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