I always assumed that I would have two jobs when I grew up. One would be a job with a salary and benefits. The other would be fiction writing.
Since college, I’ve had jobs with salaries and benefits. I haven’t done a lot of fiction writing.
I’ve typed a lot of words, it’s true. And they’ve been published. But only on Usenet, and mailing lists, and Livejournal, and finally this site. Not “real writing.” Not “real publishing.”
And perhaps this is one reason I felt the need to spend a couple hours repudiating Robin Hobb’s rant about writing vs. blogging. I saw myself in it: a failed writer seeking asylum and solace in a shadow of my former ambition.
But then I always believe the worst that anyone says of me, and when I thought seriously about what I’d been writing, I realized I hadn’t entirely been wasting my time. On Usenet and on mailing lists I learned to argue, both the right way (facts + rhetoric) and the wrong way (invective + psychological warfare) — a vital skill for a writer of nonfiction. On Livejournal I learned to tell a potentially mundane story with humor and suspense and brevity, to find meaning in small incidents as well as large phenomena, to examine life and share it with an audience — all vital skills for a writer of fiction.
I could have spent all of that time churning out stories and novels, and sending them off to publishers in hopes of being noticed, thinking I’d made something good but receiving no feedback to confirm or deny my assumption. But since I fortunately didn’t have to write in order to pay the rent, I could afford to spend the time learning instead.
More importantly, I discovered along the way that I wasn’t itching to write about imaginary characters and places the way a “real writer” is. I discovered that, freed from the strictures of format and publishing, I could write about only and exactly what interested me, and to express myself plainly and directly. Once I got over the idea that my words were useless and inferior if they couldn’t be sold in 300-page bindings at Barnes & Noble, and that I had a responsibility to myself to publish or be silent, I could enjoy my writing for what it was, and not for the product it could be.
That’s not to say I’ve entirely given up on writing fiction, though. I’ve been turning over a novel idea on and off since 2001, trying to find the narrative line in a series of images, trying to find the courage to write it without turning it into a research project. I’m almost ready to start on it again. Hobb would pounce and say “aha! you’ve been keeping a journal on and off for that same amount of time! you’ve proven my point!” Well, maybe I have.
And maybe I haven’t, because in 2006 I finished Nanowrimo and proved to myself I could churn out a novel just fine if I put my mind to it. Number of LJ entries I wrote in November 2006: 19. One of them on the 15th is called “nanowrimo halfway point.”
Nothing will keep you from writing whatever you want as long as you set your mind to it. Most of the time I don’t, but I’ve proven that I can. Maybe this year — blog or no blog — I will.