The Non-Pretentious Writer / The Writing Life
Trigger Warning: this thing meanders a bit. Follow me, the trail is not straight, but we’ll get there.
This is the first blog entry for this new site. And I thought it best to start things off with a word on the writing life. Or, at least, what my life as a writer is like.
First, let’s define what it means to be a writer. Simply put, writers write. So, if you’re one of those folks who sits around talking about being a writer in a wistful, future tense dream state—“I want to be a writer”—I have some encouraging news for you.
The moment you put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, and take on the task of crafting a tale, you are a writer. Is it that simple? Yup. It is. I’m a writer. Know how I know? I spend long nights alone with my thoughts and a keyboard, bringing that which does not exist into reality. I write therefore I am. I mean, of course, that I am a writer; but I mean something else too. Something a little more metaphysical.
For me, if I am not writing, not creating something new, I slip into a kind of depression. I must write, or I am not what I was meant to be. So, if I don’t write, I feel that part of me (a big piece of who I am) is fading into shadow, as if that part simply does not exist. Therefore, if I do not write, I am not. But…I write, therefore I am. What do you think of that, Descartes?
So, I live a writing life. A writer’s life. But what does that mean. To me, it means this: everyone who knows me knows I write. They see me working. They see my mood swings and they know why it is happening. I edit stories on my breaks at work. When I come into the plant and I’m down, or my countenance is dark, people are quick to ask, How’s the writing? They can sense when it’s going well and when it’s not.
I know I’m writer, because they know it too.
Validation is important. Pray that may surround yourself with friends who consistently tell you how great you are, that your work is good, and strive to constantly build you up. Pray for friends like mine. They’re the best.
Now, I’m not saying you have to be pretentious. Don’t put on a show or a façade. You are not better than your writing, and the writing is not better than you. You two are one. The perfect union. The perfect marriage. But don’t affect great importance because you’re putting words on paper. Don’t pretend great talent. Just be. And let the writing be. The work will justify itself, and other will validate you. Don’t be afraid to mingle a bit of humility in with the arrogance (we writers do need both to get by.” But, to be flashy, showy, pompous, to inflate yourself because you are a writer, is simply annoying to everyone. I did it when I was young. When I thought I was the only one doing this thing. How foolish we can be. How self-involved and delusional.
It didn’t last long, thankfully, and my self-doubt crashed down on me with the first few dozen rejections. So, how do you be a writer without being pretentious? You struggle in the wee dark hours, crafting garbage and brilliance without being able to discern the too. You stumble through sleepless nights, killing the darlings and rewriting stories from half a decade back that just are not good enough yet. You take everything you write and hold under a microscope until that microscope whispers to you—“It’s not bad, but it’s nothing special”—and you just keep going on anyway.
You can do some writing in public. Nothing wrong with that. But if you aren’t trudging through your manuscript all alone, in isolation, with no distractions, at least part of the time, you’re just doing it for attention. Being pretentious. Don’t be one of those guys sitting in Starbucks writing because you need people to see you. Just be you, be a writer. Make it part of your life. Make it your entire life.
That’s what I’ve done. That is what the writing life means to me. Those who know me, cannot separate me from my writing. It’s what I talk about, what I am, what I live. My friends and family know my characters names, know my towns and cities and settings. They listen to me blather on about lore and plots and struggling with character development. And your people should know these things about you and your work as well. If you’re not excited to talk about it, to be scratching out notes while your buddies are telling you stories, the boss uses and interesting phrase in a meeting, then how are you going to write anything other people will be excited to experience.
So be a writer. Be about the writing. Most importantly, just be writing. Always.
But for the love of Pete, don’t be pretentious about it. It makes writers look bad. It makes you look bad.
I had feared for a long time that I was pretentious, that I was building myself up to be something that maybe I wasn’t. I was caught in that place between being a writer and wanting to be a writer. Then a friend said the most amazing thing to me and changed my self-image forever.
Her name is Sierra, and she is a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. Seriously, I’ll say it again, pray that gain friends like mine. It was she who once said to me, “Before I met you, I thought all writers were pretentious.”
I have never been paid a higher compliment.