I’ve been meaning to put all this down for a while now, more for the sake of my sanity than any desire to impart wisdom on the subject of writing and being a writer, because this is one of those questions I get a lot, not necessarily from other people, but most certainly from myself:
Why do I write? Why do I want to be a writer?
Now’s my chance to attempt to answer those questions.
For me there’s a semantic difference between ‘writing’ and ‘being a writer’, both of which are rather subjective terms that mean multiple things to multiple people. Here’s what they mean to me:
To write, as well as just being the mechanical action of putting words on paper, is the actual process. It’s taking that something from the nothingness of my mind and turning it into something coherent, into a story. Writing has been my passion, my compulsion, since I was extremely young, I can’t even remember how young. I’ve been making up stories both on paper and in performance since before elementary school. The process and act of writing became and still is my life, and is my purpose if such a thing exists.
How does this differ from being a writer?
Well, there’s the simple definition of being a writer, which is again connected to the act of writing. Millions of people are writers simply because they do just that – they write.
But there’s a difference between being a writer and being a Writer. A novelist. Someone who is published, someone referred to as a ‘professional’. Someone who wakes up every day with no other career or profession than the process of sitting down at their desk, keyboard, typewriter or notebook and creating stories out of ether. Say what you will, there’s a huge difference between a Writer and someone who writes by these definitions.
So there you have it. Those are my definitions.
I describe my writing as a compulsion. I even titled this blog after that fact – I write compulsively, and have been my whole life, even when all I did was fill little notebooks with silly tales directly plagiarized from my favourite books and movies (don’t judge – we all did that before we knew it was wrong, and I’ve long since moved on to making up my own madness). It is something I will always do because if I ever stopped, if ever tried to stop, I would quickly spiral into a creative void, possibly even an uncomfortable kind of insanity.
So that’s my compulsion. Writing isn’t so much what I do as it is what I am. It’s my outlet, my reason to live, my purely selfish, somewhat arrogant belief that I can take something out of nothing and make it work, give it life.
Being a writer? Now that’s my dream.
I’ve worked a few shitty day jobs in my time. I’ve flipped burgers, I’ve dealt with pissy customers, and I’ve spent six straight hours moving heavy books around a library. I’m about to graduate college, to get my BA in English, to become more qualified than a large portion of the American Population.
My plans for post-graduation?
1) find a day-job
This is my first step, the first part in actually realizing my dream, in taking my writing and moving forward in my goal to be able to live off of it, to get published and be at least a moderate success.
That’s what I want. I want to wake up every morning and have no obligation other than to sit at my desk and write. No day job to keep paying the bills. I want writing AS my day job. I want, by my own definitions, to be a Writer.
Starting in December, I’ll at last being in the position to actively pursue this. I’ll have a job (I don’t know what job yet, but I’m looking), and I’ll be done with the constant cycle of ‘go to class, do homework, go to bed and start over again’ I’ve been in since I was six years old, for the last 17 years straight.
It’s a terrifying and thrilling prospect. For the first time in my life, my writing can really come first.
Writing is an art as much as putting paint on canvas, as sculpture, as music. Like most artists I have a delightful pile of mental health issues, doubts and insecurities that plague my existence, and unsurprisingly these often contribute to that thing I refer to as the Angry Little Voice in the back of my head.
It happens every time I sit down to write, no matter where I am or whether it’s at my computer or a notebook. I stretch my arms, put my hands to the keyboard, and this little voice drifts into my head:
“Hey, what are you doing? You’re WRITING? Haven’t you had enough of that madness yet? Aren’t you sick of people picking your work apart? Is it really even that good? Hardly! You’re a hack at this! You’re just shoveling crap onto the page and expecting someone to like it. That’s completely pointless. Nobody’s ever going to read enough of this to like it, let along PAY you for it! You’re wasting your time and you know it. Now go fill out grad school applications like a good girl and resign yourself to a wage-slave job to pay off all that debt. You’re better off sticking to this as a hobby.”
He’s a bastard, isn’t he? And he’s there every day, especially this month where I spend each day in a half-crazed writing frenzy along with my NaNoWriMo friends across the world, giving me active discouragement and bile.
I have a lot of real-world support to counter my internal self-deprecation. My parents, while neither of them writes fiction, support my dreams and always wish me the best of luck. My writing buddies, both local and out of state, always give me words of encouragement. Jeff, also a writer, has a lot of faith in my abilities and talents. (Whenever I voice my doubts to him about my ability to be a Writer, he always says ‘But I don’t want you to stop writing…’ with a sad expression on his face. He’s been a tireless advocate for me since before we ever started dating, and I appreciate his encouragement. Thanks Jeff).
But true strength and ability comes from within, so when my within decides to remind me that I completely suck and wouldn’t even be able to hack it writing for a newspaper, it can be rather draining.
This doesn’t stop the why though. It doesn’t stop the compulsion. No matter how many times I get beaten down, be it by my own psyche or the discouragement of academia, I still get up every morning and I still sit down to write (or if I don’t have the time, I still think about writing, talk to my characters, make notes in my notebooks). Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment, but it’s like someone is telling me I have to stop breathing because I’m bad at it: it just doesn’t work that way.
Even if my dream falls through, even if it’s true that my writing isn’t ‘good enough’ to get published, for me to live off of, I have to try. Because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and while I know I’ll never stop writing it seems a shame to keep my stories to myself.
So I’ll write. I’ll write until my hands are destroyed by arthritis and my mind goes out. If I can’t find anyone willing to turn my novels into print books I’ll self-publish. I’ll post stories on the internet. I’ll share it with my friends. I’ll do something, even if all I do is keep writing.
It’s not like I can stop. Not now. Not after how much it’s helped me learn, helped me live.
So I say fuck it, voice in the back of my head. I’m 23 years old and I can keep doing this until I’m too old to remember my own name. Even if the rest of the world gives up on me, ultimately I know myself, and my self is the only thing I really have any belief in, even if part of me is afraid that I’ll fail (Because that’s really all that voice is – my fear of total failure and never achieving my dreams). Even if I had a choice, I’d still keep writing, still come up with stories and ideas.
It’s what I love. More than anything else in the world, more than chocolate and beautiful music and vegetarian pasta dishes and my boyfriend (he understands – he’s the same way about his writing). It’s the thing that makes me feel the most alive, the most real. It’s been my standby in every mini-identity crisis or traumatic upheaval my life has gone through, the one thing that’s remained solid and true.
No matter how the world falls apart, I am a writer. I write, Descartes style.
And since it’s very much a ‘therefore I am’ situation, to hell with the doubt (of myself or anyone else). Even if all I do with my life is write stories no-one but a few close friends or anonymous faces on the internet will read, I’ll still love it. It’ll still make me happy.
So, in the words of a person on the NaNoWriMo boards (who I sadly can’t look up to give credit because they said it in September right before they wiped the forums for the site relaunch, but rest assured I didn’t make this up myself):
“You ask me why I write. I don’t know: why do you breathe?”
So that’s what I think of that. Now to go make 22 copies of my short story for class today (that right there? that’s the sound of my wallet weeping) and spend the rest of my day writing. I hope to hit at least 15k for my wordcount today, but since I have a four-hour shift at the library tonight, there’s a good chance I’ll manage more than that.
You know, if I don’t get distracted by Hell’s Kitchen. Gordon Ramsay is my hero.
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