You should avoid being a writer.

Posted by admin on June 19th, 2011 filed in General, Writing

Today I thought I would combine two things I almost never do (write in the second person and write in the present tense) with something I do all the time, every day (think about writing/being a writer). You, as my loyal blog readers, will have to endure the result of my experiment. You have my apologies in advance.

You close yet another book after reading the last page, thinking not what a great story it was, but rather that you wish you had written something so good. You wonder if you’ll ever have that level of authorial skill, to get the pacing so smooth, the plot so complex yet completely logical. Then you look up at the binder on the top of the bookshelf, where the printed copy of your book rests, away from all the real books on the shelves that have been published. You wonder if it could have been and could still be.

Why do you torture yourself over this? Because of this stupid dream of being a writer. Why is that even what you want? You get frustrated when you write. You aren’t writing because you want fame and fortune, especially since you know most writers don’t really get that. You want to put down some thoughts so you feel like people understand you? Doesn’t your blog do that for you? You want to tell all the stories in your head? Getting them published won’t make them immortal. Things move so fast these days that books are forgotten a couple months after their release. Can’t you tell stories without ever getting into the business side of it? Why does your dream involve it being your career? Why did you ever have to admit that this is what you wanted to be?

Otherwise, maybe you could ignore it. What good do dreams do us anyway? Maybe you should have picked something easier. Something you’re a little better at. Something a little more attainable. Why are your dreams so undeniable? You’ve tried to quit a lot of times. It doesn’t work. Life would be so much easier if you didn’t want this.

Even if you got your dream, you might not like it. You sit around, reading article after article, researching how things are done in the publishing business. You don’t want to be ignorant or get taken advantage of when you make it. So you keep learning. You want to create, but you’re going to have to do it with deadlines, with other people’s fingers meddling in your project, and with harsh critics. Would that be worth it to you?

You can’t even keep the deadlines you set for yourself. You said you’d give it an hour almost every night. Doesn’t your big dream deserve that much attention from you? Six or seven hours per week? How much time do you spend sleeping, or writing emails? Your lack of commitment is astounding. This is what you want more than anything, yet you aren’t doing it. Oh, you’ve got the excuses. A new job to learn, dinner to cook, shopping to do, laundry to wash, kids to love, and some serious fatigue. If you’d kept up with your writing, you’d have another book done by now. You’d be closer to what you want. You aren’t very good at this. You know you can do better, so why aren’t you?

So you think about what you are going to write, which is a big part of the process. Characters you don’t know parade through your head, as though you are holding a casting audition and they all show up because they want the part. Every one of them has a story. They try to convince you that if you go with them, give them life, their charm and charisma will carry you to the top. They aren’t all nice. Some of them are scary. Some of them you don’t want living in your head and it’s a little worrisome that they came from your imagination. The ones who are the loudest and clearest are the ones who get the parts. The ones you know won’t leave your head any other way besides writing them down. Like an exorcism. Everyone else, you reject, and it’s like killing them by denying them the chance to be. They beg, even tell you that if you just give them one little opportunity, they’d prove how great they can be. It feels a lot like how you feel about being a writer. If someone would just give you a chance, you know they’d love you and you’d make it because you know deep in your heart that this is what you should be. But you tell the characters no, not now. Then they are ghosts in your mind.

Then you do sit down to write. It’s fun. It feels familiar. You feel like you’re doing what you are meant to do. What are you so afraid of that keeps you from doing this all the time? You write for a while, thinking about how to best present things, and trying to keep track of all the little details. Then you have to write something graphic or dark. Your mind’s a dark place. It’s hard to make really bad things happen to your characters. Or maybe it’s time to write something erotic. It’s what the story calls for. You’re that type of author, so what’s the problem?

You imagine your ghosts looking over your shoulder. Not the character ghosts that you put down each day, but the real ghosts of people you loved who have moved on. You imagine they can somehow piggyback in your mind and see your every word, and that they’ll judge you for it. They’ll be appalled at the sick things you write. And disappointed that you spent all that money and effort on the fancy education at the fancy university, yet still you choose to write this. Smut. Gore. Cheap tricks to sell your book. But you don’t know how to do it any better yet.

Then you think of all the people who are still alive who will want to read your book because they support you. They’ll read and think there’s something wrong with you. And that they don’t really know you at all. Ha! And you wanted to write so that your feelings could be understood. They’ll think you can do better, too. Oh, they’ll still love you, but you might have to see the disappointment in their eyes every time you look. You might have to see the hurt when they think you’ve written something unflattering about them or if they’ve misconstrued something you intended as fiction.

But, you get past it. Just block all the internal nay-saying out. And keep writing. You wrestle with this story in your head. Sometimes you think it’s okay, most times you don’t. It frustrates you and eats at you. It’s an abusive monster. You try to quit dozens of times, but it doesn’t work because somewhere along the way you misguidedly decided that THIS was your purpose in life. So you always crawl back to it. And keep writing.

Then, surprisingly, you’re done with something. How do you know when it’s time to share it? It all feels so personal and uncertain. You wish you had some way of telling if it was any good. You think it’s good, sometimes. But of course you do. You wrote it. And you wrote it just the way you would want it written if you were the one reading it. So you share and it hurts. Oh well, you get over it.

Then what do you do with it? Nothing. It needs more work. You want to work on your shiny new idea. That old idea has left your mind. You don’t have any energy left for it. It’s easier to deal with feeling bad about not trying than it is to deal with trying and failing.

So you’re ready to start a new project. It takes you a while. Why aren’t you starting? You have all the excuses. Grass to cut, garbage to take out, kids to bathe, and you’re tired. You talk yourself into working on the new book. Why do you even want to do it? Why not just spend your free time being happy with all the good things you have? Read other people’s books. They know what they are doing. It would be fun for you. Wouldn’t it be better for you if you didn’t have that nagging feeling every single day that you should be writing, that you’re letting your chance slip by? So you write. Why?

Because your stupid, silly, little dream won’t let go of you.

13 Responses to “You should avoid being a writer.”

  1. Jo Says:

    Oh Megan, I feel so much the same way about the pile of paintings stacking up in my room right now! Your words really capture a lot of my feelings about my motivation to be an artist too. When I was young I thought it would be really cool to be famous (in junior high I used to practice my signature in class…)

    Now I know for SURE it isn’t fame that I crave. I think we’d love to make our crafts into careers because that seems like it would free up our time. If it were our job, the time of day allotted to work could be used for our creative expression, and it would not be one rung farther down the things-to-do-today lists, which when you are married and have children and a household and pets and jobs amounts to a heck of a lot to do! Wanting to succeed financially is like an example of time=money. If we could make money at it, we’d have more time to do it.

    I feel disappointed in my commitment to my art too, especially lately. I too have shirked that one measly hour a day we have talked about. At the end of the day I am so tired it seems hopeless to sit down and try to be creative. I sometimes feel I might do irreparable damage to a painting because I am so tired I might make a stupid mistake!

    I think you are feeling particularly this way this week because you have started a new job. You should give yourself some time to find your new pace.

    Maybe we should commit to half an hour each and every night. Then getting our minds into the creative space might be a habit, like getting into the habit of exercising our bodies for health. Sometimes I think when you are plagued by creative urges, you must find a way to exercise those urges, or else you will drag along with that nagging feeling.

    I envy the strident nature of your characters! I am painting two golden retrievers right now and eh, they are sweet looking dogs but lets just say there isn’t any passion there! I have never met them. Just don’t really care… That makes me feel like I must not be a real artist anymore, if I am too tired to be driven.

    It seems to me that a lot of what drives creative people, in many different fields is communication. Culturally we are told this “dream” should translate into a career, and earning money at a creative endeavor is one way to measure success. Most of us must figure out how to support ourselves anyway so all these things end up tangled together.

    In that respect I failed as an artist, and I had a golden a ten year shot in Gainesville. I don’t see myself turning my art into a career at this stage of my life, yet I can’t stop thinking about doing artwork and where it fits into my life and who is my audience anyway?

    I like your stupid, silly, little dream. It reminds me so much of mine, with all the accompanying nagging feelings!

    Dark characters and erotica are extremely important parts of life, that is why those genres are so popular, even though some people might like to scoff at them. I think what drives you is the act of communication and I admire you for tackling issues that are not safe. If someone doesn’t like that kind of expression, they don’t have to read it! I have the opposite problem. My subject matter is so mundane that people sometimes laughed at me. I mean, who devotes 10 years to mostly frogs? But, that is what I like to communicate the most. I think my communication drive boils down to “hey, aren’t those neat?”

    If I think of who this might have disappointed the most, perhaps it would have been the young artistic me! In my middle age I find I am comfortable with WHAT I want to do, but still struggle with how to define the roll of creativity in my life, hobby or career-wanna-be?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It is nice to know others are wrestling with the same sorts of feelings I am.

    And personally, I am dazzled by your creative energy. If you never typed another fictional paragraph in your life, you would still fill your days with creativity for your friends and family and that is very very special.

  2. Jo Says:

    P.S. Your cat-and-moon painting is next for me once I finish the dogs!

  3. Ron! Says:

    You realize your dream will not go away even if you stop trying: Turn to page 57

    You decide to give it up and always wonder what could have been: Turn to page 91

    You decide to smash everything that makes words: Turn to page 20

  4. Ron! Says:

    @Jo: See that is why, if I had you paint my animals, I would give you full personality profiles for each one. If possible have meet them in person. Our family loves dogs, and personalities are well known. For example, Coda is my dog. She would do anything I asked, and would defend us until her final breath. Very curious, and social, she is always where the action is. She is sleek and strong, but so, so gentle. She wouldn’t hurt another creature, unless we were in danger. Kirby is Stacey’s dog. I have never met a dog as hard headed and willful as Kirby. He obeys Stacey much better, but if I try to make home sit, he looks at me like I am green. Meanwhile Coda keeps sitting, standing, and sitting, desperatly trying to please me, and keep Kirby out of trouble. He loves food more than he should, and food intake has to be closely monitored. Over the course of Pennsic last year he gained 7 pounds by finishing my mom’s dog’s dinner. He loves his blue ball. And begs Stacey to throw it until he is so tired he can’t hardly move, but won’t stop. He is very much the younger brother.

    I could go on, but would something like that help you paint them since you are not just painting two dogs, but rather Coda and Kirby? Also it might help that we have unusual dogs. A white German shepherd and a Pembroke welsh corgi. Many people we run into have never seen them in real life.

  5. Jo Says:

    Hi Ron! I love it! I used to take the photos for the pet portraits I did and that was the best because I got to meet the dogs or cats, and most were friend’s pets so I had already heard a lot about them. I do not know these people and have never met the dogs. They are brother and sister goldens and look like identical twins! I just hope the owners can tell who is who in the paintings! Also, they have that golden thing going on that Gary Larson captured so well in that comic strip called something like “the moods of the golden retriever” in which every single box had the same vacant eyed pose with descriptions like “happy,” “angry,” “remorseful,” etc.

    Yours and Stacy’s dogs sound wonderful! Knowing them is what makes it so special. I don’t even remember the names of these dogs. I think you just nailed why I am so uninspired by these portraits…

  6. Jo Says:

    Megan, I have been thinking about you all day on account of this thoughtful post. And I have not done the first minute of my work! First I have to try to beat Tim at “Shape Shifters” while riding the exercise bike and I am sure I am going to need a beer by the time that is done!

  7. admin Says:

    I think I need a beer…

    I am just so brain dead from learning this new job. Sleep is the only thing that sounds appealing. I actually went outside and walked 2 1/4 miles today in hopes of tiring my body out as much as my mind is tired out so I can get some restful sleep tonight.

    Anyway, hopefully soon I’ll post some thoughtful replies to your comments, since you’ve given me so many good thoughts and ideas. Or something. I am so tired. Turn to page 57 for coma-like sleep.

  8. Ron! Says:

    You trudge through the bedroom, with only one thought: bed. Any more than a one word thought would be far too exhausting. Your feet hit the floor, one after another, with loud thumps. There is no grace to these movements. Grace is for tommorow. You reach the bed and after putting your head on the pillow, the world blurs and falls away.

    Almost immediately, the alarm rings. Hours have passed, but not for you. Wasn’t only five minutes since you laid down? You squint at the clock and see that, no, the world did rotate, but you never noticed.

    You feel somewhat refreshed, and ready to start the day: Turn to page 121

    You press the snooze button, hoping that five more minutes of half-sleep will make everything better: Turn to page 44

    You decide to smash the alarm, and wait until the world comes and gets you like federal agents storming a compound: Turn to page 50

  9. Aloysius Says:

    Regarding harsh criticism and “ghosts” and what other people think about you — just learn to deal with ’em. Write what you want to write, listen to the criticism, and change stuff only if you agree with it. Stop caring about others thinking “there’s something wrong with you.” I’ve learned that just not giving a fuck what other people think of me is like releasing a tremendous burden.

    Sounds trite, I know, but — who cares?

  10. Travis Says:

    I agree with Aloysius. I stopped giving a fuck a long time ago. If people don’t like me or what I do, tough kittens for them, I’m not changin’.

    Ultimately, I do what I do because I like it. If someone else likes it or me because of it, that’s just icing on the cake or gravy on the meat, whichever you prefer.

  11. Youjane Says:

    Tough kittens… * giggles*

    I wish I had that dream. Mine is less concrete. I just want to learn it all and not sit in a box. Oh yeah! And somehow make a difference and leave some kind of mark on the world. You’d think that would be easy enough to accomplish. I’m not asking for much.

    An hour a day is a great goal. Even without kids and all the stuff you guys have going on, when I sit down to type I’m tired. Then every character is introduced as being tired and worn down. Had to stop because no one had any energy. It was the sleepiest story ever done. That wasn’t quite the feeling I was aiming for.

    I think the hardest part is sharing with family and friends. In my head I think it would be easiest to just give a story to a total stranger to evaluate. Then it’s being judge on it’s own merits and not how it relates to me. Then there wouldn’t be a moment of any one wondering how that came out of my head. Sidestep the whole part of people I know looking at me weirder than usual.

    It just may mean practice and getting a thicker skin. Though right now I’m leaning towards pseudonyms. I could be Jane You. No one would ever guess.

  12. Ron! Says:

    Starting out in photography, I was a member of a couple sites and posted anonymously. I did find it kind of handy since I had people who knew more about the subject give me pointers. If I showed a picture to, say, my mom, she would be impressed if it was better than her own, but couldn’t help me get better. I hope that made sense. With cameras getting smarter and and smarter, novices are taking better pictures than ever, but my editing skills look like magic to my family. I bumble around in photoshop until something doesn’t look terrible, and that’s it. I have learned quite a bit, but I could do so much better.

    One of the people at my brothers wedding had a powerful DSLR. She is generally considered to be the best photographer in the family. I looked at the disc of photos though, and it was the first time I really has done so. Her camera helped A LOT, then she used photoshop. I could see mistakes she made, or editing with a heavy hand. We got to the picture of the candle with glass candle holder, and she added lens flare. Stacey and I laughed out loud. My mom asked what was so funny, and we told her that lens flare is cheesy, and no one does it unless you want to broadcast that you have no idea what you are doing. She looked upset and said that she thought it looked nice. I tried to explain to her that lens flare simply couldn’t happen in the photo taken, how you should try to AVOID real life lens flare, what causes it, and by extension, why it looks really fake. I also pointed out that the lens flare was the only thing in the picture that was really in focus. In short: rookie mistake.

    Ah well. Writing is not the same though. There are enough voracious readers to know when something is off. Telling a friend that thier characters are cookie cutter, or plot predictable, or dialogue unrealistic would be harder. Luckily, I think I am able to delivers constructive criticism without being negative.

  13. admin Says:

    Hi guys,
    Thanks for all the comments. Worrying what people think is actually a very small part of the problem. I guess it was just something I could point to, so I talked about it. This new job is taking up all my time, plus all the family stuff I do, so it’s leaving me wondering where the things that I want to do will fit into my life. It’s really hard to make myself do anything that even resembles work at the end of the day. That’s all.

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