Passion and Possession: Thoughts on Writing from My Former Self

Moving one’s residence is stressful enough without the complications of a historic snowstorm! Between shoveling, packing, and shuttling carloads of stuff down icy roads, I’ve hardly touched my computer all week. However, I did make a discovery that merits sharing.

While boxing up the home office, I found several old journals, including one I kept during my college semester abroad in Ireland. Part travelogue, part personal misadventure—I read some of the funnier excerpts aloud to my Laddie and he thinks I should publish it—the narrative represents a fascinating episode in my own personal development. It’s emotional archaeology, excavating the thoughts and feelings of a bygone part of myself. What struck me most was a passage that has nothing to do with travel:

December 13, 2006

…I’ve just taken a hammer to the plot of my novel-in-progress. Again. For the third time since starting the project, I find myself having to rethink the entire story and restructure the entire plot. It’s that weird, productive pain—you feel kind of good about it, knowing that it’s a positive change, but that doesn’t make it any less excruciating. 

…The love of words is a disease, the passion to write a destructive, consuming force. Less passion than possession. The harder you repress the thoughts, the stronger they become, preying on your consciousness and stabbing you awake at night. It’s a condition, one that I’m beginning to accept as lifelong. Sometimes I feel like I’ve only got one foot in this world: the rest of me is off drifting in that liminal space known as la-la-writer-land. Stories, images, and ideas all bubble in my brain, and the steam from the brew sometimes clouds my vision of reality. 

…I feel like my brain is scarred from the incessant clawing of ideas. Each word comes out of my fingertips like a needle through skin. Sometimes it leaves me wanting to scream, run my head into the cinderblock wall, and burn every page I’ve ever written into a terrible, glorious blaze. But it’s the only thing that leaves me satisfied.

I can’t remember what story I was working on at the time (it might have been an early ancestor of Blue Karma). But beneath the post-adolescent flair for drama lay a sentiment that haunted me as I read it. I wish I could reach back to my past self and tell her “Don’t quit! In less than a decade, you’ll publish an award-winning novel and find yourself writing with confidence almost every day.” Would twenty-year-old me have believed it? In the most private sanctums of her spirit, I don’t think she ever doubted it, but present realities often occlude hope in positive outcomes. Cloistered in a student dormitory in the dreary Irish winter, discouragement can grow on a young soul like mildew on the cinderblock walls.

Hearing my own voice echo through the years also put my present-day dilemma in perspective. I war with myself constantly over whether I should devote more energy to advancing my “day job” career or keep pursuing my novels. This old journal entry suggests that if I have a “calling”, this is it. Writing stories is coded in my DNA, as irrepressible as my ear for music and immutable my Athena-grey eyes. It took longer than I’d expected to get started, and it will probably take longer than I’d like to achieve commercial viability (if I ever do). But I no longer suffer the agony of the blocked artist. I’ve harnessed the rampant beast of creativity: it’s not fully tamed, but we’ve achieved a productive symbiosis. After almost a decade wrangling with my literary impulses, I finally feel like I’m on the right (write?) path. I hope I feel this much sense of progress when I look back again at this blog post, nine years from now!

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