I can’t stop thinking about writing these days. On my drive to New Orleans last week, I started listing to a podcast called #Amwriting with Jess and KJ. It’s full of interesting observations about writing habits, crafting a book proposal, the process of editing a book (which apparently takes longer than writing the actual book), building your network and brand. There are interviews with writers of all kinds, mainly about the nuts and bolts of being a writer and generating income from writing, and less about -the mushy stuff like how to get inspiration or deal with self-doubt. I appreciate the practicality of it, but it does feel a bit like putting my cart before my horse in that I am learning about how to develop a book proposal and find a publicist when I currently have an average of one reader per blog post that I write. It does sound like a dreamy lifestyle though–I imagine myself as KJ (who ran the Motherlode blog for NY Times and just wrote a book called How to Be a Happier Parent) feeding my farm animals in the morning, taking my kids to hockey practice, and diligently writing 2000 words a day. It sounds so satisfying–to pour your brain onto a page and have people read your words and nod their heads and contemplate your thoughts.
In other words, I’m a little envious of KJ. In their podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Gretchen and Elizabeth wisely observe that we should pay attention to the people we envy–we can learn more about ourselves by understanding what makes us jealous. I like this, because it flips the shame and stigma of jealousy (something that we all feel) into an exercise in self-knowledge. (And really, we can look at any source of shame that we feel as an an opportunity to know thyself.) I envy other writers. I envy Lindy West’s fearlessness and vulnerability. I envy Gretchen Rubin’s voracious research and ability to synthesize information in useful and practical ways. Most recently (this morning) I envied Ann Friedman’s originality, the way she effortlessly weaves together feminism, politics, and pop culture. (Her newsletter is pretty bomb too.)
What do these objects of my envy have in common? (1) They are women. (2) They are (seemingly) unafraid to share their opinions with the world. (3) They are prolific. (4) They are dependably good writers. And (5) they are paid for their writing, in fact writing is their full-time job. Apparently, these things are also what I want for myself (I’m already a woman, so I’ll check that box)? This is a life-complicating realization, because it means that if I don’t someday become a successful writer, then I may be, tragically, filled with regret. And then there’s the even more confounding issue of how to go about becoming a real, paid, prolific, unselfconscious writer.
At least I’m writing. And I’m thinking about writing all the time.
Last week, my husband and I went to a storytelling event that took place in a local brewery here in Jackson. It was kind of like The Moth; all the storytellers were amateurs, but they had received some coaching on their stories. There was a stage, programs, and about 150 people in the audience. Since it was the day before Valentine’s Day, the theme of the night was “Romance…Or Not.” I love listening to stories and watching storytelling as performance, so I was an eager audience member, especially since I knew a couple of the storytellers. Three of the stories were very good, and the best two were told by native Mississippian women–one white, one black. There is a knack for storytelling that is engraved in Southern DNA–the impactful pause, the quirky turn of phrase, the lilting Southern accent. The other three storytellers were okay, but I found myself editing their narratives in my head, picking apart what worked and what didn’t and what they could improve upon. That’s when I realized–maybe I am a writer. And another light bulb: I want to be on this stage next year to tell my story.
But then my critical inner voice tells me “you’re not a real story teller; you’re not a real writer.” I haven’t written much, nor have I told many stories. And I’ve definitely never been paid to write anything. But if I’m being kind to myself, it’s not hard to uncover the writerly breadcrumbs of my life–the essay that earned me 3rd place in a high school writing competition, the poetry I shared with my first real crush, the honors thesis I wrote in college, the academic article I published in collaboration with a professor, the blog posts and articles I wrote for FoodCorps, the blog I kept while traveling around South America for three months, the other blog that I kept on and off when I first moved to Mississippi, the content I’ve written for my business, the grant applications I’ve composed, etc. Teachers, family members, bosses, coworkers, and friends have been telling me for years that my writing is good. And now, I’m choosing to believe in their words and in the winding path my breadcrumbs have illuminated.
And the thinking about writing? I’m taking a coursera about developing character in fiction. I’ve ordered the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. I’m looking for a writing group to join. An imperceptible shift has occurred in my body, the subtle movement of tectonic plates separating, loosening a flow of words from my brain onto the page. My mind is on fire with new ideas and fresh inspiration. Now I’m wondering: how much of writing is thinking?