By guest blogger Lenore Gusch
Back when I was still a student, complaining about being in school, how all of my time seemed to go to studies that didn’t have anything to do with my writing, and how much more creative I could be if I just had more time to myself, everyone warned me that life after graduation would be different, and maybe not in the ways I wanted. No more deadlines. No more workshops and writing prompts. No more interesting literary internships. No more instant writing community at my fingertips. My motivation to keep at it would have to be entirely my own.
It was true. I graduated, and suddenly was writing into a void. The writing community that had nurtured me for four years went missing.
Many of us on the March have been lucky to keep in touch with our writerly friends from school or to find our own new writing communities. (I still send drafts and story ideas back and forth with a few of my close friends.) Some have been even luckier to go on to MFAs, lead their own creative writing classrooms, or find other careers that foster their continuing to write. But I suspect that out of the fifty-six challengers this month, there are just as many of us who are not surrounded by a single other writer in our day to day lives. (My boyfriend sometimes jokes that he is illiterate, which, although completely untrue, still sends chills down my spine. He rarely reads and never, ever writes.) Many have other full time careers, significant others, and/or families commanding their attention. (Lots of it!) And still, we write on. For some reason, we insist upon it.
A lot of the posts on this March have been about doubts. “Why am I doing this?” “Am I crazy?” “Is my writing any good?” “What is the value of art, anyway?” Some of these are easier to answer, like the first one. Revisit Jennifer Simpsons blog to see why a whole slew of writers are sticking with this insane endeavor. Some of them are more problematic, like the second one. (Only you can tell you how truly neurotic you may or may not be, and why, and if you’re really crazy, you probably won’t be able to tell!) I tend to get hung up on the last one. What is the value of art? What is the value of writing? Why is it important that we tell stories to one another? Are there better things I should be doing? I have a deep belief built from groundless faith that it IS important. That it is, perhaps, the most important thing that humans can do while they’re stuck here together on the earth. But when it comes to articulating this to a society-at-large which is less and less invested in art as a measure of success and happiness, I often falter.
As a student, I had a built in excuse when I needed to go “work.” Now, when I have to explain to my boss why I don’t want to work full time at the douchey steakhouse downtown, or why I don’t want to go to yet another family dinner with my pseudo-inlaws, I can’t play the student card. I just have to be a degenerate recluse who isn’t motivated by things that make sense, like making as much money as possible, finding a career, starting a family, yadda yadda yadda. Instead, I’m just messing around with this weird hobby that few people really “get.” (I thought about writing a whole post on how society tends to measure success, and how we fit in—or don’t—as writers, but it goes down such a bitter rabbit hole that I thought better of it.)
Still, we are compulsive. We are crazy. We are going to do this thing no matter what, right?
Playing by the Mississippi river. Absolutely not writing.
All that being said, I will be the first guest blogger this month to confess that I totally, utterly failed at reaching my Writer’s March goals this time around. Partly, it was just bad timing. The busiest month of the year at the douchey steakhouse is March, and I was working twice as many shifts as I usually do, which left little time or energy for anything else. Then, I spent a week in New Orleans with my two best friends and my illiterate boyfriend, where I ate and drank and napped to excess, cooked, read, took pictures, biked around the city exploring and listening to great live music. I had a wonderful, wonderful time. I never picked up a pen the entire time I was there. So partly, it was timing, but partly I was unwilling to be that crazy degenerate recluse who skips out on that breakfast with friends or that last beer in order to go home and write. I didn’t demand it.
We’ve established during this month together that, for whatever reason, this writing thing makes us happy. It fills some need in us. My advice is: embrace the fact that you may, indeed, be a crazy reclusive degenerate. Stop justifying your motives to yourself and others. If you need to work less (ya know, for “the man”) and write more, demand it. If you need more time alone, demand it. If the only way you can produce anything is with Ziggy Stardust playing on repeat at top volume, demand it. Society be damned! When you start to do more of what makes you happy and fulfilled, low and behold, you will become a more productive member of society anyhow. You will become a better lover, parent, and worker because your neurotic, creative itch will be scratched, and then you can contentedly go about other things.
Now that I’m getting ready to march out into the void again, I regret that I didn’t take more advantage of all the lovely advice and writing prompts this month. I wish that Writer’s March could last all year. I want to run around screaming “No! Don’t leave me! Don’t go! I don’t want to be alone again!” But the spirit of the March can carry on!
I try to read something, write something, and play at least one instrument every day, for any amount of time, even if it’s just five minutes. It’s sort of a mini-March that I keep in mind all year long. Here are some things I do to that help:
- Set goals. They don’t have to be as extensive as what you chose to do in March. They don’t have to be daily. But as Sam keeps assuring us, they really do help.
- Keep in touch with your writer friends. (Some of these bloggers have their own blogs you can follow, for example.) Even if they are only virtual, remember that you are not the only crazy one. Exchange work if at all possible, and if you’re lucky, find people who will give you honest critiques.
- Buy a book of writing exercises, or look them up online, and play with them when you don’t feel like working on other projects.
- Ask friends for writing prompts (even then non-writerly friends) and then give them the results (even if they don’t care).
- Read as much as possible. I always think of reading as brain-food. Without enough brain-food your brain will be too hungry to write when you sit down to do it.
- Remember that you don’t need to justify what you’re doing—to yourself or anyone else.
Good luck out there. I’ll miss you!