My five writing strengths – a meme and some reflection

Charlotte has tagged me for the five writing strengths meme, which has, in the last couple of weeks, caught fire around our little corner of the blogging world, made up as it is with readers, writers and all sorts of folks in between. I like to save memes for times when I’m feeling too distracted by the real world to create coherent posts on my own, and today is just one of those days (a huge project I’ve completed, which I thought was ready to go to press, came back via proof today with…all the odd number pages missing. Seriously – they are just – all gone into the atmosphere somewhere. The graphic designer is investigating, I am freaking out, you know how this old story goes) – Anyway.

Five reasons I am a strong writer

(1.) I write every day – and I mean, every day. Obviously not always on this blog, but I always write. I am currently working on my novel (this week I revisited the first several chapters – polished and organized them – which I know you aren’t supposed to do but I’ve recently been tapping into some new thoughts on how to approach it and I wanted to begin implementing them immediately – a new tone, if you will), a piece I hope to submit to Narrative Magazine, a piece I hope to submit to Estella’s Revenge, my book of essays from graduate school, a comprehensive essay on the works of Ernest Hemingway and a screenplay. I’ve since turned my novel into a trilogy – I really believe I have three novels based around this one place, all dealing with similar themes. I am horribly grouchy when I leave for work every day, when I have to leave my novel. I believe in it. Let’s see – sometimes I write poems. I write long, annoying emails to friends who just want to know where we should meet for dinner. I write for work – articles, press releases, stories for magazines. I just learned, in fact, that a magazine picked up my most recent story. I write essays in my head, I dream in stories. I write, every day.

(2.) I have a good sense of place. I believe I am good at setting – at bringing the reader with me where I want them to go. I know how to engage the senses so that the reader is experiencing the place with me.

(3.) Like Dorothy, I am unafraid of revision. Oh, I’ve had my moments in workshops where people have torn my work apart and I’ve wanted to run and hide, but after the initial flight response, I am very good diving into my work, cutting and chopping it up. I don’t mind if an essay, when revised, only contains one line from the original – I do not love my writing so much that I am sad to see it go – although, of course, I don’t believe at all that I am “Killing my darlings” so much as putting them aside for another time.  I love the idea my professors taught me in undergrad – revision is reseeing my work, through new and better eyes.

(4.) Re: nonfiction only – I think I can be a convincing writer, when I want to be – not necessarily an argumentative writer but I do think when I take the time and pour myself whole-heartedly into a subject matter, I can convince the reader of the stance I am taking.

(5.) I love reading. Perhaps that’s the easy way out of this meme, but I don’t think so because I have met many writers who HATE reading – who think they are better than those being published today and so simply refuse to read anything except their own prose.  I am an equal opportunity reader, and have trouble understanding those who, say, relegate themselves only to the 19th century, or only to Danielle Steele.  I read from all genres, all time periods and I love reading with a purity and grace that know no bounds. Admittedly, this leaves me as less than critical…a reason I sometimes am not the best participant in writing workshops. In graduate school during our three hour seminars I would find myself amazed with the minutia with which students would tear into one another. I mean, it’s one thing to say “your structure fucked up and makes no sense – here is what I would like to see, and entirely another to say “On page 33, in the fourth paragraph, line six down, you change a verb tense and now I don’t know where I am, and really makes me question what the narrator is trying to say, and really, just – now I’m lost.”  Of course, this lack of critical thinking is also how I find myself plowing through Janet Evanovich novels instead of Dracula – I myself don’t mind some junk food reading, now and then.

I thought a lot about this meme over the course of the last couple of weeks, probably because I’ve been thinking about my writing in general. A little of this contemplation stems from a recent realization, which is that I will probably never belong to the Anne Patchett/Edwidge Danticat/Stephen Cobert/Sean Penn/ dude who wrote “Superbad” club – and by that I mean, the kind of people who somehow end up on NPR , in the New York Times and suddenly guest writing for the New Yorker. You know, that club. You know what I’m talking about!  I’m not denigrating myself here, but I simply haven’t taken the kind of steps that, in all likelihood, will help me end up in a similar position, and it’s doubtful I’ll be able to.  And so, in the midst of a job that grows increasingly more stressful, and a social life that grows increasingly more fun and beautiful, not to mention my commitment to running and yoga, and then there is my family, and the time it takes to visit them, and spending time with my husband, and the fact that I am one of those losers who adores television and the movies, and one of those dorks who likes theater and raw cooking classes, well – I’ve recently been wondering why I bother to write, at all. I mean, who needs the added pressure? I should be volunteering to work with inner city youth, like my friend K. I could easily justify giving up writing, like I did acting – as an unreasonable pursuit for a thirty-year-old woman – after all, I write all day long, for work. Maybe that should be enough.

I seriously tossed around thoughts like these for a couple of weeks, and I’ve come to this conclusion: I am going to keep writing, because it is what I do, and I love it. I believe in the power of story – in both oral and written tradition. I believe writing balances me out in a way that nothing – not yoga or my marriage or my friendships – ever have or ever will. I write for the pure writerly joy of it all – I write for me. It’s very possible the work I do will never be published, that I will never be Joan Didion or Annie Dillard or even Danielle Steele, but for me that is no reason to stop. I do not write to become someone else – I write because it’s who I am.

All of this thinking has really helped me tap into the pleasure of writing – it’s why I revisited the beginning of my novel – so I could look at it and revise with the sould of someone who is enjoying what she does, instead of someone fitting it in as just another obligation.  And as I’ve thought about all of this, I’ve decided to covet another writing strength – #6.  From now on, I will not beat myself up, for not beign the kind of writer I “think” I should be. Maybe I don’t write everything long-hand, or live alone in a cabin on a prairie – maybe I didn’t immerse myself in journalism first, and maybe, unlike Susan Sontag, I always remember to take a shower – but I’m no longer going to accuse myself of not being what my preconceived notions about writers and writing tell me I should be, and instead, I’m going to relish the kind of writer I am, which is to say – a daily writer, a writer who does other things, a writer who must hold down a day job, a writer who loves her friends and her family, a writer who engages with the world because she knows no other way, a writer who loves other writers, and approaches her craft – every day – with humility instead of hubris. A writer who believes a well-told story can change the world – and a writer who, almost always, remembers to shower.

*I am tagging those in my writing group who blog for this meme. They know who they are.  L, KQ and KH – if you do this let me know and I will link to them here-*

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8 Responses to My five writing strengths – a meme and some reflection

  1. Dorothy W. says:

    Interesting. I can’t make sense at all of writers who don’t read. I mean, really! Come on, don’t be idiots, people!

    I very much agree with you about #2; I’ve noticed how your writing conjures up images and moods very well. And I like your conclusions about being happy with the kind of writing you do and how you fit it into your life — it sounds like a very sane conclusion to come to!

  2. Only Courtney can turn a meme into a beautiful piece of writing. I am SO GLAD you decided not to stop. All of it resonates with me, but most especially number 6: away with preconceived ideas and be the writer you ARE. I love this: “I do not write to become someone else – I write because it’s who I am.” Thank you.

  3. Emily Barton says:

    I love your “number six.” And I’m glad you’re not giving up writing, and look at it this way: you can take care of inner city kids all you want, but you have to take care of yourself, too, in order to do a good job with them. Giving up one of your passions is not taking care of yourself.

  4. yogamum says:

    I agree with Dorothy. I think we all have to come to terms with the kind of writer we are and how it fits into our life. If you ever believe you’re not a writer, just try quitting. I managed to quit for a whole year, told everyone not to talk to me about writing, I wasn’t a writer, etc. — and then found myself sucked right back into doing it.

    You’re a writer if you can’t NOT write.

  5. Katie says:

    I just started the book you gave me yesterday… I love it! Nice job picking something I would enjoy.

  6. Dorothy – thanks for the kind words. And yes, sanity is what I am coveting, these days!
    Charlotte – aw, I’m blushing! thank you so much for always being so supportive. I don’t think I would ever stop writing, but there are times when life is so overwhelming it feels like something must give, you know?
    Emily – I’ve never thought of writing as taking care of my self but you know what? You are so, so right..
    Yogamum – you are absolutely correct, and I can’t not write, soo…
    katie – Hi! Glad you like it – I thought of you the whole time I read it.

  7. Debi says:

    I just stumbled over here from the Rip-ing Yarns blog, so this is the first I’ve ever read your writing. I am not a writer myself. But I have to say, I’m so glad you made the decision to keep writing. First of all, because this whole post was so inspiring! I’m being entirely honest here…I think that whole idea of being true to yourself is always a lesson worth revisiting…especially when it’s written so beautifully. And secondly, because when you do get that novel(s) published, I have a feeling that many people will be given a great gift. I mean, come on, when on earth has a meme ever been answered so eloquently?!!

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