Writing is not difficult. Writing well, however, can be. And what I find as difficult as writing well is writing at all. There worst thing a writer can do instead of writing is to think about writing. By this I don’t mean criticism. No, I mean thinking about the fact that I could be writing when I’m doing something else. I am very good at thinking about writing. In fact, instead of writing I read so much about writing that I delayed writing for years, thinking that I had to read about writing before I could write.
Blame Derrida. Blame Baudrillard. Blame Barthes. Blame Foucault. But ultimately, blame me. Because I did not – do not – trust myself to write well. And, therefore, I do not trust myself to write at all. I became a very good reader, because reading delays writing. And then there are the moments when one reads something well-written and inspiring that serves as a muse to put down the book and pick up a pen or laptop and write. Fiction begets fiction. These days, The Paris Review serves as a foundation. I read it on the subway. And I often find myself interrupted because while reading a story, I’m inspired with my own turn of phrase. This, for me, is the mark of good fiction: if I’m simultaneously entranced and distracted to read and yet create my own fiction.
But still I don’t write enough.
There’s a kind of Faustian longing in all of this, the self-deception that one must read so much and attain so much knowledge in order to fashion an airtight novel or theological work that is, indeed Great™. So high the cost! But it’s only one of many self-deceptions. I deluded myself that before I could begin what I thought was “qualified” writing, I had to do so much preparation, that I could become “qualified” to write.
Read all the theory. Read all the theology. Read all the masters, matrons, and mistresses. Read the classics. Read the canon. Read the radical. Read the marginal. Read the new canon, post-canon, post-colonial. Read the subversive. Read genre fiction (it’s all “genre” fiction – even “literary” fiction is a genre). Read zines and blogs. Read. Consume it all to know it all, to absorb and metabolize it all. Shit literature, if at all possible.
But still I don’t know enough.
I can count on one hand, most likely, the times I’ve submitting things for publication. The reasons for this are complex. I suffer upon my own wrist the double-edged sword of perfectionism and imposter syndrome. For years, I hated first drafts, treating them as weakness and imperfection. This is ego. Eventually this turned to never finishing something that could be considered a “first draft” to begin with. It is like Odyssey‘s Penelope at her loom, nightly de-weaving her tapestry to start again the next day as she both delays the inevitable and hopes for the impossible. To this day, I am afflicted by, like many of academic comrades, imposter syndrome and don’t trust myself. If I accomplished something, then anyone could have, because I consider myself the baseline or I have somehow accidentally ended up here. There are times that I am not quite sure how I got into (and graduated from) grad school. It is a fluke.
To write or not to write. That is the question. Writing theology necessitates a particular expectation of heft and comprehension. And writing fiction is no different. Writing of almost any kind is an exercise in world-building. And once built, then spun at a particular speed and axis. There is hack theology as there is hack fiction and plenty of it. But here again we find ourselves with the difficulty of writing well. There is raw creativity, yes. But any beginner finds themselves frustrated that they cannot create what they want or what they think they want or what they don’t know what they want to create, but they want to create. And it’s maddening. Maddening. More maddening than the value we attach to creativity.
Creativity is a bitch and a muse. She is one and the same.