How many of you have ever asked yourself if you should be writing? I mean in the sense that you’re not sure whether this is something you should even pursue.
I have, so many times, and mainly when I’m not writing. Maybe I’m looking to be let off the hook: God, no, you really shouldn’t be. Just decide not to, and feel better.
Sometimes I ask myself this question when I am writing and it’s feeling like crap: Ugh. Is this worth it? I suck too much.
After I observe the fact, or state guiltily to my writing group, that I’m not writing, the inevitable thoughts follow: If I’m not writing, and if it seems so hard to just sit down and do it even though I don’t feel scared of it, maybe I’m not supposed to be writing. Maybe I don’t really want it. Maybe I’m kind of forcing myself to write because I like the idea of it. Kind of like how before I was vegan I hated fish but loved the idea of it, fresh and healthy, cooked in garlic and butter and dill and lemon, and I could be sometimes tempted to cook it well and eat it. Or like how people run when they don’t really love it, just because it’s good for them and running’s kind of “in.” Maybe I’m trying to write because I admire good writing and I’m jealous of people getting published and I hate people being better than I am at literary things. Maybe I’m needlessly tormenting myself with guilt and I should just stop trying.
A while ago, I was plaguing myself with the question of whether or not I should write when I was about a year and a half to two years into a short story. I sent a draft of “Everything Good” to someone who’d been crucial and very supportive during my baby steps of serious creative writing. When I asked if he thought I should keep writing, when I said, why aren’t I writing more, what I really wanted him to say was that the draft was very good and, yes, of course I should keep writing. Maybe I wasn’t writing because I was afraid it wasn’t good. But I could put those silly doubts away. The writer never knows.
What he said instead was, I can tell you’re not sure where this story is going. I can’t tell you if you should keep writing or why you don’t write. Maybe you write because you admire others’ writing and want a piece of that.
I didn’t put pen to paper for at least three months after that. I was mortified, disappointed, discouraged, and bitter. Which should have told me right then the answer of whether or not I should write. But it was Sarah Selecky who gave me a virtual slap, talked sense into me about letting others stop me, and told me I was a good writer and that of course I should write. I finally finished the damn story, three years after starting it.
On my walk with Lucy (our 12-year-old boxer) today, it occurred to me that while I’ve believed for a while that creativity is our birthright, it hadn’t yet clicked in that I should write because it made me miserable if I didn’t. Today I went from “If I’m not writing I must not want to badly enough” to “Then why does it bother me so much when I don’t? That means something! If it didn’t bother me, then fine. I’d find something else creative to do. But not writing, it bugs me.”
This is how I came to think of being creative, and for us in particular, being writers, as something as much a part of our makeup as our bodily functions. I need to eat. I need to go to the bathroom. And when I don’t do those things, for whatever reason, I get very crabby. I get impatient with anything that prevents me from doing them, even if it’s me. It’s the same when I don’t create, which for me is in the form of writing. Hence, I should write. It’s for my health and sanity. If I hold off on any of the three things because I’m impatient with their process, I cause pain.
Should you write?
Do you feel like shit if you don’t? Do you get crabby and depressed and bored and feel unfulfilled when you don’t write? Do you feel defensive or bitter when someone suggests that maybe if you’re not doing it, you’re not meant to, or that maybe you should “keep your day job”? (You probably still should, but you know what I mean.) Do you care about writing the way you care about your senior dog who sometimes smells funky and some others think is a pit bull but whom you actually love, even though you don’t always show it, and could never dump and who gives back to you unconditionally?
If you said yes to any of these, you should write. Also because you’re reading this: you care enough to question whether or not to keep writing, instead of just stopping. And you’re probably asking if you should write because you think you suck or you have no right, or it’s not worth the effort and time because everyone is publishing, or whatever.
But quality and quantity don’t get to come into the question or answer here. Quality is what you address once you’ve finished the draft(s). This, right now, whether or not you “should” write, is about doing the creative thing because you’re not healthy and happy if you don’t—and because only you can write it the way you’re going to. Be a gift to the world. Get out of your own way and be all the more happy for it.