I Could Snort Ink

I love to write; it catches my breath in my throat and makes my heart beat faster. My stomach churns when I write, because I’m on to something. I write every day now; yesterday I could hardly stop writing. I stopped to walk in the pasture, to talk with my husband, to fix lunch, to let the dogs out, to talk on the phone. But always, writing was right there, right in the corner of my eye where I could just . . . see . . . it.

I hankered after words, and words came to me.

When I wrote my books, my heart and mind were full of them. I knew what I would write and how I’d write it. I made a list of my favorite publishers, ranking them from 1 to 20, determined to pitch my books (first one, then the other) from my top choice to the bottom until each was sold. Each time, the book sold to my first choice. Each time, the book was not yet written. I wrote only a proposal, but the proposal was good. This is how I sold my books, and it’s how I sold my articles before that, and how I’ve written book chapters and essays and poems and seen them published: before they were written, while they were gestating.

This time, with the next book, it will not be so. I know this because my muse told me that I would have to write until the seed of my next book germinated and sprouted. I would have to watch for it, tilling the soil and working in my garden. When I see it, I’ll have to gently dig around the sprout and cull it out, then tend it some more until it grows and becomes a full-grown plant. Or shrub. Or maybe a fruit-bearing tree. I’m not sure what it will be, but I know that this time I’m not allowed to sell an idea and write toward it until the book finishes itself. This time we’re going to have to work together, the book and me.

Annie Dillard points out that some people are novelists, some are essayists, some poets or book writers. I’m a book writer. Though I’ve written hundreds of articles, some essays and some book chapters and poems, I know that I’m a book writer.

I love books. I could lick a book, I could shove a new book under my nose and snort ink; I could eat paragraphs. I could throw myself into chapters, heaving and rolling between the endsheets, banging against the boards. I could grow a book in my womb and pant, shoving it out until I can marvel at it.

“That came out of me?!”

“How on earth?”

What I’m afraid of when it comes to writing is the stupidity of it, for one thing. Annie Dillard writes that society does not hate or fear the writer, nor does society adulate the writer. “Instead, my experience is the common one, that society places the writer so far beyond the pale that society does not regard the writer at all.”

Again, she writes, “many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.”

Writing seems stupid because, as the preacher says in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.”

Another problem I have with writing is the privilege of it. To have the space and time to write, both physically and mentally, is to be privileged. Because our hard work over the years has paid off through our family business, I now have time to write for several hours every day. These are hours I might spend caring for the sick or feeding the hungry. Instead, I spend them writing.

How self-absorbed I feel; how shallow it seems to explain, “I was born to write,” when I’ve written no best-seller, have won no literary prizes. How embarrassing, how pretentious.

I feel like an ass.

I’m also afraid that if I honor what I think is my muse or daemon, she will turn out instead to be a Siren who beguiles me with her seductive song into some perilous, destructive shoal from which there is no escape.

What I fear the most is the self-delusion of the pompous pedagogue, who thinks that Being Published is All That, and who acts as though Having Been Published makes him (or her) All That with an all-thatishness that causes affliction, insanity, and even death in others, it is so boring, so pathetic.

This siren’s reef will throw me into a barrenness of mediocrity and conventionality of person that has me living out my days in a haze of grandchildren’s birthday parties, little league games, cruises and retirement community living. Maybe I will take up golf or play bridge, and lay out words like tricks when I write, too. I will become self-deluded in all things, because the little thing I was faithful in, the writing, will make me faithful also in much; but its self-delusional basis will have me deluded in every single other area, more asleep than awake, so blind to my own shallowness and meaninglessness that I’ll end up like a newborn kitten with its eyes stuck closed, mewing, mewing, mewing for something lost, something longed-for.

And the lost thing will be my Self, my real self, my authentic self who was never a Real Writer but merely a Real Person, a real person who sacrificed herself out of some freakish neurotic pride, fancying herself a Writer but merely a Wife. Mother. Grandmother.

Human.

That’s what I’m afraid of, when it comes to writing again.

13 responses

  1. Alida, I’m not sure what I was born to do, either, and I’m 10 years older than you. I think it’s possible that when I wrote the Abraham Lincoln book report, I latched onto writing because of the impressive results I got from my teacher. Maybe I was merely born to react to praise like a trained dog.

    As a person of faith, all I know for certain about my self is that I’m not all there is, I’m part of a bigger whole, and I’m headed for a divine marriage. What am I meant to do? I am meant to go back or ahead to God. I could probably be or do anything, and as long as I kept shining what light I have while I have it, I don’t think God much cares what it is because, as they say, “It’s all good.”

    That probably made no sense at all. But anyway, let me know if you figure out something specific that you’re here for. I have the idea that only saints and prophets know that, and I’m neither.

  2. Caroline, you wrote, “If what we write is attracting lots of readers, does this not inflate our egos, and cause us to be anxious that unless we keep churning out the same old stuff, we’ll lose our readers? So, in order to keep them, we unconsciously begin imitating ourselves in our writing, resulting in our writing becoming tired?”

    Brilliant because it’s so true. I have to discipline myself to not care. What I mean is it’s a conscious decision, like walking mindfully or smiling at one’s feelings in Buddhism. I have to keep my single aim in mind, which is to write with as much skill as I’m able, regardless of my audience.

    This is why I like what Annie Dillard said about giving it all. I also liked the quote by Dillard I put in my sidebar. We read because we’re looking for the writer to illuminate and inspire us. Put another way, when we write we are writing our light, no?

    Caroline, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog so much that I added it to my blogroll. For someone who styles herself as a dull, stupid woman, you are one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Your writing is wickedly addictive and funny, and it leaves me scratching my head sometimes, asking, “Did that really happen, or is this fiction?” Keep it up. I’m so glad I’ve met you.

  3. You are just the coolest…your “daemon”…I just love that!

    I think you are lucky in that you know what you were born to write.

    (Although, you also seem to have been born to raise kids and educated me through your wonderful writing)

    At forty (something), I’m still trying to figure out what it was I was born to do.

  4. “………What I fear the most is the self-delusion of the pompous pedagogue, who thinks that Being Published is All That, and who acts as though Having Been Published makes him (or her) All That with an all-thatishness that causes affliction, insanity, and even death in others, it is so boring, so pathetic…….”.

    I think what can be pernicious for a writer is having too many readers for the writer’s own good.

    If what we write is attracting lots of readers, does this not inflate our egos, and cause us to be anxious that unless we keep churning out the same old stuff, we’ll lose our readers?

    So, in order to keep them, we unconsciously begin imitating ourselves in our writing, resulting in our writing becoming tired?

    Even with my own very modest little blog, if my readership expands, I become, after the first rush of pride, uneasy, because I fear that if I don’t continue feeding my readers what I think they want, I’ll lose them.

    So I unconsciously begin writing so as not to lose them, and I don’t feel good.

    But happily, when I’m ensnared thus, and my writing accordingly deteriorates, my readership does fall off to almost zero, and I once again feel free to write just what I want.

    As it is with me, is it not also with others?

  5. P.S. Welcome, too, to Lisa and Thomas. I’m thrilled to meet new people on my blog, and hope to visit you at yours. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Charlotte, one of the problems I have with the success of my proposals is that I realized after publication that this must be some sort of weird fluke and I am terrified (yes! terrified!) that I will never see another single thing published, now that I’m not so confident and all that.

    The questions about the real self are good, too. And, RG, my fear makes me unsure about whether I’ll know a siren’s voice or not. I’ve been shipwrecked before.

    But, then, I think of my buddy Carl Jung. He advocated going back to what you did when you knew who you were. And then he built castles out of pebbles, twigs and sand for a long time after leaving his career behind. I’m just not so sure I have that kind of courage.

    We’ll see.

  7. Just finished writing my first book and stumbled over your site when it popped up in my goole alerts –snaffued you with the words family business. Boy can you turn a word. I have know idea who you are, but I’m rushing to my bookstore to consume all that you have birthed : )

  8. First, that post is great writing.

    Second, I also love books the way that you do.

    Third, I appreciate the way that you stand up for yourself. Keep it up!

    Fourth, all any of us can do is our best. If you feel a leading to write a book, go for it. Don’t worry that you are being led by a Siren, because I believe that you would know the difference.

  9. Hmmm…about this siren’s reef. I wonder why your writing couldn’t be an expression of your Real Self? Why does it have to have allthatishness? Yes, being able to devote hours of your day to writing is a privilege. You could be saving the world instead. But it seems like the key is in your intentions. Kind of like we were saying about containers: if it’s not done from love, it probably won’t succeed. If you’re writing to be famous or make money, then yes, it’s a siren song that will not succeed on a deeper level even if you achieve fame and wealth.

  10. I’ll be licking ink with you, Eve! I love books and I love writing, but I guess it’s good to recognise the privilege that comes with being able to own books and find time to write.

    I’m also stunned by the success of your proposals. You must have written some great books. When it comes to writing my query letter for my novel, would you read it over?

  11. Anthromama, I forget that there’s another world out there, and that America is full of savages.

    You’re quite right, and thank you for reminding me about those wonderful Germans. There’s much to appreciate about Germans. My relatives there are respectful and even awestruck over my education and publications. I dedicated my second book to my Omi and when I last visited there, my uncle would not stop talking to everyone we met about this, about my books, about my degrees, about what an asset I am to my culture.

    Except I’m not, and there are only a few letters between an asset and an ass. It’s the latter I fear and heck, I dunno, but even so I guess I will side with Nike and yes, I’ll Just Do It.

    Even though it’s stupid and there are probably sirens calling me and I won’t make any money.

  12. First of all, D’Aulaires Animals? I’ve never seen that one! Must find it! (We’re partial to the Trolls one lately.)

    Second, that paragraph about snorting and licking and birthing books made me laugh out loud. I am that way about reading my favorite books. I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way about an e-reader 🙂

    Third, your experience of your book proposals being accepted by your first choice publisher is amazing. You must be able to write one heckuva proposal.

    Fourth, how cool is it to have two Third Eve posts in my feed reader in one day?

    Fifth, I think I must make a wee correction: American culture does not adulate the writer. I quote from a book I edited earlier this year that spoke to this difference between the US and Germany: “[T]he degree of development of the German-speaking literary public sphere is remarkable. The vibrant cultural debates and long essays by prominent public intellectuals regularly appearing in the feuilleton pages of any one of several excellent newspapers and magazines is enough to register a significant difference from intellectual life this side of the Atlantic.” Literary intellectuals (do we even have any of those here?) are considered arbiters (arbeiters, ha ha) of culture and politics, even outside their own areas of writing.

    On the other had, the US did produce a remarkable, succinct piece of advice for writers:

    Just Do It.

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