Books Magazine

Being a Writer in the 21st Century

By Gabrielscala

It’s been a long time since I’ve checked in here.  I was drawn back by a recent comment on an (very) old blog post that reminded me, “oh yeah! I used to write a blog.”  That recollection has taken me down a long and windy road of recollections – most about how I “used to be” a writer and how important writing “used to be” to me and, “wait. Where the hell am I?”

It’s not that this is the first time I’ve walked away from writing.  Most of my adult life has been a cycle of heavily focused creative work and long periods of wandering through the desert of “real” life only to find myself back at the altar of the pen (or, for me, the keyboard). But this last excursion away from writing has been different – mostly, I think, because it coincided with my decision to leave teaching.  Many writers also teach. And my path has not been anything extraordinary or unique.  I started writing seriously in my early twenties – went to college – honed my craft – took a teaching gig and began the oh-so-common plight of the writer who teaches/the teacher who writes.  (Where to find the time???).  And though I left teaching to focus more heavily on my writing and to attempt to transition into the editing world – somewhere along the line I got lost.  And this has me thinking about the subtitle of this blog: being a writer in the 21st century.

I’d like to say that things have changed from the days of Erica Jong’s pronouncement that she “sometimes feel[s] guilty writing poems when [she] should be cooking.” And though we as women have, I believe, mostly dealt with our guilt over not cooking and cleaning enough (or at all) – we, as writers, still struggle with feelings of guilt when writing.  Stupid, really.  I mean, when I put it out there on the page like that – my immediate impulse is to delete it.  But, darn it, it’s true!  I have spent the past year working on a project that – somewhere inside of me – seemed “legitimate.”  A year.  That’s a year that could have – and should have – been spent writing the memoir I started two (god help me!) years ago.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t for a couple of reasons:

1. Memoir writing is hard and emotionally challenging and, quite frankly, I’m terrified of it.

2. (And more importantly, I think) I didn’t feel that I was being “productive” (whatever that means) when I was spending hours a day sitting at my computer writing.  I had left teaching.  I needed a CAREER.

It’s all bulls#@t, really. And maybe it’s all just an elaborate excuse that I created for myself because of reason #1 (that’s totally possible).  But I see other friends, who are also writers, struggling with the same issues.  And I’m starting to think that this is a larger issue – one that speaks to the very core of what it means to be a writer in the 21st century. I think it means a genuine struggle with purpose and validation, with focus and the need to “justify” ourselves. I think, for me at least, it means leaving and returning and leaving and returning again – I think it takes that kind of circling, that kind of righteous insistence from whatever it is inside of us that calls us to write, to pry our eyes open and force them to focus on the one and only thing that, for whatever reason, makes us who we are: writers.

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