In the limited time that I’ve worked in print-based media, I’ve noticed that people often end up on a track: they are a writer or they are an editor. Many editors are decent writers and many writers are decent editors (although I see more of the former than the latter), but people tend to assume their role and stick to it.
Personally, I’m more of an editor. I spend my time coming up with stories and keeping the website stocked with fresh content, with the goal of timeliness and traffic netting always in the back of my mind. This is what I do all day. And I enjoy it. We have published some articles I’m very proud of and I’m in the process of developing relationships with our current roster of writers, as well as bringing in fresh voices I’ve found.
But it also means that I’m doing much less writing these days, especially since OpenFile, my main freelance relationship, folded. Because my editing work does satisfy me, I hadn’t really given my writing much thought until I started reading a biography of Martha Gellhorn by Caroline Moorehead.
Martha Gellhorn, now deceased, was a famous war correspondent who is notable for her coverage of the Spanish Civil War and of marginalized people. (She was also married to Ernest Hermingway for five years, before she demanded a divorce because she was pissed that his star shone brighter than hers — one of her many character flaws that I am embarrassed to admit that I kind of get.) Moorehead’s biography of Gellhorn highlights how much she struggled in her early years. Despite not even bothering to get a job until she was 27 and instead gallivanting around Europe on her parents’ dime through most of her twenties, Gellhorn started and never finished several novels and generally struggled to create work that matched her ambitions.
The fact that it took her so many attempts to finish a book, even if it was over a relatively short period of time, is what’s so interesting to me. Despite having nothing to show for it, Gellhorn never stopped writing. She considered herself a writer when there was nothing to read. She sat down to “work” on projects that never saw the light of day. She pushed herself to produce something but ultimately accepted that not everything she wrote would be publishable or be finished.
I have realized that I think of my writing almost entirely in terms of publishing. I’m either fulfilling a requirement for work or trying to broaden my freelance portfolio. Everything I write has a distinct purpose, deadline and value. I can’t remember the last time I wrote something just because I felt like writing it, without any real purpose. Even the rate that I update this blog should tell you that lately, I only do it to ensure there is at least one post every month in the archive.
I do watch a lot of TV. (As you may have noticed, I have been practicing writing sort of boring things about popular culture.)
So I’m setting a goal for myself. I am committing to two hours per week of no-end-game writing and researching. I don’t know what I’ll do with the work, I don’t know if it’ll ever get published, I don’t know if I’ll ever have anything to show for it. It’s not a lot of time, but it will at least get my brain tuned to something different. Keep my ideas fresh and allow me to keep stretching myself as a writer. Instead of worrying about whether an idea is viable or fretting about keeping my portfolio fresh, I’m just going to make stuff and see where it goes. I miss writing and I think if I take the pressure of publishing away, I might write some really weird stuff that will freak out my future children when they find it after I’m dead. Fun!
Also, it must be noted that I just wrote more than 600 words about my feelings about my writing. I definitely must be a writer. Writing about writing is so boring.
Does anyone have any better ideas for me?