It’s been three months since I officially declared myself a writer. Oh sure, I’ve written for years – blogs, poetry, marketing copy – but claiming writing as an occupation and structuring my life around this work is an altogether different matter. In short order I’ve learned some pretty intense lessons about what it means to be a writer, the first (and possibly most important) of which is: writing sucks.
By this, of course, I mean the process of writing sucks. Forget any fantasies about sitting a typewriter all night banging out the next great American novel with a bottle of bourbon, or scribbling romantically in a leather-bound notebook on a cross-country train. The reality is that writing is a job, and it kicks your ego in the teeth every day, bringing you to your knees and humbling you before your own limitations. It makes you question your sanity, and on top of that, it’s something you have to do alone.
As a writer you must fearlessly face the stark, unforgiving contrast between your aspirations for your stories and the reality of your current capabilities as a story-teller. You must restrain the unruly ego (which constantly threatens to break free and destroy your heart’s work) and cast off the filters of delusion of which we are all so fond. You must show up each day vowing to suck less; embracing the reality that good writing is not magic, and that in order for it to reflect your ambition you must be ready to dedicate many hours to painstaking revision.
Writing as an occupation means staying open to possibility even when you have nothing but faith to go on. It means maintaining bonds of genuine intimacy with life. This is not a theoretical exercise that takes place in the mind, but a rigorous mining of the heart and soul, and it often hurts. Attempting to translate human experience and emotion into words is one of the hardest things anyone can do. It’s both an art and a craft, requiring that storied recipe of 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Worst of all, there’s just no substitute for actually doing it. It’s easier to talk about writing, listen to podcasts about writing, read books about writing … but unless you are ready to sit your ass in a chair and giving your full attention, you’re not writing. Discipline is required (yuck!), and there’s very little instant gratification to be had in this territory.
So why the hell do it?
There’s no easy answer to this question, but I think a lot of it goes back to the idea that the things in life worth doing are never easy. Daily writing demands that you grow as a person, cultivating patience, perseverance, and commitment on a whole new level. When we sit down to write, we learn humility – how to get out of our own way as creatives, and how to be fully present with a challenge rather than ignoring or avoiding it. Every day we learn new things about this craft; about the nature of creativity; and about ourselves. Some of it is thrilling, and some of it is decidedly not.
However, through this process you also start to notice a distinct creative energy developing in your guts, growing stronger day by day. Before you know it, new doors of imagination and ideation begin to open. Both your conscious and unconscious begin working together, finding a rhythm, effortlessly generating ideas that surprise and delight you (even at inopportune times). You find yourself craving time to write. What once felt like a lonely enterprise now feels like peace. There’s profound joy that comes from watching yourself evolve as a writer in real time. A sense of empowerment that comes from consistently showing up with courage and conviction, witnessing yourself getting stronger and more nimble on the page.
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of taking on the mantle of ‘writer’ is discovering the other writers around you. Yes, writing is a lonely business, but there is camaraderie to be found within the community of writers.
Writers love other writers. They love to share writing tips, book recommendations and inspiration. They are ready to read your writing and give you feedback and encouragement. Writers are quirky folk who move through the world plumbing their own depths for truth, asking questions that lead to complicated answers. While society holds myths and legends about writers, those of us who do this work know the truth: to be a writer means being called to engage in work that daily challenges and transforms you through the process of creation. It’s an honor and a privilege, even when it hurts. When we show up to support our kindred, we affirm this calling to one another.
So yes, I’m writing these days and it’s hard work. I’m learning much about the craft and about myself in the process. The metrics I’ve used in the past for measuring success do not apply. Daily, I wonder if I’m kidding myself. If this is really what I’m supposed to be doing. And then I sit down and lose myself in words for a few hours and when I resurface, I am affirmed: this is my purpose. Not bestowed, but chosen and claimed.
I’m an independent writer and digital creator doing what I love and not getting rich at it. If you’ve enjoyed anything I’ve written I invite you support me via Patreon. This helps me maintain my online presence and invest in my continued education and practice as an artist. Thank you! – Q