By Angela Jackson-Brown
Spalding MFA Alum’09
Angela Jackson-Brown at a signing for her debut novel Drinking from a Bitter Cup.
I’m going to tell you a little secret. Sometimes…I don’t like writing. In fact, it goes much deeper than that. Sometimes, I absolutely hate writing. There, I said it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, even when I sometimes fall out of love with writing, and go weeks without putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, I always, ALWAYS return to it. It becomes like that boyfriend or girlfriend that no matter what, you just keep going back to because there is that spark, that attraction, that pull that lets you know, it will always be THE ONE.
I have tried to figure out what it is that makes me sometimes not love writing, and I remembered something my daddy once said. Daddy was a cook in the Navy, and later on he was the head chef at the Ft. Rucker Army Base Mess Hall. He did that that job until he retired. One day he said to me while he was cooking a big breakfast for the two of us, “Angie, don’t ever let the thing you love doing be the thing you have to do to make a living. Cooking used to be my joy, now I hate it.” Since I was probably only about 8 or 9 years old at the time, I simply said, “Yes, sir.” It took years for me to understand and recognize the full weight of his words.
I started writing before I even knew how to make words. As a four or five year old, I would dutifully sit for hours scribbling in my notebook, drawing pictures to accompany my “words” and then I would run to find my daddy and show him my “books.” I would read to him my stories and feel so proud of my accomplishments. I didn’t worry about character development or plot. I didn’t worry about the narrative flow of the piece. And I sure didn’t worry how my audience of one (Daddy) was going to receive my work (mainly because he always said, “That’s brilliant. You’re going to be a writer someday.”).
Back then, writing was a joy and there was never a day that I didn’t write. As I moved into my teenage years, I continued to find pleasure in writing. Every little writing contest I entered, I won. Teachers complimented me on my writing, and by that time, I was always the person asked to write little plays and skits for Vacation Bible School or the Christmas productions. Joyfully, I brought Mary and Joseph to life, giving them personality and “flavor.” Again, writing was my love. My first love. At times, my only love.
But then, as time went on, life kicked in, causing me and writing to have an awful breakup. I got married. I had a son. The marriage was tumultuous so I stopped writing for years. I lost my confidence in my abilities and writing seemed more like a chore than an escape, so I gave up on my dream to write.
Years later, after a much needed divorce, I rediscovered my joy for writing. I couldn’t believe I ever left it. But this is the kicker, I went to school at Spalding for my MFA in Creative Writing, and I returned to teaching, and slowly, soon after graduation, I started to have a love/hate relationship with writing again because now I feel the pressure. Writing isn’t just about writing. Now, writing is also about publishing. And not just publishing any old where. It’s about getting into the “right” publications and connecting with the “right” readers. It’s about making sure I publish just enough to satisfy the expectations of the university where I teach. It’s about pleasing agents and editors and publishers. It’s about making my alma mater proud. It’s about so much besides the joy writing gave me when I was that little four year old.
So, I get what my daddy meant. Now, the big question is, what do I do about all of these things that are crowding my brain that makes me think instead of writing I should just sit in my bed, eat hummus and crackers, and binge watch Orange is the New Black?
My answer is simple; I do the same thing I would do if I wanted to bring “spark” back into a relationship that has gotten stale. I remind myself of the joy writing once gave me. I sit and write about the things that truly interest me, even if it isn’t marketable. Even if it will never be seen by anyone but me. I give myself permission to research what interests me and write about it, without thinking about literary agents or editors or publishers or even readers. I take them out of the equation and I just write for me again.
It isn’t easy to do. And granted, I still have deadlines that I have to fulfill. Right now, I have two short plays I must finish by August 1 for the Indiana Repertory Theatre, but right now, I’m giving myself permission to write what I want to write which is the sequel to my first novel, Drinking From A Bitter Cup. All last year, people asked me if there would be a sequel to that book, and I said I didn’t think so. Well, I was wrong. Those characters are calling out to me, and I am going to listen to them for a while. I’ll meet that August 1 deadline, but for right now, the 4 year old in me wants to play with the imaginary friends in my other world. I don’t know if the sequel will ever get published, and honestly, it doesn’t even matter, because for now, it is all about falling in love with writing again.
When were times that you fell out of love with writing? What made you fall back in love?
Angela Jackson-Brown is a 2009 graduate of Spalding University’s Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program. Her essays, poems and short stories have been published in many literary journals. She’s also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction. Angela is the author of the novel, Drinking from a Bitter Cup. www.angelajacksonbrown.com