On the Need to Write
by Rachel Creager Ireland
Years ago I dated a man who wrote five to eight poems every day. He felt an intense need to write, and was sure that if he didn’t, he would suffer a nervous breakdown. I don’t doubt that he used writing to maintain his mental balance, such as it was. He used to say that those who did not have this driving need to write weren’t true writers, an idea which may have been borrowed from Bukowski or Kerouac or some other misogynist.
Yes, that’s what I said. I think it’s a misogynist idea. Because if “true writers” are only the ones who compulsively write all the time, every day, then what shall we suppose about those women who throughout history sacrificed their writing to care for children, or elderly parents, or alcoholic writer husbands? That they just didn’t really have it in them? They weren’t really meant to write? They only imagined they had something to say, some gift for words? Oh, and how easy it is to write off one’s own talent, when no one else believes in it. Maybe people with anorexia nervosa aren’t really meant to eat.
For years every astrologer, energy healer, and intuitive I ran into told me that I needed to be doing creative work. I brushed off this advice. Massage therapy is creative, isn’t it? I had ideas sometimes, but whenever I started a creative project, it stalled out early on. Eventually I quit starting them, knowing I wouldn’t complete them, not wanting to waste the time and energy it took to care about something I knew would fail.
Then Rowan was born. With the birth, I experienced an incredible rush of creative energy, something I’d never felt before. It was terrifically painful, because I had a new baby who needed to nurse and cuddle frequently. I couldn’t get more than 30 minutes to myself at a time, hardly long enough to hunt down some materials or set up a work space. I was terrified that this huge wave of creativity would pass, and I’d have done nothing with it. In desperation I started setting my baby in her little rocking chair near the patio doors, where I could see and hear her, while I went into the backyard and picked up sticks that had been trimmed off the hedge. I wove them into geometric shapes and hung them on the fence. Kevin was openly baffled as to why I was doing this. But to me it was the closest I could come to making art with no money, no materials, and no time. I took pride that some of my stick weavings stayed together, even without fasteners of any kind. But, eventually, they all disintegrated, and there is today no trace of them, no sign that I made them; barely even my own memories remain.
And that’s okay, because eventually I started writing. I don’t even remember at this moment what possessed me to think that I could finally finish a book. But I managed to maintain the determination to finish it, to carve from my daily life the hundreds of hours it took to piece together a whole novel. In the process I began to understand what those astrologers and energy healers and intuitives had been trying to tell me those years previous, that it is a need within me to open myself to the flow of creative energy. It supports my mental and physical health. It makes other things possible. It is part of the reason that I, the individual Rachel, am here right now. It is part of what I have to give to the world, how the world is different for my having been here. It is not arrogant for me to say these things, it’s just the truth.
It is also true that I am entirely capable of ignoring this need. I self-published my novel just after the new year, and here it is August 31, and I haven’t written a word of the next one yet, though I know what it’s going to be. I haven’t even blogged in weeks. I don’t know why. I’ve had ideas, but nothing compels me. I start to write anyway, but everything seems boring. I decide to set up a weekly schedule with writing time built in, then other things seem more important, like cleaning motel rooms, or doing laundry. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s how the thought train goes through my head. It’s kind of like waiting, but for what, I don’t know. Then I think I should work on a big project that’s been neglected for a long time, but maybe I only have an hour before I have to go pick up the kids from school, so I go clean the kitchen instead. But the kitchen never gets clean.
Don’t I need to write? Yes, I do. I really do. But you’d never know it from my behavior.