by Ken La Salle
Have you ever sat back and asked yourself, “Why do I write?” You know, as in, “Why, out of the million or more other things I can do during my time on this planet, have I chosen to make writing that thing that sets me apart from everyone else?”
Well, I do.
In fact, I have been asking myself that question since sometime in the early 1980’s.
And I never quite seem to find an adequate answer. I never quite nail it. “Because it’s fun,” certainly doesn’t cut it. “Because I’m downright awesome,” is far too egotistical. “Because I’m the best at what I do,” is something Wolverine might say.
No. I’ve never really been able to answer that one. I actually put it aside some time ago, chalked it up as one of the Great Unknowns in life. Now, when that question pops into my head, I just push it aside, push it aside, push it aside…
(After all, this wouldn’t be much of an article otherwise. Now, would it?)
Like so many other things, the answer was triggered by a seemingly random occurrence. I was watching a video review of a band, which reminded me of my days singing in a couple of bands, which set a whole course of dominos a’topplin’.
Yes, back in the ‘90’s, I sang lead vocals for a couple of bands. One band played covers – your typically, party band – and the other band played originals. We hit a couple of clubs, rehearsed in a warehouse, made big plans… It was a lot of fun.
But I was never much of a lead singer. I knew that at the time. Oh, my voice was good. My delivery was spot on. I could write some terrific lyrics. No problems there. The problem came out in my performance, my stage presence. I was never quite sure if I was doing things right. Was I moving around too much? Too little? Should I play more to the audience? Should I focus my act? I just couldn’t integrate myself into my title of lead singer.
But that was fine, I told myself, because I hadn’t started out as a lead singer. I had started out as an actor. And I was a pretty good actor. I could get parts fairly regularly. I worked on stage and in film. (Granted, it was extremely low budget film.) I knew what I was doing on stage and I could do my job pretty well. The problem, however, was that I could never be sure if I was doing things right. There was always this doubt in my mind over every aspect of my performance. This left me with a deep-seated kind of insecurity. I just never felt like I was good enough.
When I finally made the decision to focus strictly on my writing… I didn’t really understand why until, as I mentioned, today. And, perhaps, this sounds familiar to some of you. I just never questioned myself as a writer. I’ve never asked myself or anyone, “Am I doing this right?”
Writing is mine and nobody can take it away from me. I don’t care what genre I’m working in. It’s mine. I can move from writing books to essays, from writing plays to YouTube sketches, and it doesn’t matter. It’s mine. I can strip away the rules I’ve held for so long and set myself free in the inky black ocean of absolutely uncertainty and, still, I’m okay with it.
Realizing this puts so much in relief, as with a definitive contrast. I recently spoke with a person who absolutely hated something I wrote. The piece wasn’t poorly written but they disagreed with what it said. I knew I could no more change that than change myself because my writing is my voice. It’s okay for people to hate it, but they should prepare themselves to hate a lot more because I’m not going to stop.
This is mine. The page is my place.
And, perhaps, being this sure isn’t the best thing possible. Maybe I should doubt myself a little more. Maybe, then, I’d be more prone to listen to criticism. Such an attitude might make my work more appealing in the long run. Maybe.
But I don’t care.
Am I doing this right?
I don’t really care if I’m doing this right.
I’m doing it.
Nothing wrong with that.
18 thoughts on “Am I Doing This Right?”
That was horrible. You need to…just kidding!
I tried music. I can write songs, but I can’t sing on stage. I tried stand-up. I can write comedy, but I hate the sound of my talking voice. I write, because the only other talent I have is saying, “Paper or plastic?” which I do quite well.
You’re spot on about criticism. However, I find that doubting myself makes me work harder. I’m always learning something that will give me an edge. I don’t need critics. What spurs me is when I read something that is pure and perfect. Like this line from “Gentle On My Mind” by John Hartford:
“…And it’s knowing I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that are dried upon some line…”
That’s why I write. To do something like that. Ha, probably why I golf, too. The addiction to chasing what is just beyond me.
Thanks for the post. I’m adding you to the support group in my head.
Glad to be part of the support group! And thank you for the feedback!
(And let’s both try to stay away from the “Paper or Plastic” option.)
Ken, very thoughtful post. I realized a long, long time ago that I write because I cannot not write. Do I enjoy it? Absolutely. But it’s so much more than that. It’s who I am. It’s where I live. And maybe you’re saying the same thing in a slightly different way. We don’t have to worry about whether or not we’re “doing” something right, something that is not intrinsic to us. We ARE it. And however we do it, we’re doing it right–for us. I often wonder about that very small but very expansive feeling inside when I write something and I know it’s good. It’s complete. It’s full. That’s a feeling I’ve never seen anyone able to describe. It simply is and it’s real and it’s beyond doubt. And it’s a great place to be. Thanks for a great post.
Thank you for reading.
We ARE it! Absolutely!
If you enjoy writing and feel it has purpose, why waste time on introspective questions that you’ll never answer? Just get on with it and enjoy the experience, and maybe even the product of your labours.
“This is mine,” resonated with me. I think writing is the one place I can say something as clearly as I am capable of, without interruption or criticism (until after it’s out there). People may like it – or not. That can matter but it doesn’t make me change what I’ve said. It’s me. Take it or leave it.
This is less true when I write a post with a particular purpose, such as to provide information. But my fiction it is absolutely mine. No one can take that from me or change it to suit themselves.
Thak you for a thoughtful artilcle.
And, you’re right. Sometimes, that sense of freedom does need to be reigned in a bit. But speaking as someone who used to write in the corporate world, at least I know that what I write is mine and won’t be rewritten by committee. As you said, nobody can take that from us.
Nice piece Ken!
For me, I write because I like entertaining people, and I have a bit of an aptitude for painting with words. I can’t draw, sing or play music worth crap, but we all have some fundamental need to express ourselves creatively: in the kitchen, on the building site, in the garden… I’m a storyteller, not the best by any means, but some people seem to enjoy it.
Thanks, John. I really appreciate your feedback. Finding out where we fit makes us pretty fortunate people, I’d say.
Nice piece, thank you! I can’t not write. It’s a problem, but I think I have a workaround. And a door that closes.
My pleasure, of course.
And I guess if you have something you can’t help but do, writing is certainly one of the better ones! 🙂
Sounds like I’m in good company here. 🙂 Put me in the “can’t not write” category, too. I’m okay at a lot of other stuff, but the writing thing is what I keep coming back to. It’s where I feel the most alive.
Thanks for posting this, Ken.
Thanks for reading!
And I know what you mean by writing being where you feel most alive. That’s how I felt as I was writing this. After, when I had time to reflect, I worried that it might be too personal and not relatable. I’m happy to see that was not the case.
We need more people willing to stand behind their words. Striving for constant improvement is a given. But standing behind your words right now is the harder thing to do. Too often we find ourselves chasing the approval of others instead of embracing our own powerful voice.
Thanks for this.
Thank you, sir.
“Too often we find ourselves chasing the approval of others instead of embracing our own powerful voice.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Ken, thanks! Your post brings to mind a saturday morning in Manhattan when I was so depressed and frustrated with what i was not doing with my life that I just sat down on the floor I was trying to vacuum and burst into tears. I don’t know what force entered me, but soon i was listing everything i could do really well — right on top were two things — music and writing — of these two i chose writing — for much the same reasons you did — because i could be me glorious me — and no one could tell me to shut up — today writing is my way into increasing sanity and light…as i write my novels, my own past becomes so clear and i see why things had to happen in a certain way for me to grow…writing has led me by the hand through the worst times, times when i thought i would die — literally, after a deadly spider bite in the Himalayas, i kept myself alive by writing a journal…and so on and so forth…thank god for the written word!
Thank you, Mira. I think “increasing sanity and light” is a terrific gift writing gives us, too.
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