Breaking Silence

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Joined: January 14th, 2010, 11:12 pm

Breaking Silence

Post by Wingspan » January 15th, 2010, 12:02 am

I’ve read Writer’s Digest cover-to-cover for over 20 years without collecting a single real writing credit. I love WD’s factual, nuts-and-bolts articles, but have found the upbeat, supposedly supportive, you-can-do-it articles wildly depressing. Truth was I couldn’t do it.

I fought through years of feeling that my point of view was incomprehensible to any other living being. Always, in the course of writing, I would devolve to a point of arguing with imagined readers who misinterpreted my every word. I would patiently make my case with each one until, in the end, I felt that my writing had become a tangled, apologetic, indecipherable mess. Only months later, when I’d forgotten the struggle and could read my work like words from a stranger, did I see well-crafted intelligence in my writing.

During these years, Tillie Olsen’s book Silences was my solace. Like me, she was a working class woman who almost didn’t write. By the time she won a year’s fellowship, she says she was so in the habit of deferring her writing impulses that it took her nearly the whole year just to begin.

My writing--or non-writing as the case may be--was never recognized by a fellowship, but recently I had time off work which I decided would be my Tillie Olsen year. Despite many fine starts, I produced no published work.

I berated myself until I acknowledged that my time off had been medical leave for two shoulder surgeries, two eye surgeries, and that during this period, my daughter had a breakdown that landed my troubled 8 and 14 year old granddaughters in my home for six of the 12 months.

I am not telling you any of this for sympathy--far from it. According to Silences, my plight is mild for a writer.

Unlike other potentially talented writers over the centuries, I can read. I even have some college education. The drudgery of housework doesn’t fall on me in the same way it has traditionally fallen on working class women who’ve had to clean up all their own and much of other people’s messes. I even have a computer and a printer which means I can make instant revisions to my writing without redoing laborious longhand manuscripts or endlessly retyping pages sandwiched with carbon paper. Historically and technologically, I am blessed.

Let’s face it, though, creating works of enduring quality--or even transient popularity--is never easy. I am at a loss then to understand why so many articles on writing try to make it sound like it is. I remember being demoralized for years by an author’s quote in WD saying that writers write and that unless you are writing every day, you aren’t a writer.

My writing is finally flowing now and I am always eager to get back it, but I’m still not writing every day—except perhaps in my head where I’ve always managed to be diligent.

After patiently honing my craft and struggling to find my true voice, I am not encouraged by glib exhortations in WD or elsewhere. I understand that J.K. Rowling and Danielle Steele are lovely aberrations like MegaLotto winners while I may be more like the poor shlub who plays every week to finance their success. Perhaps I’ll never have fame or fortune from my writing, but I do aspire to earn my living communicating at least to a select audience. I have to be okay with that because I’ve learned that the only thing harder for me than writing is not writing.

Posts: 22
Joined: January 12th, 2010, 3:41 pm

Re: Breaking Silence

Post by matildamcc » January 15th, 2010, 9:21 pm

Nice post. I love Tillie Olsen, too. I remember a story she wrote called "I Stand Here Ironing," maybe it was in SILENCES?

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Joined: December 6th, 2009, 2:23 pm

Re: Breaking Silence

Post by rose » January 17th, 2010, 2:24 pm

Wingspan, your voice resonates within me. I, too, was demoralized by that quote and almost missed my writing life because of it. What I will buy into is that writers write how and when we can. And solitude is almost essential. Be easy on yourself, and good luck in finding some quiet time.

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