by Katy Munger, 2016 Piedmont Laureate
Sometime over the past two weeks, my staring contest with the unfinished books piling up on my computer’s hard drive ended. It started quietly enough. I woke up unexpectedly at 5:00 AM one morning, wide awake as a lemur, head swimming in ideas, and figured I may as well take a peek at the outline for one of those works-in-progress. Two hours later, a new outline had emerged, I felt blissfully balanced, and I was heading for the shower to start my day.
That morning was followed by a few evenings of grabbing a couple hours here and there… more mornings rising early to dip my toe into the plot that was emerging, only to get swept away in hours of concentration, and even a few glorious weekend afternoons sitting outside in the cool and working on my book.
The barriers to commitment fell away quietly with no resistance, stone by stone, toppled by the subtle but unstoppable force of my love for writing, which is surely written in the ladders of my DNA. It was an unexpected victory. I had lived with the uncertainty of what to do with myself as a writer for a while now, immersing myself in workshops, meeting other writers, giving myself the gift of talking and thinking about writing rather than forcing myself to sit down and actually write.
It was the best thing I could have ever done.
Somewhere along the way, in the midst of talking to, literally, hundreds of writers this year as Piedmont Laureate, I came to understand that there is a self-defeating dilemma inherent in the world of published writers: writers write because they want to be heard, because they have something to say, because they have a deep need to put their stamp on the world. Publishers, on the other hand, are looking for books that can ride the coattails of the bestsellers that have gone before them. They want writers to write as close as possible to everyone else, or at least to everyone else on the bestseller lists. So it’s all too easy to begin your writing career with a unique voice and something to say, only to find yourself pretending to be everyone else a few books down the road.
I think that was what bothered me the most about my evolving writing career: giving up the search to find myself and my voice along the way. I think that dilemma is what caused me to give it a rest. So I thank all of the writers I’ve met over the past nine months for bringing me to this realization and helping me to understand that I need to make a choice. You have helped me crystallize why I write and what I want to write. You have helped me cull out a plethora of ideas and settle on just the right one to give voice to my worldview. You have helped me, perhaps for the first time in 25 years of writing, to get my priorities straight.
Once I realized I wanted to write a book that had my voice in it, the plot came pouring forth. Once the plot came pouring forth, my imagination embraced it and drew me into it, causing me to wake up early in the morning to live in that space, inspiring me to carve out hours to spend with my new characters. I now live in two worlds, the real world and the world I am creating in my head. This is where I like to be. Straddling two worlds in that besotted, Twin Peaks slightly off-kilter way of writers who are heeding the siren call of their own imaginations.
It feels good to be home and to be writing again. If you’re in the same boat I was in earlier this year, here’s my advice to you: once you remember why you write, what you write will follow.