Saturday, September 25th, 2004 • 1 Comment on Words Are All I Have
People who aren’t writers think writers should be able to express themselves eloquently, whether in writing or speech. Truth is, most writers I know struggle to be eloquent in their writing, to make it appear as though the phrases and sentences and paragraphs and pages and stories and novels they’ve written flowed effortlessly from their fingertips onto the page. I would never use the word eloquent to describe my own writing, though I suppose there are phrases and sentences and possibly even paragraphs (but never
pages or stories or novels) that may strike the random reader as eloquent (and even as I’m typing this and hoping it’s true, there is a part of me that whispers hack).
writers, regardless of literary talent, have a difficult time expressing themselves verbally. I think it’s why we become writers (and alcoholics) in the first place. We write—not necessarily because we’re eloquent or talented or more imaginative than anyone else—but because we have a need to express ourselves. I don’t use the word need lightly. It’s a driving force, this desire to express ideas and emotions. To connect. To fit in. To not feel alone. A tenuous, temporary connection between writer and reader is made by the words that are strung together on the page. For the brief time you are reading my words, you belong to me. Ahhh… power.
But we doubt ourselves, we fiction writers. We doubt our ability to communicate, to capture your imagination, to hold your interest in what we have to say. So we don’t write our autobiographies, we make up stories about other people, more interesting people. Then we give them full, exciting lives and demanding careers and traumatic events and daunting obstacles. We weave ourselves into our stories, hinting at our own hopes and dreams and fears, but never entirely putting ourselves on the page because that would leave us vulnerable in a way writers can never allow themselves to be vulnerable. Rejection of our writing—our literary children—is difficult enough when our stories are 95% make-believe. Imagine how much worse, how much more painful and personal, the rejection would be if all of the words on the page were about us. Imagine how many more alcoholic writers there would be.
My gift, I think, is not in who I am, it is in what I can create. These words, this imagination, this struggle to communicate… it’s all I have to give the world and it is lacking in so much I’m afraid I will never be able to claim eloquence. On a good day, my writing is adequate, maybe even passably good and moderately interesting. On a bad day, I am dull, stupid and worthless. Notice I didn’t say
is dull, stupid and worthless. I am what I write. If the writing is good, I’m good. If the writing is bad, I’m a boring hack.
If I feel this insecure about what I write, imagine how I feel about what I say.