First of all, I want to again thank everyone who wrote to express their sympathy for … well, what I wrote in My Stepmother Passed Away. I’m going to wait a day or two to see if any more such comments come in; I’ll then gather them into a single document and mail them to my father. He’ll cry to read them, I know. So again let me thank you all for the role you’ve played and will play yet in my family’s processing of this sadness.
So then: Back to the writing stuff. (If you’re … new here, or whatever, first I wrote How To Make a Living Writing; then How To Make a Living Writing, Part Two; then Writing: Don’t Get Me Started; then my poor stepmother became late; and now … here we be, G.)
I’m starting to feel a little pretentious offering writing advice; already I can barely stop myself from growing a goatee, smoking a pipe, and assuming a forlorn, haunted expression. Writing’s an art; producing art is as personal as personal gets; trying to guide anyone’s who’s producing art via General Principles or (where’s my pipe!) Sagacious Insights, is like trying to show someone a rose over the phone.
Oh, wait. You can do that now.
Wow! It’s moments just like this that make you realize how soon it’s going to be before you start rethinking just how funny all the bizzaro geriatric equipment at the drugstore really is.
Okay, this could be another such “Are We Old Yet?” moment: Today, at the gym I joined about three weeks ago, I blithley walked into the ladies’ locker room. Absolutely unbelievable. I was like Bigfoot having a heart attack in a harem.
I can’t think about it. It’s too painful. Let’s move on.
So here’s some advice I actually have given newerish-type writers. You pretend you’re a newbie writer to whom I’m giving advice, and I’ll pretend I’m a wizened, insightful writer who’s never strolled soaking wet into women’s locker room while wearing a Speedo:
“Young (or relatively inexperienced) writer! Listen to me! For verily do I have for you some top-drawer Writing Advice that’s actually real and true. Ready? Here it is: It’s not about you.
“You want to be a writer, right? Well, what people usually mean when they say that is that they’re very keen on communicating to the world what it’s like to be, specifically, them: to have their unique vision, their ideas, their sensibilities, their relationships, their experiences, their … whole thing. Right? And that makes perfect sense: What is art, if not an expression of individuality?
“Without question, a monumental part of being an artist is identifying, corralling, and ultimately allowing to dominate the process by which you express it the very essence of who you are. An artist must find his own voice, period. (And we can certainly talk about that process if … if anyone’s still reading this series.)
“But another massive, indispensable part of being an artist — of being a writer — is understanding that everything in the world has its own truth, a truth that doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with you. People who want to write are often so wrapped up in what they think about a thing that they never let that thing tell them what to think about it. Things — people, relationships, experiences, virtually everything — have their own integrity, their own dynamic, their own process, context, purpose, rhythm, reason. If you really want to be a writer, you have to learn to wipe out all your ideas and preconceptions about as much stuff as you possibly can, and let whatever it is that has your attention tell and show you what it is.”
Okay, that’s enough now with the quotes / fake speech-making.
Here’s the bottom line: Someone who is more interested in themselves than they are the world at large probably won’t make it as a writer. You have to be insanely empathetic to be a writer. To be a writer you have to think everything is more interesting than you.
Writing isn’t about exercising your ego. It’s about erasing your ego. It’s about getting out of the way of whatever needs to be said, so that it can be said in a way that does justice to the thing that’s telling you what you need to say about it.
Would-be writers are forever wanting to share themselves with the world. Fair enough; that’s a big part of writing, for sure. But if, in being totally honest with yourself, you find that you are more interested in sharing yourself with the world than you are with, in essence, sharing the world with the world, then save yourself the trouble, and stop imagining you’re a writer. You’re not.
Lucky you. You’re normal.