I’m an amateur writer. I’ve clawed out my own precious corner of my school’s Creative Writing Program and it is in this space that I am continuously attempting to prove myself. That’s the issue with writers: we sit in front of our keyboards, we psychoanalyze our own characters, and we try to develop ourselves through the people on the page. It is thankless work in a lot of ways. There are readers who will relate to our pieces. There are other readers that will see the label “creative non-fiction” or “poetry” and immediately put our work back on the shelf. Being a writer is a lot like shouting into a theater where the only response is your own voice calling back at you. Or worse – being a writer is like posing a question to an audience that refuses to look up from their phones.
I remember hearing Jerry Seinfeld say in an interview, “Being a comedian is having to prove yourself every 10 seconds.” I like Jerry. He’s a funny guy, and he knows the importance of a good punchline. In his routines he takes a few seconds to build up his audience, establish an expectation, and then subvert it with the joke’s conclusion. I love it – I love the pace and the formula of a joke that lands perfectly on its feet. But writers don’t get the same luxuries as Jerry Seinfeld. Every word helps to establish who we are, every mistake puts a crack in our relationship with our audience. Have you ever read a book and found a sentence that was, simply put, awkward? There’s a moment of pause. You reread the sentence again because, surely, that wasn’t quite right. And then, like a significant other’s hand that lingers for just a moment too long over another, the mild tension brings the connection into question. Writers are not judged every 10 seconds, they are judged every word. And, to be honest, the anxiety of knowing that one’s piece needs to stand with collective integrity is almost crippling. Yet we keep writing. We desire the investment of our audience so entirely that we are willing to expose ourselves to the criticism of our invisible readership. Our audience is often made up of people we will (sometimes thankfully) never meet, a silent gallery that we hope will connect with us through the universe we are creating on the page. The desire to foster that relationship is so great that we’ll let our readers pick us apart, word by word.
Ernest Hemingway is quoted in saying (quite romantically), “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I love the poignant image of this statement, the idea that writing is simply taking what is already living deep inside and releasing it onto the page. And yet Hemingway invokes blood. He knows that the writing process is more painful than what the reader ultimately sees. Maybe that is why so many artists go absolutely insane. These writers expose the darkest parts of their existence so that a customer in a bookstore in Bumblefucknowhere, USA, can say, “Well, the writing is okay, but it’s not really my thing…”
When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to survive this world’s constant criticism. I wasn’t in the most emotionally stable point in my life (family illness will do that to a person), but I knew that if creative writing didn’t pan out there were other career avenues for me to pursue. In the months that followed, I wrote several truly horrible pieces. I penned entire stories without an ounce of intrigue, plotlines that contained characters with flat names and even flatter personalities. And then, as I was about to banish myself to remaining a buyer of books instead of writing them, I created a story that made someone respond. It was a bland comment, something along the lines of, “Interesting…” But that was it – I was hooked. The high of knowing that my mind had produced a piece that resonated with another person was irreplaceable. It started a cycle of addiction that continues to this day. Let writers be warned: like any great high, the next one you chase has to be bigger. Your next audience has to be more extensive, your next piece more important.
So, let’s move forward in the development of this newbie writer. Let’s assume that in a few years, I’m just not cutting it anymore. I write in my spare time, I work to pay rent, and the stories that I keep sending to my friends and family begin to cross the line between “cute” and “annoying.” Then – is it all over? Will my voice shrink away, resentful that I never pursued a part of myself that showed a modicum of promise? Maybe. If that is the case, I will deserve the lingering hunger of never knowing what could have been. However, if my brief time in the creative writing world shows just one person that writing is important, that will be enough. If I cause someone to question life for a second longer or pursue writing for a moment more, I will have fulfilled my desire to be an author of vague importance.
So, I leave you with this: a statement can be small or pithy, but a question lingers in the mind for longer. Question me. Question all of the advice that I have just given you about the place of writers, our standing in the universe. Squint your eyes at the customer in the bookstore that insists those books aren’t really their thing, and remember that those are the books that are the most important to read. Absorb everything – dive into the words. Look up from your phones and contemplate the questions that are being shouted at you and don’t be afraid of hearing only your own echo when you shout back. And then, while you are thinking, go to your keyboard. Go to your keyboard and bleed.
“Ernest Hemingway Quotes.” Brainyquotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2017. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ernesthemi384744.html.
Youtube. Ken Jones, 30 Dec. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKY6BGcx37k.