It isn’t what most people think.
The events of life seem determined to interfere with the times I plan to write, so I’m about a stone’s throw away from saying to hell with trying to keep a schedule, but expressing that sort of first world frustration, that is not the purpose of this post.
Writing is a solitary venture, as many will wisely tell you. To do it properly and with any justice, you must shut out the world that surrounds your craft. That may seem especially odd if you know that I am writing this very post in a public place. However, I am absorbed in my music—the storytelling of the soul and my key to where the muses reside—am perfectly content to ignore everyone around me, and most importantly, I am able to trick myself, as it were, into treating this writing escapade as though I were going to work for the day, denying me from the leisurely temptations of home. No one but me can get these words onto the page. I could brainstorm and crowdsource and network until I could call myself a politician, but that wouldn’t get any writing done.
Here’s something else that seems obvious to those looking on the outside in, until you start writing, then you realize it’s some kind of golden secret that hides in plain sight: you have to write. I’ve encountered people from all walks of life, older and ostensibly wiser than me even, who have taken pains to talk about a novel “they’ve worked on for 30 years,” as if that is something to be proud of. Is being able to say something like that to people a selling point, as if it makes you sound like a real fucking artist, someone austere in their craft, as if they should be admired? I don’t think so. There’s little to be gained by just dumping out the first draft of a story into the world merely because it is “done,” and there is something to be said for quality over quantity, but, the simple fact is that in order to be a writer you must write. You can talk about it all you want. You can let your longsuffering vanity project forever be your talking point in all conversations, and thus eventually the running gag, or you can write the damn thing. You’ll never get better if you don’t create and hone your craft.
Now we’re gonna get into the really gritty, unpleasant stuff, and what I am about to share may not be quite as universal as the two points before. Being a writer, or more generally an artist, let’s say, is to stare existentialism and loneliness in the face. Sometimes it’s in a mirror, sometimes it is a nebulous mask in the ether. Especially when you start to share your work with the world… when you are no longer creating merely for yourself, but an audience as well, you are forced to deal with matters of acceptance, judgment, even love. For any art not pursued with passion is not worth pursuing at all. If you’re in the business of writing purely for financial gain or for fame, you’re in it for the wrong reasons, not to mention your odds of getting anywhere are fantastically small, because inauthentic artists can be spotted from kilometers away.
“Will someone read my story and see what I tried to express? Will they see the same images I did? Will my characters be accepted? Will… I, be accepted? Or judged?” All humans to varying extents need validation, encouragement, acceptance, love, to feel like they matter, that they belong, that they are part of something and that life isn’t a meaningless accident. But at the risk of sounding arrogant, those of us whose callings, if you like, to be artists—that is, there is nothing else we are better at than our craft and it defines our purpose for even being alive—we feel these needs on a different and perhaps more personal, primal level. Our craft is our hearts on platters, primed for the world’s consumption. Art goes beyond the mundane, the number, the logic, the cold calculation of the modern assembly line workplace where everyone and everything is expendable and replaceable. Our souls are on the line when we decide that art is our life.
So, dear reader, my words are reaching out to you from my screen into yours. Behind the endless parade of zeroes and ones transmitting these words and images to you is a heart, one that aches and burns for the most basic of human needs and is slowly starving to death. But I do this anyway. It is the one and true purpose I have managed to assign to my life that has made sense and stuck.
There are days in this existence as a writer in which I don’t talk to anyone at all. And I’m not counting ordering a sandwich and coffee as human interaction, because only a rare human manages to rise above the programming of workplace platitude and makes it feel like you are a person they are talking to. I still find physical contact astonishing because of its rarity. True human connection is rare enough as it is in the modern world, but if you want to be writer, you must be prepared to take this problem on at a deeper level. If you write the only way you should, with passion and drive, you will be crushed, you will despair, you will experience impostor syndrome, you will have those moments where you question whether or not you will ever be loved or accepted exactly as you are (while self-acknowledging that you can improve), and the same for your work.
This is what it’s like to be a writer. There are other arts, other crafts that I’m sure have similar or overlapping issues. But the writer is still in demand, is tasked with creating something from nothing. Some of us get hired to write content that is inane and vapid, but we have bills to pay and people to support and at least we can use our skills in the craft toward that end. Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to survive on purely creative work.
I wake up most mornings and ponder why I have put myself in this position, why I willingly expose myself to something that everyday reminds me of my own starving heart. Then I see characters and worlds come to life, I might hear a friend remark at how incredible they think it is that I thought all of this shit up and made a series out of it. I see the potential in the beyond, in the not yet come to pass, and I regain my resolve.
This is what it’s like to be a writer.