Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My [Writing] Identity Crisis


I've been thinking about writing.

Because I write a lot (here, obviously).  And yet, I don't write what I thought I'd be writing.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved books, libraries, bookshops.  I've loved reading, loved diving into a well-written story.  And I have always wanted to be a writer of books, author of stories.  I even earned a degree in creative writing, and I love talking and teaching about writing.

But, thirty and a half years into this mess, I haven't seen a single book through to publication (well, except for this one).

What happened?  

Part of the problem, perhaps: I've never written much on my own.

That is to say, I've never had the guts and discipline to sit down and write instead of reading, to create instead of consuming.  But when I was assigned a creative writing project in high school or college, I went about it with heart-singing joy. 

After graduation, I didn't write because (I told myself) I didn't have time, and it didn't matter much, anyway, because it's not like I could make a living from it (said my parents).  If it didn't make money, what was the point?

And then, finally, I did have time, and I committed myself to showing up at the page everyday.

Can you guess what happened?  (I bet you think I'm going to say that eventually, with enough time and sticking-to-it, a habit was formed and blocks were overcome and that's how my one single finished book gotten written.  But that's not what I'm going to say.)

Writing fiction triggered my eating disorder.  Badly.


Looking back, I think it was the fear, and the perfectionism.  The thought that -- this time I'm spending here, at the page, better pay off, in cash.  Because otherwise it's a waste and I'm a waste.  So this thing I'm writing, it better be freaking perfect in a couple of months.  I'd tremble and procrastinate and bang out a few thousand words, and then go binge, or binge on exercise.  Or I'd just think about writing and binge instead of facing the pressure.

In the end, I felt like I had to choose between writing and my health.  I chose the latter.

And then I found art without really looking for it, and God used it somehow to open up my heart and route that eating disorder right out of there.  And while sometimes the fear and perfectionism come into my art-making, it doesn't scare me off, and the eating disorder hasn't returned (two years this month! thank you, God). 

So I make art, but I have words inside me, too.  I share them here, but still the dream of published books lingers.

Books that don't get written.

So I find myself thinking -- what's the difference between writing here, on the blog, and writing a draft of a book, fiction or not?

Part of it is that I don't have the endurance, the attention span.  Or really, that I haven't cultivated those things.

And also -- I wonder if I don't have much imagination.  Because while the words pool and I can type my truth out easily, when creating worlds and hearts and someone else's dialogue, my imagination feels dull and gray.  It always has, even reading.  When I read or write a setting, it always has gray skies, uninteresting landscapes, and a strong sense of being closed in.  Is this normal?

And another thought: do I want to write books because I want to write books, or do I want to write books because I feel that I should?  Because everyone who's anyone does?  Because successful blogging = book deal? 

Here's what I hear from my friends who are writers (that is, who are actively writing stories right now, and not just thinking about writing or dreaming or talking about it) -- that they write because they must.  Because there are stories inside of them.  Stories that must get out.

The only story that's inside of me is my own.  And I don't know how to write that into a book.  So I write it here.

I don't know if that's enough.  I don't know why it can't be.

Or maybe I'm just making excuses.

Often, when I come here to work out my thoughts with you, I can write my way into some sort of conclusion or resting point.  But that's not happening here today.  All I know is that I love writing, sharing my thoughts with you, and hope that they bless you (and try not to worry that it's narcissistic).  And also that God has given me a gift of loving words and being decent with pushing them around, and there's got to be a reason for that. 

I just don't know what.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
~ Sylvia Plath


  1. Beth, it is a gift to know there are words inside you. And it is a gift to know there is more ahead, more in store, more opportunities to trust and lean into Him. He creates in you and you pour it out. Keep listening and trusting and being bold. Because you are. And I pray we each trust His Spirit within us stirring us on deeper into Him, into new places where we lean even more onto His strength and surrender, again, our own. xo

  2. Oh He is bubbling within you...a true gift indeed. After all, look at all He's created with you already! It may not feel like much, but oh my it is. It so is.

    Whether we're called to reach one or thousands makes no difference. After all, He says they're all worth dying for.

  3. Beth your writing is beautiful and moving. Your blog captured my heart from the first time I read it and your words compelled me to come back time and time again. You are gifted in many ares and I think right now God is using your art to heal your heart and others. I think someday the stories inside you will bubble over and a book will easily pour out onto paper. Until then we (your blog readers) are blessed to get a glimpse of your heart, soul and words. Lots of love to you my beautiful talented friend!

  4. Maybe this is the path to there?

  5. Oh, dear Beth. I understand this. So very much, in my own Steph way. And (as always), I appreciate your honesty in working with this.

    I don't know if there's a "normal" way to write. That's one of the things that I've learned from the books and books that I've read about it. That and the only way to write is to sit down and do it.... badly. And as I've talked with other writers and creators, I realize that there are forms of art we push ourselves with, because we feel there's a gift or talent that must not be wasted, versus things people fall into because they simply enjoy it (much like you've described art).

    I have to go to class, but this? This is on my radar and in my heart right now. Thank you for your bravery.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King