On Not Writing

hand writing in a notebook with caption writing is my hobby

Neliza DrewApr 17·5 min read (originally published on Medium)

“Writing is My Hobby” by Charles Jeffrey Danoff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’ve been trying to write this for two days.

I have nothing to say. Again.

I’ve been reading more essays, trying to figure out how other people do it. How they turn the random musings in their brains into something others want to read. Mostly, I’m just tempted to keep reading and leave the writing t people better equipped.

One of my favorite book of essays is Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio. I have Try to Get Lost by Joan Frank on my nightstand. I keep trying to like it because objectively it is a topic I should enjoy and it won at least one award. Instead, the author keeps coming across as pretentious, snobby, the sort I would hide in the bathroom to avoid on a train or plane. I still have hopes it gets better, but I downloaded Intimations by Zadie Smith and The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra just in case I can’t get myself to finish it. I also have a Photography and the Optical Unconscious published by Duke University Press just in case nothing else on my seven book apps or mountains of TBR piles yield the right thing.

The latest issue of Poets and Writers appeared in my mailbox day or so ago (what is time anymore, she asks as though ADHD ever let her understand it fully). In it is an article, essay nearly, about dealing with pandemic writers’ block. Sarah Ruhl talks about tips and tricks that once worked, like writing in a coffee shop, and updated options. Meanwhile, Maud Newton’s plan from six-plus years ago was to block certain websites. I find it interesting that that was written before The Orange Turdicicle made so many of us fearful that a few hours away from the news would result in the collapse of the world as we knew it. Then, that kind of culminated on January 6th of this year when I was busy teaching and missed the storming of the Capitol and found myself so unsurprised I couldn’t even fake it.

While blocking Twitter and Etsy might help, I can’t exactly block the sites and apps I use for teaching and my brain is far more likely to demand we finish everything that could possibly be considered “real work” before we think about writing. I was trying to explain that to Husband tonight as the sun set and dusk gathered over the pond and the duck coops and the squawking starlings and the croaking frogs and the butterflies roosting in trees. I am too risk averse to keep up with a business that doesn’t seem “scalable.”

Candlemaking was fine, but without a warehouse, machinery, and compromising my values, it didn’t seem like a feasible business. Shipping was pricey because of the weight of wax and glass or metal containers and locally it was either spend every weekend at the farmer’s market or hustle from craft fair to craft fair where some people were enthusiastic and others wanted me to sell below cost “so you don’t have to carry them home.” Art sells best at certain sizes and I honestly haven’t done much since the ceiling leaked in my “studio” room and destroyed one wall. My mother dying didn’t help either.

Writing is one of those “businesses” that just doesn’t make any damn sense to my brain. It’s why I’m so inconsistent with it. My brain is sure if it can just figure out the right bit of code or get me onto the right career path, we’ll make enough money to be able to afford a silly hobby like writing. Because, yes, other people eventually make money at it and being consistent is key, but my brain is not wired to believe in such fairy tales. Real world first. Fantasy world later. My brain knows I’m not good enough at writing for it to every be a viable career no matter how consistent I am at churning out garbage. (My brain read the book about ten-thousand hours of practice and added up all the hours I spent scribbling stories in notebooks long since burned. It came to the conclusion I am a delusional fool that needs a real job.)

(My brain would also like for people to get vaccinated and wear a mask because I am still not good at doing my own nails and my brain would love to turn that task over to a better-qualified person. It plans to spend the next three weeks pointing out that two of the five nails on my right hand are too short and the whole thing looks stupid.)

I’m going to go read essays in bed until I fall asleep because I have to teach a kid who doesn’t listen about colors or something at 5:30 in the morning. You know, the “real job,” which is still in quotes because it doesn’t pay all that well and still feels like I’m wasting my life.

There’s a push and pull that feels like it endlessly keeps me from ever being really good at anything. There are numerous quotes about being so good they can’t ignore you (Steve Martin) and doing what you love, but all that either requires a trust fund or a belief in yourself that living in a box or your car or a studio apartment with six other people while you chase your dream will eventually pay off. It ignores what happens if you have responsibilities that keep you from being a vagabond or if you need the safety and security of knowing where you’ll sleep. It elevates the success stories but it ignores the people still living like that into their thirties and forties, still chasing something they’ll never catch and so far behind on a “proper” career, they’ll only catch up if they can pull of “ideal cishet white male” perfectly.

I sound bitter, but it’s not that. It’s realism. The “went to every audition in L.A. but still waiting tables at 42” guy might still hit it big. Especially if he stumbles into that once-in-a-lifetime gigs, but more than likely, he’s still going to be shuffling from audition to audition and clocking in at Rooster Rays ten years later and, if the lack of health insurance and street drugs in lieu of therapy doesn’t do him in, ten years after that.

I don’t have the confidence or lack of self preservation to leap off the cliff and even when I temporarily had a shelf to rest on below the cliff’s edge, all I could do with myself was plot ways to get back up top, study and apply and attempt to reach expertise in anything that seemed likely to get me back up on the edge.

I’m a coward. And cowards make bad artists, bad writers.