I meet a lot of people who ask me how to become a writer. Some of these people are serious and will eventually go on to write great stuff I’m sure. But most of them want to be A Writer without actually having to write anything. They want what they imagine to be the results of having a book published without putting the work into it. I don’t think most of these folks get it. To me, being a writer is almost like having a disease like alcoholism. It’s a kind of compulsion. If I were to try to stop writing, I think it would be as hard for me to kick the habit as a heroin addict trying to quit smack. I go through withdrawals when I can’t write. This blog is often the result. You’re welcome. If you don’t have that kind of an addiction, you can’t be a writer. And, honestly, you may be much better off.
I suspect the same people who bugged Brad have at some point come along to bug me as well, or maybe vice versa.
I've seen exactly the same dynamic at work that he has: people who want the cachet of being a writer, the aura, but when it comes to actually putting the words on paper — and revising them, and re-revising them, and polishing them, and getting them out there, and learning from their mistakes, and starting all over again, every day, every single damn day — nope.
At one point I found myself talking about my work with a friend, and I confessed that I didn't think I would ever create anything that was likely to be "commercial" or appeal to vast numbers of people. It would be a nice bonus, but it wasn't the reason I did those things. I wrote because I wanted to write, and I would have been doing that even if there was no possibility at all of anyone ever reading it. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: I could not help myself.
The other mistake people make, however, is assuming just having the addiction is by itself enough. The addiction will get you in the classroom and put you in a chair, but it won't guarantee you a seat at the head of the class, and it definitely won't guarantee you a passing grade. I know too many people who got stuck at the Perpetual Amateur level, whose work today is indistinguishable from the work they did ten years ago, because they either have no idea how to take feedback constructively or simply don't have anyone to receive it from.
I shouldn't make it sound like I'm pooh-poohing people for having a creative impulse; any urge is better than none at all, I guess. My nose-wrinkling is reserved for those who think just showing up on time is reason enough to get an A. Even then, I feel more affection than I do derision for such folks. I can't speak too much ill of someone who wants to do more in this life than slog through eight hours of work only to fall asleep in front of the TV. In a way, that only makes me all the sadder when they do get in the elevator, so to speak, only to get stuck between the first and second floors.
People who are more in love with the idea of themselves as a creator than they are in love with the moment-to-moment reality of it should not delude themselves. I once said something to the effect of, "If you're genuinely happier playing XBOX than you are writing, then go play XBOX." The way it came out made me sound like I was only too happy to have that much less competition, which couldn't be further from the truth. The more people we have doing amazing, wonderful creative work, the better! But not if it comes at the cost of them being miserable about it and wondering constantly if their time would be better spent elsewhere. Never fill your day with anything you can't see yourself doing the minute you get out of bed.
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Other Lives Of The Mind