I’ve never been very good at making myself write. It honestly scares me. The thought of starting a piece, even a small one, even a blog entry, fills me with tingly dread and urine.
So rather than write I’ll do nearly anything else, like sweep the floor or wash the dishes or stare hard at my fingertips and wish they were swordpoints or get a job with the City where I swivel in my chair and listen to the tiny burbling noises my brain makes as it dies. The floor, at least, eventually gets clean.
In school I had to, they made me. The life of the mind required, at least occasionally, that I knuckle down and grind out some practice news story or some ersatz editorial in which I would hopefully prove my ability to bloviate in acceptably quotidian fashion.
Later, at Go-Go and the Rocky, writing was the whole job, or a big enough part of it, that jumping in and hacking away at the keyboard just seemed like making the doughnuts, grabbing the shovel. It’s easier that way, when someone resolves the “art vs. craft” conflict for you and expects 20 inches of copy by 3 p.m.
But now there’s no whip hand. There’s no impulse from above, no immediate threat to my person in the form of lost employment or starvation. I’m left to find motivation within, from this supposed internal creative maelstrom that Serious Writers wrangle daily. The message, as I get it, is that I should care enough about my craft (my art?) to do it no matter what, no matter where.
There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about Cormac McCarthy and how he lived without running water or heat at the start of his career because he just cared so fucking much about making great art. That’s impressive and discouraging as hell. I hear about truly diligent professionals that keep to set schedules, dutifully engaging with the Unknowable from 9-5 with enough energy after for a signing and dinner out with their agent. I can’t jot down a haiku without first spending 45 minutes wondering who will care about reading it.
See, my family has this crazy story. It’s got everything you’d want in a novel about 20th century America and Americans: circus fat ladies, attempted murder, suicide, war, electroshock therapy, redemption, chimpanzees in Japan. It’s a huge messy dreamboat of a subject, and it’s mine–I own it, or at least share ownership of it.
But I can’t tell it. I can’t even start. Fuck, I just wasted most of an hour deciding whether or not to write a haiku.