Do what you love.
As those of you who’ve been here since the beginning know, I’ve contemplated that statement for months now, if not years. How do I know what I love? Is there a test I can take? Okay, how about one that doesn’t give me an answer I totally disagree with? And if the mantra is so simple, why is the actual ‘doing’ so hard?
Sure, anxiety’s part of that answer. Indiana Jones taught me the best metaphor for pursuing what you love – just jump off that cliff, I swear there’s a path to follow, you just got to have a little faith. As my many gung-ho GO WRITERS GO posts can tell you, I’ve had plenty of stressed-out ismydreamaraisininthesun moments myself. The pursuit of my particular brand of happiness has been an anxious journey wrapped in self-doubt with a side of nauseous hesitation. At this particular point in that (often circular) journey, I’m stuck on tormenting myself with the worth of what I’ve written. I never stop to congratulate myself on getting over the huge hurdle of actually getting myself to put words on paper. Instead, I dip straight into questioning whatever I’ve slapped onto paper. Am I doing this whole “writing” thing right? Can writers write about [ ]? Is it okay if I try?
Is there anyone else out there whose asked themselves that question? Raise your hands up in the air. Done? Okay, now swing that hand as far back as you can, and give yourself a nice, sharp, mark-inducing slap on the face. Because, YES, OF COURSE IT’S OKAY. Writers write. That’s about as strict the ‘rules’ in this particular career go. Even the most basic of them – that stories must have a middle, beginning, and an end – has been broken, and it’s still been successful; just pick up House of Leaves, and you’ll see what I mean.
The dilemma I’ve been facing is of the same brand, but with a twist: not the “what,” but the “how” of my stories. My writing is often dark and twisty, and I recognize that. I know that it comes from both a certain fascination I have with exploring thoughts that people would rather keep hidden, and a steadfast belief that making all of those people confront, accept, and deal with those “better-left-concealed” secrets is the only way to expand (society’s) “comfort zone.” I didn’t question (okay, was no longer questioning) whether or not that tone was acceptable, but rather whether it was the only way I could write, and if it was the sole way to get my feelingsmessageopinionsemotions across. My stories had fallen into a pattern: they were melancholic and remained so, bereft of even the driest of humors. My writing felt stunted, and I desperately wanted it to grow without losing the passion that drove me to write, and I didn’t know how.
A fellow writer gave me a simple suggestion: why not just try changing how you write?
Huh? My burdened-with-trauma writing furrowed its brow. That’s an option, is it?
I found the whole concept a little hard to digest. I want to change the world! I want to make you have to read truths you hide from, feel things you’re too scared to feel, make you crack open your heart to people and events so that you know they happen. How am I going to do that if my writing is preoccupied with silver linings? I didn’t understand (and I’m now only grasping) that writing doesn’t have to take your heart and paint it black in order to touch you. It can be silly, funny, eccentric, etc. without losing its deeper meaning – Jane Austen’s proof of that. To grab your attention for more than the span of a sentence, I don’t need to shock you.
I’m writing a cute story, now, about a little girl growing up in an odd family. I’m happy to say that it’s quirky and funny – and still speaks to exactly the real-life stories I want my writing to. I broke the bubble, and my writing still feels wholly mine – not like some imposter trying to write about sexual abuse using fluffy bunnies and failing completely. I don’t feel like I’ve cheated, or lost my purpose.
Just bittersweet, instead of bitter.
Everything I’ve written here has maybe been some lengthy way of avoiding a cliche, but when it comes down to it, here’s what I’m saying: when you hit a wall that you think you can’t go through, just reach out your hand and you’ll find that there’s a door. There’s something new to discover. Change is good. Change is helpful, even if all it tells you is that you don’t need to change a thing. So, don’t back down, don’t let your ego put plugs in your ears, listen to advice and keep trying. You’ve only really lost when you decide that there’s no room for improvement, no need to grow. Trying a different path does not mean you’ve given up on doing what you love.
*This post was brought to you by those ten-minute breaks every four hours that are legally yours at work.
**Every post successfully completed in this manner kind of feels like holding a finger up to all the non-believers. SHUN THE NON-BELIEVER.
***Also, I officially have evenings to myself again, so if my writing is still slack, I give you full permission to whack my (blog’s) butt back into shape.