Permitting the Unjustifiable


This morning, I decided I need to be reading a book about writing.

I’m in a wonderful stage of writing the manuscript. This stage is the one in which it’s mostly done, so I print out a hard copy of the years of investment in fake people. I read it and allow others to read it. It cost me about $20 to print the thing, which is a reminder as to why books can sometimes be fairly pricey.

The thing about printing my manuscript is how completely uncertain I was as I walked into the FedEx store to pick it up.

You see, $20 is money. It’s money that I could be spending on things that others would be more likely to understand. I could get a Smart Phone and put that cash towards a data package. I could put it towards my car that’s bound to stop running any day now. People would understand those things. They don’t understand the money going towards the imaginary happenings of my mind.

That’s why I read books about writing.

Sure, sometimes, books about writing teach me things about how to write better, but most of the time, books about writing remind me that I’m not alone and I’m not breaking any rules when I decide to spend money on something other people wouldn’t spend money on. Reading books about writing reminds me that there are other people in this world who spend hours working on one sentence, because it has the potential of greatness. There are people who blow off their friends and family to sit alone in the quiet, frantically typing out the ideas for fear they will too soon vanish. They spend $20 on paper and ink that may never come to anything.

The book I chose to read is Rachel Simon’s The Writer’s Survival Guide.

In all honesty, I went at the book with my trademark sense of superiority. Chapter one is entitled “The Big Questions.” To me, the first chapter in most non-fiction books is a waste of time. The author is trying to build context in that chapter, and she rarely gets to any of the meat in that chapter, so I find it tedious.

Problem: Rachel Simon begins with the meat.

“Why should I – or anyone – write?”

“Do I have talent, and how can I tell?”

“How big a commitment can (or should) I make?”

Those really, truly are the constant questions in my brain. They might not manifest in exactly the same way Simon expressed them, but they are the fears of my heart, because discovering that my writing is actually terrible and unpublishable would be devastating. Such a discovery would, in many ways, reveal a wasted life. Time, money, thought, all invested in something I’m terrible at when they might have been invested in something else.

Simon expresses it this way: “…many people begin writing with a profound lack of faith in themselves. They might even be wrestling with depression. They know they want to write; maybe they even like writing. But deep down, they don’t feel worthy of writing… How could they… grant themselves the permission to go for it?” (8).

I think granting ourselves permission is one of the core obstacles in American happiness. We believe we need permission to make impractical, risky, divergent choices.

Yesterday, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood for fun. It was not for exercise. It was not for transportation. It was purely for the joy of feeling the wind in my hair. As I was riding, I confess, I felt a little naughty. It was a stolen moment – unjustifiable by grown-up standards. It was like staying home from work when I’m not actually sick; I need someone to give me permission.

Writing is another matter entirely, because people are far less-willing to support my writing endeavors. They are more interested in how my writing impacts them. It keeps me from attending dinners. It changes my disposition when I am in social places. It seems like it’s an obnoxious character flaw when others start commenting on my writing.

Which is why I need the b0oks. I need Rachel Simon to tell me that writing is valuable regardless of my publication status. Regardless of the money. Regardless of whatever.

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