Not writing makes me happy

Having a job I like means I can feel OK without creating novels!

Topics: Since You Asked, Novels, Writers, Writing, novel writing, obsession,

Not writing makes me happy (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I spent my life wanting to be a writer of novels. I had some very minor success along the way. Then I got my Ph.D. — a creative practice Ph.D., which meant I got to do a creative project (a novel) and then do an exegesis on it. After that was finished, I started writing another novel. I am proud of this manuscript and believe in it. I also got a job I really, really like. This is the first job I have ever had in my life that I enjoy. Seriously … 53 years old and the first job ever that I like.

What this good job has done for me is make me not give a shit about writing novels. It’s like I was using writing novels to prove that I was a worthwhile human being. Novels were how I was going to be somebody. Then, through this job, I became someone else: me. The me who just enjoys working and coming home and not having to achieve anything else. I have a nice partner. We have a nice life. We watch TV together, go to movies, visit with friends, eat takeaways because we don’t like cooking. For the first time ever, I’m not striving (because, as I learned from you, “Too much striving drains away happiness”).

Since I don’t write (and I don’t read anymore unless it’s a really, really, really good book) I do graphic design sort of artsy stuff in Photoshop. I don’t have a natural gift or anything for it, but I achieve flow in a way I never did with writing. Three hours can pass and I don’t even notice.

I’ve always envied graphic designers and wished I could be one. Now in my job, funnily enough, I get to do a bit of it because they need to communicate their research in ways the average punter can understand. Since there’s no one else to write up and design the brochures, I do it. It’s become my favorite part of the job.

So what’s my issue here, Cary? Back to that manuscript that I really like that’s just sitting on my laptop waiting for me. Should I make the extra effort to do a little bit on it? I don’t want to let it go because I believe in it, but I am also seriously enjoying not writing it.

Sometimes I think I’m just sick of words. Like the baseball player hanging up his cleats. He says, “I’m done. No more.” Am I done, Cary?

I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

Best wishes from …

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Happy (for now) to be Wordless

Dear Happy to be Wordless,

Maybe after the novelty of not having to write wears off, you can come back to the novel in a different way, not as its creator but as its overseer, its curator, and regard it as an innocent creation that now needs to be groomed and taught decorum and brought to the marketplace. Such work is creative but a different kind of creative — more conceptual, more strategic, more reliant upon craft than upon inspiration.

For now, however, it must be nice to take a break from feeling that your value hinges on whether you complete a work of fiction. That’s a tough, painful condition. I know. I have suffered from that condition. I have had that belief and in my deluded state thought it a sound belief — one that other people just didn’t understand because they lacked understanding.

I have had to let go of that belief. Letting go of that belief has allowed me to go back to the novel and work on it in a more dignified, distanced way.

Of course I can’t know with certainty what you need to do, but my own experience is that one can become free of the tortured ego attachment of writing but still write; one can cool the tortured desire to write but still write; one can write of tortured feelings without feeling the torture of writing itself. A few years ago such attainment was only a surmise — that one could separate these things. So I searched for a method, which for me turned out to be the Amherst Writers and Artists method, but which might be any number of methods or practices that help one gain perspective on one’s creative work and ego.

By abstaining for a period of time, one can realize, as you have, that ceasing to write does not mean ceasing to exist. This must sound strange to people who do not have this problem, but many writers are in certain ways quite mad; we believe that we must write or we will die; we sometimes cannot go a day or even an hour without it; we are, in that sense, similar to people with addictions. Luckily, writing is not something we must abstain from forever. It is more like a strenuous activity which we need to do correctly, like pitching a fastball — a highly complex activity which, if performed incorrectly, can cause damage.

My bet is that in your case the abstinence will be temporary, and that once you have gained some perspective, you will see that the novel you wrote has the potential to be read with interest by others, and can, with some revisions, be brought to market.

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