I read an article today about why someone gave up on being a writer. It was interesting, in light of my last article, to hear from someone who’d achieved moderate success. The article was well-written, thoughtful, and the man who wrote it was obviously hardworking and determined enough to scrape together some success. Certainly, far more successful than most people who set out down that road.
The piece is called “Why I Quit Being a Writer” by Jaime Clark, and it’s good. I also found myself thinking, of course you quit being a writer because he had exactly the problem (and to his credit, recognized as much) that I outlined in last week’s post: He didn’t want to be a writer, he wanted to be a guy who wrote a famous novel.
I probably oversimplified the concept, though, as it’s nowhere near simple. We motivate ourselves towards goals by focusing on those long-term goals. I spend a lot of days doing work I don’t want to do in the understanding that it’s working towards work I do want to do, and I’m fine with it. Mostly fine with it.
It doesn’t change the fact that writing can feel more like a chore than a passionate love affair at times. Why do it, then? It’s not bloody easy, that’s for sure.
I think the easiest answer is in one of Clark’s lines, “I hadn’t had the impulse to write another word in years, and when friends inquired if publication would inspire more books, I answered truthfully: that I’d said what I had to say . . . ”
If my life falls to pieces, or I have to strike out in some new direction, I can’t imagine for a single second not writing. In fact, that was a big part of why I made the choice to leave grad school and follow this path to begin with: I was always going to prefer writing to whatever I was doing, so I might as well make a real honest go of it.
Clark compares himself, repeatedly to JD Salinger, and suggests that the reason Salinger stopped writing was, like himself, that he’d said what he had to say. I never run out of things to say. Moreover, and more importantly, in a world of infinite stories, I can’t imagine running out of new stories I want to tell, with no worlds, people, or ideas I can’t wait to explore.
To the rest of the world, it’s what we do that matters, but to ourselves, in all things, it’s why that shapes the story. Our whys become our whats, provided we have the will, the cleverness, and the courage to stare down the many and various hows of it all.
Life, whatever we chose to do with it, casts us all in the role of ocean against shore, where we throw ourselves over, and over, and over again, at our furthest bounds, in an effort to wear them down and away. How far you go depends on your willingness to muster up all available energy and cast it against something which, to all appearances, has not one millimeter of give in it; then to reel back and do it again, and again.
Many great projects are the work of many lifetimes, both simultaneous and sequential.
I think one of the things that makes writing so difficult for most people is that there is an inherent loneliness to it. It need not be overwhelming, but it’s easier to muster that energy for one last charge when you’re part of a roaring crowd than when you’re one solitary voice of defiance echoing over the deeps.
In the end, though, if you want to wear down that unyielding shore, you have to enjoy being the waves. If you all you to be is a famous writer, but you don’t actually want to write, well, that’s not enough.