The Only Thing I Know That’s Keeping Me Alive

And that’s the hope I have, the only thing I know that’s keeping me alive. – Paramore, “Last Hope”

cropped-screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-8-16-39-pmPeople have different reasons for why they write. I respect that. I also strive to be an empathetic human being who works to understand other people’s perspectives. Sometimes, this is hard to do. Especially when I read about a writer who only wants to entertain, rather than instill meaning into his or her story. Especially when I read about a writer who has considered giving up writing altogether because his or her failures have become too frustrating. Not just giving up submitting to agents or publishers. Giving up writing itself.

Have I ever gotten frustrated with the writing process, or the editing process, or the rejection process? You bet. “Frustrated” is an understatement. Have I ever thought to myself that I suck, or that I’ll never get anything published? Absolutely. Have I experienced moments of disillusionment with the publishing process/world? I can’t imagine anyone in the writing and/or publishing world who hasn’t.

Have I ever considered giving up writing?

About as many times as I’ve considered chopping off my arms and selling them on eBay. So, no.

(Although if someone I cared deeply about needed an arm and doctors invented some magical surgery in which arm donations worked, I would donate my arm a lot faster than I would give up writing).

I’m not one of those people who took up writing because it seemed like fun, or because I wasn’t sure what else to do. No snobbiness meant there–if you’re one of those people, great, and that’s valid. It just isn’t who I am. I’m one of the (probably) thousands of people who writes because it saved my life. Without writing, I don’t know where I would be right now, emotionally or academically. I don’t know who I would be. I am writing. Writing is me.

When I started really researching the writing craft, around the time I started getting ideas for my first novel (I wanted to do the thing right, see), I gathered one piece of advice that seemed to permeate all the different lists of tricks, discussions, and books I read about writing: be honest. Be truthful. That’s the core of writing for me. What does that mean, exactly, especially when you’re writing a novel, which by definition is approximately 300 pages of something that never really happened?

It means you have to mean every word. Every sentence must stay true to your character’s personality, emotional state, circumstances, and context. Every page must fall into line with some facet of human existence that you know to be true for at least one person, whether you experienced it yourself, watched another person go through it, or even scooped it up from a book or movie. Every chapter must paint a picture that convinces the reader he/she can touch, taste, smell, and breathe the fictional world you’ve created. Every book must make a reader believe, make them feel the truth enveloping the core of the book.

So, before I could write something real, I had to look at my own life. I had to examine truths. There were easier truths, like what my opinion was on the best possible way to describe a rose (yes, truths can be subjective). But there were also harder truths. I had to look at parts of my own reality that were broken and figure out why. I had to accept my own truths. I had to dig into those truths, pin them under a microscope, and acknowledge that sometimes, after hours of inspection, I would still have no idea what I was looking at or why.

Many of these truths changed my life, and hurt. Really hurt. But if it weren’t for writing, if it weren’t for the catalyst that made me start looking at the world around me so I could write about another, I might still be living in ignorance. I might still be sad and not know why. My life would be tremendously different.

Four years ago, I sunk into a depression because of something going on in my life. The only positive things I felt like I had were Paramore’s third album brand new eyes (Oh, gee, now you see where the attachment comes from!) and my second novel. The depression was bad, but it would have been a million times worse if I didn’t have my writing, if I didn’t have an extended goal, if I didn’t have my characters. I wrote 100,000 words in four months during that depression. That is huge for me, a chronic slow drafter.

What is it about writing, then, that saves me, besides helping me discover my own truths? If I’m upset and have enough sense to write myself out of my sadness (because sometimes I’m an idiot who insists she’s too upset to write. Uh huh. That’s like saying “I’m too hungry to eat.”), something happens. Dozens of times, I’ve listen to my sniffles slowly die down as I become more absorbed in the story. My problems vanish. My pain evaporates. Slowly, they are eclipsed by problems and pain belonging to other people. My issues don’t matter right now, because so-and-so is miserable about such-and-such, and he/she needs me to transcribe that sorrow into words. No one else can do it. And sure, these people aren’t real (ouch, my heart). But their emotional experiences are. Millions of people throughout history have felt the same fear and shame one of my gay characters feels about coming out of the closet. Countless people have experienced feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, recklessness. This is how my characters are each, individually, thousand of nuggets of truth.

Yes, I suppose you could aim to write purely for entertainment. But a book can never be just that, at least not for everyone in the world. No matter what, your book will reveal conscious, subconscious, and unconscious aspects of your psyche. The words you choose will reveal your background, your upbringing, your values. Your characters’ moral codes will reflect societal paradigms, expectations, realities. Pure and mindless entertainment, at least when it comes to fiction, does not and cannot exist.

The Paramore quote I posted at the top of this entry might seem melodramatic. Maybe it is. But it’s how I feel about writing. I might not literally be dead if I didn’t have writing. But I might not be as emotionally aware. I might feel like one of the thousands of helpless people who aren’t sure why they’re on this planet (if this is you–you’ll find it, I promise, as long as you keep looking). I might not be as honest with myself as I am.

No one can tell me I’m not meant to write. I feel it in my bloodstream. Sure, someone can time travel from the future to tell me I’ll never get recognition, and no one outside my family and friends will ever read my words. To that I say, so the hell what?

I might never publish a word, but I know I’m here to write until I die.


*Avatar by Charlavail

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