The Pragmatic Hybrid

Legitimacy. Or, am I a Real Writer when it’s hard and sucks so much?

I’m pretty sure I was born to be a writer (as much as it’s possible to be born to be anything – meaning that within the giant shimmering matrix of Possibility, this is where I most naturally tend to make meaning for myself).

Which does not mean that it’s effortless, or necessarily even pleasant. It’s still mostly hard.

There’s the constant grappling with my own inadequacy, with falling short of the quality I’m aiming for, with the perpetual, relentless need for practice. (Me to Myself: Whattya mean, I have to write again today? I wrote yesterday!) How there’s no improving without it. How I’ll never be as good as my favorite writers, how hard it is to do the work even when nothing good is coming out, even knowing that the only thing there is to do is the work. All the demons and monsters riding me, whispering cruel, unhelpful things in my ears.

My favorite description of the internal narrative comes from Anne Lamott. She says that when she’s writing, the radio station she hears in her head is KFKD (pronounced k-fucked). That it’s a constant stream about how she’s grand and awesome on one hand, and ridiculous to even bother on the other, and she has to turn the dial down a little if she can, calm down, and start working.

This rings so true for me. This is the key thing to getting into the work. To turn down the anxiety and fear dial enough to proceed. Some days are easier, some days are harder, but it’s always there to greet me, this creating anxiety. My way of doing this is with a particular meditation I devised to calm myself the eff down enough to begin.

I believe that it’s possible that there are some people who create in an effortless dream state. I’ve experienced this once, so I know that it’s theoretically possible. But it’s not the normal experience for most of us. I think most people who go on and on about the magic of creating are full of shit. They want you to see the glorious finished product, so there’s an impetus to not show too many of the gory details that went into its creation. Or it’s like giving birth, where they’re so in love with the result that they manage to obscure the pain and struggle, even from themselves.

It’s like throwing a certain kind of dinner party. When I host people, I want it to be lavish and sparkly, and for my house to look like it’s never seen a mess, and for every dish to be mouthwatering, and for me to look calm and fresh.

THIS IS AN ILLUSION.

An illusion created for the pleasure of my guests. It’s like theater in a way. I’m trying to create a particular kind of experience, so I don’t reveal too much of what went on behind the scenes to make it so.

Same with creative work. We see people’s finished good stuff. Which they probably slaved over, with all the attendant puking and wailing. But they prefer not to dwell on those unpleasant parts when presenting their work to its audience.

But shouldn’t it be easier than this?

There’s an idea that if something is really legitimately ours to do, that it will be easy. Effortless. That it will just flow, and this is how we’ll know for sure that it’s for us.

I think there’s more to it than that. In my experience, if something is really-truly for me, it will still be hard. Doing it will be fraught and difficult and a constant existential conversation with myself.

The indicator that something is for me is more about how well it feeds me. How do I feel when I’ve done it?

Writing redeems my day like nothing else.

This is one excellent argument for getting my writing done first. Because once it’s done, anything else I accomplish that day is a bonus.

I can contrast this with my career as a biologist. If I had stuck out my PhD in plant biology, and been in that career my whole sad life, I bet I still never would have felt like a Real Botanist. Because even though I have a natural facility for taxonomic thinking and those particular kinds of logic games, it was not otherwise fulfilling. I was always struggling to reconcile myself with the demands of that path.

On the other had, with writing, it felt different. It did take me some years to consider myself a writer. But this process was more about getting used to thinking of myself in this way, and kind of growing into it, and less about misfitting with the job description.

The writer-trajectory was similar to (though faster than) my trajectory to feeling like a real grown-up. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, I stopped asking myself when I would be a real grown-up, because it seems I am. There’s no discomfort with the description anymore. I inhabit grown-upness fully. And it was a combination of experiences/skills/practice and self-knowledge gained/beliefs examined and discarded that led up to it.

My point: the ease of doing something is not the best indicator of its rightness for you. Neither is pleasure in the act of doing it.

A better indicator: does having done it make you feel your time was well-spent? Does doing it redeem your day?

Comment Fu

I’m curious to know what redeems your day like nothing else. How do you turn down Radio KFKD and get on with it?

This space is like a Quaker meeting that is happening in my living room. Honored guests, please speak as you are moved to. And let’s be awesome to each other, because graciousness among friends is why we hang out together.

  1. Kylie

    I have to say, with complete honesty, that being a part of your Hybrid Writers Workshop is the thing that has most allowed me to turn down Radio KFKD. Last week during the workshop, I just wrote. And then I somehow felt comfortable sharing everything I had written. I knew parts of it were terrible. I knew parts of it held sparks of promise. But somehow, in this space, I felt very safe sharing what I had written, regardless of quality.

    This has extended to outside-of-workshop time, too. I’m writing more than I’ve ever written before. It’s more difficult without knowing that others are right there on the line writing with me, but I think the fact of having that weekly safe space makes me feel more at ease in my own personal writing space.
    .-= Kylie’s last blog the big fat kiss-in =-.

  2. Patty K

    Oh my. So many times over the past few weeks I’ve asked that question: “shouldn’t it be easier than this?” Because some days it does feel (relatively) easy. And others? Not so much.

    I’ve been unable (so far) to convince myself that writing when it’s not flowing and I’m just churning out garbage is time well spent. When something clicks and I emerge with a blog post….yeah, my day feels redeemed. But when it doesn’t? I wonder if I’m wasting my life.

    Hmm. You’re making me think. Thanks so much for this.
    .-= Patty K’s last blog Why I chase fear =-.

  3. Juno

    I feel this way about love. Well about several things, but particularly love. Easy is the wrong metric, like “happiness” as a primary goal seems to me to be missing the point.

    Hard is good because to have worked is good, and things are right not when they are easy or simple, but when they leave your head and heart feeling more solid than they did before. Sometimes that may flow but sometimes- more often – it is going to be wrenching or difficult.

    It’s contrary to the cultural narrative though. As with so much, you have to learn to stop listening to the conventional wisdom and trust to your insides.

  4. Alina

    Writing is at least one of those things. I did it naturally when I was a child, but post-immigration, Radio KFKD was so strong, I couldn’t even write in a private diary.

    But I have been writing a health and food blog in my head for about two years. And I started said blog about two weeks ago. And I am mostly enjoying writing in it, but what adds effort is the work to silence the voice.

    The good news is that my “Stop writing in your head and start writing with a pen or keyboard” voice has quieted down. Ah, relief.
    .-= Alina’s last blog Pumpkin Pie with Enlightenment Spice =-.

  5. Rebecca Leigh

    You’re the second person today to remind me that the creative process can be like child birth. Bringing something forth from nothing is not easy.
    xox
    .-= Rebecca Leigh’s last blog photoheartspace final for now =-.

  6. Lean Ni Chuilleanain

    Yes to all of this!

    The difference it makes to my day when I spend even twenty or thirty minutes working on my Thing, first thing, surprises me every time. (I seem to have goldfish memory when it comes to my creative life.)

    As well as KFKD, making a little progress also helps to soothe the Why Isn’t It DONE ALREADY monsters. A little, anyway. I don’t expect miracles :-)
    .-= Lean Ni Chuilleanain’s last blog Update on the Dream Catcher Quilt =-.

  7. Ms. Moon

    The best writing advice I ever heard was this:
    Give yourself permission to write the worst book (poem, blog post, short story, whatever) ever written. Then sit down and do it. And guess what? It won’t be.
    And (and my son told me this)
    Write yourself out of whatever you are struggling with.
    WRITE YOURSELF OUT OF IT!

    KFKD is always going to be playing. So what? Eat me, KFKD. Bite my ass.

  8. Shweta Narayan

    This is wonderful, thank you :)

    My reason for not staying in academia is almost exactly yours (I’m also physically unable to, but that’s just why I have to leave, not why I need to).

    When writing or drawing, I turn down KFKD by telling myself (on first drafts/sketches) that it’s just words/just lines and those can always be changed if they’re wrong. On edits I tell myself it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be *right*; I don’t have to worry about anything other than whether I am getting the sense I want across.
    .-= Shweta Narayan’s last blog deep breath =-.