I am a month or so out from completing a six-week online writing course. Another one.
I attend a couple of writing courses each year. A friend quips I’m addicted to them…as if they are a bad habit, or a catchy disease.
I do love them.
But my friend’s analogy is not far from the mark. It needles.
The weeks following a class are rough. I feel hung over. The sudden loss of structured deadlines induces the same vertigo one gets at the midpoint of a swing bridge…petrified by the choice of moving forward or going back, with all the freedom to simply tumble sideways and fall, fall fall.
The classes inject fresh creativity. My own writing spools effortlessly from the instructor’s prompts and exercises, surprising me always, pleasing me frequently. I love reading the diverse interpretations of the prompts, and the variety of voices from other writers in the class.
The act of reading to comment on other people’s writing forces me to engage intimately with their words, their sentences, their paragraphs, their structures. It’s an intellectual exercise that teaches me a lot about my own writing (and thinking) and how it might be improved. It also challenges me to use a framework of positivity, consciously eschewing the traditional critique approach that points out all the wrongs or picks apart a piece error by error.
But most enslaving—and this is where the shame seeps in—I crave the focused feedback about my own writing from my peers. I long for their comments. I’m curious about the phrases they are drawn to, about the places they feel stuck, about learning how I might improve my language, pacing, punctuation, structure, atmosphere, metaphors. This level of scrutiny detects and signals what may be missing.
So why the shame?
I’m addicted to the feeling of confirmation. I have such a hot desire to be seen, to be heard. To be loved? I’m supposed to be writing simply for the joy of writing, without any need for validation. The art ought be an end unto itself.
But that’s not right either is it?
Writing is communication. One does not write simply to put words on a page, fold the notebook closed and shove it in the back of a drawer. Though, most (all?) of my own writing suffers this fate.
Writing to share becomes a dialogue with the power to transcend time and space. Writing stuff down transforms thoughts to an object I can hold in my fist, paper or book, and hand it over to others. Here, I’ve dumped this beautiful tangle of words on this paper, what do you think? The difference is that the reader has no obligation to the writer. The reader may take and walk away. The reader must only feel entertained, provoked, and, one hopes, inspired. There is no contract a reader must respond.
So, the writer must learn to create in isolation. Must learn to dialogue with oneself. And this ought to be enough. For an addict, enough never is.