Who else is melting right now?
Every summer, I remember why I hate summer. Well, not hate, exactly–just not particularly enjoy. And it’s not summer I hate–it’s the heat. I am not designed for heat. I operate best when the outside temp is below 80 degrees. It can get much lower than that before I yell “hold,” but if it gets much higher than 80, I basically do my best Wicked Witch of the West impression.
But this, too, shall pass, and in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be bemoaning the fact that we got some early snowfall or something.
Anyway, speaking of things that I have complex emotions over, I’ve decided it’s time to start loving my writing.
Bear with me as I offer an apologetic for loving the things we create.
On Loving Imperfect Things
You all know that I’ve had a very complicated relationship with my work for many years. Before kids and the Internet, I don’t think I had as much angst as I did later on. Chalk it up to being young and stupid, maybe–I hadn’t had enough practice to know what I didn’t know. I just wrote for the joy of it. Writing was an escape–first from school, then from day jobs that didn’t involve any writing, always from brutal reality and adult obligations.
I look back at my writing from those days, and it’s true that it’s not what I would write now. I’ve definitely improved–a lot. The first million words may not be entirely crap, but they also aren’t the quality of the second million.
And yet… even in that very early stuff, hidden deep, deep down in a pile of crap composed of youthful innocence, adverbs, eye tics, purple prose, and loving imitation of all my favorite works…
There are a few gems.
And you know what? I love those gems.
Those diamonds and emeralds and rubies were flawed, but unique. They stumbled into existence amid adverbs and purple prose and too many stage directions and not enough plot.
In the same way that we cherish the uniqueness of heirlooms that aren’t in perfect condition, I love those early gems. I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about that affection, but I’m changing my thinking on that. It’s okay to love those gems and the ones that came after and the ones yet to be written.
Wallowing in Self-Loathing
A few weeks ago, I was perusing Facebook and chuckling at writing memes, and I started thinking about how much self-loathing there is in the writing community.
Most of the writing memes I stumble across involve writing angst, procrastination, writer’s block, and all the negative things about writing. I get why, I think–as a relatively small community, we’re trying to reassure each other that some of what we go through is perfectly normal. I’m sure that when electricians and nurses and geologists and engineers and accountants meet others of their professions at conferences, they talk about the annoying-and-maybe-frustrating-or-infuriating-but-perfectly-normal aspects of their businesses.
The difference is that normal professions don’t relish the self-loathing in quite the same way that creators do.
I think writers sort of enjoy hating writing–or maybe hating the process of writing, which can translate into hating the actual results of the writing–or at least feeling ambivalent about it. We tend to relish the self-loathing. There’s a sense in which it’s a comfort to loath this calling, hobby, gift, talent, vocation–whatever category it occupies in one’s life.
I think there are several reasons for the wallowing. For one thing, the memes about all the bad parts of the process and the posts about how much our work is “killing us”–which I have absolutely done many times–is some kind of protection against negative reviews or comments. If we read or hear a bad review, we can sort of tell ourselves, “I knew it was bad all along.” It’s something of a shield. We can’t admit that our work might have some level of quality and that negative comments might be entirely subjective.
I also wonder if maybe some of the people who share these memes aren’t really writers. I don’t mean that they don’t want to be writers. I mean that they aren’t showing up every day and putting down words. Maybe they have tried, but don’t know how to get through the brick wall of writer’s block. Or maybe they are busy with day jobs, families, and other obligations, and by the time they try to write, they just don’t have the creative energy to make the words go. Memes are easier than writing for sure.
But there’s a third reason, too. I think we want to love our writing, but we’re hesitant because it’s just plain easier and more entertaining to engage in the self-loathing. We are toddlers who know we feel better when our diapers are clean, but we really don’t want to stop playing to have someone change us.
The Things I Can Believe About My Work
A couple of weeks ago, I was working on Soultainted, and I re-read a bit of writing that I actually really liked. Upon thinking about the bit that I liked, I had a reflexive sort of cringe about my reaction, as if my subconscious was saying “who are you to judge whether that bit was good or not?” Normally, that sort of cringe would be an open door to the “I Suck” Fairy.
But this time? I just sort of… didn’t.
It was as if my brain told that voice, “you know what? I’m the creator of that bit, that’s who I am. And if the Lord God can look at his creation as he did in Genesis and pronounce it good, then I can look at mine and pronounce it good.”
I confess to you all that this was a very strange feeling.
However… I liked it.
At this point in my writing career, I think it’s okay to say that I have some objectively high level of skill and ability, at least when it comes to all the basics. I have certainly received enough compliments from clients to finally own that I am a good-to-very-good writer.
It’s harder to believe that about the more subjective aspects of writing that come up when I write fiction. It’s tough to judge whether a story, character, concept, or setting is good or original, or if the pacing is right, or if I’ve written too much dialogue, or [fill in the blank].
But what I can believe is:
- The creation has value, because I created it, and my ideas and stories are worth existing in the world.
- The work itself is good, because I am a good writer, and I put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it good.
- Editing the work does not mean it’s bad; it means that I am showing up to refine the initial creation, like a sculptor shaping clay.
- It is okay to love my own work. It is okay to re-read what I’ve written and experience the emotions I want my readers to experience, and then to enjoy the fact that I created that story.
This is all rather revolutionary for me, and I have a lot of thoughts swirling around about how to love my work, how to be kinder to myself as an artist, how to walk away from self-loathing and self-recrimination about writing, how to integrate creating into my worldview from a theological and doctrinal perspective, and probably a dozen other things that are deeper than most writing memes.
It’s possible that this is what happens when I stay off social media.
I don’t think that’s a bad result, to be honest.
Anyway, stay tuned for more of these deep thoughts, because I don’t think this is done.
Next week: I’m not sure. I was going to write a book review, but I haven’t read anything lately that I feel like writing a long review on. So… it may be more Deep Thoughts with Amy, or it may be something very silly. We’ll see.
Try not to melt, y’all.