Sunday, November 13, 2005

Secret writing

"I don't write not to be published. That would be some kind of punishment."

I read these words of author Joan Didion's today in an article in the Sun Sentinel about the upcoming Miami Book Fair. Didion, an author who has been published for 40 years, wrote a memoir about the death of her husband. It's called The Year of Magical Thinking. She writes the story of her husband's death and her dying daughter's illness, her own feelings, how she views doctors, how she couldn't part with her husband's shoes because "magical thinking" kept her believing one day he might return for them.

But it wasn't the book itself that caught my attention. It was that one small quote in the article by the author. She sat down to record her thoughts, feelings, memories after her husband died with full intention of getting the book published. She doesn't write "not to get published."

It threw me out of my usual Sunday morning lethargy. I wonder what the secret writers of the world think of her statement. Secret writing is my catchphrase for writing you scribble and never show to anyone because it's simply too personal, too painful, to share.

Didion's statement caught me off guard because I too, have written pages and pages about grieving. I have a journal that chronicles my mother's death from cancer, ten years ago next month (she died right before Christmas). I have journals chronicling other painful life events, from my first divorce to losing my first baby after years of struggling to get pregnant. It's my secret writing. Once or twice I've tried to assemble those essays into a coherent piece, but could not. It was as if they were meant to lie in a bedside drawer, silent, hidden away from the world, available to my eyes only.

I'm glad she wrote her book, because it appears it has helped others who also are grieving deeply and never show it. In this world, it seems people are all too eager to share in your success, but uneasy about sharing your grief. Yet I wish she hadn't said that about publication. How many brilliant, talented writers are struggling out with their own stories who don't write to get published, but write because they must write or simply die?

I've published three Egyptian historical romances as mass market paperbacks, with two more in the works due for publication in the upcoming months. I've published two e-books under Blair's name that I equally enjoyed writing. I write for publication, and yet, there are books in my drawers that I absolutely love that will never get published. I wrote them because I had to. Because there was something inside me that took hold of the idea and would not let it go.

Two weeks BW (Before Wilma, which is how I measure time now), a friend and I had breakfast. She asked me why I keep writing and working so hard with my writing when there simply is not much money in it. I didn't respond. I didn't respond because she isn't a writer. And she can't understand what it's like NOT to write.

Each time I've struggled with the notion of giving up writing, be it romance or the nonfiction pieces I toy with, it feels like part of me is gasping for air. I can't give up writing. I don't write for publication.

I don't write to be published.

I write because I must.


Toni Lea Andrews said...

I read the same article, Bonnie, and was inspired by the very same sentence!

Mary Stella said...

I read the Herald, so I didn't see this article. I'm mighty glad I read about it here. Thanks, Bonnie!

Stacey said...

I feel the same way. It makes me feel better to know that I'm not the only one. There are times when I've thought about quitting, especially when it feels like no one else understands why you do it and therefore they don't get why you continue to "punish" yourself by working so hard for such a little reward. Then I have to remember, the reward is not the paycheck. It's the story itself.

Thanks for the reminder, Bonnie : )