Write and Wrong

Writers are the most arrogant pricks in the world.

Writers are the most insecure assholes in the world.

Incompatible notions, or mere reality? Discuss.

Weekends, Sundays in particular, seem to be when I start to ruminate on life, my place in it, what I can still do with myself in the years that are left. You know, the middle-age crisis stuff. But the crisis over my writing, the going back and forth on talent/no talent, able to achieve what I want versus no chance, that is a constant companion, one I’ve known as long as any of my high school buddies.

I mean, you have to have a certain degree of presumptuous to think other people want to read your words. And Mrs. Brown in 3rd grade saying you’re a wonderful writer is not usually enough impetus to start a writing career. And yet…it worked for me.

What also worked was my sense, ever since grade school, that I could do only one thing remotely better than other people: write. An idea fueled by writing a few of my older sister’s English papers for her, and getting better grades than she ever did. And then there was the feeling, the high, of seeing my words in print for the first time in the high school paper. No byline, though; I chose to write under a silly pseudonym. But just knowing that someone – maybe 8 of my friends – was reading what I wrote was so gratifying. (I’d shit with glee if I thought that many people read each of these posts…)

But over the years, I’ve come to realize I’ve picked a bad field for self-expression. Maybe I can write a little better than most people; so what? The reality is, everybody learns how to write. Not everybody learns to play piano, or mold clay into a statue, or design striking high-rises. My skill, such as it is, is a dime a dozen, common, pedestrian. The few who can really sing with their words, paint pictures with ideas – they are a rare breed and beyond my ken.

I am struck by my singular lack of distinguishing talent as I cruise through blogs here and elsewhere on the web. Sonuvabitch, lots of people who don’t write for a living can really write! Lots of them maybe should be writing for a living. Yet lots of them don’t bemoan their lack of writerly recognition as I do.

Lots of them have incredible tales to tell too. WordPress sometimes generates links to posts similar to mine at the bottom of the entry. I stumbled upon one yesterday by a woman in her mid-20s. A widow in her mid-20s. Going to school, no longer going to therapy, trying to keep together what is left of her life. Trying to make it better. And she writes beautifully and openly and knows the value of writing as therapy, which I’ve touched on before. How many more are out there like her? Must be millions, if we’re talking worldwide. Maybe some of them want to some day write for a paycheck. Others just write for passion’s sake, or to feed an urge to express, explain, order their mind – and their world.

I think about writing every day. I write almost every day: work, now the blog, emails. I have not written or revised anything creative (i.e., play-related) in weeks. I alternate, as I’ve outlined here, between thinking I can write plays, maybe even good ones, and laughing with self-contempt at the thought.

I see plays, like I did last night, and have such mixed emotions. We saw a community theatre do Moon Over Buffalo, by Ken Ludwig. He has had lots of success with that and his other major work, Lend Me a Tenor, along with a few other things. Buffalo, I believe, got mixed review on Broadway (at least it got there, Burgan…), but it’s produced often, and judging by the crowd last night, it finds welcoming, appreciative audiences. I watch it, though, and I search for flaws, think of better punch lines, condescendingly sneer at plot improbabilities. Jealous? Moi? Then I have to admit there are some clever bits, some solid structure. Elements better than anything I’ve ever written. And yet, I still think there is enough in the solo show, or my romantic comedy Mayor Mac, to deserve an audience too. They, I, just haven’t found them. In my darker moments, I am sure they never will.

The arrogance and self-doubt touch all facets of my writing. Craigslist had a posting for a Chicago blog site looking for writers. People who could blend politics and humor. I send links to a few of my posts, confident I can provide what they want. Within ten minutes, I’m pacing my office, stomach tightening, sure I have embarrassed myself. My crap is not funny. It’s not insightful. At most, it usually has the punctuation in the right place. Usually. Then I realize that as much I dread their rejecting my writing, rejecting me, I fear their liking it almost as much. Oh my god, I might have to produce for others on demand? And be judged over and over again? What the hell was I thinking?

So the doubts and fear swirl. But they don’t keep me from pushing out this post and putting it up for the world, or both of you, to see. And I don’t think they’ll keep me from revising the solo show and sending it out (found two new possible theatres yesterday!). Or from someday starting that second solo show, My Left Nut: One Man’s Struggles with Relationships, Religion, and the Asymmetricality of Having One Ball. But don’t hold your breath on that one. There’s some backmatter on a book about Fort McHenry calling my name. That, I can knock out of the ballpark.

I hope.

Some last thoughts on writing, the only “poem” I’ve ever memorized – lines from Lu Chi’s “Essay on Literature,” from about the 4th century:

I feel harassed by the thought that Great Eloquence is hard to achieve.

Hence, limping verses, born dwarfed, are let live,

And perfunctory notes are fiddled to round out a vapid tune.

Often I have finished my words with pangs of remorse;

When has my heard rejoiced with self-content?

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~ by mburgan on November 3, 2008.

7 Responses to “Write and Wrong”

  1. Self-doubt is every writer’s constant companion, even of the more successful ones. Whenever I’m in doubt, I just take out my notebook and write some more.

    http://damyantiwrites.wordpress.com

  2. Yeah, but it’s a companion that could carry his own weight more; at least buy me a beer now and then. Or not talk so loud at inopportune times…

  3. i know I don’t count…but I like your blogs, self doubt is in all of us, its very hard to find those in this world that don’t have it. Now, I’m going to go find my blog, and talk about my day, although I am sure it would be better if you wrote if for me “wink”

  4. Not better…just different.

    You have a blog?

  5. I’ve found that the more I busy myself with the notebook, my constant companion, Ms. Self-doubt, realizes she is on her own and needs to fend for herself. She now knows that she is only as present as I want her to be. And she is important in her own way….keeps me from becoming an arrogant ****.

  6. Sometimes it’s just hard. Before I found http://www.critiquecircle.com most of my writing was worthless. Now it is still far from Stephen King, but thanks to the people on CC it is much better. I’ve had 4 short stories published for pay, and am working on finding an agent for my second novel. (The one not being posted up on my blog.)

    You just need to stop doubting yourself. I can tell from the quality of your posts that you’re good. Its just a cut-throat market right now.

  7. Thanks for the kinds words and encouragement. Yeah, things are tough now, even in my paying field. The playwriting will always be tough. Just gotta keep plugging, I guess. And once I get through the Crisis (if…?) maybe I can actually think about doing some creative writing again.

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