‘If writing doesn’t consume your life, you’re not doing it right.’

I doubt this is an actual quote, but the line keeps repeating, droning in my mind. Writing on a blog for an audience greater than one has consumed lots of my leisure time. It’s what I wanted, yes. But I am preoccupied with writing in ways I did not anticipate.

Last Saturday, I awoke imagining lines to write. My words swirled around me searching for the one, right line to paint abbreviated images of life, mine or imagined. Couldn’t spend all day in bed, so these little lines and tales were abandoned to the decay of memory, likely never coming into full being. Some days, I find myself talking to myself. Speaking lines and bits of story out loud. At times, I’ve consciously stopped myself, peered around for any witnesses, and wiped my brow in relief that no one’s seen my mad, little indiscretions.

Maybe it’s just the mechanism working, as Bukowski calls it. When one writes, isn’t it a sort of conversation with oneself? Testing out lines, expressing thought in hopes of understanding it, understanding the world. Do these lines ever build up, though? Do they ever stack and weigh heavily on one’s consciousness, all these aborted tales? Remains to be seen.

For the lines that are made manifest, I am discovering that a need for approval has weeded its way into my writing. I’ve always absorbed as much information about the world as I could, including others’ perceptions of me. For good or ill, this is partly how I’ve constructed my view of myself, the lines of my life. We all do it to some degree, seeking brief validations of our self-image. I feel acutely aware of it, though. At points, I’ve managed it better than others. Through inebriation, indifference, or self-confidence, its hold on me has lessened through time. Yet, I’ve never fully rid myself of it.

Now, at this new stage of writing, the need for approval is a weekly assault. I check each blog posts’ likes and views like bets made with my life savings. Behind my searching, manic eyes, I feel shame for being so petty and vain. The rightness or wrongness of my lines lost in a mad rush for attention.

What to do then? Can’t persist in such a state. Time will likely rid me of it. If it doesn’t, I may have to quit. When I look upon my future self, twitching, hunched over, and fully surrendered to the mania for approval, I pity him. ‘Here, my friends, is a cautionary tale of a writer losing his way.’

What is success in writing, then? It’s not necessarily an audience, but it’s also not not an audience. One can only write to and about oneself so many times. Madness can entertain itself, for a time. Some great writers have been a shade or two mad. But plenty of writers have been very sane. There seems to be this fine line, then. Between greatness and mania, between madness and sanity, between writing what you enjoy and writing what others enjoy. This is our great quest as writers: finding all our one, right lines.

2 thoughts on “Toeing the Writing Line

  1. I can relate to so much of this. Since I fully committed to writing and quit my job, my attitude to the craft utterly shames what came before. Now, the question of what constitutes a good day is something of a grey area and at some point I’m going to have to earn some money, but for now, I’m happily drowning in writing

  2. Attitude is key. Christoph Niemann coined a phrase on the Netflix series Abstract that’s stuck with me: an armor of craft. I’ve been trying to forge my own since I heard that, working, learning, and reworking steadily while staving off self-doubt.

    That’s great that you’re enjoying the time. I can tell through your posts that you’re really working through ideas, challenging yourself. It’s engaging to watch and helpful.

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