Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Help! Help! I'm Feeling Repressed!

So I don't officially return to winter and life-as-usual until Friday, with school starting up again next week, but I wanted to emerge from my bloggery silence at least momentarily to say Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a blessed Epiphany to all of you.

I also wanted to talk about something that's been gelling in my mind gradually over the last few weeks--the connection between social structures and the act of writing. I'm not talking largely about material structures here (those that produce money and food, etc.), but those social expectations which are bound up with the act of writing within different contexts.

The thing is, I think so many of the stresses we face as writers of all kinds are closely related to different kinds of social expectations we and others have for the act of writing within varied contexts. Writing a note for one's cat sitter is hardly seen to be "writing" at all, whereas writing a full-length novel, dissertation, publishable journal article, or memoir is seen to be often admirable, nearly unachievable, perhaps egotistical, and yet, by some, to be not all that different from writing that note to the cat sitter.

And things get more complicated when one talks oneself into actually writing the thing and bullying oneself into getting the words down on the page. Because another part of the social system is gauging whether those words are good enough to be published. And actually following through and sending them to an agent to see what they say. Usually doing all these things while you have other social expectations around you for you to be doing other things at the same time that there are expectations that you will follow through with this project, since you were silly enough to tell people that you were working on it.

These expectations both support you and undercut your endeavor. People around you see you as a writer and/or scholar of some sort, and that helps and hinders at the same time, both keeping you accountable and blocking you with the expectation of greatness. You have bullied yourself into thinking that you're a writer of some sort, and that also helps and hinders at the same time in many of the same ways as the external pressures.

Anyway, I have more to say on this subject, but I'll save it for another day. Anyone have any thoughts about internal and external social pressures they face in their writing tasks?

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