Writers’ Baggage

The scene:  A cool fall day. The wind blows yellow cottonwood leaves against an insanely blue sky. Inside a coffee house, the late afternoon sun shines gold through large windows and turns the floor’s Saltillo tiles a glossy Mexican chocolate. Fresh red chile ristras hang on hooks from the adobe brick walls. An espresso machine growls over murmured conversations and laughter. The air smells of cinnamon and vanilla and piñon smoke from a nearby fireplace.

A woman, her long gray hair braided loosely, joins two writers already deep into a holy discussion about their craft. She places her steaming cup of Amaretto-laced apple cider onto the wooden table before pulling out a chair.  

“ . . . I just don’t feel like I can ever write as well as he does,” says one of her multi-published friends. He is a tall man with sun-darkened skin and a bushy mustache that looks distinguished now it’s more salt than pepper.

“I know what you mean,” says the other writer. He is just as old, just as experienced, just as successful. “Some days, I feel like giving up.”

“Why?” the woman says, stirring her drink with a cinnamon stick. She notices that some of the clay she’d been working with earlier in the day is still under her short fingernails. The realization makes her self-conscious. She breaks off a small piece of the stick to dig at the dried dirt.

“Because it’s just so depressing.” The first writer leans back in his chair with a loud sigh.

“Yeah.  And then there’s the whole problem of marketability. I started something yesterday, spent hours on it, and realized that with this crappy market my agent would probably throw it right back at me,” says the other writer.  He glances out a window at the parking lot. “No one’s taking risks on anything new.”

“Who cares what your agent thinks?” says the woman. “Why not just write what you want to write?”

Both writers shake their heads.

The first says, “You just don’t understand.”

“Here’s what I understand.” The woman smiles at them. “The two of you are lugging around so much baggage you’re about to pull your bony shoulders out of their sockets.” She takes a deliberate sip of her cider, licks her unadorned lips and holds up her fingers to make her next point. “You say to yourself, ‘I’m not productive enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not original enough or successful enough’ . . . or whatever self-flagellation you’re into at the moment.”

“So what’s your point?” One of the writers says. “That we should be totally self-satisfied? That we shouldn’t ever strive to be better?”

“Oh, come on. You know me better than that.” She puts down her improvised nail cleaner. “I’m an artist too. I want to constantly learn and grow.” The woman reaches out to pat the first writer’s hand. “I just prefer to frame things a little differently. I mean, so what if you’re not as good as some other writer? Readers don’t all want the same thing.”

The second writer frowns, but he’s watching her intently.

“And, so what if that piece you wrote isn’t marketable in New York? You can publish it yourself, if you believe in it enough. Or save it until publishers do want to take risks again.” The woman shrugs. “I guess I’m just wondering if the baggage you’re carrying is helping, or hindering, you?”

 

That’s the question I’ve been pondering all week. Baggage is necessary for most travel. We all carry it, but sometimes I think some of those clothes or tubes of toothpaste just don’t serve us anymore.

Here are my questions for you, my Murderati friends:
Do you know your own baggage?
Is it helping you on your creative journey?
If not, do you have a way to shed a couple of the heavier pieces?

 

7 thoughts on “Writers’ Baggage

  1. Allison Davis

    Nice way to make the point Pari. Of course we all have our incentives, motivations and detractions, sometimes tangled up with each other. My baggage that is burdensome could be described as time: taking so long to get the books out there (ten years now of writing novels), interrupting my budding writing career in the 80's with a 30 year legal career and what that did, and having to constantly tell myself that I need to finish and get to the next step (and that I can do it). So lots of baggage both to carry and ignore.

    I could care less about what's trendy or what some publisher wants frankly, so that isn't it. I'm writing the book that I want to write and we'll see if anyone else wants to read it. But I am an achiever, a type A and the "failure" of speed is disheartening. Give me patience!

    Good introspective exercise today.

  2. Sarah W

    I needed this post today, Pari–thank you!

    Some baggage can be helpful, I'm sure–recurring themes, anyone?–but right now I'm still trying to ditch the Handbag of Query Insecurity.

    I was able to drop it for a while this morning. I hope it gets easier?

  3. David Corbett

    I often fear the book I'm working on, despite its many merits, lacks that certain unidentifiable something, that clang of unmistakable originality, that seems so necessary to sell anything today. But I adhere to the advice that I should emphasize my strengths, not my weaknesses, and plunge in to make it the best I can, according to my unique gifts. The rest isn't baggage, it's a barrier.

  4. Jake Nantz

    What a poignant way to prove a point. Well said, Pari. I like the concept of just stowing that baggage away. Wish I was better at it, that's for sure.

  5. Pari Noskin

    Hi all,
    I couldn't access the site from my computer yesterday . . . hence my tardy responses today.

    Allison,
    I wonder about that expectation of time, of speed, and if it has made the process difficult for you in other ways? Something to think about — our personal expectations. I suspect your book is going to be a wonder when it's out; I can't wait!

    Sarah,
    Sometimes I ask myself, "What's the worst that can happen?" Rejection? Oh, hell, those returned query letters are badges of courage that should you've got the wits and drive to try!

    You're welcome, Katherine.

    David,
    Beautifully said. Your post reminded me the X Factor (though not crass) and that "undefinable something" that we certainly do recognize. I also like the distinction between baggage and barrier.
    Thank you.

    Jake,
    Don't we all? Sheesh. I sometimes wonder why my biceps aren't the size of watermelons from lugging so much stuff around!

  6. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Lovely post. My heaviest baggage is the this-is-crap gene that regularly convinces me that what I write is not good enough to be read by anybody. I keep trying to dump it in a lay-by and drive away quickly, but somehow it always finds its way home again.

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