I am a writer.
I have considered myself “a writer” for as long as I can remember. While writing for school wasn’t necessarily my favorite thing to do (especially because most of it came in the form of essay questions and research papers), I never truly hated it. Outside of classes, I wrote for our high school’s newspaper. I like words. I have been told I am good with them.
What a lot of people didn’t know was that I also wrote a lot of fiction on the side. I’ve been writing stories since I was 5, and while I never shared most of this stuff with other people, I’ve been writing fiction since then. I wrote about a variety of topics, stories, characters … and truth be told, I saved almost everything. I still have it to this day — hundreds (who knows, maybe thousands) of pages, just sitting on my computer. And when I look back at it during the occasional nostalgic spell, I’m actually impressed.
I am not writing this post to toot my own horn, I promise. But when I read some of the things I wrote, I’m surprised. Many of the ideas and emotions in the work are pretty juvenile. This is to be expected, I was in my early teens when I really hit my peak output (seriously, like 13 and 14). But at that point, I had a command of my own style and flow that 24 year-old me is really impressed with.
Honestly, if I didn’t know any better, I wouldn’t believe it was my own work.
As a writer, this is understandably upsetting. In response to this revelation, a couple weekends ago, I sat myself in front of the computer, hunted for some old writing playlists, and attempted to prove to myself that I still had this in me.
I failed miserably. I got about a paragraph in, and then closed the document, disgusted with how contrived my writing felt.
In retrospect, I sort of set myself up for that. I’ve been in a fiction dry spell since the middle of college (more or less). For the past 5 years, I’ve been writing academic papers on Shakespeare, case studies on PR campaigns, award nominations for clients and articles for a variety of trade publications. I’ve forgone narrative and descriptive writing that focused on what was behind the words (the characters, emotions, descriptions), and instead have spent time honing my expository and persuasive writing skills, which very much focus on the words.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is what allows me to pay the bills. But, I miss being able to write fiction. I kid you not, I would literally stay up until 4 in the morning with a good friend of mine, writing back and forth back in junior high and high school. I loved to write. It came easily. I could sit down, turn on an instrumental track, and go to town.
Now? Yes, I could sit down and hammer out an article about tax credits for green building, but when I try to go back to that fiction writing, it’s like a spigot’s been turned off in my brain. The drive is there (especially lately, I’ve been feeling like I need an outlet other than exercise). The pathway between the sparks flying in my brain and the tips of my fingers on my keyboard is unmaintained. Overgrown. Seriously, there’s brambles and weeds and nettles and shit, and probably a snake or two in there.
Logically, I know I need to take it slowly. The writing that I’ve been doing for the last 5 years is so different than what I am hankering to do, that I’m out of practice. My goal is a few short vignettes, get the gears moving again, and then go from there.
I guess I’m just frustrated. Intimidated by what I’ve done, the skill that I had (or have, and it’s just dormant or something like that). Practice makes perfect, I suppose.
Writer friends — do you think it’s possible to be good at both types of writing, given the different things they require? Or is it easier to just commit to one or the other?
writing/coffee picture from leah.jones’ Flickr
overgrown image from Si’ilk’s Flickr