Return of the Writing Self

A handwritten musing.

This is not the glamorous return to my writing life I had pictured in my head.

This is not the notebook, the preferred pen or my first choices of setting.

But the day is drawing to a close and I want to give my writing self the satisfaction of one hour on the surface.

My writing self looks and feels a lot like my middle school self. Fantastical and hopelessly romantic, a voracious reader and questionable dresses. Obsessive and innocent. Carefree and wildly under-scheduled.

I remember the hours and hours of uninterrupted time at my little desk in my bedroom, the gutted Singer sewing machine cabinet. Bare feet on the cool iron of the pedal, pulling notebooks from the cubby that once held the machine itself.

I remember my stories, every one of them. There was a very well constructed and tastegul Harry Potter fanfiction. A sweeping novel-style piece I was writing on a steno pad that I passed among my friends, my first taste of what having fans felt like. The magical realism attempt in a Dollar Store composition book. The historical fantasy on that busted up Dell desktop my dad let me use as a glorified typewriter.

I would have rather had a real typewriter, but it wasn’t until I was 21 that I inherited my great-grandmother’s Corona.

My middle school self, my first writing self, would spend what felt like entire days immersed in those pieces. Different containers, different worlds. It was an evolved version of spending entire days out in the yard, playing make-believe stories out in thin air. I just channeled it into writing.

My writing self is a solitary girl at play. Not participating in a sport or a game–there were no rules, no spectators and no competition. It was joyful, explorative and engrossing.

My writing was motivated only by the love of writing and the need for creative expression. I didn’t know about blogging and had no ambitions to publish my work. I wanted to be a teacher, or a youth minister, or a metrologist.

Writing stopped being play when I allowed spectators. In middle school, it was just spectators–still no rules or competition. In high school, rules and competition began to surface. I appreciated the structure and found an editing self. I wanted to work for a publication. I started interning.

As I got older, I found it more and more difficult to make-believe. I started taking long drives and recording my dreams so I could write about them. This is when I started writing about my love life. I started journaling.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I began to see writing as a trade. Editing, organizing, researching were before the writing in the trade. But I first dared to see writing as my bread and butter then.

Once I left college, it’s hard to pinpoint when my writing self dropped below the surface, became a shadow. Possibly during my sophomore year, when my class load became cumbersome and my free time was devoted to a job, a boyfriend, a group of friends that partied.

I don’t regret any of that time spent, but that’s where the marathon writing stopped and my poems slowed to a trickle. I went from writing when I should have been doing anything else, to doing anything to avoid writing.

My writing self was also now in competition with the writing selves of other students. My work was critiqued, graded and rejected. It was also published, paid for.

All of this is not to say that critique and technique are bad or harmful. I created some of my best work under the pressures of internships and course work.

But writing as play, as a life affirming activity that filled what the world had emptied? I forgot what that was like.

 

I knew my writing self still existed because I saw her surface in January, during the writing workshop I took on a whim here in Tallahassee. She is ready to get back to work.

My writing self is less innocent than my younger self. She’s scared that she won’t remember how–or worse–she’ll be too old to play.

Her biggest fear is her seemingly endless competition. She’s been out of the race too long. Everyone else, it seems, has continued to write. That is just who they always were.

I know I am going to have to move past these fears and ego trips. I will have to make sure I’m not choking out my writing self by being broke, hungover, heartbroken.

Trying to come to terms with the oversaturation of the writing landscape, silence the constant comparison and breakneck speed of production on the internet is something I know I’ll have to master.

My writing self is my best self. It’s not a hard thing to nurture, this writing life. Not for me. All I need is somewhere comfortable to work, background music, some decent coffee.

I can’t recreate that best self through sex, romance, socializing, success–none of those things are play. Those are past times, just passing time. Distractions and escapes, endless loops of fueling one kind of unhealthy coping mechanism for another.

Play is important because play can be messy, it can get you hurt. No one is looking out for your every move.

You win nothing, gain nothing, prove nothing when you play.