Writer’s Lifestyle? Pshaw!
“Don’t romanticize your ‘vocation.’ You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page.”
– Zadie Smith
A fair number of people stop by the Perception (What People Think I Do) generator en route to Facebook. Writers seem drawn to this meme.
You’ve probably seen it, complete with canned images:
- What my friends think I do.
- What my mom thinks I do.
- What society thinks I do.
- What my boss thinks I do.
- What I think I do.
- What I actually do.
More often than not, the Facebook posts are self-deprecating, suggesting that while everyone (including the poster) thinks s/he has a glamorous job, s/he actually works as a restroom janitor at a gas station.
Where do romantic views of the writing profession come from? Perhaps our imaginations go over to the dark side and speculate on what things would be like after the big break, the big book, the big movie contract.
Yet, we can’t get there because of doomed relationships, star-crossed memories, drunken muses, greedy publishers, personal demons who are empowered by the written word. Yet we soldier on, bravely against the tide, right, and suddenly our real what-I-think-I-do is born.
It’s addictive, and explains everything–not that anybody’s asking–and helps us through the cold nights, especially after talking with other writers who have romanticized their vocations. The thing builds on itself, becomes the big lie we all know but won’t admit to.
Cheryl Strayed has said, “Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”
Maybe we think too much and/or talk too much rather than digging in and putting the next story or poem down on the page. Yes, I know, reaching for that romanticized version of our work is difficult to resist on those days when the words come out wrong, probably more difficult than resisting reaching for a cigarette after we thought we quit.
The true wonder of this vocation comes, I think, from the words that come out right whether that happens a little or a lot. Those words are the real you and will impact readers much better than telling them fictions about what you do or think you do.