Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Writing

AKA: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

As soon as I hit the SEND button, emailing my letter of application for a possible Roanoke Times columnist position, I started to come up with excuses for why I couldn’t do it if I was chosen. In early January 2007, when the “Call for Columnists” was announced in the paper, several friends called to make sure I saw it and to encourage me to apply. I was hesitant from the beginning. I figured if I applied I might have a 50/50 chance of getting the job, or maybe a little less since the editor made it clear that he was particularly interested in conservative voices (of which I am not) to balance the paper’s editorial positions. But did I even want to try?

I consider myself to be a productive writer. The narrative stories I’ve written for our local paper (The Floyd Press) and the radio essays I’ve read on WVTF these past couple of years have given me a boost of new confidence. Even so, I have an underlying tendency to believe that my writing is a fluke, that each piece I write could be my last, that I’ll never be able to repeat a success, or muster the muse again. It’s as if the writer part of me is my alter-ego and the other part, which is running the rest of my life, doesn’t have a clue that I write. When people approach me and comment on something I've written, I’m usually surprised. Although I greatly appreciate hearing feedback, I have a tendency to feel awkward about it, as though it isn’t my writing they’re talking about.

I don’t do well under the pressure of deadlines, writing on cue, or being a company employee. A favorite quote that describes my resistance to such things was made by an Irish pool player named Danny McGoorty. He said, “I have never liked working. To me a job is an invasion of privacy.”

I’ve learned to protect my own privacy because, as my friend Doug recently said when asked how he was doing while recovering from pneumonia, “I’m good for a half a day.” As one who has managed Chronic Fatigue for the past 30 years, I have learned to prioritize and not waste time on things I wasn’t meant to be doing (and I’m so good at it that if you see during my better half of day, you’d never guess my struggle).
The columnist position would hardly be a 9-5 job. According to the editor, the paper wanted several writers to provide a column a couple of times a month. A twice a month deadline seemed doable enough, but after retiring from full-time foster care in May of 2005 to devote myself to writing, I’ve been on the computer more than anyone I know. For me, writing generally starts first thing in the morning and continues on and off throughout the day. It usually doesn’t end until I tiptoe up the stairs to my office for some tweaking and editing after my husband has fallen asleep.

“You already miss me,” I said to him. “Could you handle me being at the computer even more than I already am?” He, a counselor, viewed my question as a defense mechanism designed to deflect my own sense of insecurity.

I enjoy freelancing stories to the Floyd Press (the key word is “freelance”), and those hometown stories are ones I would write whether or not they appeared in the Press. Writing for the Floyd Press, posting entries to my blog every day, putting together the Museletter (a community newsletter) every month, writing poetry, and creating press for the Spoken Word Night that my writer’s circle helps sponsor are all activities natural to me that fit into my small town life. And yet, I have to trick myself into doing some of those. I don’t like to admit, even to myself, that I’m working on a particular story or blog entry until a fully fleshed out first draft is in my hand as proof. When a subject interests me, I take appropriate photos and make mental notes, and then I wait to see if the writing begins itself. If I make a linear decision to write about something, I’m prone to take myself too seriously. When that happens a formality is likely to interfere with my everyday voice, causing the flow of my words to become disjointed and stifled.

The Roanoke Times is not a small town paper. As the editor calling for columnists pointed out, it “comes with an audience that makes those of any but the biggest national blogs pale in comparison.” That’s around a quarter of a million readers. The thought of writing a column for an audience that size makes me nervous on the scale of being asked to read poetry at the Academy Awards, as opposed to reading at the CafĂ© Del Sol in Floyd, which I have already proven I can do.

On the other hand, being a columnist was something I thought I always wanted. I couldn’t see myself NOT submitting.

Post Notes: To be continued … Find out how this story ends. (I'll probably post the rest sometime in the next few days). This entry was originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on March 14, 2007.

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