Writing is scary, and in the past year I’ve decided to write anyway. I’m a writer and a visual artist. As an artist and art teacher I’ve come to a sort of peace with my visual art. While I still struggle with outside expectations and with wanting approval, I am now often able to make things that I want to make, for myself. With writing, though, I have been much more reserved, private, and distant, until the past year.
I have always loved to write and read. However, I have felt uneasy since leaving college, where I got to do a lot of writing, about how to share my writing and how vulnerable it makes me feel to do so. After graduating, I didn’t know how to share my work without the scheduled classes and required readings. I wasn’t sure where I belonged professionally or how to integrate my creativity into my adult life. Over the past ten years I gained some experience in professional writing through marketing work and school curriculum assignments. I always felt that one day I would really write again, when I had more life experience; that I would return to writing with more zeal when I was ready. After leaving an unhappy teaching job and finding myself at an uncomfortable, unemployed juncture, I took on a Craigslist writing and editing project, which gave me a bit of foothold in the writing world again. The writing was not particularly meaningful to me, but I was being paid for it, and it gave me the curiosity and boost I needed to explore other writing options.
Within a month I acquired several small writing gigs, some of which were actually inspiring to me, and I had two poems published. I found that if I didn’t treat writing so much like a breakable vase full of my ego but more a hand tool for making, if I loosened up my shoulders and voice a bit, I could practice writing again in a way I hadn’t in years. The key for me is not to have to be perfect, something I (mostly) already learned with my art, but had not yet achieved in my writing.
My voice is varied. I “contain multitudes” as Whitman said, and my worth and ability are not measured out by the frequency of fleeting moments of imagined perfection. My worth as a person, artist and writer comes from the moment of living and practicing-being free to say things, write things, make mistakes, and breathe.
A painter I like, Alberto Giacometti, said: “That’s the terrible thing: the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it.”
This can be a terrible attribute of the creative process, but also a freeing one. Just as the stages of our lives overlap and seep into each other, so do artworks and pieces of writing. Creative processes and works have uneven, at times unraveled or knotted edges, which wear down, tatter, and become unwieldy, and must be re-sewn, trimmed, woven into new tapestries, or burnt. It’s up to the maker.
I had a friend in college who called editing “shooting puppies,” because it was so painful to cut off valuable pieces of a work to make the whole stronger. I have to confess that I often do not shoot the puppies–I keep them in a closet in case I want to play with them later, which is possibly an even worse animal cruelty metaphor. Some gems of inspiration disappear under the surface of our minds and others buoy back up until we engage with them.
I am having a great time writing, even though some of my assignment topics are not my favorite and my pieces are imperfect. I’ve been able to write for a few non-profits I support, which connects my heart to the world. I do my best to find my voice, and most importantly, this is a time when I just need to have permission to write again. As in much of my life, in my creative work, I am not in control as much as I’d like to be, and will have to keep running up against that truth and dancing with it. There can be moments of rest in the absence of the pressure to be perfect that are helpful. As the Monty Python crew sing in the Galaxy Song, I try to remember “How amazingly unlikely is [my] birth,” and be grateful to be imperfectly here, imperfectly writing, today. Small as I may be on some scales, I’m still pulling strings that connect to the universal fabric, and feel that writing, reading, and creating help me to participate in a give and take with the universe. I don’t have to let go of all constraint, craftsmanship, or form, and I don’t have to be perfect; I am somewhere in the middle, breathing, working.
Julia Travers is a writer, artist, and reader, who runs the artist interview site, 5 Questions for the Artist. Check out her writing portfolio here.