Friday, March 19, 2010

The Wisdom of Virginia Woolf

I picked up The Virginia Woolf Writers' Workshop: Seven lessons to inspire great writing by Danell Jones at the library yesterday. Danell wondered what it would be like if Virginia Woolf taught writers' workshops and turned it into a book,and used the diaries, essays, correspondence and fiction of this literary legend to find the answer.

Although I am only a few pages in, I have already found gems that I want to share. I'll admit that I've never read anything by Virginia Woolf, so I don't know if it is her voice I like, or Danell's. Whoever it is, their voice speaks to me (and I'm adding Woolf to my list of authors to check out at the library).

Writing, she warns them gravely, could be the easiest part of the task. Sticking to the routine when every force in the world will try to steal it--or try to make you feel excruciatingly guilty about wanting to write--can be much tougher. She must encourage them to resist the fierce emotional traps that will try to get in the way of their creative life. They must, especially if they are women, she warns, be prepared for a fight. They must even be prepared, she adds in a slow, solemn tone, to kill.
Kill? The next few paragraphs talk about how writers, women especially, have to kill the selfless, giving caretaker who always puts everyone else's needs ahead of their own.
"Had I not killed her," she warns them, "she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing."
I suffer from writing guilt. Daily. Almost by the minute. I have always believed that my greatest work as a woman would be to raise happy, well-adjusted, intelligent children capable of not only surviving this life, but contributing to it. I still believe that. I love my children, but writing consumes me.

There are so many things going on in my head that I have to write to stay sane. Unfortunately, my writing has become an addiction (an obsession at best), and it pulls my attention away from my children, my husband, my friends. I want to hide at home for two reasons: 1. To write and 2. to not embarrass myself because all I talk about is my writing. My friends must be so tired of hearing about it. (You have no idea how I try to keep my mouth shut, but it just spills out anyway!)

Several times this year I found myself wishing I never started this novel. *gasping as I stab the thought out of my breast* Other times I've wished I could just click save and say, "My family is more important so I'll finish this when my kids are older." But I can't. I've tried.

I know my poor husband wonders if I'll ever be "normal" again, and it worries me. If I get picked up by an agent and become a real honest to goodness author, life will change and I don't know if we are ready for that. I want it more than anything, but it is as scary as being rejected by every agent out there and never seeing my name on the cover. And, if I never get picked up, I don't know how to turn the characters and their stories off that are running through my head. Do you think meds for multiple personalities would do the trick?

The Carolina Cobra at Carowinds
This is the roller coaster we ride as authors. The ups thrill us as we hope for our future as best-selling authors and then reality hits and we plummet. We read and find motivation and remind ourselves that those who persevere can and do get published.  All we need to do is stick to our chosen routine and keep plugging away with our writing while avoiding those emotional traps Woolf mentioned. My traps are--guilt, self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of success, exhaustion, and even anger. Sometimes I am so angry about this whole process (yes I know that is dumb, but that's how I feel sometimes). Why does it have to be so hard? Why does it have to take so long? Why do we have to have our feelings crushed under the weight of the task (and future form rejections, or worse personalized ones!) while feeling the overwhelming urge to share our stories with the world?

I think I am slowly learning the answer to some of those questions, but I want to know what you think first. What are your emotional traps and why do you think we have to struggle through them?


  1. It's funny, because I've been wondering the very same thing about multiple personality meds myself recently. I think if it gets that bad one day, it's certainly worth a shot.... :P

    I guess the end result wouldn't be as gratifying if it wasn't absolute torture to get there. I know from experience, when I succeed in something I never really tried to in the first place I don't feel satisfied or even interested at all. But then again, that's never really been in writing...

    Oh, um, emotional traps you say? A fair few, I'm afraid. Highlights would be.

    1. Self-doubt (but I think that one's your run of the mill standard writing self-doubt wherein you think everyone is better at you than writing and OMG I'll never be any good... and so on)

    2. Fear that I'll never get to finish what I'm trying to write (I don't mind it not being published, just please let me be able to finish my WiP for my own peace of mind!)

    3.Fear that it's been said before (this is illogical, not to mention silly, but I sometimes worry my MS is a story already written word for word by somebody else AND I DON'T KNOW IT... I find frequent serach engine stints help calm this one)

    Wait, maybe that mostly fits under paranoia?

  2. Hi Charity! I'm a new follower -- it's wonderful to meet you!

    I'm a mother and wife, too. When I began writing "seriously," and by that I mean writing with an audience in mind, I was met by fierce resistance from the family. Granted, I hadn't worked out a good writing schedule at the time. Balance is the key to anything in life. But slowly, over the course of the past three years, hubby and the kids have become supportive of my craft.

    I don't apologize for my need to write. Like Woolfe said, it's an art worth killing for. But I know my life is multi-faceted, which is the way I want it. There has to be time made for everything...once my writing goals have been met (*grin*).

    Have a fab weekend!

  3. What an awesome post. I try and write every day but when boredom has set in... especially after a long day at work I can't snap out of it to get back to writing, luckily for my current WIP I haven't had too many breakdowns, though I am nervous of getting stuck, which I think is what gets my stuck faster!!

  4. Great post, Charity! It is certainly a roller coaster. There are moments of pure high and then those crushing moments of low. But through it all, I think we have to remember to enjoy the ride (the journey) and not get too focused on the destination!

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  6. I feel for your pain.
    We are our own harshest critics when it comes to our ability to divide the time in a balanced way.

    I got my first request for a full manuscript submission this week after sending three chapters as an unsolicited query, that will fuel my drive for ages to come!

    Have belief in yourself, it can happen.


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