Confessions Of A Writer: A Mixed Bag Of Suffering, Relief, And Acceptance
An honest assessment of pursuing the painful, masochistic, and sometimes enjoyable path of becoming a writer.
Photo by Eric Helgas
In collaboration with Urban Outfitters and Dickies, we commissioned a series of stories that feature creative leaders who offer their insight on the “new” work world.
I’m still a little unsure if I’m cut out for all of this.
It surprises me when people know me as a writer. It's not always the word I would use. Perhaps because I never intended to do it—to write.
It happened to me as these things can. A series of directions, qualifiers, and adjectives set a trajectory, and it seemed I was overruled. One afternoon in high school my mom was driving me home and she said, I always hoped you’d be a writer. I felt the way I imagine people renovating houses do when they open up a wall and find a doorway, a walled-up room. There was something built in, and I wanted to use it.
I didn’t know the rules then. The old world with its expectations wasn’t so obvious, but I went to college and found them waiting. My first creative writing professor asked us once what we thought of when we imagined a writer. Words were thrown out, suicidal, depressed, alcoholic, isolated, loner. Something absolute seemed to reveal itself over the years in different workshops and groups, in panels and Q&As: When we talk about writing, we must mention its sufferings.
I held the variables close to my chest because it was miserable. There was suffering in being young, desperate for a clear formula to follow its logic, and subsequently finding you’re incapable. The way most people cannot write every day at the same time. The way most people do not have the luxury. I did not feel made for it. I did not wish to suffer, which to me meant I lacked the dedication. Because when it came down to it, the time was there, but I was reserving it for perhaps pointless other things.
Yet, there was even worse an agony in not doing it at all.
When I was 23, a college was ending and the world was opening, I felt an authority in the places it had never been. The written world and its rules seemed to be falling fast. It occurred to me that no one was going to do what I wanted. My agonies would receive no accolades. The title of writer would always elude me unless I decided to take it. I asked myself, how is it I want to do this?
I remembered the last creative writing professor I had, what they said to us on the last day, “It is possible to do this. It’s hard but you can absolutely do it. You don’t have to write every day, but make the time you do write sacred.”
This was the first I’d heard of a worship not interwoven with the suffering of doing it. I realized I was the only one who could decide how I’d do it-—write.
However, I would not consider this an isolating act. I think actually it’s the opposite. The numerous authors, the old world that came before who set the stereotypes, who suffered and gladly, offer you their rules. I don’t dislike their ideas, but it’s a tedious act when you’re young and impressionable. Where, in trying to become a writer you are constantly having your worldview set only to face all that you’ve learned and see there is a greater more accurate truth. To learn there are no absolute terms.
It gets easier though, you know what to look for. The fallacy is revealed over and over again and you start to think perhaps it is this world that is not cut out for you, the old one and parts of the new. There's a certain pleasure, I think, how every author must do their own worldbuilding. You’d think it were by design, how it happens. In order to become a writer you must first do what all writers do, attempt to discover what is true. So when I began to really write, where I called myself a writer I started to ask, how can I make this easier? I did not believe the old rules, did not abide by those universal laws that it had to cost something. I found this desire, my passion, my innate love didn’t have to be a punishment.
And would I say I love writing? Yes, I love it the way you love anything. The way it can become a chore, it bothers you, it frustrates me, and is hard. But I’ll wake up early on my days off, and tiredly drag myself around my apartment to do it. I am compelled and addicted to its acts, I am never not thinking about it, never free of its influences. It shows up in the clothes I wear and the music I choose. Even in the worst of times, coming home from the worst of jobs after the worst weather, tired as a dog, on a train at rush hour without any open seats, I will try to write it all down. A love letter to the world, maybe, which never loved me. I love writing the way you love your period after you have sex, there's a relief in the pain itself. And when it does come you’re almost glad to see it, regardless of what it means you must do.
Fran Lebowitz said the only people who love to write are bad writers. I probably am a bad writer myself. I have yet to discover the polite response to the question, how do you navigate writer's block? The answer, almost always being, I give up. I think it’s a symptom, not a diagnosis, and in consequence, skip work like you’re not supposed to. I don’t write every day or even every other day. I probably use the words wrong sometimes, thinking I know what they mean. There are typos and mistakes, there is an attention to detail I’m not always paying.
I do suffer from time to time, but it is always my own fault and it is never the writing itself. Either way, though I win. This answers a question I’ve been asking for years.
In order to be a bad writer, you must first and foremost be a writer.