On writing and not writing

Again this holiday I’m trying to write* and, again, I’m procrastinating from it. It feels like heresy to admit it but I don’t really enjoy writing. Which leads to the obvious question, why do I do it. I have limited leisure time. Instead of spending the time procrastinating, and then feeling guilty, why don’t I do something else like watch Netflix. I take so much heart in reading interviews with ‘proper writers’ in which they say they hate writing. I like having a play at the end, to be performed, I like having written, because that makes me in some small way a writer. But I hate how writing makes me feel – bad, not good enough, a failure.

It’s the fear of failing that most impedes my writing, of writing something not good enough. Even though I know it’s better to ‘get it written than get it right’, to have a ‘shit first draft’ to improve. But it’s also fear of failing that makes me not want to give up. I am very ambitious and very stubborn. I have wanted to be ‘a writer’ ever since primary school. I have angsted about it ever since I knew what that was. Abandoning that ambition now feels like a compromise, a defeat. But I worry (I know) that I have got more attached to the idea of being ‘a writer’ than actually writing. It’s a bit like the complicated, tangled feelings I have towards academia but even worse, because writing is supposed to be my hobby, what I do for fun.

I am loath to give up because part of me accepts that I am good at writing or, at least, that I could be good at writing if I could get past the perfectionism and the procrastination. People that I trust have told me that I’m good at writing. I’ve got onto some schemes on the strength of my writing (although I always feel that I should have got onto more, done more). Being told that I was good at writing in primary school made me incorporate it into my identity. But it’s hard to know what being ‘good at writing’ means. Or rather, it’s hard to hang onto a notion of being ‘good at writing’ that isn’t tied to external markers of success, like writers’ schemes, competitions, productions. But in worrying about them and then not even submitting because I don’t think my work is ready or good enough, I miss out the crucial step: actually writing.

 

For her Christmas present this year, my grandma asked to read my new play. I wasn’t sure about giving it to her because it was about a family and not a particularly happy one. I printed it out and wrapped it up with two warnings: it definitely wasn’t autobiographical, wink; she wasn’t to share it with other members of the family yet. The next day, she rang me and said she’d read the play twice and she’d cried. This surprised me because I didn’t think the play was particularly sad. It tries to capture the knot of conflicting feelings around success and failure. I experienced the part pleasurable, part sinking feeling of being known. I’d put more of myself into the play than I’d intended. (Incidentally, I accidentally came out to my grandma by giving her my last play to read. I didn’t realise because I’d also come out to myself in the process of writing the play). ‘Why do I, who hate talking in public and hate talking about my feelings even more, feel the need to have my innermost feelings performed to a paying audience?’, I thought. ‘That would make a good tweet’, I thought.

In some ways, writing your feelings into a play is safer because you can make characters say them and tell people it’s definitely not at all autobiographical. Though there is the very reasonable worry that people will discard that and identify those feelings with you. Some people say they write to process their feelings. That’s not what I intend to do; if I did, it would make far more sense to write in prose, to write directly, to write like this. But seeing what I’ve written being performed, seeing my feelings reflected back at me yields a kind of self-discovery. ‘Oh shit. That’s me.’ And I think sharing that with other people is part of what makes that powerful. Even though I’d never go up to someone in the street and tell them about my insecurities. So maybe my writing does fulfil a need. To be seen, to be heard, to be known. The play my grandma read is being performed soon and I am scared.

*by writing I mean creative writing

(Image – tortured writer in a jar snowglobe my dad gave me for Christmas)

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