• Meg Gaertner

On Claiming My Right to Write

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

—Ernest Hemingway

It’s a nice quote. I like it. I’ll come back to it a little later.

I have been writing for a few years now, bleeding my type O-positive blood all over my laptop and various notebooks (my fellow coffee house patrons have been quite polite about not commenting on the mess). While I’ve shared excerpts of my novel with various workshop groups, that vulnerability does not compare to the total surrender, patience, and trust required of querying for an agent, a process I just recently began last week.

I find that as a writer I am prone to tremendous mood swings. At one peak of the pendulum’s arc are bouts of manic, euphoric joy. In these moments, I assure myself with the utmost unselfconscious confidence that I am simply the best thing out there since sliced bread and oh my goodness writing is such fun and I could revise all day and isn’t it such a blast seeing a story invented in my mind take shape outside of myself it’s like playing god like creating a whole new universe with the flick of a pen or the tapping of a keyboard.

Then gravity beckons and the pendulum swings and I find myself carried to the far side of joy to fear where in my anxiety I am plagued with debilitating self-doubt that questions who am I to think that I can write or why would anyone want to read what I’ve written etc.

At neither peak of the pendulum’s swing am I all that concerned about punctuation.

Obviously, if I’m going to make it as a writer or as a person, I need a way to keep my sanity intact. Granted, there will always be this emotional cycle, this circling around from euphoria to depression and back again. That’s life, for better or worse, and I happen to think it’s for the better.

But there’s a way to mitigate that cycle, to be empowered and proactive in dealing with these mood swings rather than completely at the beck and call of my emotions.

I’ve noticed that what prefaces my swing back from euphoria to anxiety is the welcoming of someone else into my creative headspace—when I start thinking about what other people think. With my MFA program and the various writing communities I belong to and all of the advice that is available to writers out there, it is easy for me to get caught up in the social expectations for my writing.

One of the beliefs that has been hindering my mood and writing lately (likely from being a commercial YA fiction writer in a liberal MFA program geared toward literary fiction) is the idea that my writing has got to go somewhere, that it’s got to mean something, that it’s got to further some liberal agenda or radically impact society.

Let’s be honest. If that is to be the sole focus of my writing, then I’m not going to write at all. I am paralyzed when I take myself too seriously. I am paralyzed when I take my writing too seriously.

There is no joy in paralysis. If I’m not enjoying myself or the process, then what is the point of my writing? If I’m not passionate about my story or my characters, then there will be no love in the book and no reason for anyone to read the story in the first place.

Ultimately, I write for my own pleasure. I write because writing is play. I write because I want to write. I write because the process of creation brings me joy. I write for the characters that want to see life outside of my mind. I write for the sake of writing. I write and it’s entirely superfluous and it might never make a difference for anyone else but—and here’s the key point—it makes a difference for me.

For my own sanity in the writing and querying process, I have to frequently remind myself of why I began writing in the first place.

I think the most important thing a writer can do is to stake their claim and carve out their own unique space, to set up boundaries between who they are as a writer and who they are not, to recognize where they begin and where the various writing and other communities they belong to end.

Back to the quote by Hemingway. If writing means bleeding out onto the page, then my writing has to be mine. It has to be as fundamental and unique and true to me as my own blood, my own DNA. At the same time, it’s got to be life-affirming—my life-affirming. Just as blood circulates my body and keeps me alive, my writing has to remind me of my aliveness.

Ultimately, I'm claiming my right to write about whatever the heck I want.

This is my writing philosophy at least, the belief that will keep my sanity intact through all of the ups and downs of the writing process.


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