Why I Write: Finding Joy in the New Year

The following was also cross-posted on my personal blog, Aquafortis.

We’ve
been talking about writing goals in our WritingYA critique group this
month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the past few weeks.
One of the ideas I keep coming back to is reconnecting with what brings
me joy in writing.

It’s a tough question, and one I
find particularly difficult to consider during times when ongoing
anxiety and depression issues rear their ugly Cerberus-like heads and
distract me from seeing an answer. In part, I think I keep obsessing
over this particular question BECAUSE it has been so hard to answer. The
easy, pat response is, of course, that the writing itself, the act of
crafting words and bringing stories to life is a joy in itself. That’s
what everyone wants to hear, right?

There’s more to it.
It isn’t solely about the joy of putting words to page. That particular
joy is something I’ve felt ever since I was a child, but here’s an
admission: it was not sufficient to tip me over the edge into wanting to
make writing my life’s work.

If you know me IRL or
have been reading my blog and other social media for a while, you’ll
know that I was focused on a visual art career from about middle school
onward. If anything has ever been a calling for me, that felt like it. I liked writing, but art owned my soul.

It
turns out that maybe woo-woo soul searching questions—am I still an
artist? Is writing my new calling? Can they both be my calling?—are sly
distractions from the question of what brings me joy in writing. And
once I’ve been distracted by those questions, I end up sliding down a
rabbit hole of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear.

But, as I
started really focusing on the idea of what brings me joy in writing,
it was much more concrete and real-world than I expected. I looked back
on what caused me to make that initial decision to try writing freelance
articles on the side for my then-employer, which is what led me to take that first writing class through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. What was it that made me so happy, so elated, so motivated to write those arguably quite ridiculous pieces of writing?

Besides
the fact that I got to visit weird websites and make jokes about them,
got to humorously explicate pithy quotations, and got paid a teeny bonus
for doing so, this was my first experience of the sense of connection
that writing for a public audience can create. Not just a SENSE of
connection: an actual connection, because people would email me with
suggestions; they’d send me comments. I was basically blogging before
there were blogging platforms, because this was 1999-ish.
I was lucky to have an insta-audience (albeit a small one) because I
took over someone else’s columns on an already-established site, and it
was an incredible feeling to get those responses to what I
wrote—sometimes from the very websites I was writing about. (And I
learned a lot about the fine line between jokes and gratuitous
hurtfulness, because I was a very sarcastic twentysomething.)

This
is interesting, because I have mixed feelings about the IDEA of
connection—my social anxiety and introversion comes into play more and
more the harder I think about it. I start thinking about all the
blogging and writing I’ve done that does NOT make me feel like I’ve
managed to connect. And the stakes feel higher, too, because I’ve
accepted the decision to make writing a major part of my career, not
just something I’m doing on the side.

So then I get
lost in the thought-hole of “I’m doing this for my job, so I can’t
afford to think about FUN anymore.” The very idea of joy seems
irrelevant. This is the mire I get caught in, over and over.
Where
that train of thought has gone off the rails, I believe, is that I’ve
created a false dichotomy between work ENJOYMENT and work EFFECTIVENESS.
The truth is that I’m NOT as effective a writer when I am not in touch
with my reasons for doing it. When I’m distracted by extraneous worries
that fool me into thinking they are the real problem.

And
so that brings me back to what my intrinsic rewards are, and besides
satisfaction in a piece I enjoyed writing and worked hard on, and
laughing at my own jokes, I keep coming back to writing as an act of
connection. Some corollary truths here: When I am more fully engaged in a
piece, I think it is ultimately more effective in making me feel
connected. I am engaged in this because I feel like I am talking to YOU,
right now. The writing itself makes me feel connected, if I engage in
it fully.

That feeling has little to do with any
comments or responses the writing might generate later, but I wonder: is
there a sense of disengagement in some of the posts I write that
actually somehow discourages connection and leads to fewer comments? By
disengagement, I don’t mean a lack of honesty or an unwillingness to
spill my guts (though I am definitely guilty of the latter; I’m not a
person who is forward with my opinions)—rather, I wonder if I’m
inadvertently creating a feeling of distance. In my magazine writing
course, in graduate school, I was repeatedly pegged as sounding too
academic, and I wonder if that plays into it.

So I have been thinking of ways to connect, to engage. Different ways to approach my writing on a more day-to-day level.

I’m still thinking. More on that later…

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