Uneasy Writer

I’m going to tell you all a small secret: I want to be a writer. That want, my desire, is operative here. For I am not a writer. Not yet. To be a writer requires one to have written. And much as I cherish the idea of writing, I have not written anything.

There is a folder on my desktop labeled “Projects.” Within that folder is a folder called “Writing.” I visit it sometimes, but it’s like visiting a ghost town. There are scattered remains strewn about – stories left unpopulated or unfinished. It pains me to admit that they’ll likely remain that way. When I go back and read them, it seems apparent that whatever spark of life once stirred me to open a Word document and put fingertip to keyboard has vanished – gone, perhaps, to some other would-be writer somewhere, with nimbler fingertips and more of a knack for turning sparks to fire.

Crucially, this doesn’t dissuade me from trying again. My latest bid for writerdom, my top horse among a gaggle of nags, is the start of a manuscript (I feel a somewhat sickening spuriousness even using that word) that I hope will one day turn into a short book. It’s about 8,000 words long right now, and I neither know where the story is going nor whether it will be any good. I try not to concern myself with such trivialities, and instead obsess over the more worthy dilemmas of life, such as whether or not my left thumbnail could do with a bit of light filing.

Last fall, Mary Cate (darling, beloved Mary Cate) and I attended a lecture on writing and creativity given by Neil Gaiman in Austin, Texas. At one point, a member of the audience asked a question about Gaiman’s own creative process. “Some writers are architects,” he said. “Some are gardeners. I am a gardener.” He’ll take an idea, stash it away in some fertile furrow of his mind, and let it develop organically, hacking off low-hanging limbs as needed to facilitate upwards growth. This heartened me, somewhat. Gaiman’s writer-as-gardener seems to share some basic DNA with my own method, which is to sputter along on a gravel road through the fields of my imagination in a rickety pickup truck while wearing a blindfold, cackling as I throw the occasional fistful of seeds out of the space where I hope there’s a window, which I hope I remembered to roll down.

Some days, though, I’m afraid to get into the truck at all. This has been something of a recurring theme for me. Another obsession of mine, as will become apparent over the course of this blog, is food. I love cooking, and want to continue loving it for the rest of my life. Some years ago, I decided that I loved cooking so much that I left my university in Canada and enrolled in a culinary program at Le Cordon Bleu. I never made it to the first class. I was afraid that achieving the title of “chef” would rob me of the joy I felt in the kitchen. That it would become more profession than passion.

Something similar happened a few years later, after I had gone back to school and completed the art history degree that I had left half-done. I was admitted into a dynamic and exciting graduate program here in New York that would have set me up nicely for a career in a museum or an auction house. I’ve always loved museums, and art museums in particular, but I eventually turned down the school’s offer for fear that working in that environment would rob it of the magic I feel when I visit it.

Actually, I’ve often thought that it’s nicer to visit places than it is to live in them. I frequently think this when I travel, and I certainly think it when I read. There are few of life’s pleasures that I relish more than escaping into the pages of a good book, but even fewer fictional universes I’d actually be tempted to inhabit. I wonder if I’ll feel the same way about the universes that I create. I wonder if that would be good or bad.

On the balance, though, I’m encouraged. For starters, I don’t want to run from this one. That impulse isn’t there. And being a writer is defined by its freedom, its flexibility. Nobody cares if a writer keeps strange hours or spends years between books. Many writers work on multiple projects at a time, dipping in and out of their stories as they please. Some degree of failure is common – writer’s block is an expected, even celebrated occurrence. You can’t get away with claiming that you have chef’s block or art historian’s block. The pressure of constant creation is certainly daunting, but it seems to me much more bearable than the tedium of constant repetition. A chef can create a wonderful dish, and then be expected to reproduce that dish multiple times per night over the course of many years. But nobody wants a writer to keep on recycling the same sentences.

So there’s really only one thing for it. I’ll write. And just like that, I’ve finished this story while determining to embark on a new one: my own.



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