Welcome to the resurrected Writer Chats, originally a 2013 post series that featured thoughts on writing from various bloggers and writers around the Web. While this new iteration is a departure from that series, it will likewise feature essays on writing and creativity, written from my current season of life as a self-employed freelancer and mom. At least, today, that’s what I think it will feature; yesterday, I thought I would quit writing for good. Below is a lightly edited version of a letter I wrote to Tim, used with permission.
I read somewhere that a good cure for writer’s block is to imagine your audience. Instead of trying to write to everyone, try to write to someone. So, because you’re the person who knows me best, of course I want to write to you.
I just finished reading a series of short and sweet essays from a girl I know online. They were meaningful. I cared. I mean, she got me to care. I wanted to know more. This seems significant because so often when I read essays online I don’t want to know more. So often, the person who is talking is writing like she’s going to therapy or looking for affirmation or just venting the way you might do on the phone after a bad day and you hope the person who’s listening will say, oh no, you are a very nice person, I like you a lot. I am that person who is talking a lot of times. When I write something that no one likes, I find myself wondering what I did wrong. Have I lost my voice?
Early in our marriage, when we were just starting a life together, just learning how to stand side by side brushing our teeth together or sit side by side on the sofa working on our computers together, you started blogging with me here. You liked food more than I did, and you knew more about food than I did, so we started making all our food together, photographing it together and, once or twice, even talking about it together here. I liked the couple times you posted. I know you don’t feel this deep need inside yourself to write like I feel this deep need inside myself to write, but, when you do write, I like reading it. I like you.
Anyway, when we blogged together, the voice changed. Some random person wrote to us about not liking the new voice, they liked the old voice, I’d lost something by writing this new way, and what I remember most is that I didn’t know what to say in response. I didn’t argue, and I didn’t think there wasn’t truth there. But how do you go back to being the person you were before you were the person you are now? How do you write like you’re 27 and filling your free nights with writing practice when, in fact, you’re not? I guess I could have asked that. I could have said, do you know writers who keep writing the same way for as long as they live? People who don’t grow or develop or try something new? I don’t think most people would say it’s bad to grow. But a lot of people don’t like it when you do.
You know, I’ve been keeping this food blog since 2008, which means nine years in August. In that time, it’s been restaurant reviews and recipe stories, and it’s been a writer’s chat series and essays about parenting and child birth, and, today in 2017, from where I sit on our white sofa while you’re away at Bible study and we live in a split-level with a kitchen we renovated and a baby sleeping in his crib, I wonder what it is now. I started this place as a twenty-something managing a writing department and living with her parents. In the time since then, I’ve quit my job, moved to Tennessee, married you, lost a baby, wrote a cookbook, bought a house, had a baby, had a surgery, met a lot of people, read a lot of books, been affected by television and conversations and heartbreak and help I didn’t know I would need.
So strangers can’t answer my question for me, but maybe you can. What do you think? How can you write the same way when you’re 34, and you know there’s a silent audience listening, that you did when it was 2008, and playing on the Internet was like playing in your backyard? I love reading the kind of writing that drew me to the Internet ten years ago. But is the Internet a safe place to share that kind of writing anymore? Was it ever? Then, on top of that, there are the people who think they know you because they read what you write. I mean, I love reading someone’s reflections on a hard day at work, but, in order for me to get to read those thoughts, I realize now that, that writer can only give them to me by accepting the fact that maybe her high school boyfriend, the one who she would probably hide from if she saw him in a store, has the ability and access to sometime read it, too. Is it worth it for her? Is it worth it for me?
I already know what you’ll say to me, even before I send this to you. You’ll talk to me about fearing man and fearing God, the same way a counselor did. You’ll tell me to keep asking these questions, keep praying and the Lord will show me what to do. Am I right? Is that what you’ll say?
This in-between time is what I’ve always struggled with, the “already and non-yet” to borrow a theological term. I hate uncertainty. I hate not being in control, remembering I’m not in control—control, there it is again! The word informing so much of so much of my “tired thirties,” L’Engle’s term that I so like! Didn’t I just say that, for 2017, I need to quit trying to control, give up, surrender? That, if I were going to pick a word, surrender would be it? My nature is organized and scheduled and wants a plan. I like a clear and fixed path ahead of me so I don’t have to be afraid, I don’t have to wonder and, mostly, I don’t have to trust.
Oh man, is it really all as simple as this, hard as this? Keep writing, keep praying, keep plugging away, do what you can, in as many ways as you can and then, just, hope and trust?
If this is the answer, and I’ve just arrived at it, you’d think there’d be a reward for believing it. Isn’t that what I’m always saying to you? That I want a reward? So much work feels without it. Clean the dishes, finish the project, wash the diapers, fold the laundry, run the errand, buy the gift… all, only believing that it matters, not holding evidence in yours hands that it does, all, pressing forward in faith, hoping, believing, looking forward to the evidence not seen.
Is this the great work of our lives, this believing? Does this pressing forward, looking to the higher goal, mean that if God’s given you the ability to write, why in His name wouldn’t you use it? Or is writing in public ways about personal things just foolishness? Is it narcissism? Is it both?
I guess these are my questions tonight, in early January, stepping into 2017, the year of surrender, a phrase I almost don’t want to type. It’s funny that I think accepting surrender means losing control. Did I ever have any control to begin with? If someone can write, isn’t that a gift that’s been given him? If someone can not write, isn’t that a gift, too? What do we have that we did not receive? About what can any of us boast?