A few years ago, back near when I first started this blog, I wrote about how I’d seen a show where a man was saving money by installing his own cabinet hardware in his kitchen. He said that a person who installs hardware can make $10 a knob. I was appalled. Someone could make $10 to screw in a knob, and I was struggling just to get paid anything for my writing. Maybe this writing thing wasn’t worth it. Maybe I should just quit and teach more.
I ranted and whined in the post for a while, and at the end, I felt that surgy power of self-righteousness . . . until my friends began to comment. One after the other, they pointed out that maybe I was putting the way to value my work in the wrong space. Maybe it wasn’t money that revealed what made my work important. Maybe I needed to adjust.
I was livid. They didn’t get it. Our society devalues art. They value cabinet hardware more. Our society devalued me.
Now, years later, I look back and realize that this post, these comments from people who were further down the writing road than I am helped to save me from a life of bitterness and to keep me on this path where, now, I do make a living from my writing.
These days, I find myself in a position, often, where I can speak to people just a little further back on the writing path than I am. I have a chance to do what these kind friends did for me and speak truth into the lies we tell ourselves.
Here are the lies I’m hearing writers whisper and cling to over and over again; here’s how I respond.
1. I don’t have time to write; I have to support my family financially. Of course you have to support your family financially. So do many, many writers. But in a week of 168 hours, you can’t carve out two to write, even if it’s just 15-20 minutes a day? You can’t take a tape recorder on your commute and put down your thoughts? You can’t skip sleeping in for that extra half-hour when the house is quiet on a Saturday morning? You can’t ask your partner or a friend to watch the kids for one evening so you can slip to a coffee shop for two hours?
2. I can’t get my own space and time to write. I have small children. I spend a lot of time with small children. I know they take a lot of time and energy. I know they aren’t necessarily very good at sitting and playing quietly with a soft toy that won’t take out an eye. But really, you can’t sneak in some time with a journal when they are napping? You can’t go on a play date once a week and ask another parent to watch them play while you sit on the porch or in the bathtub and jot down some words? You can’t wake up before they do on a Thursday and hit the keyboard for a few minutes in the hush of the morning?
3. I can’t write until I know HOW to do it. Once you read that next writing book, once you take that new class, once you have all the questions about writing answered, then you’ll write, right? But what do you do when the writing books give you conflicting advice? What happens when you come to the end of the class and still have more questions? What do you do when you realize that there is no “right” way to write?
4. Society doesn’t appreciate writers, so why would I put my time here? You know what society appreciates? Honey Boo Boo. Seriously, are you doing to let a group of people who think a round-faced, childhood beauty queen is good entertainment decide your worth? Really?
5. I don’t live a glamorous, traumatic, story-filled, [insert adjective here] life, so how could I be a writer? One of my favorite books of all time is House by Tracy Kidder. It does not have anything to do with a talented musician who is also a grumpy, wounded doctor who saves lives. Nope, it’s the story of the people who worked to build one single-family home in Massachusetts. Kidder profiles the lives of the men who work there – normal construction guys – and talks about what he learns in the process. You can’t write about something you see every day? The way traffic snarls around 3:30 when buses hit the road? The way the dude in the next cubicle sucks all the chocolate off his milk duds and then stores the caramel in a cut-glass bowl for “later? The way your grandfather laughed at all your jokes, even the one about the popsicle? Come on! Proust and that Madeline for pages and pages. Surely you have something to say.
6. My life has been painful, and I don’t want to stir things up again. I hear ya, and I’m not suggesting you publish your trauma. But if you’re honest, are you finding that NOT writing about it is saving you pain? Aren’t those memories still banging against your chest and bruising you from time to time? Writing isn’t going to heal them or make the memories go away – believe me, I know. But I also know that writing through them is a way to make them useful and just a tad bit less powerful.
See, here’s the thing that my friends reminded me when I wrote that post years ago, and here’s the thing I’d like you to hear – there will always be excuses not to write and ways we justify our fear. We can devote a lot of our time to righteous anger, to complaint, to lament, to discussions of how we will write when . . .
But none of that is writing. None of that is the stuff that makes our souls smooth out and our breath come soft.
If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to make excuses or whine about how you want to but just can’t, by all means, do so. Maybe someone will be kind enough to give you, as they did for me, a firm word or two about how you’re putting your energy in the wrong place. When they do, be angry, but then take a breath and hear them because they probably aren’t being snarky or dismissive. They’re probably being right.