Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Experiment, Take 1: In Which Joyce Teaches Me to Prioritize

I've been reading The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973-1982 the last couple of days, and the majority of the time I'm reading it I catch myself nodding my head, in awe of her genius and insight. (I caught myself doing this head nodding yesterday as I was reading on the train during rush hour. Something tells me the lady who was staring confusedly at me wasn't in awe of my genius and insight.)

Nothing better than reading the journal of a hugely productive, successful contemporary author (and teacher! how does she find the time?!) to give me a much needed kick in the ass to start writing again.

An excerpt from her November 15, 1974 entry (all emphasis mine):

Balance between private, personal fulfillment (marriage, friendship, work at the University) and 'public' life, the commitment to writing. The artist must find an environment, a pattern of living, that will protect his or her energies: the art must be cultivated, must be given priority... 
Goethe: 'People go on shooting at me when I am already miles out of range.' 
Some of us are never in range: never totally represented by any work of art... Is this a strategy? No. One does not choose one's nature, though perhaps the habits, the adaptations of one's nature are freely chosen.
Ok, first off: Joyce! My God! This is the kind of journal entry I DREAM someone might stumble across in one of my journals when I'm dead. Instead, they'd probably find some sad bastard song lyrics and shitty poetry about boys. That said, I think this was one of the parts where I was nodding, wide-eyed on the train, as I read.

Every day I fight this inner battle, struggling to find the balance she mentions. Typically, my struggle ends up with me talking a lot about writing, and then getting distracted by everything else. Like, the sun shining. My cat Layla sneezing. Texting my friends. Falling asleep. It's ridiculous. Basically, I haven't prioritized my art. The writing.

Although Oates is clearly a writer with an incredible natural gift, it's evident that she also struggles with the notion of whether writing really is easy, or if it is a daunting task to overcome. Discussing her work on a novel, she writes:

Or am I wrong, have I always been wrong, should I perhaps have said nothing at all rather than give the impression that writing is 'easy'? For in a sense it is easy, it is utterly natural. When it isn't easy, it probably isn't much good. At the same time it is not easy at all, because it requires constant thinking, worrying, puzzling, arranging and rearranging. The organization of mountains of material. I must have 500 pages for Part II alone; which must be drastically condensed; and who is going to do this, except 'I,' in the most conscious, calculating sense of the word? One part of the personality has had its freedom, its flowing sprinting exhilarating freedom, and now another, more somber consciousness must take over....But I've circumnavigated this task for days, while thinking miserably and guiltily of the fact that it must be done: and who will do it?
I felt such relief reading this. I thought, Joyce Carol Oates gets me! Even the writing genius feels this way!

Look: here's my problem. I'm obsessed with the rush I get from writing—"its flowing sprinting exhilarating freedom"—and I'm scared to death of the rest. "The constant thinking, worrying, puzzling, arranging and rearranging." I'll write and write, loving how all the words, the sentences, the thoughts, just start flowing from my brain and appear on my screen. But then, once it comes to all that thinking and editing and rewriting and planning ... well, sometimes my brain simply shuts down.

I'm going to try to keep my brain open to all of it. And I'm starting by prioritizing my writing. After all, it's my one love that just doesn't seem to quit.

Wish me luck.

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