Writing can be terrifying and beautiful
The urge to write, for me, is a curse. Don’t get me wrong – I love the beauty of a perfectly placed word in a well-constructed sentence. I am thrilled every time I manage to write something that can stir up an emotion or make a person laugh but those moments are a tiny fraction of the writing experience.
The rest of the writing experience is something like twisting your finger around until the knuckle pops out of socket. There seems to be no point to it but pain.
I have always aspired to be at least half way decent at it. I’ve studied the craft since I was very young. I learned poetry and short fiction, playwriting and speech writing from some pretty amazing talents in the respective genres.
I wrote a novel for my daughters when they were young; stories for my friends when they were sick and poems for every man I ever loved. I had to write. I felt compelled to do it but I felt equally repelled by the idea of it.
What if it doesn’t come? What if it’s shit? What if I pour out what is inside of me and no one cares? The idea was terrifying. Any artist of any kind knows this phenomenon. I imagine any entrepreneur understands it to some degree, too. When it’s your own creation there is a lot on the line.
So I compromised. I wrote but I didn’t let anyone see my writing. It was like a bottle of booze hidden behind the elbow pipe under the sink in the kitchen: my little addiction; my secret problem.
Shelves of poetry-filled spirals that no one has ever seen line my walls. File cabinets are stuffed with untended plays and scripts and fiction.
It was as if the act of writing would bring shame upon my family and I couldn’t bear to do that but I couldn’t stop.
I made excuses. I can’t publish because I don’t have time to polish the work and it’s too rough to put out there. I can’t submit because I’m not ready … not good enough yet … I don’t have experience.
I can’t finish because I’m too busy … too tired … too drunk.
When my girls moved out of the house and I moved to Baltimore I made a promise to myself that I would come out of the closet so to speak. I decided to publicly admit that I was a writer.
I had heard that this step was the first on the road to recovery. It was also the first step on the road to publication and I knew that the second part of my life was going to be dedicated to the idea of putting my work out there- even if it killed me.
Baltimore is an artist friendly community and there were plenty of opportunities for me to practice allowing others to see my work.
Within a month of being here I submitted a short non-fiction to The Urbanite Magazine and it was accepted for publication. I was sick. I immediately responded to the editor that I wanted it to be submitted anonymously. We agreed to publish it with just my initials.
Letter by letter I started letting my name show up attached to one body of work or another and little by little I allowed myself to feel more comfortable with the idea that I was going to write.
But I never imagined I would write a blog. The idea that, once a week, my writing would be expected like a guest in the living room of the casual browsing community of the cyber world scared me beyond my capacity to describe it.
My daily writing process consists of cleaning my desk – scouring the internet for ideas or clarifications – preparing a snack– lighting a candle and putting on the right music, calling my daughters and my friends, you know, to be sure they didn’t call me. Then I pace back and forth for an hour before sitting down and wriggling in the chair as if someone had put fire ants in my underwear. By then it’s often necessary to take a nap.
As if I had just been condemned to be burned at the stake I bring myself to the writing table kicking and screaming for mercy every time.
Finally, usually in the 11th hour, I push through it and I force something on to the page. I just close my eyes and give my fingers permission to start and they do. When it comes it’s like a bloodletting that relieves a pressure in me. When I allow it to happen it feels right.
Eventually, I find the thread and fall into the project and, without my noticing, the walls of the room fall away and I am no longer self-conscious. I am neither here nor elsewhere. I am in my head. I am in my story. I am home.
Nancy Murray is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and the Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. She is a playwright who as enjoyed full productions of her work at Fells Point Corner Theater, Silver Spring Stage and the Montgomery County One Act Festival where it was selected as The Best of Festival. Most recently she has been enjoying participating in the Submit 10 Series as both a playwright and as a performer.