A few months ago, a friend sent me a quote by Sandra Cisneros: “I’m married to my writing, and he can be brutal but he never strays.” Writing was my first love. When my friend sent me this, though, I hadn’t written anything in months. Every time I sat down to write, there seemed to be a block. It was visceral — I could feel it in my chest. It was something close to anxiety, a deep-rooted resistance to sit down and write.
I’d met this friend two summers ago at a writing workshop in New York City. I was still writing for fun then, unrestrained by the “right format” or “right structure” or “right way to say the thing you’re trying desperately to say, and you finally say it, but no, that’s the wrong way to say it. Change it.” She was writing for fun, too, but she also took herself seriously — something I didn’t do. I didn’t want to take myself seriously. I didn’t want to think about writing for publication or finding an agent or fighting to the death for an internship at the New Yorker. I loved writing, probably more than anything. I thought I was good at it. I had my style and my way of saying things and, generally, people liked it. My writing was creative and unrestrained. It came naturally to me. One day I’d publish a book and it’d do really well, but for the present, I’d just keep calling myself a writer until I became a real writer, and everything would fall into place.
I learned how to write for publication at the aforementioned workshop, and that’s where everything fell apart. I became consumed with readability, with concise sentences, with perfecting punctuation and structure and flow, with am I saying too much here? Writing became agonizing. A cycle had arisen. I couldn’t type a sentence without immediately erasing it, typing it again, erasing it again. I was obsessed with the “right” way to write. When I finished a piece, I’d ask myself: Would Harper’s or the New Yorker or the New York Times publish this? And if the answer was no (which it always was) I’d erase everything and start over again.
This was exhausting. My perfectionism took hold of my creativity — I couldn’t even journal anymore. I can’t remember when I stopped writing completely, but I did.
My friend is currently working on her creative writing thesis at Emory. She’s writing a collection of personal essays — our mutual favorite genre. I think of this often. I was inexplicably envious of her at first. I miss writing. I wish I could do that. But I can’t. It won’t be good enough.
After many repetitions, this thought had become something of a mantra. My pieces for the workshop classes were half-hearted, and I’d sweat before I sent them to my classmates. I was falling out of love with writing — in fact, I hated it.
On Sunday, I revisited journals that I keep on a bookshelf in my apartment but never touch. I re-read my uninhibited writing from months and years ago. I remembered, for the first time in a long time, how much writing means to me, how much of my identity and my head and my heart that it holds. I fell back in love with the thing I’d loved first. So I sat down and wrote like I hadn’t written in a very long time. There were no rules.
The notion of being in love with your art form resonates across genres. Falling out of love with your art form resonates, too. Many of my artist friends have dropped out of art school, many of my musician friends out of music school. When your art form becomes too restricted, too serious, too taught, you fall out of love with it. When you remember that your art form is you – that there are no rules, that there is nothing to be taught beyond what you can teach yourself through art – you fall back in love. And it’s beautiful.
It takes a lot to remind myself that I can still be married to my writing, but he doesn’t have to be brutal. And he’ll never stray.