My neighbor is a poet. This is notable because I am not a poet and while, as I’ve written before, I can appreciate poetry, it is extremely difficult for me to write. I do abide by a literary mantra: “You are what you read.” You will be hard pressed to find more succinct, powerful nonfiction writers (say Sarah Manguso, swoon) who were not first a poet before branching out.
Anywho, I’ve been doing some freelance reportage and book reviews recently which has been an interesting exercise that will help in marketability to gain more writing gigs in the future. It also helps to have one foot planted in writing in some form to be able to let my creative momentum spur when it comes out–think an oiled engine.
A few weeks ago my neighbor and I were having coffee on our porch and she told me she doesn’t have an interest in freelance writing because she doesn’t want to compromise her artistic integrity, a la Hannah’s struggle in working in advertising at GQ in Girls. When my neighbor said this I felt mildly offended: did she think I was compromising artistic integrity by trying to make some cash and build my professional portfolio?
I understand where she was coming from: she recently finished an MFA program that entailed drafting a poetry manuscript. In MFA programs you are virtually surrounded by people who are trying desperately to break into the publishing world. Admittedly, I am no where near wanting to publish jack shit right now in terms of a large scale project. Sure, my dream has always been to publish a book (or three, or more, who knows) but I sit and wait and let life happen and I’m at peace knowing I don’t have to be striving to write a book when I’m still so young.
That doesn’t mean there isn’ a sense of pressure or a feeling of what am I doing? I’m currently reading Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward and one thing that is notable is that almost right out of college she was working on her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, and it didn’t take too incredibly long to publish (about five years).
But what if you don’t work consistently on projects or get bogged down and trapped by form? What if you know you have a story to tell but are unsure if you want it to be a play or fiction, or nonfiction, or poetry, or a weird hybrid and you have to decide how to commit to the writing of it? What if you’re still grappling with how to tell your story and who and what it could harm if it came to fruition?
Finding your creative path is so far from easy and no writer is ever in a position to judge another on how or what they write in the meantime to greater long term goals. I’m not perfect, either–I wondered why my neighbor didn’t want to freelance and build her portfolio, too. We’re all different in our productivity and I can’t judge.
What I’m trying to say is finding peace with your creative momentum is a process that can often feel under the microscope when you check in with colleagues, and it shouldn’t be. It is unproductive and writers need to focus on opening up their eyes, looking around, taking in the world and channeling it to the best of their ability when the right time comes, whether that is tomorrow or in ten years.