I spent so many years in school, and loved it. I first wrote because they told me to. It turned out I could do it well by their standards, and so I liked doing it. But I liked a lot of other things – math, reading, drawing, gymnastics, singing.
So much of my writing has been about receiving praise from other people (mostly my teachers). The writing became about the praise. Which is why I couldn’t sustain that “help you with your money” website I started – because no one was telling me it was good and helpful. And I told myself that it wasn’t the writing I wanted to do but the helping – that what was missing was the one-on-one interaction. Which wasn’t a lie, but it also isn’t the truth. I felt like no one saw it and no one told me it was good and I was smart and kind and also a hero and a great writer. So I lost all interest in the project – in an idea had consumed me for weeks. But what had consumed me was the idea of a lot of people praising me for how helpful I was, not the doing of it. Ego, much?
Now I wonder if I’d have been as good a painter/ artist (for instance) as I am a writer if school/ anyone had spent as much time praising me for it and teaching me to hone that craft. I’m a decent painter & sketcher, and I get better the more I do it (true of most things! For most people!). And I derive at least as much pleasure from it as I ever did from writing – with a lot less need for outside validation. Not because I want to be an amazing painter – but it seems clear we all have many parts we let atrophy for lack of sunlight.
With painting, I focus on the process and therefore am less invested in the outcome, which means I end doing a better job. Or something. But with writing I can be happy as hell with the product but still not care about it if no one else is reading it.
I am a thinker, an over-thinker, honestly – and writing is really the part of school that best matches up with that tendency/ skill. And writing does clarify thinking for me, both emotional and intellectual topics (false binary!). But I don’t think it’s the writing itself that I like, or that attracts me. It’s the deep thinking about whatever topic that appeals and excites, not the writing process or the product. Writing being an effective medium for sharing thoughts is why I like it, not because I think writing is something I should be doing. Maybe those aren’t actually different things, but they feel different.
Lidia Yuknavitch says that the truth exists but using words to try to describe the truth can only be fiction – that feels like a part of it. But you can get to the truth of an idea, if not a life or an experience – with words. Ideas are quite literally only words, they can’t exist without the language to describe them, whereas all manner of other things exist outside language entirely. And that’s what excites me most. But it is the pursuit of the idea that can motivate me, not the writing that comes from that. Or maybe that’s why I want/ need that praise/ interaction? Because I can’t know if I’ve translated the idea well enough until someone else has read it and told me they understand? I don’t know maybe this whole thing is just a circle.
It’s true that writing essays about money advice really is useless if no one reads them – but quitting after five essays and two weeks or whatever is hardly a fair chance given.
So… I’m a much better writer than painter. And journal writing is an important part of my life and growth as a person. But it’s suddenly obvious that the other writing in my life is just performance. Writing is certainly the way I figure things out for myself, but public righting is about how others react to it, not how I feel about it myself. Which may be why I don’t do it much while still thinking I should be doing it and being disappointed in myself for not doing it more.
But maybe I’m only think I should be a writer because someone told me early on that I was, and I believed them. What if they’d told me I was a good artist instead? Who would I be?