IN OTHER WORDS: Zig Zag Claybourne on If You Can’t Love the Words You Want, Love the Words You’re With

In one thousand words, I’m gonna tell you why you love writing.

I had no idea I’d ever get divorced. I loved my wife. We’d not only been lovers during that relationship from day one onward, we’d been friends. We were the kind of couple who’d spontaneously reach out to hold hands for no reason. We’d shower together not for sexy bits but for levels of intimacy that said come be renewed, you are safe and loved here. We’d have carpet picnics. We’d have exercise sessions that were not PG-13. (Bless you, Tae Bo.)

But we divorced several years ago. I love my ex-wife. I really do. If she’d been a wicked, awful person we’d never have gotten married. I mean, that’s generally how things go, right, you don’t look for the absolute worst and say “That right there!” We drifted apart as life’s currents direct at times. The gulf had gotten so wide that by the time either of us truly acknowledged it with eyes open we couldn’t see each other.

And we couldn’t row back.

Conflating a relationship with writing? In a way. That drift is precisely what happens when we say we hate a project. Or we can’t do something. It’s what happens when we question our talent or reserves of dedication. Admitting such a hatred of our art is a terrible feeling. The word hatred itself is so telling. I’ve never hated my ex-wife. Hatred suggests an ongoing fester; it is the annihilation of pleasure. We divorced well before either of us entered that point of no return. With any writing you take on, you have to love the idea first; you have to love the potential you see, the much larger potential you don’t see, and it has to be worth your presenting it to readers as a gift. That isn’t an easy-to-break love. People talk loads about the egos of creative folks, usually unfavorably, but the right type of ego for what you do lays a foundation of self-respect toward what you might produce. A foundation of love. A strong one.

Use that love to keep you from divorcing your potential.

Like a relationship, the creative life can’t help but ebb and flow. There will be periods of amazing productivity tied at the hip to droughts, sand storms, and tsunamis made of bees, wherein your every potent thought is like the distilled liquor of Why Bother. Why fight for words no one might see? Why struggle to say just the right thing at the right time so the reader stands precisely where you want them to be? Why maintain that relationship?

Because you love them. You will always love them. The words and the readers. You’re writing to connect with someone. One way or another, we do this for love.

You’re writing to connect with someone. One way or another, we do this for love.

For a lot of us, our art exists outside ourselves like another person. I have a funny tee that a dear friend bought me a few years ago. It says “I am a writer. That means I live in a crazy fantasy world with unrealistic expectations. Thank you for understanding.” Part of our frustration with craft and the life it dictates is that we try to write our lives, the same as we try to control our characters. We see tropes, plot progressions, foreshadowing, and denouement in our daily interactions, until the non-written characters we call friends and lovers, or even simply acquaintances, go off-script. Suddenly: UNEXPECTED PLOT TWIST.

In our tendency to unconsciously try to plot/dialogue/edit others the schism hits: we can’t. It’s even better that we shouldn’t. It’s best to experience life as a creative force rather than an instrument at our command. It keeps us mentally agile, keeps us observant, keeps us connected.

Part of why I divorced was I no longer understood my wife. There were plot holes and character inconsistencies. Our relationship was no longer the art it had been, and I don’t mean art here to mean artifice. I mean beauty. The story was one of love and I wanted it to go on forever. I wanted to create bliss and wonder every day with her. I wanted my soul to write the greatest love story ever told even if I never wrote a single word to describe it. Which is exactly what we do with our actual writing. We love it until we no longer understand it. We want forever with it…until we decide we’re not worth it.

We are so effing worth it though.

Every bit of creativity. Every bit of doubt. Every bit of temporary lunacy. Every bit of triumph or obscurity. We’re worth the time we put into the words. The words will never be everything—no relationship survives the onus of one part of it being EVERYTHING for the other—but they will always do more for you than you realize. They do more for whoever comes into contact with them.

Every bit of creativity. Every bit of doubt. Every bit of temporary lunacy. Every bit of triumph or obscurity. We’re worth the time we put into the words.

They’re with you in the shower.

They reach out.

You need them because you know they come from a place of love.

So don’t ever, ever, hate your words. Doesn’t matter if you have to throw away chapters, kill darlings, or trunk more projects than you ever thought possible. There are times we get to a point where we love someone but can’t live with them. Humans rarely get back together. If you’re feeling divorced from your words, you can. If you drift apart from your drive, it’ll come back. As long as you love it.

As long as you know that stories shift and change all the time. Truly loving it doesn’t leave any room for hatred, only evolution. Hopefully, in that evolution, you grow as a writer and a person until the symbiosis is seamless in its wonder.

Your creative life is yours to grow old with. To be wide-eyed and patient with. To respect it for what it is and encourage it to be comfortable with what it’s not.

Nine-word wrap-up: No exes when life is seamless, only fascinated “Oh!”s

Zig Zag Claybourne is the author of The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan (Obsidian Sky Books, 2016) and its forthcoming sequel Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe (should he ever finish writing the *curse word* thing). Other novels include By All Our Violent Guides and Neon Lights. His essays on sci fi, fandom, and life in general have appeared in Apex, Strange Horizons, and other genre venues. Claybourne lives in Detroit, where he fine-tunes a plot for world literary conquest. If you really want to get to know him his door’s always open at

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