Friday, November 6, 2020

Intentionality. To be a writer?

 Listened to an interview on NPR with a musician, Linda Diaz, who was a world class chess player, about the show,"The Queen's Gambit." (Which, by the way, was one of the best things I've watched this year.)

Anyway, she mentioned that she reached the age where she realized that for her to progress further in the chess world she would have to commit to it, to declare her "intentionality." (Neat word, which I've only lately been hearing a lot.)

In other words, her natural talent had taken her that far, but to go further she would have to work, study, and practice even more than she already had. And that, in the end, she preferred to pursue a music career instead.  

I've been thinking a lot about intentionality in my writing career.

Well, actually, the point of my musing is that writing isn't my "career." I've already had my career and it was owning a bookstore. Writing full-time came after my real career. 

I very much enjoy writing stories. I guess in some ways I'm telling these stories to myself and hoping others like them. I like the challenge of trying to get it right. 

But I will freely admit that I'm using whatever natural talent I have to do it. I have spent some time figuring out the process, especially the actual writing itself. That is, I figured out what works best for me.

But I have reached a point where I've realized that to progress further, I would have to declare my intentionality to do so. That is, I would need to commit to working, studying, and practicing even more than I already have. I have even identified some things I need to do, especially at the beginning of each process and at the end. I need to plan more, to do outlines, to research more. Then, when I'm finished with the first draft, I need to rewrite more rigorously and more often. 

Interestingly enough, I was willing and actually did have the intention of doing these things in my earlier effort to be a writer. From about the ages of 27 to 31, I was willing to work very hard at it. I read every book in the library about writing. I took classes and joined writer's groups. I researched and outlined and re-wrote over and over again.

But I developed some bad habits along the way--especially the incessant re-writing. 

In a way, I reached a similar crossroad of Intentionality. That is, I realized that to progress further as a writer, I would have to commit fully and irrevocably. 

Thing is, looking back on it, even though I was nowhere near as good a writer as I am now, I was actually closer to creating a career in writing. I had made real progress, especially with the big time editors in New York. In other words, if I had committed, it might have been possible--more possible than today when the competition and the amount of commitment necessary is a much higher barrier. 

But even if I had succeeded, it wouldn't have been easy. 

So I had that inevitable moment where I needed to commit fully, and these were the factors I had to take into consideration:

1.) I had the examples of full-time writers, who by most measures had had successful careers, and I saw how modestly they lived. That is, most writers aren't swimming in dough, despite the myths. 

2.) I was already on the razor's edge of solvency. More years of striving looked pretty daunting.

3.) I got married and had two stepsons.

4.) As I mentioned, my bad writing habits were really hindering me.

5.) I got the opportunity to buy a store, and once I bought the store realized that my creativity was being immediately rewarded (rather than waiting an average 6 months to a year for answers from New York.) I suppose I thought I could both own a business and write, but that proved impossible. 

Anyway, I was aware that I was making a choice. That my intentionality was to try to make a living and pursue my art later, if possible. 

I'm glad I did it that way. The wherewithal to be able to take 7 years off and write to my heart's content without worrying about money or success and failure was a real blessing.

I admire everyone who reaches that crossroad--which I believe almost all creative people other than geniuses do--of declaring their intention to be an artist above all. It takes real courage. I suppose if the signs had been stronger, I could have gone one writing, but it was a Hobson's choice and I decided on a bit more security.

I don't regret it. In fact, I shudder at the thought of what it would have taken to be a writer and especially at the consequences of it not working out. 

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