To Be or Not To Be (a Writer) – Part 1

A few days ago a friend posted a link to Susannah Breslin’s “Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer,” an article I thought ridiculous as she only expounded upon three reasons, and I could think of (though Strunk and White counsel against “so” as an intensifier) so many reasons beyond those meager three that I was immediately moved to post a few others, which, in truth, may have been part of her original work but had been deleted by an over-zealous editor, attempting to keep the reading time down to average “restroom relaxation” length. By the way, if you have a problem with long, complex sentences, this blog may not be for you as I will rarely follow the journalistic rules of sentence length; however, I will do my best to keep cohesiveness of thought in a way that compliments my self-proclaimed, precarious status as a pseudo-intellectual and allows outsiders to understand my meanings.

Breslin states that you, any generic individual who happens to read her postings at Forbes Magazine, should not be a writer because 1) Most people are not good writers and the craft is difficult to learn, 2) writing is hard work, and 3) there’s no money it. I recommend her full article at the link below as everything she says is true.

However, she leaves out a few points.

For me, the lack of understanding by friends and family that writing is my job, whether I make any money or not, tends to be the hardest part of being a writer. Following is an illustration of a typical conversation with someone I’ve known for years:

Friend: What did you do today?
Me: Wrote most of the day, did a bit of research.
Friend: I thought you told me you were going to be working today.
Me: I did. I wrote.
Friend: I thought you meant you had a job or something; I mean . . . a real job.

I have had conversations of this ilk for more years than I care to mention. When I was teaching, I taught so I could write during the summers. When I was working in sales, I did so in order to support my ink and caffeine habits. When I began my masters (and now Ph.D.) work in literature, I did this in order to expand the knowledge and abilities in my chosen field. They never understand why I would leave a full-time job with great benefits in order to work making money two days a week. They fail to recognize that I only want enough to allow me to continue to eat and write. Those who cannot see it, never will. They will not respect the work unless it becomes a best-seller (a fond fantasy). Therefore, if you want understanding and respect, find a different profession.

Along those same lines, few people have respect for a writer’s time. A fact of life is that those who are closest to you are most likely to call on you for favors. This is the case no matter your chosen profession, but in the case of a writer, friends and family believe that because no boss is standing at the door looking at her watch—my principal used to do this to late-arriving teachers—then you can drop whatever you are doing to run after their wants and needs because why? “You don’t have a real job.” Few people who are not writers understand the importance of consistency in writing. An old fashioned priming of the pump is the best analogy I can think of even though it seems a bit clichéic. Once the water has sunk down the pipe and seeped back into the ground, other water must be poured into the pump in order to get it operational again, to allow the pressure in the pipes to pull fresh water to the surface.

In the movie Finding Forrester, the mentor gets the student to begin writing by having him type out a paragraph from a story the mentor had written years before. They primed the pump. Likewise, a writer must remain consistent in his or her work in order to keep the creativity in process rather than having to restart each time he open the laptop or picks up the pen or sharpens the Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil. If you are a writer, these people will come to resent all your “free time” and attempt to impose on it. They fail to understand that writers are often working more hours in a day than someone with a traditional job. Writers work more like small business owners whose very existence is tied into what he or she can get done in a day or week or year. To avoid these problems, go work the 9 to 5 and leave the writing to hardier souls.

I started this posting critical of Breslin for failing to include sufficient numbers of reasons not to be a writer, but having begun here, I am now sure that length was her limiting factor. I will add only two reasons to Breslin’s three today, but I promise to bring more to the table soon.

When posting the link to Breslin’s article, my friend asked, “What do you think of this?” I feel I must include my immediate response here:

This article speaks absolute truth. Though I think the editors likely cut two-thirds of what she wrote. She only has three reasons not to be a writer, and I think that number is pathetically low. For me, for me personally, it isn’t that I decided to be a writer, though perhaps I once thought of it that way. For me, I just couldn’t stop. I’m 53 and living in my RV in a relative’s back yard. I’m a writer.

See Breslin’s article at:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/susannahbreslin/2012/06/12/why-you-shouldnt-be-a-writer/

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8 comments

  1. Dr. Bob Cox · · Reply

    The solitude a writer needs to apply his craft is often misinterpreted as lonesome and all alone.

    1. Indeed, and that solitude/isolation is at the top of my list for the Part 2. But I would argue a chicken and egg possibility–sometimes loneliness is a result, but perhaps it is a reason. Nick Hornby suggests in his novel High Fidelity a connection between loneliness and pop when he asks, “What came first–the music or the misery?”

  2. point taken.

  3. Hey, thanks for commenting. I didn’t know you were reading my blog, It’s gratifying.

  4. It is remarkable how much overlap there is between being a writer and an engaged stay-at-home parent. Lots of people think I have wasted my education by staying home with my kids. My work comes out not as short stories or novels, but as (hopefully) well-adjusted, productive adults. The jury is still out on the finished product 😉

    Cassie 🙂

    1. I’ve never considered the connection, but I can certainly see the truth in it. An undergrad friend who got her MA from a major university up north chose to work as a stay-at-home mom as well. She also writes and, therefore, gets it from both sides. Hmm, what is the solution?

      1. Living in a society that values people over things and relationships over products would be a good start – writing helps you catch glimpses into other worlds, other minds, other hearts. I will never understand why people don’t see the value in that. Otherwise, I think those of us who are called to things that other people don’t see the legitimacy of or question whether or not they are “real” forms of work just need to stay our course (and grouse amongst ourselves when the need arises 😉 )

        To expand the metaphor – my own children are like my epic works while the kids whose lives I touch through volunteering are my short stories.

        Write on Bill, I love reading your work.

  5. I think the most frightening reason not to be a writer is what it does to you. Like any craft, once you get serious about it, you end up spending a lot of time practicing it and thinking about it.

    There’s a strange mythos surrounding writing and being a writer. In some ways, it’s more pervasive than the mythos surrounding any creative craft. Writers carry with them the same stigma and stereotypes artists, from the way we’re supposed to appear, to our predeliction for certain verbal and written syntax, for the historically well-known archetypes of alchohol abuse, smoking and drug addiction. Though, I’ve noticed that writers are more apparently cataloged into types and tropes than artists are – at least those that are recognized by the general public. (This is odd to me, because – historically speaking – the printed word has been publically accessible for far less time than purely visual mediums.)

    You have genre writers, the literati, college posuers, avant guard hauteurs, weekened bloggers, professional novelists, pulp fiction heroes and journalistic crusaders. Just to name a few. Yet, no matter what the trope, there is a certain mysticism surrounding the writers’ mythos. The idea that what we do is somehow different than other craftsmen or visual-medium artists.

    Some of it makes sense; writers were among the first to compile permanent chronicles of history (that oft-ignored story of the human race). We are also the keeepers an creators of the stories that inspire and teach and invoke every emotion humans can experience. Nowadays, people are more addicted to stories than ever before. Reality TV creates stories of regular people in unusual an often otherwise unbelievable situations. Celebrity gossip is nothing more than sensationalized stories of people we wish we could be and even politics has become a purple prosed epic painted by a multi-medium collage of amateur and professional tale-tellers that can’t be avoided without almost indulging in extreme sensory deprivation.

    At the heart of writers’ mystic mythos is one foundational concept: we are somehow different than everyone else. Not just other creators, but other people. For a very long time, I thought this automatic assumption was wrong.

    It’s really not.

    I think the truth is that anyone can write. Anyone can tell a story. Anyone can learn the craft of writing and even master the tools of that craft. Rhetorical cannons and word-play, vocabulary and grammar, catch-phrases and story hooks are all taught (to varying degrees) at every community college, high school campus and primary school classroom in the country almost every day of the year. It’s often argued that the craft of writing may very well be the single most important thing a person learns in schools, because language and the need to use it well pervades every occupation I can think of.

    But a writer is not just someone who writes. A writer is more than someone who has studied and mastered a craft – more, even, than a person who has a story they want/need/have to tell. A writer is something enirely different. A writer is a person who has given themselves completely over to the craft of writing and the concept of story. A writer is a person who has changed their perspective on the world.

    When a writer walks into a room, they don’t think about where they’re going to sit or if they remembered to pick dinner out of their teeth. A writer walks into a room and immediately, reflexively assigns the place as setting, the people as characters and the moment as scene. We determine mood and even plot as we interact. We describe the place in our minds and when we re-tell the event (because we can’t help doing so), even in casual conversation, we transform it from an after-dinner drink into a meeting of the minds and the unfathomable camaraderie of people, or the uneasy awkward of new people meeting new people and we give that few minutes a whole new life and a whole new meaning.

    Why? Because we can’t help it. Our perspective has changed. As a writer, everything becomes about writing. Even the most amazing, fulfilling and lucrative job becomes just a means to an end: time and money to write. Computers cease being dynamic expressions of modern technology and connective tools – they become digital typewriters and electronic notepads. The internet becomes an international coffee house with a really fancy library annex. There’s probably even a part of it that’s a great little dive bar with terrible atmosphere and even worse bar snacks.

    When you’re not writing, the guilt of not writing it a constant background itch you can’t scratch. When you are writing, you’re either not doing it well enough, fast enough or the way you thought you were supposed to be doing it. When you can’t write, the world is painted in pastel grays that bleed into each other and when you’re really in that flow, the world is painfully vibrant. You give up an evening with friends or that movie you really wanted to go see so you don’t break that perfect moment when a story is coming together. You’re always reading or re-reading something an you want to cry into your beer every time an idea or a phrase flits across your mind and is gone faster than you can capture it. Or worse – you forget it by the time you can finally write it down.

    Writing is one of the few avocations where failures are traded and touted as proudly as successes. You become obssessed with words and consumed by stories – even non-fiction writers and bloggers and journalists become so immersed in what they’re doing that everything else bcomes unimportant. A writer will research, exhaustively, every detail of a historical period just to get one description perfect or purposefully learn new skills, experience new things just to make what they write believable – even things they swore up, down and backwards they would never do. You’ll listen to music you hate, eat food that makes you sick and go places that make you tremble in fear, because you need to understand them better.

    You eavesdrop on strangers just to memorize the cadence of their voice or to learn the motivation behind a seemingly inexplicable action. You put yourself into the minds and hearts of monsters just to make them real to the reader.

    If you want to be anything other than a writer, go do and be that first, because once you start being a writer, it never goes away. Not completely. You can try to put it away, but it won’t work. There’s always that part of you which will long to dissect sentences and stories to learn how they work (just to replicate it in your own way) and there’s always that niggling thought that you should be writing, not doing whatever else it is you have convinced yourself you have to do.

    No matter how well-adjusted, professional or successful a writer seems to be, they are obssessed and consumed by their craft and their tales. Some of us are just better at pretending we’re normal.

    Not only do you become this obssessive neurotic, you have to face that someone is going to read what you write – which means they are going to partake of a part of you that you have given away. They may love it when you hate it, they may hate it when you love it (each is equally traumatizing, especially the first time). You might also make them think or – make them mad and have to defend what you wrote (to an extent, defend yourself from your critics – or worse, have to ignore them and walk away.

    Of course, there’s also editors who will take apart what you’ve created and tell you how to put it back together again (only better, as if you didn’t know what you waned to do in the first place) or publishers who will judge your work (judge you!) and decide if you’re worthy to join the ranks of people ‘good enough’ to be paid to write.

    Being a writer doesn’t meanyou can’t be other things – but it does mean that every part of your existence will be changed, challenged and chained to being a writer.

    (Of course, I could be wrong and just need a lot of expensive therapy.)

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