Here Are Some Valid Reasons Not to Write

When people find out that I do creative writing, fairly often they will say to me, “I’ve been thinking of doing that, but ___________.”  Or, “I have an idea for a book, but __________.” And they tell me some reason why they haven’t started writing yet, or why they got stalled, or . . . whatever.  They seem to feel guilty about not writing and think they should apologize to me, a person who is writing.  But I know what a huge commitment of time and energy writing actually is; and the longer I write, the more I’m convinced that writing is not for everyone. This post is respectfully dedicated to those who think they should write but have never quite gotten around to it.  To those good souls, I say that perhaps you do not really want to write, and that is perfectly okay.  Maybe you are getting more out of life by spending your time on other things.  Here are some completely valid reasons not to write:frustrated-person

  • Don’t write if deep down you don’t really like to write.  Often people think that they would enjoy creative writing, but by its very nature writing can actually be really tedious, especially for people who are naturally social and active.  Sitting on your hind end hour after hour laboring over the same three very frustrating  pages is NOT fun.  I personally find the writing process rewarding, but I certainly won’t blame anyone who you doesn’t have the patience for it.
  • If you don’t really like reading, then writing is not for you, either.  A person who doesn’t read much will not have absorbed a strong enough sense of how written language is constructed and paced.  This is not a criticism, it’s just an observation. If you don’t like to read, then you don’t have enough enjoyment of the written word to stick with writing for the long haul.  There are other modes of creative expression, and something other than writing would probably suit you better.
  • Writing is probably not for you if you want things to be finished quickly.  Murphy’s Law:  Nothing is as easy as it looks.  Everything takes longer than you think it will.  If anything can go wrong, it will.  All of this really applies to writing.  A good finished manuscript usually requires much more time and correction than the author cares to calculate.  A piece that was dashed off in a short creative spurt is probably either a) a miracle or b) something far clumsier and problematic than the author realizes. Option B is about a zillion times more common than A.  The poor author will find out all about the clumsiness and problems in his work when other people read it.  And that brings me to the next point:
  • If you are easily hurt by criticism and really have a hard time getting past it, then maybe you shouldn’t write.  Or you should think about keeping your writing private.  Because it’s inevitable that when other people read your work, not every reaction is going to be positive.  Some people may love your work.  But others will disagree with it, misunderstand it, be offended by it, be bored with it.  They may get hung up on details and miss the overall point.  They may begin reading the story and then never finish it. Worse yet, they may read a little bit and then post a scathing review online. These reactions from readers can be very painful to a sensitive writer.  This is especially true, I think, if the subject matter is deeply personal.  And if the writer is already facing other hardships in her life, then this kind of criticism can feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  I say this with all empathy:  there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak,” as the book of Ecclesiastes says, and at vulnerable points in our lives it may be best to consider whether we’re really ready to share our work.

Next post will address more perfectly valid reasons not to write:  Don’t write to hurt other people; don’t write for people who don’t want to read; don’t spend time at your desk writing when you truly are needed elsewhere.

Drowning in Music, Tasting It, Touching It: Imagery For the Indescribable

Last week at a book reading I met author Shannon Huffman Polson and heard her read from her memoir North of Hope.  It is a story of her grief pilgrimage, travelling to a spot in the Arctic wilderness where her father and her stepmother were killed by a bear. I bought a copy of the book and am looking forward to reading it.  Looks like a poignant, riveting story.

One thing that especially intrigues me is that into this wilderness narrative Shannon weaves Mozart’s Requiem.  Six musical “interludes” are included in the book, because as part of dealing with grief she sang the Requiem with the Pro Musica choir of Seattle.  When she spoke at her book presentation, Shannon discussed the difficulty of describing music music image for blogand said that writers will often compare it with the natural world.  Here is a sentence from North of Hope that describes the Mozart music in terms of the nature imagery running throughout the book. Notice the way the sentence incorporates the sounds of grief and conveys grief’s overwhelming power.

I am part of the music as a drop of water is part of a river, feeling the currents and eddies flow, the crashing and tumbling and streaming, the whispering and sighing and moaning and rumbling.

When Shannon spoke about how writers gravitate to images from nature to describe  music, her point immediately resonated with me.  The novel I am writing is about two singers, both of whom are very strongly affected by music, so of course my novel includes descriptions of music. I don’t think it’s any easier to describe how music sounds than to describe how wine tastes.  (Think of all those strange adjectives and metaphors wine tasters use.)  Figurative language is essential, because there is no way to press the “play” button for the reader.

In story-telling, the description also has to communicate the effect on the character.  The example above from North of Hope does that.  It is very raw, just as grief is.  The example below, taken from my novel-in-progress, shows music having a different effect.  In this, a twenty-two-year-old Hungarian peasant is listening to a young mother sing to her baby, and his reaction is fascination and longing:  

“Sweet God,” he murmured, for the song flowed soothing and pure and good, quiet but full, richer than spring cream.  He listened almost guiltily as though stealing nourishment from the child and stealing joy from heaven.  A person could die in the presence of such beauty.

So here are some good exercises for practicing imagery:

  • Describe music metaphorically with visual imagery.
  • Describe music in terms of touch sensation.
  • Describe a sunrise or sunset musically.

If any of you out there in cyberland try this, send me your results, or send me your own ideas for imagery exercises!