Self-Denial and My Writing Journey

Over the winter break, I flew home to California. During my stay, I went with my boyfriend to visit his father and stepmom. My boyfriend didn’t have the greatest relationship with his dad growing up. Even though we’ve been dating for six years, I hardly know his dad’s side of the family at all, so, of course, there was a lot of small talk: “And where are you living?”;”Oh Portland. I’ve heard such great things! Do you like beer?”; “What are you studying? Book publishing? Oh, so, do you want to write books then?”.

I’ve discussed the last question before. The inevitable question about whether studying book publishing or wanting to become an editor also means you aspire to be a writer. Since that post, which explored what it actually means to be a “writer,” I have decided: yes, I am one. I wrote this, didn’t I? I write a few poems each month. I add thousands of words to stories, tucked away in obscure folders on my laptop, each month. I’ve been published: that staple of approval. I have an article coming out in a local magazine here in Portland next month that I worked on with another writer. I’ve written pieces for Great Taste Magazine in Orange County. I write for this blog. Heck, I used to write for my high school newspaper. I don’t list these things as a way of sharing my resume with the rest of the world, but to show that even with these milestones, I still have an issue admitting to myself that writing is something I’m passionate about, that, secretly (well, not now), I do aspire to get one of my creative pieces–a poem or novel that I will eventually finish–published.

Why is that? If you’re an English major, like I have been, then you’ve heard it before: making it big is almost a one in a million chance. Most writers toil away for years, even decades, to no avail. They become professors in their day jobs and squeeze writing in between grading papers. Or maybe they become editors, because, whether they admit it or not, most of the editors I’ve met do have writing ambitions as well. Aspiring writers are told to keep their day jobs, sound advice, but, still, a bit depressing and defeatist.

Back to the why. I live in self-denial. But, because I am a writer, I’m observant enough to be aware of this self-denial. When people (like my boyfriend’s father and stepmom) ask if I want to write, I grimace and laugh. I say that writing is just a hobby. I say “if it happens, it happens” because if it doesn’t happen, maybe saying this will help me sleep better at night. I say I don’t really care and that writing is just something I do for myself, and in many ways that’s true. But in other ways, it’s a lie. Initially, I write for myself, but realistically, most writers want someone to pick up their poem or novel and feel some connection to it. To feel like someone understands them and sees the world the way they do. To feel inspired, comforted, sad, mad, anything at all.

But after admitting all of this to you, readers, I still think i’m going to keep my self-denial. I like my self-denial. It’s the comfort blanket I wrap myself in each day, and it’s how I keep pushing myself to write more. Getting published is stressful and anxiety ridden. You’ll get rejected so many times that you’ll tell yourself you’re not good enough, but as we know, that’s simply not true. Writing should be an enjoyable process, just like reading should be. Self-denial helps me maintain that enjoyment, by not constantly thinking of writing as a means to be published.

Soon, I plan on sending several of my poems to literary journals and magazines in the hopes that at least one will be published, but even as I wait for the letters to arrive in the mail, I will continue living in self-denial. I will continue to write and read. I will continue to work–at my day job.

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor-in-Chief at The Poetics Project. She has a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and a passion for stories in all their forms. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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