I was talking with a friend once about writing; and he wisely asked this rhetorical question: why do writers want so badly to be published? My first thought to answer this was, “I don’t know why. I just want to be published.” Isn’t it possible to want something without a reason?
There is a reason to want to be published as a writer, and that is to have readers. The question though, becomes “why do writers want readers?” The same reason musicians want to be signed and release a record; the same reasons why artists want their own show. To be read. To be heard. To be seen. To make an impact on the culture in which they live and to be remembered for that. That last point is key: to be remembered. Which in a way, equates to the desire for immortality through art.
But… that doesn’t feel like the reason I want to be published. It seems too huge for me, and too broad a statement to make. Maybe in my subconscious that is an inherent truth; but on the surface that’s not why I want to be published. I think the reason I want to be published, recognized, read… is so that I can prove to myself that I’m good at what I love to do.
I’ve told myself for my entire life that I love writing – that I eat it up – that it comes naturally, that I’m born to do it, that it’s the only thing I have. That if I did not write, my life would be a lost hole of nothing and it wouldn’t have awarded me so many of the amazing, AMAZING opportunities that have come into my life since 2006 when I was admitted into an undergraduate creative writing class (which I thought I would never be accepted to either). And yet, I constantly read my work and feel it is inadequate and weak and that it would never get published, that it is unreadable. And it doesn’t matter how often people tell me my work is good, particularly within in my circle of writer friends—I will never, have never and simply CANNOT believe them.
I once told someone, “I want my writing to feel when reading it, like someone is ripping your heart from your chest repeatedly, or that you’re being stabbed in the chest; if I’m not hurting you or breaking your heart, I’m not good enough.” I know damn well that when I’m writing I certainly don’t always reach that realm but I always strive to. I’m always wanting something to come from my head in its complete and unabridged form. It rarely does and I’m left swallowed by my work.
Any rational person would say though, it doesn’t matter if you’re “read” or not; what matters in the end, is that you’re doing something that makes you feel good for whatever reason. This is rationality; the rationality of art and the rationality of self-gratification (not THAT kind of self-gratification). But it’s not enough. When you have something, you’re inclined to want to share it with the world in hopes that someone, prominent or important or otherwise, will love it, will feel from it as much as you felt from making it. I’m no different; I wish I could say I was. That I scoffed at wanting recognition. I don’t though; there’s nothing wrong with wanting to use your art to make money and to make a career, is there?
What I struggle with this week though, is the ability to believe in myself even without that recognition. The ability to release something and finish it and place it somewhere in a filing cabinet drawer with my own scrawl, crossing out paragraphs with little notes in the margins and strikes through long-winded, unnecessary sentences and accidentally repeated adjectives and have that hard draft simply be enough. It just never could be. And there’s always this voice in my head that says, because I’ve never really received recognition outside some very kind-hearted friends that will always have to be enough. That this – THING – that I do will never be more than that. It will never be more than a sub-par singer going from karaoke bar to karaoke bar. It will never give me any money, any notable readers, any publicity, I will never see my name under a New Yorker headline or for that matter, a Rolling Stone headline, God forbid. I believe this in my whole heart to be an absolute truth about my own work. But… then… why am I writing this? Why do I write every day? Why do I read a story by Alice Munro and think to myself, “I wish I could do better than this?” and let the character tropes and atmosphere drift through me for hours afterwards, trying to fit them into my own psyche and my own story, just to even attempt greatness for one more fleeting wishful moment? These are things that I just DO. I don’t try to do them, and I don’t even make an effort to do them. And when I don’t do them or I’m not doing them, I wish I was. I long for days when I used to have readers and there was a chance to feel that sense of recognition again, even from said-kind-hearted friends.
When I was in grade 3, we were to write a story. About anything. I wrote a story about a group of friends who were on a hunt for this rare zebra with rainbow stripes. They scaled the jungle, they almost drifted away with lava while on a raft, they were starving and needed helicopter rescue, but they kept pressing onward so they could save this rare, magical species. But once they got to the species, they found that it had been poached. And they all sat around it in this cave while they could hear the helicopter overhead coming to rescue them. They brought the zebra with them anyways.
I wrote that story by hand in a notebook that I had. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and all of my classmates were stunned, even just at the sheer length of this story (about 20 double-spaced notebook pages – though to be fair, my childhood handwriting was quite large and unruly). My teacher had written something on the bottom about clear it was that I loved to write. And she told me that I could be an author.
In grade 12, I suggested to my English teacher over lunch hour one day that we do a creative project in class and she thought it was a great idea. After lunch, my classmates filed into the room and my teacher said, “Miya has a great idea; today we’re all going to work on crafting short stories.” And despite that I could feel the death stares piercing through me from all sides of the room, I didn’t care; in my mind, I was already crafting a story that ended up being 20 double-spaced printed pages, entitled “Wings”, about a girl who had gone to visit her cousin in New Brunswick because he was depressed, and the visit ended with his suicide. For this particular project we did a partnered peer edit; I exchanged my story with a classmate’s, who wrote a ‘non-fiction’ story about he and his friends driving up to the ski hill and getting rear-ended. The only comment he wrote on my piece was, “this was really long. And I didn’t know why the guy killed himself.” It’s my gut reaction to say, “people kill themselves sometimes because they’re depressed.” But I said nothing. I got my 100% and felt elation – that I had done so well, written such a thorough story, and that my English teacher had listened to my suggestion so that I was able to craft something for a grade that I actually really enjoyed writing, that I worked on and focused on and perfected all evening.
In a room that’s not full of writers, I’m still a writer, even if I am a poor one.
That’s why I write. That’s why I do this, even when I have no reason to, even when no one’s reading me and when no one ever will. I write because it makes me happy while at the same time, breaking my heart. I write because there is a wealth of stories out there somewhere in the universe that I feel need to be explored by me, because reading them is simply not enough. I write because it is my inclination to constantly make up stories and daydream and listen to the embedded and even transgressive and predictive nature of my subconscious. I write because I love to. And when someone or something tells me I should give up or when I feel like giving up because there is no recognition out there for someone like me, I have to realize that ultimately, I won’t. I’ll keep doing this, for me. I will continually write for me and I won’t even have to TRY to do so; I just simply have no choice but to.