Author Susan Woodring’s post “This Writer’s Wish List: A Love Story” has been on my mind since I read it two days ago. I can’t make it go away.
It sticks with me because what Woodring says is true. Uncomfortably so.
She says if we write because we want something–wealth, fame, a room of our own, shoes–we’re destined to fail.
To write well, we have to ask what the story wants. We must write out of love.
I have at times worked according to the love principle: when I wrote an eight-chapter satire on life in the teachers’ lounge; my first couple of short stories; a segment of the Mystery in Four Parts for the annual Austin Sisters in Crime celebration; the daily assignments for the retreat in Alpine last year; the very first, and unspeakably horrible, draft of Molly; every post that appears on this blog. The less the product matters, the more I’m willing to consent to its requests, and the more I love to write.
My Friday critique partner and I even wrote the love principle into the title of our partnership. Recognizing that publication would not be a slam-dunk, we lowered our expectations–or as my thesis advisor once recommended, modified our aspirations–and named ourselves the Just for the Hell of It Writers.
Somewhere along the way, however, I meandered away from the ideal. I focused on getting it right the first time, being perfect, failing to trust that something would come from nothing. I wandered away from the playground and haven’t found my way back.
While wandering, I suggested to CP that we change our name to something more serious, more business-like, a name we could take out of our tote bags and flash around at writing conferences, a name that would look good on our resumes. After much discussion, we chose Waterloo Writers. We even voted. The motion passed unanimously, 2-0.
Ah, the pomp and the circumstance. One could almost hear the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” replacing Willie Nelson from BookPeople’s speakers overhead.
(Epiphany: As I write this, a Frasier marathon, compliments of Netflix, plays on TV. I just realized I am a Frasier. Uptight. Perfectionistic. OCD. No wonder I’m not having fun.)
Anyway, I haven’t loved Molly for quite a while. I haven’t asked what she wants, and I’ve ignored her attempts to tell me. Even when she’s yelling. She yells a lot, all day every day. And at night when I’m trying to sleep. I can’t make her–or her passel of friends–shut up. No one else hears them.
Ignoring the cacophony takes energy. And sugar. Today the shouting was so intense I plowed right through the sticky, cloying chocolate thingies my husband bought at Wal-Mart to take to work for lunch. Enough for the next two days, he thought. Tonight, to make amends, I baked brownies, which I have already sampled. If I go to bed soon, they have a chance of lasting till morning.
Obviously sugar isn’t working. It never does.
Giving up isn’t an option either. In the words of another critique partner–one I consider my mentor–“Writing is part of my condition.” I may stray from the rule, but never from the desire. The voices in my head keep clamoring, and there’s just one way to calm them.
For this writer’s brand of schizophrenia, the only effective drug is the one Susan Woodring prescribes: love.
Plus, I would add, equal measures of faith and hope. The three have a history of joyful collaboration.
Picture of Susan Woodring by Suzanne Carey, via Flickr, CC BY- NC 2.0.