Sunday, September 8, 2019

Descartes, with a Twist

My advice to aspiring writers?


Aspiring, that is. Just write.

If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Spare me the caveats, of which I’m well-aware: I’m an aspiring PROFESSIONAL writer; I’m an aspiring PUBLISHED author. Fair enough. Say that, then. But if you’re a writer, you know what I mean. It’s in your blood, in the agony and exhilaration, the undeniable gospel which speaks to you when you hit your stride and know this is exactly what you were meant to do. Whether or not you publish that novel or hit it big or make a dime, in your heart of hearts, you know the truth, that you’re a writer, and it is your calling. Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

We are, as a community, conditioned to qualify or downplay our standing, abilities and worthiness. Again, this largely tracks with misguided definitions and determinants, sometimes intermixed with our own insecurities. Maybe we need the old Stuart Smalley daily affirmation, or just to lean into it a bit more and embrace and celebrate this passion we harbor. Not everyone will get published; fewer still will make serious bank or achieve critical acclaim. None of those things is impossible, though. And it’s even more important to remember this: not everyone can write. Others may judge (and yes, fear of this exacerbates our writerly angst), but again, YOU KNOW. You are possessing of that fire and of that gift and if for no other reason than to feed that hunger and follow your dream, you owe it to yourself to heed that clarion call. The world will be better for it, for you’ll have contributed your verse.

It’s okay to be afraid. But don’t succumb. “It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people,” notes Scott Berkun, “it’s the fear of not writing well; something quite different.” I struggle mightily with this one. Struggle to abide knowingly producing junk, but that’s all the more reason to stay at it, to keep writing (and reading), so that we may improve our craft. Some scribes are possessing, it seems, of otherworldly talent—I wish I could pen one sentence like Cormac McCarthy. In the end, however, I believe it more often than not comes down to perseverance and pluck. “A professional writer,” said Richard Bach, “is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Ray Bradbury cuts to the quick: “You fail only if you stop writing.”

Perhaps Descartes wouldn’t mind a slight variation: How about, I write, therefore I am. Writers write. It can be tough, for many reasons. It can be a fight. But ignoring the call can feel akin to fighting the very essence of who we are.

My favorite nonfiction author is Erik Larson, and he once proffered me the simple but sage wisdom that the key to this writing thing was “completion.” So many of us—I am definitely culpable—begin projects but never finish them, letting them languish or quitting or moving on to something else (only to repeat the same process). I view these moments as small tragedies, the birthing then abandonment of an idea, a character, a story—the extinguishing of a small flame which, if properly kindled, had the potential to blaze a glorious path. Larson also questioned my tendency to be working on multiple projects simultaneously, urging me to focus on one at a time. He’s right—at least with me—it’s hard enough to find/make time for one project, and meandering between and among multiple at a minimum delays each, and can mitigate against the completion of any.

But here I return to my original exhortation: just write. Even if completion or publication or accolade have no bearing upon your considerations. Write because you are a writer. Because it can be downright maddening not to. “A non-writing writer,” observed Kafka, “is a monster courting insanity.”

Life can be crazy enough. “After nourishment, shelter and companionship,” said Philip Pullman, “stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Hear hear. Nourish your writerly soul; don’t feed the monster.

Write on.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

1 comment:

  1. You needn't worry about writing poorly anymore. You created some wonderful passages in "The Awakening of David Rose," and that segment you posted on Facebook from your upcoming literary novel was simply brilliant. (I'll probably steal it.) *wink*