Photo Credit: Sculpture of Atlas, Praza do Tural, Santiago de Compostela, taken on 18 October 2005 by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sanchez. According to Greek mythology, Atlas was cursed with the burden of holding the world on his shoulders for eternity.: Fallschirmjager/ Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 3.0
“I am too proud to be that transparent about my dreams.” (Bryson, par 7; emphasis original)
A while back, I wrote a blog article on the purpose of fiction about some goals that writers have when they set out to write. Someone on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Facebook group posted a quote from a character from The Avengers who spoke of the burden of having a purpose in life. Creativity is indeed a burden in many ways.
I don’t think that many careers share the same kind of burdens that creative careers do. In my 20’s, my career (if you could call it that, which I didn’t) was in administrative support work (because what else can you do with an undergraduate English degree?) I was employed in secretarial and office support work in a variety of fields (insurance, staffing, mental health). I was often overworked and overtired, frustrated at being talked down to or ignored. But I never felt burdened by my job because my tasks were straight forward. I had to do them and I did them as well as I could.
In my 30’s, I got tired of clerical work and decided to go back to school. My master’s degree in English opened up an entirely new world for me – the world of teaching. I taught college-level English courses (some on campus, but mostly online) to first and second year students struggling to overcome their loathing and fear of writing and to understand the rigors of academic-level writing. I enjoyed helping students build on their writing strengths while giving them tools they could use to overcome their writing weaknesses. Many times I felt frustrated and almost angry when I encountered students who clearly had writing talent and ability but couldn’t or wouldn’t use them because they were more interested in getting assignments in as quickly as possible so they could move on to more important things. I wanted my students to succeed, to pass the course as well as they could and I wanted to see them become better writers. Later, I tutored EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students. I worked with business professionals, from customer service representatives to vice-presidents of marketing in various companies all over the world. I very much enjoyed these enthusiastic and intelligent students and, like my college students, I wanted to see them succeed. But neither of these professions felt like a burden on my shoulders.
When I started devoting my time to writing, I began to realize why these past jobs didn’t burden me the way that writing does – it was because I had no emotional investment in either my secretarial work or my teaching. Creative work, whether it’s about “what you know” (i.e., your personal experiences) or purely imaginative, is an emotional investment. The moments of actual creation (for writers, I’m referring to the first draft) are when we are making something out of nothing, when characters start to breath and breath life into us, when the story begins to weave itself in all directions. Even writers who write from a structured outline feel the dynamic energy of a story coming together and creating its tapestry. We are both the watchers and the participants, seeing what the characters are doing and saying and where the story is going while at the same time feeling the rhythm of their ups and downs and the plot taking shape.
In a beautiful article titled “The Burden Of Purpose – When You’re Haunted By Your Creative Gift”, writer Tineke Bryson talks about finding the burden of her creativity as a spiritual awakening of herself and her art:
“Miles into my struggles, I started writing again. And as soon as I did, something happened that has not happened in (what feels, anyway, like) years and years: Worship. Connection. My spirit actually moved.” (par. 27; emphasis original)
This idea of being emotionally touched by creativity happens even when a writer’s purpose is not, as I mention in the blog post I reference above, about emotional experience. But it is a very personal connection.
Right now, I’m working on the first draft of the second novella of my Waxwood series, The Claustrophobic Heart. The series was originally a novel I wrote in three separate narratives years ago, as I explain here. The novella captures the relationship between Gena Flax and her neurotic and emotionally unstable aunt Helen. In the original novel, Gena’s story had a different focus and the relationship between herself and her aunt only appeared in a few scenes. For The Claustrophobic Heart, the story is an intense study of their relationship and its deterioration. I chose to refocus the story because I realized that many of the emotional realities of their relationship and its damage on Gena’s psyche mirrored mine and the story would be much more potent if I drew on my own psychological reality even in a work of pure fiction. What I didn’t realize until I started the novella was that my choice has put a burden on me because these are painful realities that I am forced to revisit. It would have been less cumbersome on me emotionally if I had chosen to rewrite the novella in the original story that told of Gena coming between Larissa Alderdice and her daughter Vivian, a shaky relationship to begin with (I talk more about the Alderdice’s of my novella series in my post about the purpose of fiction). But I would have been cheating both the reader and myself of a much more psychologically significant story if I had chosen to avoid the burden.
I believe, as Bryson does, that “[w]riting is a gift to bless me, not torment me.” (par. 37; emphasis original). I believe this of all art, even though it can often times feel like a burden and a torment.
Bryson, Tineke. “The Burden Of Purpose – When You’re Haunted By Your Creative Gift.” Web blog post. Blog The Adventure. Clear Water Press, 27 February, 2014. Web. 5 October, 2016.