I have a really bad memory. This wasn’t always the case, but as I get older it gets worse and worse. Of course I remember all the horrible things that have happened to me over the years. That stuff never seems to go away except for maybe secondary school memories. I have nicely blocked out most, if not all of, junior high and high school.
Before the advent of Facebook this wasn’t an issue, but now I struggle to remember who people are that try to “friend” me on occasion or pop up in a friend’s feed. How did I know them? Did we get along? Were they nice to me or was I nice to them? Do they remember me from my awkward wallflower phase or my naughty townie phase? It’s always weird to hear other people describe me from those earlier years because they are describing someone I don’t really know. I’ve either repressed that much of my adolescence or they they have mistaken me for someone else completely.
I recently discovered that I had blocked out a major memory: my answer to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” When I started writing on a whim last year I had forgotten that my answer to that question was to write. How do you forget something so fundamental you may ask? I don’t know, but I did. If only I had that much success in forgetting my first boyfriend.
I should clarify that I didn’t completely forget I wanted to be a writer. Rather, what slowly pushed the idea out of my mind was many internal conversations over the years as to why I couldn’t be a writer. One of the most fundamental reasons being that I didn’t spend much time writing. By much time I mean not at all. I assumed all writers wrote, and did it constantly if not obsessively. Writers write for fun I thought. I also remember writing being an unpleasant thing to do when I did do it. Why would you want to do something for the rest of your life you found unpleasant I thought, naively, as a young teenager. Eventually I turned 30 and realized that’s what most people did anyway.
After I started writing again last year I discovered that while I hated the process and would push it off as late as I could until there was no time left, I was hooked on my writer’s high. More importantly, I started to remember the times I felt that feeling throughout my life: book reports, essays, poems, creative writing, and college paper writing. I hated each exercise, but I loved the finished product. And I still do. It makes me feel alive and complete. I’ve got to assume that the feeling I get when I’m done is universal and means something to all writers.
I’ve started reading about writers here and there and realized that some of them hate to sit down and write. Many of them find it the worst kind of mental agony and try to avoid it as much as they can until they can’t any longer. I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in my inability to make myself do it on a daily basis.
But despite being addicted to my post-writing high and recently learning that I’m not alone in my poor writing habits, I’ve also discovered that trying to make myself write too much makes me physically ill. Last month I took on a lot more writing assignments than I have in the past and made myself sick. It must have been the pressure of perfection: I leave articles to the last minute and then struggle through each word, in each sentence, in each paragraph, and in each story.
I may not be able to change how I feel about the act of writing or my inability to give myself more time to do it, but I do wish I could care a little less about the words that come out. That’s beyond my control I think; it’s part of the process. For the past several weeks I’ve taken a little unofficial sabbatical from the paper and this blog to spend more time wrangling my kids, my dog, and an incursion of Golden Retriever encrusted dust bunnies in our old house. Today seemed like a good day to dip my toes back in the water so here I go.
I will even try to publish without obsessively rewriting…