Why Do I Write

Discussed briefly with someone the other day the difference between creating art (literature, etc) for a wage vs creating for personal reasons. It’s a point I’ve often pondered and had planned to blog about, and having it brought up again reminded me.

I’ve noticed that when I work on creative projects for specific people, it changes how I work. In some cases, my artistic abilities are hampered significantly. I worry instead of create. I ponder their reactions in my mind, instead of playing with ideas.

If I wrote for a wage, I would likely learn discipline and it would force me to put pen to paper. However, would I compromise in an effort to churn out content? Would I come to resent writing as a drudge? Or would I overcome all that hinders me and manage to write something worthwhile?

While I certainly could stand to learn some discipline in my writing, I feel that (for myself personally) writing is something I do because I need to write for myself. I must write for the sake of writing and for the sake of my own sanity, not for contracts and paycheques and acclaim.

The trouble is, I have to remind myself of this over and over as I write. Perfectionism and worries about peoples’ opinions continually hamstring my thought process. I have to quote Anne Lamott like a mantra in my head. Shitty first drafts. Shitty first drafts. Shitty first drafts.

A Book Can Throw You Across The Room

“You can pick up a book but a book can throw you across the room. A book can move you from a comfortable armchair to a rocky place where the sea is. A book can separate you from your husband, your wife, your children, all that you are. It can heal you out of a lifetime of pain. Books are kinetic, and like all huge forces, need to be handled with care. But they do need to be handled.”

– Jeanette Winterson


“I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of, like the YA equivalents of The Maltese Falcon and Strangers on a Train. Weirdly, then, reading YA stuff now is a little like being a young adult way back then: Is this Vonnegut guy any good? What about Albert Camus? Anyone ever heard of him? The world suddenly seems a larger place.”

– Nick Hornby

Carpe Diem

“‘Carpe diem’ doesn’t mean seize the day—it means something gentler and more sensible. ‘Carpe diem’ means pluck the day. Carpe, pluck. Seize the day would be ‘cape diem,’ if my school Latin serves. No R. Very different piece of advice. What Horace had in mind was that you should gently pull on the day’s stem, as if it were, say, a wildflower or an olive, holding it with all the practiced care of your thumb and the side of your finger, which knows how to not crush easily crushed things…Pluck the cranberry or blueberry of the day tenderly free without damaging it, is what Horace meant—pick the day, harvest the day, reap the day, mow the day, forage the day.”

– Nicholson Baker

Surprise Visits

I used to think I liked them.

As a child growing up in a somewhat abusive home, having guests randomly (frequently) dropping by was a welcome event. The father figure automatically snapped into Gracious Host / Kind Father & Husband mode, all fights and tempers stashed away unseen.

Even if someone stayed the day, the night, the week, the month — the nasty side of the family was kept hidden so effectively that, later on when it all came out, no one could believe that things were ever so bad as we said.

The upside to the fake-but-convincing happiness was that we got the positive effects: reprieve from the yelling, fighting, name-calling, oppressive, and emotionally neglectful environment. It was harmony, smiles, laughter, and delicious food.

People loved us. We loved people. Life was good.

Eventually, when I moved out on my own, I still enjoyed frequent company. My house (a decent sized 3-bedroom rental I shared with 1-2 roommates) was the place to hang out most of the time. Food-centric parties, movie nights, or simply the random bachelor dropping by to scrounge dinner from my pantry…. It was good times. I was single, kept a very clean house (easiest when you don’t own much) and a rather open schedule, so it was never a hardship.

Towards the end of my stint at that house, though, I started seeing my spouse-to-be and that filled up my schedule rather significantly. We married and moved into the tiniest basement suite in town (owned by family, who lived upstairs), and privacy became a bit of a sacred thing.

We had to learn to build our life together, balancing the increasing demands of day job, school, church work, and dual-introvert time. In-laws were added to the social activity list. Mentoring people, teaching, design work, photography…there was no longer an open schedule to share with random guests. Dropping by unannounced might interfere with that one slice of time I’d set aside for the partner or myself.

Fast forward a decade and it’s only gotten worse as life has become more of a burden. Surprise guests might just as likely be interrupting precious work time. And my house is nearly always a mess and therefore a stress to have people see.

It’s been a small revelation to understand and admit that I no longer want drop-ins. But, now I realize why and it’s ok. Perhaps when my life has recovered its breathing room a bit, I might change again.

More Reading

“The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. Yes, the past is another country, but one that we can visit, and once there we can bring back the things we need.”

-Jeanette Winterson


“Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow room”
– Shakespeare

This may be potentially the first time in my life that I have given myself permission to do, to be, to have, to like, to love, to take, to give — without first gaining permission from others.

“Ah, but haven’t you been an adult for quite some time?” someone might ask. Being raised inconsistently under sets of rules motivated by fear (and thereby causing fear) can create an instinctive need for permission and approval. My mother’s indoctrinated paranoia that anything could send me straight to hell (and the seemingly arbitrary selections of those “sins”) made for a confusing dance across eggshells. This particular Thing (action, emotion, object, thought) was acceptable, while that other Thing wasn’t. The following year, Thing 1 and Thing 2 could switch places without warning.

Example: I was publicly praised by my mother for never talking about boys in that breathless and giddy manner employed by other young teen girls. Praise from her, being so rarely achieved, motivated me to keep secret all my questions, crushes, and fantasies. In this, and in many other areas, I had a secret life. There was a whole other me hidden beneath who would be unrecognizable to many if discovered.

The very act of writing, pen-hand cramped and back hunched, was deplorable to me growing up. But, there was a world of thought and story inside of me — pages and chapters and books. Old diaries, with sporadically inked pages, contained only occasional lines. There was, in addition to my laziness, a deep fear that my writing would be found and any revelation of my secret self would be punished. I wish now that I had found a way to record that young inner me — I have many questions to ask of her and only inconsistent memories to rely upon.

As I reached adulthood, there was this overlap where I was still somewhat under the authority of my parents, but also under the accountability of my new church leadership. My mom’s strictness had mellowed in many ways by then, as she entered a new stage of freedom in her own life, but there were still rules and expectations that came with living under her roof. Strangely, the devoutness and fervor and faithfulness I gradually entrusted to my church family was something that developed just as my mom detached herself from organized religion. Loyalty to my church overtook my submission to my mom’s authority.

And so, over the following several (nearly 15) years, my life found motivation in my faith. Over time, however, as I grew further into a leadership role, I craved that same approval from my pastors and people around me. The constant internal questions like “Would they be disappointed in me if they really knew me?” And, I would never know the answer because I never let them, really. I felt a gradual build-up of this need to perform for others, to be strong for others, to be good enough. 

This wasn’t just a religious thing. Even with my musician/art/etc friends I would keep silent about things I loved until I knew it was cool enough for them. I hide whole sections of my house from company when I can because it hasn’t reached a level of awesome I can be proud of. I have been paralyzed by a fear of disapproval. I crave permission to stretch and express and experience.

Someone recently contradicted this description of myself. “No, that is not you,” she said, having this illusion of me that is so bold and independent. To me this just shows my skill as a chameleon. I show enough of my individuality to avoid being called a 2-dimensional doormat (and in part because I’m a horridly opinionated person and it’s nigh impossible to keep all of that stuffed behind a mask). The easiest way to do this is to just point out all the things you dislike — this method can establish that you have discerning tastes, without having to risk admitting you like something that isn’t kosher to like.

In this new stage of life I am trying to bring that hidden version of myself to to surface– allowing myself to disappoint, fail, screw up.

(It’s a bit exhilarating.)


“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.”

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander