must I write?

I can’t help but think that I’ve waited too long to start. I’ve been babbling on for a couple of years now about how I “want to get into writing,” and how I would like to submit articles to magazines, and see what comes of all of that. But for all the time that has passed since I started saying that, I have nothing to show for it. There are days that every clock in the house seems to whisper, “You should be farther along by now…”

Occasionally, I can hear the passing of time when my apartment grows quiet at night, as if it is a weight crushing me flat. I have given myself ultimatums about what I would do as a writer, and as each moment passes, I come closer to an unknown deadline, one that I have set, but don’t remember. In my darker moments, I allow each tick of the clock to be a lash upon my back. Punishment for broken promises I’ve made to myself about things I would accomplish. And before me sits a blank page. The same page that has been sitting there for a few years now, waiting to be bathed in ink.

The reason that page has remained blank is simple: I have turned a desire to write into a proving ground, instead of allowing it to be an expression of my soul. Why did I want to write in the first place? I wanted to write because I had so many moments where the words just spilled out on the pages of my journal, unhampered by deadlines and a desire to hear approval from someone else. I began to realize the importance of Rilke’s admonition in Letters to a Young Poet:

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

When I first began to consider writing, I answered that with an unwavering “yes.” But the fear of failure and the desire to keep the world happy with me pressed that sense of necessity to the periphery of my reasons. Fear. Desire. Both very good in the right context, but stifling if they are centered on the wrong things. So I have decided not to believe in failure anymore. I did believe at one time, and even spent my soul bowing at failure’s feet, offering sacrifices of promises and vows. But a promise keeper I was not. So I had to return again and again, with more offerings of commitment and recommitment.

But I grew weary of making the pilgrimage. I began to question whether or not this god was really worth it. On one hand, it was nice to know where I stood. It has always been clear to me whether or not I measured up (most of the time not), and if it was unclear, I could simply resort to past rulings or judgments to determine how I had failed. It made life simple, and not just for my dwindling aspirations to write.

But I was unable to get past the fact that my belief in failure seemed to breed more failing! I feared it, and couldn’t get away from its burning stare, every time I started a project. At first I was grateful for the way it gave me a clear picture of progress, but then I began to resent the lack of freedom it allowed for success.

So I left the faith. I fell from failure, if you will, and I no longer believe. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I’m an agnostic. I am sure that failure is out there somewhere, but I can’t know it. Now when I start a writing project, I am certain of success, simply because I have started. I don’t write for success or failure. I don’t write to impress or please anyone else. I write because the words are brewing within me, and they must come out. Even if the English is bad, and the ideas are jumbled, I cannot not write. And that makes me successful.

How ironic that as a choral background to the writing of my last line of this piece, the coo-coo clock sings its short-sighted song about the bottom of the hour.

One thought on “must I write?

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