"Cayt, how is your writing going?"
"Great! I have been writing a lot lately. Not 'writing writing,' but hey, any writing counts, right?"
I find myself using the phrase often, and most often when speaking with other writers or creators about my creative process. The phrase is added into regular conversation, with no clarification or further explanation offered, yet it is remarkably differential and surprisingly indicative. To my writer-friends, it does not need clarification. I use the phrase when differentiating between my morning pages and the short story concepts I am working to develop. Or even to differentiate between my non-fiction versus fiction blog posts. I use the phrase automatically: it is my pages of writing put onto a scale and weighed for the inherent value I have assigned them. I use the phrase as a form of measurement when I am recounting my progress in my writing practice: Have I been writing lately? Well, do you mean "writing writing," or just putting pen to paper?
I have caught myself using this phrase when speaking to my friends who are not writers or artists, when they are kind enough to ask after my creative work. When I realize that the phrase has come out of my mouth, I am amazed my friends do not write me off as crazy! It must sound ridiculous. It reminds me of junior high, of whispers and notes passed back and forth among friends, "Do you like him, or do you 'like like' him?" Apparently the repetition indicates more extreme validity. It's not just true, it's really, really true. So does that mean that when I am "writing writing," I am really, really writing? Or does it mean that if I have not accomplished "writing writing," I have really, really not been writing? Now I am beginning to confuse even myself! Yet when the phrase appears in conversation, it almost always makes perfect sense to me.
It occurred to me how absurd this phrase might seem to someone who does not need to differentiate creatively this way. Are all artistic pursuits like this? Does a painter only boast of finished or commissioned work, or work that begins with a clear aim or destination? (I will have to ask my painter friend!) Does a musician say they are writing songs but not "song songs?" Does a dancer dance, or do they "dance dance?" In measuring my own art this way, I feel like sometimes I take away from my own progress and effort. My response can undermine all that I am accomplishing by taking each next step, because I am drawing a clear line between what is successful or not.
I find that what I really mean when I use this phrase is "Am I writing something in order to publish it?" Because that is the goal for me and for most of my writer friends. It takes so much practice to get to that place, to work through those pieces of writing that could one day go so far as to be published. It seems the line between a successful writer and an unsuccessful one: a fixed mark of success or failure. Sure, we all know that everyone starts as an unpublished writer. Surely, those published writers have to write a ton of "regular writing" before their "writing writing" gets them somewhere. Does all of their writing become "writing writing" once they are published, or does that remain a valid term in their creative paths, too? At which point does a piece of writing become legitimate? At which point does the time you spend writing become something you value and prize as being truly important?
I want to think more about this, these ways that I sell myself and my art short by differentiating, in a million tiny ways, between what is legitimate and what is a waste. Surely no writing is a waste - what a heartbreaking thing to believe about any creative pursuit or even vulnerability of any sort! I throw myself a bone; I give myself a half-credit for putting pen to paper or for posting on this blog, but deep down, my inner critic echoes 'round and 'round that my work is not "writing writing." I want to be more proud of my effort, and more gentle toward my art. When my husband writes a song, he enters a place of abandon as he begins with just a few notes or melodies. He calls it a "song" from the moment it takes even the smallest shape. It may be hours or days or months before he finishes the song, but it is a song all the while. And when it is finished, that seed is traceable and I marvel at the journey from beginning to completion. How much does his belief in that small seed of a beginning empower that seed to grow strong and steady, into its full potential? What if I were to believe that much in one sentence, or paragraph, or even a word? Would my beginning blossom to become as strong?
Why, as writers, do we tend to be so bad at giving ourselves this gift of validation? I believe that we do have a strong sense within ourselves of which of our writing is best and most true and valuable to us. But how many beginnings do we stop short, because we have written them off as not being "writing writing?" And at what point should we give our work credit, and believe that it will really become something? I am learning so much about the many ways I am my own biggest obstacle. It can be disheartening, but it is also a wonderful truth to realize, because you are the only thing you can do something about.
Do you struggle with the curse of "writing writing," too?