I’m immensely grateful for the good things that have happened to me this year. In March, I received a place at the Writers’ Room of Boston (which, if you’re in Boston, is a great resource downtown for writers seeking a private place to work). In April, I received word from one publisher that my story manuscript is on their long list of possible titles to add to their catalog next year, and this weekend, I found out that the same manuscript is also in the running for publication at YesYes Books.
In AP news, I ran a great event with Brookline Booksmith for a marathon reading of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel about fascism in the U.S., It Can’t Happen Here. And in early August, we got word that Krysten Hill’s galvanizing chapbook, How Her Spirit Got Out, won this year’s Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize from The New England Poetry Club.
All of these things buoy me when I’m feeling particularly low. But there’s a persistent thought that makes the rounds among writers and the basic gist is:
If you stop writing, no one will care.
Cheerful, right? But nearly every writer I know has felt that at one point or another. Yet, despite its prevalence, there’s a flaw inherent in that sort of thinking. It discounts the writer.
Most writers start drafting for themselves. To be heard, to be received by an audience, maybe even to receive praise—ahh, the byproducts of publishing. But, ultimately, a writer starts working before they recognize any audience beyond themselves, and the time between publication dates, when we research and draft and revise, those are the days when we have to write and subsist only for ourselves.
The thing that drives me back to my desk, to my ideas, and to my work has to do with what a dear friend describes as the fiction writer’s dilemma: a writer’s dissatisfaction with the world and what she’s contributed to it, and that includes all the words she’s written up to that point. I’ve spent this past year writing and revising and working (for myself and others), and to say I’ve been dissatisfied with the world would be a tremendous understatement.
I’ve gone to so many protests this year that I’ve honestly lost count. I’ve donated more money to causes that matter to me than I can comfortably afford. I’ve volunteered my time. And I’ve written and wondered about the things we tell each other in order to keep going. To racists and white nationalists, just the existence of people of color wanting equality is reason for them to gather and yell. Seriously: just our existence.
So, the same thing is true, re: writing. Even though there are so many days when I feel like I’m not writing fast enough or getting enough of my own work done—when I’ve revised so much that I’m convinced I’ve actually made the work worse—I have to remember that the stories I choose to tell (just the fact that I choose to tell them, just the fact that they’re mine) makes a difference in terms of the sort of thoughts that are out there in the ether. And if that* isn’t reason enough to keep going, I don’t know what is.
* AKA: My agenda to fill every story with queer people and people of color and disabled people. Take that.