Lament For The Death Of My Pen

Going to school for writing has all but killed the writer in me.

Throughout my adolescence and into my early adulthood, I was a writer. Any chunk of spare time I had, I devoted to writing. I wrote poetry, short stories, letters, journal entries–I even attempted to write plays and screenplays. I did all of this without prompting or purpose–I did not write with the intention of getting published (though it was always a fantasy of mine) or because I had an assignment, I wrote because it was what I wanted to do, all the time. I stayed up late almost every night, writing and collaging journal entries, or typing out letters on a second-hand typewriter I’d borrowed from a friend. I composed opening lines of poems or short stories in my head as I walked or rode the bus from place to place. I looked forward to the end of every shift at every job I ever had because I had something in my head I wanted to commit to paper. Everything I read inspired me to write.

My poems were mostly bad, and my short stories were worse, but the words, terrible as they may have been, came out of me as though a geyser had been loosed. I had no control over them–they were there, and they had to be committed to paper. Though I did have temporary bouts of writer’s block when I was too happy–I’ve always written better when depressed–for the most part, I was never without inspiration. I carried a journal or notebook with me always, and for many years not a day went by when I did not write something in it.

Going to school for writing was an eventuality. Writing is a profession that requires–unless you are stricken with an exceptional innate brilliance, which I was not–at least a college degree. Unfortunately, that eventuality appears to have taken the writer in me and put her into severe hibernation, without a foreseeable date of release. With the exception of this blog, which is usually nothing more than narcissistic ranting, I do not write for pleasure anymore. Though I am always up late at night, usually it is for work, or drinking, or the excessive consumption of inane television. The 8 1/2 x 11 hardbound journals I used to carry around and tape all sorts of things into have given way to a compact black journal which is mostly neglected. I haven’t filled a big fat journal in years. I don’t write poetry anymore–not for years.

The amount of time that I must devote to studying and reading for school has made pleasure writing a thing of my past. I write assignments at the last possible moment before they are due, and with the utmost resentment for their necessity. I frequently have ideas for short stories, and even novels, but I force myself to abandon them because if I were to sit down at my computer and attempt to commit them to writing, I would be taking up time that should be devoted to schoolwork, and I’d fall behind in my classes. I have learned to look at writing with a practical approach–what do I reasonably have a chance at getting published?–and have almost forgotten how to write creatively and without abandon as I used to do.

Right now, in fact, I am ridden with guilt over the fact that I should be working on a paper that’s due Thursday instead of sitting here with this delicious glass of Pinot Noir and typing this blog. The guilt is the culprit, I know. The fact that I have learned this regimented approach to learning, with its deadlines and due dates and page requirements, has killed my ability to write and read spontaneously and for my own enjoyment. The threat of bad grades and irresponsibility–something I never considered before I embarked upon the “college experience” has made it impossible to approach writing as I once did. Right now, with this glass of wine in hand, I could sit on my porch and type for hours, and create something either beautiful or terrible–but I know that I have to get up early, hours before my class, and do the reading. Then, after class, I have to write a paper for a different class. After that, I have to get up and go to school all day, after which I’ll be too tired to endeavor anything creative, and the next day I begin a weekend chock-full of work.

How is it that when I was no more than a waitress or a retail employee, I wrote five times as much as I do as a writing student? And why did the writing process itself feel so much better? Have I made the wrong choice in attempting to make this love of mine into a career? Should I have pursued something entirely different and not requiring of an education in order to afford myself the time and mental tenacity to write?

When I think of myself in the abstract, I see a rebellious girl, or woman, sitting in near-dark with a glass of wine or whiskey, with either a big book or a notebook in hand. I see a woman who lives entirely by her own desires, a hedonist who bends to no one’s wishes. I see a romantic, a person willing to live on nearly nothing in order to be able to create. But that is not who I have become. I have become a “normal,” a person who prioritizes responsibility and deadlines to the crushing expense of her inner desires. For the first time in my life, I’m depressed, and I cannot write because I keep convincing myself I have more important things to do with what little time I’ve got. I watch TV because it requires little participation, and I’ve come to a point where I’m too tired to participate. I don’t craft anymore. I don’t collage. I sleep, and when I wake up I’m always late for something.

I miss the girl I used to be, and I don’t know how to get her back without quitting school and abandoning the path which I’ve always thought to be the only one worth pursuing. I’ve come too far, and it’s cost me too much time and money to give up now, but when I get this degree–this expensive degree that I’ve worked so hard for–will it have been worth my time? Will I be so destroyed as a writer and creative person that I’ll just take the paper and walk away to a life of office work or bartending?

How do I get me back?

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~ by saltgirlspeaks on 10 October, 2007.

5 Responses to “Lament For The Death Of My Pen”

  1. You are not alone.

    In fact, your entry today brought a wry smile to my face.

    In abstract, I see myself as a man with few limitations. A serious non-conformist. I am drawn to the fringe. It’s McSweeney’s, Nest (RIP) and Mark Leyner, not Readers Digest, GQ and Jeffrey Archer. Vacuum tubes, not solid state. Messiaen and not Mozart. An imagination that frequently travels outside this planet, and friends that travel with me and seduce me with their rapid-fire wit and repartit, or just their silence. It is a bright, literate, intellectual, creative world. The constant expansion of my mind and experience is palpable, enervating. No-one understands my art, and I’m okay with that, because it makes me feel good.

    Right!

    When I look in the mirror, what do I see? A tired and extremely regular citizen, working hard at a (thankfully very satisfying) job that uses one billionth of my creativity. Hell, I bet people think I vote republican and go to church. Most people have no idea who I am, and that’s probably just fine. Outside working hours I can do my thing – but I’m usually too tired or short of time to paint, read, listen to much music. I too watch TV because it requires little participation. Part of of me is in abeyance. An awakening will come, one day. The interim might just be called life – although I think that’s an overly pessimistic view. But I do think most creative minds get dulled in this American world, perhaps through the drudgery of two-shift jobs or the need for formal over-education.

    Stay the course. You are still there. Your blog today proved it. All this is just a form of preparation – but you must be brave when your time comes. Brave enough to step out of line. I just hope I can be that brave when my time comes – and I know it will.

    I suspect you’ve had quite enough of my diatribes. I apologize.

  2. If you haven’t read it, I recommend Dorothea Brande’s classic book “Becoming a Writer.” It describes how to be a writer internally, how to cultivate the “split personality” that is necessary, between the creative child and the “adult” that has to see to the deadlines.

    But it does sound as though you have a choice. Because the life of a writer is about nothing if it’s not about deadlines and assignments. So do try to find a way to cultivate that dicotomy that allows one to be both free spirit and accountant — or find something else to do, so you don’t lose the joy of writing. But remember that, even if you choose doing something else, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to publish. It just means that you won’t be relying on writing as your sole source of income. (And remember, that even the “something else” you choose may be some form of writing, something less inspiring, perhaps, but sufficiently fulfilling to not kill your muse.)

    Best of luck with figuring out how to write with joy. It is a wonderful thing. But paying the rent is good, too.

  3. i often wonder if doing art or writing as a living would be any good for me. i’m constantly doing something but there is a change that happens when that something becomes what i’m doing for work. my father is at the highschool this year and hating it, and when asked about his day will say “they call it work for a reason” and i wonder if this reason is why i can’t quite make the commitment to (trying) making a living from it.

  4. I took a master class in photography once with Galen Rowell, one of my heroes of nature photography. One of the things he told us was about a term they use in mountain climbing (he was also a climber), and that was “how big is your rat?” He said he felt it applied to photography, too, and I think it applies here, as well. The “rat” is what gnaws at you, that pushes you to do something. He pointed out that there were lots of dentists who were possibly better photographers than he was, but they were happy to just take great pictures and hang them in their dentist offices. They didn’t have that “rat” gnawing at them, driving them to be professionals. Never forget that the root word from which “amateur” is formed is the Latin for “love.” Doing something for love is not a bad reason to be doing it. Not everyone has, or wants, a rat.

  5. you’re learning how to procrastinate (drinking included) because the structured training is not fun. it’s preparing you for academia’s critical reviews, or court, or some other not-fun life. but you checked in thinking it’s good training for your dream. your post is written as though you want someone to advise you to drop out. do it. find the most meaningful way to enrich your world experience, do it on the cheap, and let your muse out. don’t pick war correspondence, that’s for junkies. when you’re back in touch, then you’ll be in a clear enough headspace to decide whether a certificate (and its training) will improve your life. come back to school if you need to. there is only one thing that is good training for your dream, and that is integrating it with your life.

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