Itches to Scratch
This morning I woke up thinking about what it was like when I was first starting out as a writer. Trying to recover that feeling for a second while I am in the early stages of this new book. That feeling of not knowing anything except that I wanted to write. That I had to write, or I’d crawl out of my skin. It was absolutely compelling and thrilling.
All I wanted to do was write stories and put them in order in a book and have it make sense that they were all supposed to be there together. And that people would read it and agree that it was a book. There is always this feeling with writing of I think this is right? that never leaves to this day. We could endlessly rearrange our words. But when I was done with Instant Love I knew it was definitely supposed to be a book, that all of the chapters fit together. That’s part of what being a writer meant to me. All of the parts made a whole.
I think I also had an idea of what being a writer meant based on who was getting published (and successfully so) at that time. I came out of the era of the Jonathans but also watching Oprah choose which fiction we should read. Big books meant a certain thing and I suppose still do although I’ve never quite figured out how to write them, not in that way that sells a million copies. What I have come to think of as my small-town Jewish Midwestern voice always creeps in, which I think impacts the size of it all. My specific gaze. You have yours too, whatever it is. Maybe you don’t even realize you have it. But you do.
Anyway, we were made to feel like we were supposed to write big novels, but actually I just wanted to write small novels about characters. I always get stuck in the voice. Stuck in my small-town kind of way. But I wouldn’t want it to be any different.
Stuck isn’t right. I take it back. Nestled, more like it.
Because novels to me are just neighborhoods full of lively people to visit. You can walk in their front doors and see people sitting at their kitchen table and say hello and then walk straight through to the yard to see who is playing out back. Novels are about open doors. But locked doors, too. Trying the handles, to see which ones you can get in. You gotta keep trying until you find someone home.
What I have learned (and am always re-learning) is you can only write what you can write. I spent so long trying to find my voice. I’m still finding it. I know it’s evolving all the time. I can tell you what I didn’t think in the early 2000s is that I’d be writing letters to people about writing. And with no end in sight. Like maybe I’ll stop this someday in this form but I’ve been online talking to people for so long I don’t think I could ever entirely disappear from it. Another thing I’m stuck in.
But also I’ve evolved with it. The way I speak to people, the things I think about, scratch so many new itches. It is a good and healthy thing to evolve as a writer. You could write the same thing forever and lots of people do, but I’m glad I’m evolving. Then there’s always the feeling of starting fresh when I write something new. Knowing nothing, feeling thrilled. And I want to feel like that forever.
Have you changed at all as a writer? Did you start with one kind of writing and now you’re in a completely different place? Did you ever think being a writer meant something only to learn it meant something else? Do you still feel thrilled by your work?
I hope you have a calm Sunday.