In the last week, two books have made me reconsider why I stopped writing fition. I just finished reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s Flirt–the Afterword of this novelette is a narrative of the author’s writing process. Last week my mind was full of butterflies of worry and distraction in the lead-up to my 5th Year Scholarship interview, and to calm myself down, I reread Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
I remember it had something to do with a bargain I made with myself in high school: that I would wall off those parts of myself which distracted me from success in my high-stress, high-achievement, test-based, awards-seeking high school. I felt that writing fiction could only distract me from the forced-march of papers, applications and tests I needed to ace to succeed in that setting. It was not just writing fiction that I gave up: I turned from folk music to opera, from tree-climbing to wrestling, from Sun-wear to pant-suits.
Staring down the barrel of the real world–at least two years away given my current academic plans–I wonder if I made the right decision, and what I can do about it. Do I start trying to write short stories again, trusting my ability to balance personal writing time with paper deadlines and economics tests? Will I be able to do well in school when I indulge my day dreaming on paper? Can I still write stories?
Don’t misread me: I like who I am and who I have become by surviving and doing well in nameable-achievement-focused communities. But on my better days, I have the suspicion that allowing myself more creative time would only energize my papers for classes. We’ll just have to see if I am brave enough to try it.
“When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)
As the girl who notoriously alternates between nameable achievement based and “creative” work, I am so excited that you’re thinking about letting yourself get creative again. I fully believe that each side informs the other. My arguments help my stories and theater and my stories and theater help my arguments. It makes my theater and stories more logical, more elegant, and my arguments more surprising. Being creative (writing fiction especially) helps you give yourself permission to take chances, to stand at the precipice and place our toes on the high wire. That kind of creative risk taking is what lets us pull out the argument that stumps and inspires our opponents and friends. Be brave. (You do it all the time!)
I forget what famous philosopher said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What you decide is not very important, but it is important that YOU decide. You’ll probably be worrying over this same decision many times in your life, so get some practice now.
Actually, it’s not the practice but the rules you decide on for yourself. I’ve found there’s a great wave of relief when I can remind myself “Oh, yeah, I know what I do now!” and then go off for a walk or a nap or do a drawing and leave the decision on a high shelf to wait.