as with most things, time is the greatest teacher. The more time I spend doing and testing and not sharing, the better able to discern the best avenue for catharsis I will become.
And so, to the pages go I. And let me not speak of the wanderings written there until they bloom into an unstoppable life of their own.