Independent Girl Does the Hula: Why The Writing Life is worth it
Recently, I was in Rhode Island with my college friends and fellow writers, Heather Sullivan and Kaitlyn Downing. Late in the night and deep into a few glasses of wine, the conversation turned toward disappointments in life, or more specifically, the disappointments in this thrill ride we call The Writing Life—you are up up up one day, and down down down the next.
In the past couple of years, my productivity has crashed, largely due to personal issues—there have been some publishing triumphs, but in terms of feeling the joy of writing, the joy of creating, since 2015, it’s been down down down. Every piece has been a struggle. Heather and Kaitlyn assured me that I’m one of the most prolific writers they know, and that the ease of engagement was bound to return at some point.
What they don’t know is that I’m not, actually, that prolific. I write and polish exceptionally slowly. For me, the works I create are more than just wild ideas that I bang out on a keyboard for fun, and they always have been. They are much, much deeper. They are the way I process the world, the way I resolve issues from my past and concerns about my future, the way I honor and preserve magical or destructive moments in my life. There’s something I’m trying to express so I can sort it out, or something I’m trying to say to the world. For this reason, very rarely is anything I write one and done. Stories will sit, unfinished, for months or even years, in files in my basement. Some become like forgotten Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the fridge. But some are like those things you’re always saying you’re going to get to doing around the house, like painting the wall you primed last summer or cleaning out the garage. They hang over me like a Sword of Damocles, left painfully unfinished, gnawing at me even as I’m finishing a newer, shinier project.
“Hairless Girl Does the Hula” was one of those stories. I started it in January of 2008, shortly after my father passed away. That dark time opened up a lot of wounds for me, not just those that were associated with fresh grief. I looked back at my life and some of my choices, and at how stupid and damaging some of those choices were. What emerged was a picture of what I wanted in life. Like, what I really wanted, in the metaphysical sense: self-acceptance, and unconditional love from others. As much as the story is about those things, it is also about the lengths we will go to get them, even if those lengths are, at times, unhealthy—and how those unhealthy choices can haunt us for the rest of our lives.
For the past ten years, I’ve struggled to complete that story. It was always in the back of my mind, that sword I referenced earlier. Every time I pulled it out to work on it, I’d think, “this is worth finishing. I must finish this. This time, I will.” But I never did. Over time, I got it three-quarters of the way done—to the point of polished, done—but for some reason could never engage with the last scene, and how the piece should end. I’ve only realized, just now, that the reason I could never finish it was because I wasn’t satisfied with how the situations I was in—decades ago—crashed to a close. That I wasn’t going to find self-acceptance and unconditional love in those circumstances, and that no amount of ruminating over those horrible endings was going to change them. What I simply had to do was recognize them for what they were, close them out in all of their terrifying glory, and move on to a new beginning.
Today, I achieved that. I got up at five a.m. and hit the keyboard. And out came the ending. I said goodbye to all those painful things, and I’m looking forward to a new tomorrow without them.
Prolific isn’t about how much you write. It’s about how complete and resolved within you what you write actually is. Sure. I could’ve written a hundred meaningless, empty pieces with the energy it took to finish and craft “Hairless Girl.” But there was nothing more explosively joyful than finally, after ten years, typing that last line and knowing that I had said what I needed to say. That I had finally processed the more damaging pieces of my relationship with my dad, that I had finally processed and let go of the damaging pieces of a two-decades-old former relationship with a lover so that I could put those things where they belong—in the past, forever, and journey into a new beginning. I can forgive what was done to me by both of them, I can accept them both for who they were and the circumstances that made them that way at the time, I can forgive myself for the painful things I did and said in response and how inwardly ugly I was back then, and learn new responses and be a better person instead.
This July 4th truly is Independence Day.
And that, my friends, is why, despite the up up ups and down down downs, This Writing Life is all worth it.
Posted on July 4, 2018, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, The Writing Life and tagged dashboard hula girls, forgiveness, how prolific should you be as a writer, Independence Day, letting go of the past, writing as therapy. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
As someone who has just started in the world of writing, it is really nice to read about the wonders writing can do for different people. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank YOU for reaching out to me! I’m so glad this was helpful, and welcome to this crazy writing life. There are times when it will be hard, but all of that work is always worth it. Best of luck and keep in touch! If you need any help or advice, feel free to reach out!
Such kind words! Thank you! ~S
Welcome to the club! We gotta stick together. I’m actually on a writing retreat right now with four other writers and we’re sitting here geeking out about Fan Fiction we wrote when we were younger.
That sounds really great! It’s going to take me a while to do something solely centered around writing. I hope you guys are having a productive time there.
I have been reading a few blogs lately. And it throws up so many doubts in my mind; how good/interesting I am, how often I should write, whether my content is too rookie for actual subject matter experts out there and on and on. I can already see my work-in-progress file get bigger and bigger!
I guess, the first step would be to take the plunge. Easier said than done!
Sorry for the delay in response! I came back from the Cape on Friday because I have back to back stuff this weekend and it’s insane, but anyway, here are my thoughts:
Doubt is normal to have as a writer, we all go through it, over and over, no matter how many times we get published or are successful. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve thought “my stuff is shit” or “who wants to read this” or “my stuff is cliched and bad.” What you have to do is just SHUT THAT OFF and WRITE. And ENJOY it. For YOU. Write what you want to, and just think, “I’m doing this for me, and let it go where it goes.” If you start getting tangled up too much in what others will think, you’ll not only drive yourself nuts, you’ll thwart that voice that is uniquely YOU.
…and every writer will also tell you that there are things he’s written that are AWESOME and things that are not so much. It’s okay. It’s all part of the growth process. I have things that I know will never see the light of day because they’re just not good. And that’s all right. I think of those pieces as things I wrote that are part of my history and part of my journey, and they reveal something about where I was in my life when I wrote them. Sometimes you will write stuff that isn’t so great, but you almost have to to get it out of your system so a truly brilliant thing can come forth. So that’s how I look at that. You learn something new EVERY time you write something new, and whether it’s great or terrible kind of isn’t the point.