Wordstock literary festival, and two things happened that forced me to face an ugly truth about myself.
The first incident occurred while I was attending a panel discussion about YA literature. There were three panelists, and the one in the middle particularly caught my attention. She was young (am guessing late 20's or early 30's) and very beautiful. Beautiful in the way that Keira Knightley, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Natalie Portman are beautiful. Before her sat a hardcover copy of her traditionally-published book. She seemed completely at ease up on the stage: calm and self-assured. She was articulate and confident in her opinions. She seemed to lack any self-doubt. And I found myself really wanting to punch her in the face.
The second incident happened when I was flipping through the Wordstock program, looking at featured author bios and photos. Page after page of professional head shots of people whom I'd never heard of before. These people all had books published. They were all asked to come read from their books and/or speak on panels at this literary festival. In their photos they looked serious or happy or silly. They looked, generally, like nice, ordinary people. But I hated them. Every single one of them.
The ugly truth, as you may have guessed, is that I'm insanely jealous. I'm jealous because these writers have found recognition and validation. They have an audience who cares about what they have to say. Jealous because they are bona fide members of a community of writers and lit-geeks I want desperately to join. They belong; I do not. I am on the outside, looking in.
I don't want to be jealous. I don't want to hate these writers or imagine myself punching them in the face. I want to be
happy for them. My hatred is unfair, and my jealousy unproductive; they are a poisoned dagger in my heart. They come from a place of fear and desperation. They also raise a very important question: Why do I write?
Do I write for fame, riches, and glory? Do I write in hopes of getting validation and recognition from a community of writers and/or from adoring fans?
And then I realize that part of what's messing with my head is the fact that there are all these creative writers out there who want to tell you that there are right and wrong reasons to write. Actually, what I've found is that they think there are lots of wrong reasons, and only one right one. Wrong reasons: fame, riches, glory. Also, by extension, it's wrong to write for validation, recognition, a sense of belonging. The only right reason to write, these writers will repeat, is because you find that you have to write. You are called to do it. You can't not do it.
So why do I write?
I write to find out what I think and feel and believe. I write because writing something down makes it visible, makes me really look at it, and therefore helps me identify the lies I tell myself and the assumptions I make that I've never questioned. I write because it helps me make sense of myself and the world. It brings me comfort. I write to witness myself: to meet my own needs for understanding, acceptance, connection, validation, and recognition. I write because I need to say things I'm too afraid to say aloud. I write to take myself apart and examine the pieces. It's a form of therapy I practice on myself. Sometimes I write for fun and play. I would like to do that kind of writing much more often. I'm usually such a serious-face. Too often the act of writing is accompanied by the pressure to be stunning.
Those are some of the reasons I write. But why I publish--why anyone publishes, I imagine--is a different matter entirely.
I publish because I hope to provide a different perspective from the mainstream. I publish to be witnessed by others. To connect with those who also question cultural norms. With other people who sometimes feel crazy and unseen because they don't accept the received cultural wisdom. People who feel like they too are on the outside, looking in. If something I've written helps or encourages even one person, then I've made a meaningful contribution, and that's a huge deal to me. It would also mean that I'm not alone. It would mean validation and community and belonging. I also publish to inform and entertain. And I publish to make money, especially now that I'm in business for myself.
And then there's that in-between-y area, where I sit down to write something with the intention of publishing it, such as a blog post or a Hub. Knowing I'm going to publish something is both a source of motivation and a huge obstacle. On the one hand, it's exciting to know that people are going to read what I've written. There's potential there to find community. On the other hand, imagining all the possible reactions to my writing can instigate a kind of mental paralysis (aka writer's block).
But I had a point here, I'm sure of it. Something having to do with the connection between Wordstock, jealousy, and why I write. Maybe it's that feeling jealous brought to my attention some of my reasons for writing/publishing and to my unmet needs for belonging, validation, and recognition. The question is: how do I meet those needs for myself? Writing this blog post was a good start, actually. This is why I write.