I’ll start by sharing a recent “brick & mortar” journal entry, dated January 18, 2013:
“…this publication and that publication and ebooks and agents and I’ve had it! What if I were to just stop? Give up on the notion of ever becoming an author? Get my manuscript back from [freelance editor’s name here], pay her, thank her, and then put the damn thing in a drawer somewhere. Forever.
I could focus on teaching, creating a nice house, and preparing to become a mother. That’s it. No more nonsense. Would I be happier?
Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?
How much more satisfied would I be if I STOPPED writing?
Maybe I should consider this.
I’m serious. What if I were to simply…give up???
What do I really want anyway?”
I have been toying with my resignation letter of late. What I find puzzling though, is who would I address it to? My muse? My readers? My future agent? No one?
Yesterday I received my tenth rejection letter for a short story I’ve been sending to various literary magazines. I didn’t even care. I shrugged. Tossed it in the trash and set about feeding the cats.
What’s wrong with me?
I don’t feel discouraged per se; I know the writing business left and right—rejection and uncertainty come with the territory. It has more to do with my personal happiness. My identity. How much of myself do I associate with writing? What percentage of my brain is solely focused on “making it”?
If I were to strip myself from all writing obligations, what would I be left with? Is this why I push myself to write? To be something? As if I’m nothing without the possibility of becoming the next Jodi Picoult?
How many hours of my day would clear up? Suddenly doing laundry would be nothing more than doing laundry. A day off would mean I could climb in bed with a book or watch the entire third season of Beverly Hills 90210 without feeling guilty because I’m “not writing.”
The term “intrinsic” suggests something that is built-in, inherent, natural. As in, I was born to write, no one taught me how (not initially anyway) and no one suggested that I write—I just did. As a kid I wrote stories abound, filling countless spiral notebooks with tales of haunted houses, conniving best friends, and handsome boyfriends. In fourth grade, I won the “Best in Storytelling Award” for my fictional piece about a talking vacuum cleaner. Back then I wrote because I liked it. It was organic. I had an idea, so I wrote it down.
Then I got caught in the fog of adolescence and forgot all about my talent.
But in college I rediscovered my insatiable need to write, only this time my priorities were different from my childhood days of scribbling stories and poems. I started using writing to identify myself, to impress others, to become something I never was before. That’s the way it’s been ever since. I push and push and practically delude myself into thinking that I’m already a New York Times # 1 Bestseller. The pain of it all occurs when reality hits: I’m still plowing through a sixth, seventh, eighth draft of my novel, quietly—by myself—in my upstairs office.
Maybe I’ve been doing this for all the wrong reasons.
So I hereby resign from this practice on the grounds of reclaiming my sanity, my morality, and my overall well-being…
I’m suddenly reminded of an episode of Mad Men:
Ken Cosgrove, an account man at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is a fantasy writer on the side. He keeps it on the down low. He’s supposed to be focusing all his energy on the firm, and a side practice—of any kind—is simply forbidden, and many of his superiors have told him just so. So Ken, not be discouraged, uses the pen name “Ben Hargrove” to continue his writing and manages to find some success.
One day, Peggy Olson, one of the ad agency’s copywriters, spots Ken in a diner with his editor. She promises to keep quiet.
Later in the same episode, Ken is at a dinner party with some colleagues—including Don Draper, main character and one of the four partners of the agency. Ken’s wife accidentally spills the details of his writing, along with his pen name. Don eerily questions him on the plotlines, themes, and characterization of his fantasy stories. Ken answers respectfully and calmly, but it’s clear that he’d rather not be having the conversation.
In a later scene Ken admits to Peggy that after having dinner with Draper, he’s decided to “resign” from writing. Ben Hargrove is no more. He shrugs it off, chalks it up to a silly hobby and goes on his way.
However…at the end of the episode, there’s a quick shot of Ken sitting in bed with a pad of paper, writing a story under a new pen name, Dave Algonquin.
I think the point comes across here. Can a writer ever truly stop writing? Is there a force that won’t let us resign—even if we want to? Maybe I’ll keep going for a while. See what happens (rips up resignation letter).
I think there is one line in my journal entry above that is louder than the rest: Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?
You too? Tell me all about it.