I went on a writing retreat recently. Nothing fancy; this wasn’t one of those places where you’re in a cabin in the mountains and people bring food to your door. This was a low-budget apartment rental with a friend, but it had everything I needed: a kitchen, a gorgeous harbor view, and absolute quiet.
The purpose of writing retreats for me is to tunnel into a project, usually when I’m trying to start something new or finish a book. Works like a charm. However, as I settle into these retreats, there is always this strangely terrifying moment where I think, “What the hell do I think I’m doing?”
It’s such a debutante activity, this whole writing thing. With so many activities vying for our attention, who needs another book in the world? What makes me think I’ll find readers, or even a publisher? Why aren’t I doing something more productive, like working for actual money or volunteering my time to do good in the world?
And yet, I stayed. I wrote. I edited. For forty-eight hours that weekend, I churned out new words and tossed out old ones. I came up with new plot points and emotions for my characters. I resisted, sometimes, the urge to Google various diseases or check Facebook. I came away from the retreat feeling like I’d failed, then read the pages when I got home and thought, “Huh. That’s not half bad. I bet I can revise this into something.”
If you decide to be a writer, there will be times in your life where you will have to commit to the writing. Over and over again, especially after rejections, you will have to commit to keep at it.
What does that writer’s life look like? The one where you commit to the process?
It looks weird to most people. For me, it has meant being a freelance writer instead of a full-time public relations executive (my previous life). That translates into driving an ancient car and being grateful that my husband has a steady salary and provides our family with health benefits.
It has meant staying in on Saturday nights and skipping that movie or party, and editing manuscripts even while technically watching my son’s gymnastic class or my daughter’s field hockey meet. It has meant that many days I never make it out of my sweat pants. And it means suffering a crisis of confidence every time I show a manuscript to critique partners or editors and they say, “This isn’t working.”
Committing to your writing means having the confidence in yourself to keep going, even when all of the signs point to the irrationality of your activity. It means believing that the written word is worth putting on the page, even if you’re the only one who will ever read it. It means believing that writing books is a valuable creative endeavor, even if those books never actually end up between covers.
Being a writer means that you actually write, a lot, and don’t just say you’re going to or you should have or you want to. Over and over again, you must commit to the act of writing instead of spending your time some other, more pleasurable, productive, or profitable way. It means reaching inside of yourself until sometimes you feel turned inside out, and that’s a good feeling, but it can feel awful, too, because you are exposed and vulnerable, especially if your writing does get published.
The decision to commit to your writing is a weird one, no matter how you look at it. But sometimes it’s the only decision that is worth making, because it’s who you are and what you want to be, not just when you are young and passionate and idealistic, but when you are a grown-ass person who has a mortgage and ought to know better.
Sometimes, being a writer is the only life worth living.