Friday, August 8, 2008

What I Wasn't Expecting, Part 1: The Censor

I was expecting lots of things from my morning pages, but not this. I was hoping they'd help me to be more productive in all areas, not just creative writing, but I was also hoping to have them instantly clear the way for my creative writing to flow out of me. The last thing I expected from them was the message that it's okay to not feel guilty about not doing creative writing, particularly fiction.

As a background for those of you not familiar with The Artist's Way, the book talks about morning pages, those first 3 pages of free-writing after you roll out of bed in the morning, as highlighting the critics inside your head. What I didn't expect was that one of the voices I had to combat is one of the voices implicit in the book itself: the message that one must allow oneself tons of time for creative writing, or one would be a deficient artist.

Readers of many creative writing books (including The Artist's Way, ironically--check out the section called "Shadow Artists") will recognize this guilt I mention. All these books and courses and conferences carry with them an implicit--and often explicit--message that all those people out there who say that they have a novel in them but never finish it are idiots. On the contrary, a good disciplined writer, they say, must be committed to writing. That person is doing creative writing--preferably fiction--every day. That person is the one who gets to be a J. K. Rowling or John Grisham. To get there, you've got to get the thing done, they say.

It's all very true, if the goal is to become a fiction author like J. K. Rowling or John Grisham. One must actually write to get the book done, and one must then actually send that tome out into the world (often many, many times--with Rowling the first book took 27 submits, John Grisham 38, so legend has it) and follow through to give the thing a chance to be published. This is a truth, and this voice of guilt has been helpful to me at times to keep me moving.

The problem is that the voice of this writing self-help culture, ironically present in the books that are there to help you get through the issues to get to the writing, can at times be the very voice that stalls you from getting it--or anything else--done. This seems to be case for me lately. What I've been learning from my morning pages is that this guilt has created this voice in my head, which is fine most of the time. Recently, however, it's been very whiny and immature, drowning out all others with its demands that I put all my time into writing novels, now and forever. It has as its core a legitimate core, sure, this echo of my desire to write fiction, but it also needs to grow up and take its turn a bit more often, like a good voice in a mature person's head. In fact, if this was SuperNanny, I would say it would need a time out.

Yes, I've written a novel. Yes, I have it out at an agent right now, but no, I haven't revised the last 60 pages for the 6th time, which I've been saying I'll do for the last year now. Yes, I have several more novels I want to write. But what I've been noticing is that this voice in my head not only keeps me from working on those novels, it makes me feel guilty about everything else that's also a legitimate part of my writing life as well as part of my broader life. It keeps me in a bad place in my head, gives me a bad attitude about non-fiction-writing tasks, and stalls my productivity altogether at times.

It doesn't recognize all the other things I have been doing in the last year, writing-wise. And there's been a lot. To list just a couple of examples, I've written approximately 225 pages of graduate-level term papers this year. As a creative outlet, I've also written around half-a-dozen articles for catapult magazine. These things were important to do--in the first case, they're my primary occupation right now, as a graduate student. In the second case, they've garnered me a couple of print publications and given me the oomph to keep writing creatively during a time when working on long fiction just isn't feasible.

The list could go on, but the point is, it must be put in its place, this whiny fiction-demanding voice. The scary part is that it's one of my favorite voices--I really want to get my new novels written, and soon. But in order to make sure this voice is given the opportunity to grow up, and to make sure I'm not getting in the way of my other responsibilities, I may need to ground it until my priorities get more balanced. Unfortunately, grounding the voice may mean putting my novel projects on somewhat of a simmer at least until next summer. I want for sure to get those last 60 pages of revision and some more queries for the pretty-much-done novel done, O whiny voice. And I'll do occasional research into the world of the new novels, and maybe write a few new pages occasionally, but for the most part, the other novel-writing projects may have to lie fallow for awhile while I write another couple hundred pages of academic essays, more creative non-fiction, and, of course, blog entries.

For more on this idea of fallow projects, check back tomorrow--it deserves its own post.

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