Forewarning: This is gonna be a long one…
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
Confused? Discouraged? A little depressed and feeling insecure about writing or your work in general? Good, because that’s exactly how I felt when I first heard this in a Youtube video that addressed the ridiculousness of this argument. Still, I would best and most honestly describe myself as a pessimist. There’s no point in denying the nature of who you are; after all, that’s how you begin to change it.
The negative tone of this made me reconsider sitting down to write and when I watched the video, because it was in the beginning, I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of Charles Bukowski’s mocking words every time I sat down to write something. The maddening thing: I’ve never even heard of this guy before I watched this video.
I’ve wanted to write ever since… well, honestly I’m not sure. I remember in senior year of high school (and hell, even my first year of college) I wanted to be a writer, possibly novelist. If I decided that science was really important, I’d write about science stuff and be like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Heh. (I really did consider becoming a scientist more than once. It wasn’t just because of my obsession with Doc Brown from BTTF or Rick from Rick & Morty; I genuinely just wanted to contribute to the world through the thing that I saw as most productive… like Iron Man… Anyway, while I was in an independent study program attempting to avoid social anxiety and the futility of a high-school education, I checked out as many science textbooks as I could from a “learning resource center.” If you guessed that I didn’t read any of that, you’re dead wrong. I read, like, three pages of each book.)
I took several months to try and write a science fiction book and refused to go back and read it. Why? Because I knew it was absolute dog shit and I was ashamed to call it my own. I was no William Shakespeare and certainly no prodigy. My goal in middle school was to write a novel called Proximity 7 with a Goonies type-deal going on with a bunch of ambitious kids dealing with their teenage angst while trying to save the world. I wrote a grand total of zero words for it. I did fill up some notebooks with some shitty drawings though! I know that education is something that I’m certainly passionate about because I love to learn and share what it is that I’ve learned. But at the same time, I’ve got a couple (hundred) things about my character that make it extremely difficult to share what I think.
#1 I was born… a procrastinator. I was and still kind of am. It doesn’t kill me, but it’s how I got through high school and how apparently honors kids in college get through. Tim Urban has a great TED talk in which he covers the difficulty of being a writer and a procrastinator. He explains that as individuals who save stuff for the last minute (try that for a synonym) we have what he likes to call the instant gratification monkey. Why a monkey? I’m not sure but the way Urban describes it, it’s incredibly cute. The instant gratification monkey drives us to do things that are fun but unproductive. Wanna check Instagram, wanna watch youtube, wanna add on to the 461 hours spent playing Skyrim (and counting). This isn’t so much of a problem when you have a structured life full of responsibility because you also have something called an anxiety monster that scares the monkey away and allows you to finally hone in on your work. Most procrastinators recognize this entity because it’s like a natural combination of coffee and Adderall (never taken it, so I dunno). Also as Urban points out, this becomes a serious problem when there isn’t a deadline to wake the anxiety monster up. It just remains in slumber while the instant gratification monkey dances on the graves of your hopes and aspirations.
That was a long number 1.
#2 I care what others think. I know, I know! We’re supposed to have read at least one self-help book at some point during our lives and walked away realizing that who we are is something that you shouldn’t be ashamed of! …Unless you’re a serial killer, or a heroin addict, or a chronic masterbator, or someone who ruins Santa Claus for all of the other kids. When you write, you’re left hoping that other people are going to care enough to take time out of their day to read. Then, you hope that they’re going to like it– actually, no– you hope they’re going to love it. Because those people who are talked about around kitchen tables and in English and Philosophy classes are worth something. Their ideas are gold while yours are mediocre.
Did I ever mention that I plan to remedy these problems with the wisdom of people who actually accomplish stuff? No. Oh. Whoops.
#3 It “doesn’t come bursting out of” me. The video that I linked back at the top (you should really give it a watch if you’ve got the time) explains that this problem is actually common among writers. The problem for me is that I haven’t solidified my status as a writer. I call this blog TheDailyishWriter but the truth is that I don’t write daily. In fact, I used to not write weekly, nor even monthly. The “ish” is there for a reason, but if I can’t justify the inclusion of the word “Daily” at all, I might as well just give up, right? (I swear the remedies are coming). I set goals and share them, hoping that they’ll be forced to come true. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment of not trying, right? Well, it turns out that I absolutely can and have. I gave up on a 20,000-word book that I spent hours upon hours on. If there was ever a better example of my insecurity, I’d name it now. Oh wait, there is! I haven’t spent enough time working on writing in general. If you add up that time I spent playing Skyrim or G-mod or other video games or watching all of Breaking Bad or… (INSERT EVERYTHING I’VE COMPLETELY WASTED MY TIME ON HERE), I would have probably written something alright by now.
Okay, enough of the self-loathing. I’m not crazy about people that go on and on about what they struggle with. It makes them a victim, and when people who aren’t real victims act like victims, it takes attention away from people who really are victims. However, I included these struggles so that if, by some chance, other writers come across this post, they’ll know that they have someone to relate to. All the bad stuff being said, it’s time for the wisdom.
A while back, I realized that writing fiction wasn’t really my thing, at least, it wasn’t my main thing. If you’d like, you can still read some of my fiction work here on this site (you just have to go a little far back). I started off with a passion for fiction because I loved that people could share their philosophies through stories. Then, I discovered Malcolm Gladwell and fell in love with nonfiction stuff too. It didn’t take long before I began caring so much more infatuated with the real world in comparison with the worlds of fiction. However, there is a great argument (2:06-2:36) made by Ray Bradbury for writing and reading fiction that I partially agree with and find extremely inspiring. In essence, his argument is this: We know the basic facts of life once we become adults. What we need after we’ve learned about the world is interpreters: philosophers, theologians, poets. Because we live in a factual world, we need to apply philosophy. The thing is that becomes difficult when you don’t take into account that not everyone reads philosophy. The answer to this problem is fiction.
I think that facts are still far more important than just pure fiction. You can function with a life built entirely on a foundation of facts. A life built entirely on fiction will not allow you to understand how things work and will leave you on a constantly erroneous path. However, life is missing something great without interpretation and philosophy; that is why we need the Ray Bradburys and Neil Gaimans of the world.
If you thought I was structured enough to write out the solutions to these problems in order, you would be incorrect. In fact, I’m listing off pieces of advice that help my specific problems as well as wisdom that just comes to mind.
The next example of brilliant advice comes from the novelist Anne Lamott. In my English 101 class during my freshman year of college, my professor handed out an excerpt from Lamott’s Bird by Bird called “Shitty First Drafts.” She argues that when you want to write something, it’s imperative that you just put your fingers to the keys and don’t look back. Write as much as possible, and if it’s absolute garbage, good. Keep writing until you know you have enough to work with. Then, go back and edit. Simple, right? Write a shitty first draft to get the words out, then edit those words to become beautiful. Bradbury agreed with this actually; just above his typewriter where he worked almost every day were the words “DON’T THINK!”
The biggest help I’ve ever received from anyone when it comes to writing or working at all actually was shared to me through my English 102 professor Dr. Linfield. He required that the entire class read a book by Dr. Carol S. Dweck titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I learned from that book that I had a “fixed mindset.” I believed that my abilities were natural and stagnate. I was born cursed with a poor work ethic and mediocre writing, musical, and mathematical abilities. That book taught me that I was wrong and that my mentality and way that I approach a problem was the opposite of productive. I’ve closed so many doors in my life because I thought that I wasn’t “designed” to do that kind of work. The heaviest door during that time was writing. I figured I just didn’t have it. Turns out, I didn’t– you have to work for it and work HARD.
There are many greater pieces of advice on my list of things have helped me improve over time, but these were the most relevant and pressing in my head at the moment.