Saturday, September 5, 2020

Writing with Conviction

 Hello, Invisible Audience.


The last time I wrote, I added a single line into the post that was likely the most important thing I had to say: 


“I have a single freelancing client left; when I have work to do for him, I spend that hour doing work that pays. When I don’t, I write a book I’ve been writing for years. I have stayed silent about this.”


There it was. Did you miss it? You were supposed to, because it was so important to me that I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. I was too afraid to get my hopes up that I would break the momentum I was gathering; that I would start to talk about the book, lose track and watch it spiral back to the bottom of the “most recent” files on my computer, until it was once again added back to the things I yearn to spend time on and do not do.


Well, guess what, Invisible Audience? I FINISHED THE BOOK. It is a book it took me 14 years to write, and nearly half of its 275 pages were written over the last three months. It is not my first book, but it is my first work of fiction. In a nutshell, it’s about how the walls we build around us for protection can turn into prisons that keep us stuck.


When I finished it and made it through one final edit, I started to cry. It took so long. I had do to so much before I could finish it. Some of those pieces had everything to do with the writing – I wrote the book into a corner several times over the years, then I’d have to backtrack, cut out whole sections and start over. But most of the reason had nothing to do with the writing at all, Invisible Audience. It had to do with whether I could let myself be a writer.


Let me digress slightly for just a moment and address those of you who are parents. If you have a kid and they tell you that they have a passion for something and you try to gently or not so gently steer them toward something that will make them more money or be less unpredictable, know this: you are creating a tearing wound in their bodies where they have to decide whether to disappoint someone they love or do what they love to do. They do not know this is what is happening. Later, all they will know is that when they try to do the thing they love, a momentous wave of naysaying will rise before them and they will have to either choose to try to keep their head above it or let it wash them back into what is normal and expected. You may be trying to help them, but the truth is you will not quash their dream. You will quash their ability to believe in their dream, which will cause no small amount of suffering in the future. 


I have spent so much time trying to convince myself that I should give up on writing, I could have written a set of encyclopedias by now. I have had countless other jobs that weren’t hard and paid well and I hated them and became sick with regret and resentment and anger because they are not writing. And worst of all, I have hated writing because I thought that was the problem, when it wasn’t. The problem was all the bullshit someone had heaped on the idea of writing that made it impossible for me to trust myself in finding a process that worked for me instead of deciding I couldn’t write because I wasn’t worthy.


So I finished writing the book, and I have just turned it over to several people to read. Since then, I have found yet another wave of fear: what if they hate it? What if it’s terrible? What if I am fooling myself into thinking that just because I have something to say it means anyone else has an interest in reading it?


In a piece of advice to a writer in Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed talks about writing her first book and the two-sided chalkboard she kept close by during the process. On one side she wrote surrender; on the other side humility. There is a third word I’d add, Invisible Audience: conviction.


I don’t know what will become of this book, or any others that I choose to write. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write exactly what I want to and get paid enough to live on. I don’t know if my writing will ever be as cathartic to anyone else as it is to me. Those are things I can’t control; I must surrender what will happen with this book and my future in those terms. However, there is one piece that I will not surrender: the conviction that I’m supposed to do it anyway.  


It doesn’t matter if every friend I gave the book to tells me it’s shit. It doesn’t matter if I send it to every agent listed and none of them want it. It doesn’t matter if my social media posts get more readers than the 70,000-word book I just cried over when I finished. I did it because I needed to. 


There is something in me that yearns to write; for the first time ever, I managed to take that piece, place it front and center, and find a way to make it enjoyable and sustainable. And now that I’ve figured out how to do that, you can be damn sure I’m not going to let it go again.


Love and kisses of conviction,