I spend, on average, about 56 hours each week sat in front of a word document. That’s about eight hours a day. During the work week I hammer out articles for work, while on days off I try my hand with everything from fiction to essays to what are essentially long, flowery captions to accompany posts on social media. My twitter and instagram profiles describe me as a “Storyteller,” as does the National Geographic grant sitting on my laptop desktop, and while it’s nothing more than a self-given moniker, I’d like to imagine myself as being, in all cheesiness, a weaver of stories.
And yet I have never been content with a single thing I have ever written.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t like my writing. I think I’m a good writer. Of my talents, writing is the one that I’m most confident in, and my ability to paint scenes and string words together is, at least, better than the average person. But not once have I finished a piece, looked back at it and thought, “This is it,” or “This’ll grab ‘em,” or, even, “This is good enough.” It never feels good enough.
I work as the communications officer for the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines. That’s the WWF, I tell people, half expecting them to be surprised and mildly impressed, or otherwise make a joke about whether I’m the referee or when my next match is. They ask what I do as communications officer, and I tell them, well, I write. I take pictures and I write field stories. If you’ve checked out our site and been through our stories, I say, then you’ve most likely read my work.
“That’s pretty cool,” they say. “I guess,” I reply, though my stomach’s usually fluttering with awkwardness with this point. I follow it up by reminding them that I work with a team, that our digital and social media person handles the website and social media, our visual comms girl takes care of all the visuals, and that there’s also the public relations officer and our manager to keep us all in check, so it’s really more of a group effort than anything.
“But you must have a lot of cool stories,” some then say. “I guess,” I reply.
My closest friends know how I really feel about my work. I’ve discussed the feeling with them a couple of times over coffee at McDonald’s around eleven in the evening. They’re quick to remind me that I have content published through an international NGO, and in a bunch of local publications. I have a lot to be proud of. Hearing that does help, but I can never shake that feeling of discontent with all the things I’ve ever written. I shrug it off as being a “creatives thing,” but deep inside I wish it weren’t so.
I want to like my work. I want to be happy with it. I want to see my work, sat on a bookshelf one day, as either part of a bigger publication or as its own, standalone piece, a book that I can be proud of. I’ve gotten close, you know. As of writing this, there are over twenty unfinished book manuscripts sitting in my Google drive. Some are fifty pages in or so. Others are fifty pages from completion. Some are done, in need of editing. But I can never take any of them further than bytes and bits of data in my hard drive. I’ve never been confident enough in my work.
During a particularly bad bought of self-deprecation, I splurged my anxious guts out all over a close friend of mine. I was on the editing stage of a 200-plus-page book I’d been working on non-stop for a month. Now I was in the process of hating every single one of those pages. It sucked, I thought, and even if I wasted time and energy and effort into getting it perused by an editor, magicking up a cover for it, promoting it and putting it up on a shelf, not one single person was going to ever bother reading it, except, perhaps, my parents, and even then that wasn’t a guaranteed thing.
In my head I imagined him laughing and shaking his head at me. He’s a creative writer. He’s an expert in feelings of creative anxiety. He told me that what I was feeling was perfectly normal, and that I should just push through and put the work in and see it through if that was what I wanted. Then he slipped me a little reminder, one that has stuck with me ever since.
“Write for yourself. If you want to write, then write.”
My twitter and instagram profiles describe me as a “Storyteller,” as does the National Geographic grant sitting on my laptop desktop. It’s a self-given moniker, but in lazy afternoon daydreams and on long commutes home from work or from the province, I know that this is what I want to be. There are as many stories out there as there are people in the world and more so, this I’ve always believed, and I promised myself, ever since I was younger, that I’d use my gift with words to bring life to those most precious accounts of life on this earth. Is it a matter of justice, a matter of cultural conservation, an exercise in humanity to preserve what’s good in the world and to share it with everyone before it all goes to hell? Partly. Definitely, sure, absolutely. Pretty cool way of putting it. But mostly it’s because I like telling stories.