I remember a few years ago reading part of Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine” -- because I tend to devour any sort of book on creativity. I have an entire shelf devoted just to writing books.
What ended up pissing me off about his book was the notion that in order to be a creative person, you have to be inherently depressed, angry, or some sort of addict (whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or something else). I hate that idea, even if history seems to support it.
I just finished watching a Fuji TV program called “Ghostwriter” on Crunchyroll. It’s only 10 episodes, but it’s easily one of the most dramatic, unpredictable shows I’ve ever watched. That it’s about something I love (writing) made it even more watchable.
I’m not sure how accurate a portrayal it is of the Japanese publishing industry and trends when it comes to writers (for example, there aren’t a lot of works by co-authors, or ghostwriting is considered extremely taboo there), but the suspense kept me binge watching, practically Netflix-style.
Arguably the show is about two people: “Queen of Literature” Risa Tohno and her assistant-turned-ghostwriter Yuki Kawahara. However, it’s Risa that’s the narrator throughout, and it’s she who says that writing is the only way she can live, because for her, it’s her outlet for all her pain.
Another writer --a rival-turned-friend of sorts of Risa’s-- warned Risa that she couldn’t simply “quit” writing-- that she would “boil over” soon.
But “pain” is different from depression, frustration, anger... any of that.
And Risa also pointed out to Yuki (after Yuki broke away from being a ghostwriter and became a popular author in her own right) that she can only write when she’s writing for someone, not faceless readers, not because it’s her job.
I’ve heard the expression “Write for yourself,” firstly. In fandom, it’s uncouth to write for others-- to write fanfiction for reviews, for example. It’s pretty tacky and tasteless, in my book, to write strictly for other people, but at the same time, I’ve been grappling with the idea of commissioned fanfiction.
Why is it okay for artists to sell commissions of their art --even of other people’s characters-- and potentially make a profit off of it, but writers can’t do the same? Throughout history, artists have had “patrons” who support them, provided the artist works on what the patron pays for. Nowadays, we have something like Patreon, but do writers have a place there? (I should clarify: writers who aren’t attached to artists in some way).
Hypothetically, if I were to write a commissioned fanfiction --whether according to my “patron’s” specifications or simply guidelines-- then I wouldn’t really be “writing for myself,” would I? But again, there’s the line from Ghostwriter where Risa said Yuki had to write for someone.
It’s debatable whether Risa herself wrote for her mother or for Editor-in-Chief Kanzaki. In the end, Risa’s mother’s dementia was so advanced that she forgot who Risa was altogether. Though he’d manipulated and deceived her, Risa told Kanzaki that he was the one she wrote for-- she wanted to know his opinion, above all else, about the work entitled “My Beloved.” But Risa wrote the story after a particularly painful day with her mother. So could she have written it FOR her mother, who eventually did read it, even if she didn’t explicitly acknowledge Risa as her daughter AND the author AND the woman who visited her so regularly, as well as Kanzaki, whose opinion she valued so highly despite everything he put her through?
I’ve always written fanfics to get the ideas out of my head --to express feelings. I definitely found myself nodding along with Risa’s sentiment that writing is the only way for her to cope with her pain, with her feelings. The idea of words coming together to form a story in one’s mind, to be an idea on the edge of “boiling over” really resonated with me. But it’s also a feeling that is so hard to pin down that I went for a good five or so years not writing ANYTHING creatively.
I hated feeling stuck. I hated feeling like I was letting my readers down, even if it was “just” fanfiction. I’ve actually had quite a few people ask me why I don’t write original fiction-- “go pro,” as it were. Truth is, I don’t tend to get ideas for original fiction. Certainly not at the pace Risa and Yuki seemed to in Ghostwriter.
What eventually snapped my writer’s block seems so easy, so ridiculous and obvious in hindsight that it’s honestly a wonder that it took me five years to try.
I went into a study room at my apartment complex. There was no one else there. There was no Internet. There was just some lights, a pair of huge tables, and a selection of comfy chairs.
I brought out my computer and... I started to write.
It wasn't astonishing. I didn’t “boil over” in the sense of staying for hours and hours until I lost track of the time and in the end, I had a completed novel. For me, after a five year dry spell, just writing for an hour straight was a huge accomplishment. It may have been small, but for me, it felt as though a dam had burst.
So who do I write for? And am I writing because it’s the only way I can live without depression, anger, and frustration? Because when I don’t write, I certainly feel that way. Whether or not writing is the key to my depression or whether it’s a symptom of something else (and it can be lots of things, from diagnosable medical issues to unresolved family problems), it does seem to “free” me, somehow.
I wouldn’t ever want to become a ghostwriter, even if it could somehow be great practice or launch me into a “pro” writing career. It’s not that I see ghostwriting as taboo, I just don’t like the idea of putting myself into something --into words that others will consume-- and not getting the return of recognition, at the very least. I can’t NOT put myself into something I write. That’s what gives my writing “voice” and distinction (if that’s the right word).
I want to keep writing. I want to write full-time, someday, somehow. I don’t necessarily want to be a “Queen of Literature,” but...