I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. When I decided to study the Classics in college, and major in Latin, I did it because I knew it would help me be a better writer. It would help me understand the origin of the story.
When I think of myself as a writer, I always think that I am wildly undisciplined. Time is never easy to pin down. It’s easier to scroll through social media than to be disciplined about writing. I look back fondly on the years from 8th grade to 10th grade that I got to write in school, that I got to work on a novel; I think fondly of my first year in college when I didn’t have a part-time job or many social engagements and so I got to write regularly. And then there were jobs. Part-time jobs. Full-time jobs. Multiple jobs. Volunteer jobs. Jobs I hate. Jobs I love. They all require time. They all require time away from writing.
When I left an MFA program in Creative Writing in order to pursue my other passions – Latin, Classical literature, teaching – I felt like I was giving up on something. I felt like a little bit of a failure. If I didn’t have that degree, I wouldn’t be a real writer. The way I convinced myself that everything would be ok, that it didn’t matter that I was dropping out of the MFA program, is to say that I could write anywhere, anytime. Who needs an advanced degree in writing to make a promise to themselves that they will keep doing the things that they love doing? I could do it all – teach and write (and get married and have fur babies and run multiple clubs at my school and act as an advisor for an LGBTQ youth group and so many other things!). I would be able to write anywhere.
The thing about the writing life that no one prepared me for was life outside of workshops and classes. No one was making deadlines for me. No one told me when I had to have a story drafted. I was on my own. I had to make my own deadlines, find my own goals.
It took me a few years (teaching high school is no joke), but I have finally begun to figure out how to live a life that includes writing.
My best friend from college, Michelle, who writes over at Curious Sparkle Dirt, wrote a little about New Year’s resolutions. How difficult it is to keep those little goals we make for ourselves, ones that are often a little lofty to ever hope to fulfill on a daily basis, some even too large to accomplish in a year, or as one, singular person. My friend decided, instead of a New Year’s resolution, she would choose a word to live by for the year 2018. When I read her post, I found that it stuck with me; I decided to do the same thing. Choose a word. Something I could live by for a year, something that would embody some of the goals that I hope to reach, but that would not necessarily suggest a hard and fast deadline, or a specific accomplishment that is not attainable in the time frame. This year, I am working on creating and learning to forgive. Mostly I am writing, and learning to forgive myself for having taken a few years off from writing.
In a class I took with the writer Rachel Kadish, she spoke about forgiveness – what do you do when life gets in the way and you don’t get a chance to write? Forgive yourself. Quickly. And then move on, then write. Her words stuck with me. The more I think about not writing, about the crazy whirlwind of life, the more I’m still not writing. So, write. (I hear my own teacher voice in this reminder, “The longer you spend talking, the less time you’ll have to watch the movie” is a sentence I spoke during the last days before February vacation. The point is, I’m not unfamiliar with this idea, if I’m not getting the desired result, the easiest way to fix it is to stop whatever behavior is undesired and then I will be rewarded. I say “easiest,” but it’s not always easy. It’s like my students, they want the reward (the movie), but they don’t want to do what they have to do to get it (stop talking).)
If I forgive myself for not writing one day, then I can sit down the next day and get to work. How I feel about myself as a writer is usually directly related to how productive I am. I feel like an imposter most when I don’t write, when I believe it would be easiest to give up and focus solely on teaching, or become a secretary, or an accountant, or just pick up a TV show and watch TV at night like a normal person. It’s much harder to get anything done this way. So I have to believe, first in my own dreams, and second that I am a writer because I write. Having an MFA would be great, but ultimately my life now is when I am really learning to live a writing life.
After school was never really a good time for me. I’d fall into the hole of scrolling through social media, clicking on links and watching dog videos, despairing about how I was, whether I liked it or not, an MFA drop-out and would never be a writer. Now, the dogs I watch are my own and after school I write. I make sure I write for half an hour each day, at least, although it’s usually more. And then I record the time. I write everything down in a planner, the time I spent writing, what I focused on. Even on a night that I didn’t write, I say I didn’t and write down what I did instead. Sometimes, it is worthwhile to spend an evening drinking wine or buying furniture with my wife.
At first, I thought that keeping a log of time would feel contrived and that I would stop doing it and it would be another reason I would be frustrated with writing, or rather, not writing; another thing staring me in the face whenever I sat down in my favorite chair to read.
The agenda has a Jane Austen quote each week. It feels like an appropriate use for the agenda, maybe more appropriate than if I were to write down all the other mundane events of my everyday life, my never ending to-do lists, the time I go to the gym in the evenings. The thing about recording time and project is that I can see the progress. I often feel like I spend so much time on something, but then can’t find anything to show for it. So, I get discouraged. And then I stop writing. It’s (only) February, so I don’t know how long this will work for me, but I do see a change, I do see a desire to continue and to persevere, to wade through the fog and snow to clarity someday.