I think about writing a lot, but probably not in the ways you might assume. I’m no craftster – I don’t sit here everyday and ponder over elegant word choices or edgy structure or whether or not what I may write each day will please someone or lead to something else. I don’t have the time nor the patience for much honing; if I take too long with a piece, the day will slip by and I will have made nothing. What I do think about with writing is finding things every day that compel me to feel something, something which provokes an emotion or something I want to translate from the visual into the verbal. How the end product settles is often a complete surprise to me, even as I am typing down what is coming out as quickly as I can.

There seem to be a lot of unhappy, unfulfilled, struggling writers in the world, wrestling with their first novels, trying for years to flog screenplays, becoming depressed after learning their books were leading in store returns for the month. There are so, so many writers – why is it so many of them don’t enjoy writing? As a Happy Writer, maybe I can deconstruct this somewhat, as I sit typing on my laptop in my car waiting for my kid to finish a class. Time waits for no one, I’ve heard.

Are You Unhappy Anyway?

This seems to be the lot of a great deal of creative sorts, whether  we are talking about writers, musicians, artists, dancers, etc. Perhaps those drawn to creative pursuits need that particular way to vent emotion, because art can express more of the human spirit than what can be ever be said. However, I absolutely do not buy that one must be a miserable bastard to create art. Strong negative emotions are definite prompts for expression, yes; I sure love a good fiery rant or a thrashing guitar spew myself. The problem with having problems is that you spend too much time with yourself and your worries, and not enough with the outside world and all the things you need to be open to in order to be the best writer you can be. Depression dampens the spirit and the mind; your creative output will likely be very one-sided and very slow until you resolve to work on the issues that are bumming you out.

What Are You Trying To Get From Writing?

I think the answer is usually the same here: a decent living, and attention. Writers want their stories, fact or fiction, technical or flowery, to be heard and acknowledged and to not have to be sidelined doing other paid work that they don’t like as much. Writers often very much want to be great. Not good – great, one of the greatest that ever lived, quoted five hundred years into the future, with college courses devoted to your career. Not to be a downer, but I could haul out the ol’ bell curve chart and remind everyone that greatness + acclaim  + money is way way way way way over to the right, and the chart for writers (or any artists) would be skewed to have a pretty sizable bulge over to the left side. I’m not going to tell anyone not to try for the brass ring (well, OK, that’s not really true, but I digress), but I will tell you that you now writers have never had more competition for fewer resources. There are far more reliable ways of making money and getting someone to look at you, like becoming a hooker. I’m not suggesting that, however.  I think it is always best to be realistic; if you really want to write, please do and do not stop, but it is extremely rare to make a living at it. You might be a whole lot happier coming to terms with that.

Who Are You?

As stated, there are so, so many writers. There are hacks, there are the jaw-droppingly gifted, and most fall somewhere in-between (bell curve, again…love that psych degree). There are a whole lot of very good writers in any genre that you can think of. There are far fewer that have a unique voice. These are the people who have such a way with words that you know their style immediately, and can spot when someone copies them, too. This is the real brass ring. You are not going to develop your own voice in a prestigious and costly writer’s program – those are designed to teach you to write like those who have come before you, and like the particular professor that’s grading you. No one can teach you how to be you, and how to get that to the page. You can never get there unless you are willing to be honest, and to dig deep into the emotions and ideas that will resonate with your readers. You have to know who you are and what you think and believe, and this doesn’t just happen – it takes real reflection and sifting and sorting, and is often not that pleasant a process. You have to have a good range of experience, and an imagination that can take you far past that. Your readers will let you know when you are getting close to the brass ring, and that is something you can be very happy about.

Do You Need To Stop Writing?

It’s possible. If you have been doing battle with a piece of writing work for a long time, you feel guilty that you haven’t done more with it, it doesn’t “feel” right, and when you open it up on your computer, you let out a massive sigh, consider bailing. It may be the wrong thing for you to be working on, or it may be the wrong time. If you don’t love it, work on something you do love. It’s OK to bury that word baby sometimes. Also, staring at a computer screen willing yourself to write is never going to make you a better writer; it just makes you someone who reluctantly typed on command. Shut that thing down and do the things that will make you a better observer, for that is what the best writers are: the reporters of the details that make the mind and heart sing with recognition and connection. Listen to conversations in a coffee shop. Train yourself to see differently by actively doing other kinds of art, like photography or painting. Look at a stranger’s face to find what is interesting about it. Hear all the sounds around you that you normally ignore. Then don’t put them down on paper until your description of them feels just right to you. Stock phrases and canned emotions and tepid detail will make you feel like a phony, even if you get paid a six-figure advance for them. Readers look to you to say the things they can’t. Be that guy.

My time is up. But I’ll be back tomorrow with…well, I have no idea whatsoever.  Man, I love that.

Write on.