“On Writing” by Marina Shugrue

The reason I write is a simple one: I’ve always done it, and I can’t imagine living my life without writing. When I think about writing, I cannot honestly say that writing found me in some higher-calling moment of my life; truthfully, I cannot say the reverse either (that I found writing at the time that I needed it the most or some other slightly pretentious statement). What I can say is that I’ve been writing for too long to really remember which of those things it was. It was probably neither of those things—I believe that writing and I have always been good friends. I’ve always needed writing; we are such good friends because I don’t know how to exist without writing by my side. It’s a very clingy relationship.

I’ve pretty much been writing since I could hold objects that made marks on things, and I have memories of scribbling marker on sheets of construction paper and translating this gibberish into some sort of story to my mother when I finished. This is a sign that I would probably be really good at abstract art criticism. I also remember making my aunt little “books” when I was six, complete with drawings (because what good is a book without pictures, six year old me would like to know?). At some point I also wrote a story called “The Day I Lost My Sister in Disneyland” and I completely made the entire thing up but my teacher thought it was true—so true that she asked a few very pointed questions about my parents and their abilities as guardians. Later, in the fourth grade I had this teacher who made us write daily prompted journals, and I had this running sequence of stories about a fictionalized me who had a cat named Snowball and a dog named Brownie. You can tell that these stories are fictional because in real life I am sneeze-attack-itch-all-over-cry-your-eyes-out allergic to dogs. I still have those stories. One of them involved a disco ball.

It genuinely did not occur to me that writing was something a person could do for a living for a very long time. I’d always been a voracious reader, picking up pretty much anything I could get my hands on, but for some reason, I never connected that the names of the authors on those books were actual people who made actual money through writing until I read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and learned that she published it at age sixteen. Somehow that factoid turned writing into “that thing I do for fun” into “that thing I could spend the rest of my life doing”. It also made me feel like I was really behind and totally slacking on this writing thing. I’ve always wondered why it took me so long to realize this, and while I don’t think I’ll ever really know why my brain was so slow to connect the two, I do think some of it has to do with the way we talk about writing. We don’t talk about writing in the same way that we talk about painting or sculpting or acting or any of the other various artistic endeavors humans do. There are absolute objective rules and guidelines in other art forms—even when those rules are thrown out the window, we still understand that they are there and that they exist, and that not following the rules is a sort of statement about them anyway. With writing, there are rules, but almost none of them are objective. Everything has an asterisk. Every rule—regarding run-ons, prepositional endings, even my beloved Oxford comma—can be disregarded without a second thought, and unlike other art forms, breaking these rules isn’t always a statement. Usually, it’s just the result of writing—the form itself lends to its malleability.

When I write, I usually try to tell the kinds of stories that I would want to read. Lately, I’ve also been trying to tell the kinds of stories that I might have needed to exist when I was younger—the sort of stories that would have helped me get through the rough patches I needed to overcome. Writing is what helped me survive those rough patches, and it’s what helps me process them now. I have tons of different genre influences; probably because when it comes to reading, I am not at all picky. I read everything from fantasy to mystery to literary fiction and everything and anything that falls between those, and I think that it shows in my writing. I absolutely despise it when people ask me what kind of genre I write. It’s always the first question that gets asked whenever someone discovers that I’m a writer, and while I totally understand that it’s a very natural question to ask, I still can’t stand it. I write in any genre I feel like writing in, which I’m sure any future publicist and marketing team will hate me for, but I don’t really care. I think some of the best fiction that is coming out in today’s literary world is fiction that can blend genres together and create something unexpected from that blending. Writing as an art form isn’t anything new, and that play on genre expectations can be that something that helps a novel stay surprising. And personally, I don’t want to write just one thing. I want to write everything, and I see no reason as to why I should limit myself.

I am not the kind of writer who can write every single day. This was something I struggled with for a long time—so many authors give advice to young writers that is something along those lines, and when you are a young writer who is still trying to figure this stuff out, those words are taken to heart. Ultimately, it’s just not how I work. I like to say that when it comes to writing, I am a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I can write a minimum of five thousand words in a day—usually more, if I have a whole day to do it—but it’s not something I can do every single day. I need breaks between my races or I get burnt out real quick. That down time helps me be a more effective writer because it allows me to ruminate on what I’ve  just written and think about what I’m going to do next; when I sit down to write, I’ve already got a pretty clear picture of what will end up on the page. I’d amend that advice to something else; rather than write every day, work on writing every day. There is more to writing than just actual writing. Writing is editing and researching and submitting work and receiving feedback and so many other things as well. I think as long as one of those things is happening each day, progress will be made.

I don’t know that I really have much more to say about writing. All I truly, deeply know about writing is that I have always done it. I will always do it. And I don’t know how to separate myself from writing. It is a part of me, deeply fundamental to my identity. I don’t know who I am without writing, so I’ll keep doing it until I have no way of doing it anymore because it’s the only way I know to survive in this world.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lex-photographic/

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