I scared myself recently. I was innocently going about my day job, commissioning and editing, and I just thought to myself, “when was the last time I wrote for pleasure?” Emails aren’t enjoyable, and the clipped updates allowed by the social networks I’m invested in just don’t scratch the itch.
I then pictured me a decade ago, staring into space, daydreaming, and then just writing off the back of whatever I was thinking about, seeing or hearing. No thought about where that writing would lead, no thought about what it might become. I had the enjoyment of pure freedom, and none of the pressure that I attach to my hobby now.
The issue these days I think, is time. The last time I was daydreaming? No idea. Mostly I’m too busy to slow to a relaxed state, or for my mind to have any chance to wander. I’m busy, so if I can find the time to write it needs to be disciplined and productive. The last time I was writing outside of the confines of my company office in that way was a few weeks ago, and the piece had a specific direction. It was something that I’d like to have plans for, and so it was something I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to get right in every word of every sentence.
It wasn’t enjoyable.
Re-evaluation might be the answer. There’s no reason you should know this other than for me to make a point, but I’ve a Facebook page that calls me a writer. I’m saying that because ever since my moment of fear I’ve been wondering what exactly that means. As it stands, I’m a person who writes once every three weeks if he’s lucky, and who puts such an amount of pressure on himself to produce that he fails to have the time just to enjoy his writing. It’s entirely deflating now I see it. It crushes a soul that once was driven purely to put words to page. And, worse, it smacks of self-inflicted failure.
T.S Eliot said “some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers”. The important bit for our purposes is the writers who are also “failed writers”. How have they failed? Are they those who still consider themselves writers, but who fail to find success? Possibly. But I’d suggest replacing “success” with time; freedom; enjoyment.
After all, success in writing is a fickle thing. We won’t all bash out books to form cornerstones of the future literary canon. Not all of our works will be transformed into screenplays adored by millions. And, I hate to break it to you, you might not have ideas spawning TV shows of multiple seasons.
I say again that writing success is fickle, but we shouldn’t enjoy it less for that. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it. We shouldn’t restrict writing to pure pressure, or even single projects. And we certainly shouldn’t shed the thought of writing when it doesn’t fit into our fake-perfect parameters of being productive.
To re-evaluation again. I am a writer. And to me “writing” means a simple, but joyous exercise in brain stimulation – one that thrills the integral part of our communicative beings. So, instead of having you think of Eliot’s failed writers, I’d rather leave you with a positive thought: Discipline is to be encouraged, but don’t pressure yourself to a halt. Remember why you enjoyed it in the first place, and (hopefully) why you still do. For this, I particularly favour Joan Didion’s view:
”I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”
Let’s not forget that writing is mainly about enjoying our ability to write, and not scaring us into nostalgic recollections of a supposed ‘productive’ yesteryear.