Writers Write About Writing

Sometimes being a little meta is cool. Those trendy narrators who narrate the difficulty of narration. Those nonfiction writers who feel a need to explain their writing process as part of the final product. I’m starting to wonder if writing about writing is really that creative of a thing to do.

Maybe I should paint a painting whose subject is paint.

I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. It is hard to express in writing, using imperfect language, the difficulties of process of writing narrative using language that doesn’t quite fit the picture the writer imagines.

The first thing I wrote as a high school student, who liked English and Chemistry but thought creative writing was the last thing she’d ever be interested in, was write a fiction story about a girl who couldn’t think of anything to write for creative writing class. I remember something about a strange old man who stopped her on the way home from school as she was trying to think of what to write. I should have left the writing part out of the story and thought more about the old man, the character who wasn’t me, who’d been born straight from my imagination (so in a way he really was me, too).

The reality is, if you are a nonfiction writer, a lot of the nonfictional things that you could say about yourself and your development are going to be about writing. I’m afraid it can’t be avoided. It can, however, take the back seat. If the weight of an essay is in the difficulty of representation… Well, I feel like I’ve read a few too many of those essays.

I wrote an exercise for my autobiography class about why I write:

I write because I believe in the power of a story to inscribe meaning over life and I want to be intentional about choosing the right meaning. I write to bear witness to myself, to teach myself the truth about myself, to write my place before God and people. Without writing I am a self without a context. I can make myself the god of my own universe.

I am a floating signifier and I inscribe myself with whatever feels right, earns me power, strokes my ego. When I think about myself, I don’t think that I am girl who looked up video porn as a middle school student until her mother caught her. I don’t think of myself as someone who makes jokes at the expense of others, who earns power by making people feel guilty, who steals her roommate’s toothpaste one brush-full at a time. I fail to understand my crimes against the world and continue living as its victim. There’s something horrifying and empowering about realizing that your life, the people you hurt, the things you feel at your most rotten moments, are all your fault. I write myself into the problems I already have.

I believe that Christ died for my sins, as any good Sunday School student will tell you, but apart from writing, the act of applying language to my existence, I am not a sinner to myself. And thus, I stop telling the most exciting part of the story: rescue. I write to remember the process of dying and the process of being made new. To see them both, always happening in every moment.

I write to see my sins in blood across my chest, the only satisfying way to mark a sin, but I recognize instead that they have been written that way already, as lashes on my savior’s back. So, to be clearer, I’m writing his wounds, so I’ll know what he suffered. I’m bearing witness to the nails in his hands and feet, learning what they really meant. I am assigning names to his pain.

This all sounds too ideal. I write for just the opposite reasons, too. I write to avoid knowing myself. I write to be published someday in Tin House or the Paris Review. I write to avoid being a Christian-y writer. I write to be as clever and engaging as David Shields, Paul Auster, or Ander Monson, and to tell stories I don’t believe in just because they sound right.

 

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About Jacquelyn Barnes

Former English Literature and Writing major at Whitworth University. Spanish Language minor. Browne's Addition Resident. Editorial Assistant at Gray Dog Press. Interested in postcolonial, multicultural, and feminist theories. Former ski racer. Longboarder. Runner. Member of Vintage Faith Community Church (we have no building). Painter. Morning person. View all posts by Jacquelyn Barnes

2 responses to “Writers Write About Writing

  • Teri Wheeler

    I enjoyed reading this. I like the part about lashes on your saviors back

  • Allie Beth

    that is why we need ingenious word-smiths to give us new metaphors, new language for the hope that we have. It’s the same as painting… if there was one, quintessential painting of Jesus we wouldn’t have eras and eras of depictions of him from fresco to impasto.

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