In my last post, I said that people often tell me that they think they should write a book but they just can’t get around to it. They say this as though they feel guilty. I don’t think there is anything to feel guilty about. And in my last post I gave several valid reasons for not writing. This post gives a few more. Here goes:
- If you don’t like solitude, you probably won’t like writing. Although some books have been written collaboratively, generally writing requires a great deal of time spent alone. Some people don’t thrive in such isolation. For extraverts who are energized by interactions with other people, the solitude of writing can feel not only lonely but downright depleting. Being a “people person” is a gift. If you have it, then interacting with people personally might be a better way of serving others than writing is. Something to think about, anyway.
- Another reason for not writing, and especially for putting aside guilt about not writing, is that it may not be the best way to communicate what you want to say. I think especially of older people who want to set down their life story for their children and grandchildren. The well-intentioned grandpa may spend hours and hours, not to mention quite a few dollars, writing and self-publishing a memoir that then is shelved unread on family bookcases. Grandpa is disheartened, but he shouldn’t be surprised–because the people in his family don’t really read much. They may feel badly about not reading those pages and pages that Grandpa wrote, but they don’t actually have the time or the patience for it. However, if Grandpa compiled and annotated a photo collection, they might really enjoy that. They might enjoy it even more if Grandpa sat down with them to look at the photos together. Certainly I am not saying that people should not write their memories of life. Memoirs are valuable. But what other people often need more is personal connection. I think we tend to overestimate the importance of our words on paper and underestimate the importance of our personal interactions.
- But very often the reason people don’t “follow their dream” of writing is that they are attending to pressing needs. I can’t write because I’m too worn out from my job in a hospital emergency room. Or I haven’t been able to write for months because my kids have been sick all winter. Or I’ve been intending to write, but I’m a teacher, and it takes so long to plan good lessons, and my grading inbox is overflowing, and besides that, my students always seemed to need extra help, and—excuse me, my phone is ringing . . .
Remember George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life? He dreamed of leaving Bedford Falls and his tedious, frustrating job at the bank there. He wanted to go do something else, somewhere else. But as he learned, mundane Bedford Falls and its plain, glamorless bank were exactly where he was needed, and all of his life countless people had depending on him to stay there, keep on working, keep on looking out for them, keep on averting disaster, keep on saving the day just by being there when no one else was.
So I say to anyone who has not been writing because they are too busy looking after the sick, or teaching children, or keeping a business from going under, or feeding their family, or listening to the broken-hearted, or loving their neighbor . . . THANK YOU.
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:
- 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.