This is always the easy answer or quote used to goad the audience of said quote into following their dreams and making something of their life. The variations on it exist for everything from weight loss to relationships. It’s the happy headline that’s meant to direct you to the successful completion of it in the epic article that should proceed from it.
Throughout my life my father (J) and I would butt heads over many things but the one we were most incompatible on was on the difference between excuses and explanations. Naturally curious I always wanted to understand the reasons why something was what it was. It seemed that the knowledge would then assist in producing answers and solutions to problems inherent to whatever I was curious about. But, to J an explanation was just an excuse that someone used to skirt their responsibility to produce whatever outcome they should have produced and therefore he didn’t want to hear it. It should not surprise anyone that J was convinced that weight loss, intelligence and creativity were all easy because he himself understood them and therefore anyone who had any reason why they weren’t thin, brilliant and accomplished was obviously making excuses.
For the majority of my life I have been dismayed at my own inability to be thin, brilliant and accomplished but I have messily proceeded forward on the understanding that if I could at least understand why then there would be something to be gained in that knowledge.
But, this isn’t really about childhood misery or the adult coping. Instead it is about that notion that writing is as simple as “just write”. I think for some people, people who have had success, it is the most simple part of the truth. In the end the way in which a book is created is to sit down and put the words on paper. And probably the most successful writers have a clearer path straight to that moment in which they sit down and “just write”. Somehow over the years I have conquered my envy and I don’t begrudge anyone that journey. I am fascinated by autobiography and biography because it provides such a rich tapestry of all the ways in which lives converge onto points of personal success and failure. In black and white it feels simple.
But in living color lives look so messy. Over the last year I have been struggling to find the focus to edit several NaNoWri Mo novels I have completed and other promising works that are screaming to be revisited and edited. This has lived alongside financial struggles, J trying to force his way back into my life, married life and two pets. These aren’t complaints. Ten years ago I would have been complaining and making excuses but now I have an understanding of the whole.
There is something about headlines that has shaped how we envision our journeys. We make lofty goals that sound overlarge that we can use to indicate how we someday hope to be remembered. But life is lived in the trenches. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is his well known work, certainly he must have sat down and written but the life lived around the edges of those moments when he sat down and worked on Leaves of Grass are the fuel for the fire of the work. Leaves of Grass is the only poetry that I’ve ever really found interesting but what was more intriguing to me was that Whitman nursed soldiers during the Civil War.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is brilliant but it couldn’t exist without her losses and the understanding she gained through the life she lived around the edges of her work.
Today I sat down to write and edit because I had finally quieted down the anxiety I’ve been experiencing as various important domestic issues are breathlessly waiting for other people’s actions. I’ve spent the last three days sorting out the cat and the dog who have been feeling neglected because they suffer jealousy when the other one gets attention. When I can’t clear my head enough to write I have been drawing and painting. There’s always the hope that some sort of coherence will occur that transforms my work into something that will resonate with someone else. But the fact is that although the work requires me to just write because if I do other things it will never be finished, the work requires me to live my life as it must be lived.
The facts of any creative life are that prolific creators sacrifice many aspects of their life in order to fixate upon the work. If you live and breathe your writing then yes, you should be writing all the time. But if there’s just one great work of creation in you because you have family to care for, friends to help or community to contribute to, if you have passions that extend beyond a work of creation then–just live. Seek out moments to write, to draw, to paint, to exercise, to read or do any number of other things with the knowledge that it is only at the end that someone asks you the key to your success and you pitch them a headline. But, in the thick of it you’re finding a way to make sense of the life you are trying to create out of the life you’re living. It isn’t simple but it can be so rewarding.