by Andrea Avey
If a writer is simply someone who writes, then I guess I am a writer. You probably are too. I would like to be a “real” one sometime, but for now I’ll settle for being an unreal one. But how do you transition from unreality to actuality?
Since early last summer, a good friend and I have been meeting on Monday evenings at various places downtown (usually in pursuit of half-price bottles of wine) to write, share our work, and struggle together. I’m not certain how this began, but it’s been almost a year of setting aside a few hours a week to write and review work, and I’ve learned some things, which I’ll share below. Yes, there is much better advice out there from bona fide writers, but here’s some from me. You can decide how real it is.
- Don’t qualify what you create.
My friend and I share one particular trait (so, too, do most writers, I think): we are critical, acutely aware of our own weaknesses, the vulnerable spots in our work. Often, we’ve found that we unload a list of disclaimers before sharing a piece. When we’re feeling insecure or judgmental about a piece, we’ve begun to say, simply, “Get a load of this.” It helps.
- Do the work. Practice.
The antidote to inaction is action. Thinking and dreaming, imagining and pining. These are my predators, and I am their prey. I get so trapped by these states of being—wishing I could make something of myself, hoping someone would publish my work, longing to live in a cocoon composed only of books and pens and pages and words—that I tend never to take steps toward making them a reality. The way to stop doing this is to do the opposite. The more you practice, the more you produce. Sometimes what I write isn’t very good. But sometimes there’s a great line or two, or something that feels really special, and it never would’ve existed if I hadn’t acted.
- Examine your motives.
When we show up on Monday nights, it’s important for me to remember that I am there in service of my friend’s writing and of mine. The writing is not in service of me. The meeting is not a ruse by which we posture for accolades or praise (we’re only getting them from each other, after all). It is not an excuse to fish for compliments or build up an army of darlings and let them live forever, benign but unimpressive. When I feel myself bristling, I have to ask: What is the purpose here? Is the purpose to get better and draw closer to the life you feel you must live, or is the purpose to have your ego stroked, your feelings spared, and your work left intact, not one comma critiqued? It absolutely must be the former.
- Honor the effort.
Every week, I write something new. It may not be great, but it’s there. I choose to be soft with myself and find pride in the sacrifice I made to show up, have a drink (a real hardship), put my pen to paper, and show someone else what I made. I’ve got to remove expectations from myself and my work. The writing calls the shots anyway. It is my duty to sit down, with discipline, and explore what I’m keeping inside that needs to be let out. It must be freed in whatever form it wants to take (the wine helps with this). Polish can come later when there’s time, but raw material is just that: raw.
So, right now, I suppose you could say that my work and I are in the revision process. I’m no longer a first attempt. I’m definitely not in final-draft form, but I think I’m solidly in the middle stages—somewhere between the second and third draft, caught on a comma somewhere, waiting for the right person to say, “You’re ready.”
Maybe that person is me.
Andrea Avey, a native Tulsan, was an English teacher for five years and now works in the private sector. She devours literature and writes as often as she can.