Being a writer

Posted on October 14, 2015

My friend’s son is in high school and considering becoming a writer. She asked me my thoughts on this as we waited for our daughters to finish basketball practice.

To write or not to write; is it really even a question?

The question of whether or not to become a writer is a complicated one not easily answered over lukewarm tea sipped from commuter mugs in the atrium of a community centre. This is because I think being a writer is something you just are. If you are a writer, you can’t not be one. Whether or not you find a way to make it your profession is one thing, but not writing is quite another.

I flashed back to my own 17-year-old self. A moderate insomniac, voracious reader, hopeless romantic and obsessive writer. I would fill notebooks, journals, reams of looseleaf, several of those diaries with little gold locks and keys and in some cases, napkins or scraps of paper. I had to write because I couldn’t not write. I was miserable if I didn’t write everyday. If only I could have bottled some of that creative gusto to crack open now that I am a mildly frazzled, constantly distracted, perpetually sleepy working mother of two.

In those days I wrote stories, journal entries, poems and prose. Sometimes prosaic, sometimes flowery, but always, always, always I wrote. I wrote the story of my life as I wished it to be and I wrote the story of my life as it was. I composed letters. I jotted lists. I recorded my goals and dreams. I ploughed through assignments and essays and papers in English and history and aced them. I failed math. I struggled with science. I made mistakes. I fell in and out of love. I had my heart broken once, twice, three times. I went home and wrote about that too.

I went on to study journalism, but probably should have pursued creative writing. I found myself working at a newspaper. I wound up writing drivel for the ad department and I wilted and waned. I became stressed and sick. I told myself I hated writing, but really I only hated what I was being made to write. Eventually I quit the paper and drifted to a few different jobs, but I never stopped writing. They say to “do what you love”, but I think it’s more accurate to say do what haunts you, or do what keeps you awake. Do what follows you in your sleep. Do what your mind drifts toward when you are trying to do anything else.

A couple decades later and I’m still writing. It’s harder to carve out the time, but I realize I am better when I write. I’m nicer. I’m more relaxed and funnier, less spastic and uptight. Something happens to me when I write. It’s a creative outlet, but it’s also something more. It’s a connection to something greater than me. Julia Cameron calls it the vein of gold. Elizabeth Gilbert calls it grace. Whatever you call it, it cannot be faked.

She was a person you would not be surprised to find sitting by herself in a corner of the world where she didn’t belong, writing things in a notebook to prevent the rise of panic.

-Alice Munro

Writing calms me, writing feeds me something I can’t seem to find anywhere else. Believe me, I’ve looked. It would be so much easier if I was not like this. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Even if I wanted to stop writing altogether, I can’t. I’ve tried and it is an impossibility. If I am writing, even if it’s writing badly I am somehow sated, because at least I am writing something. And when I am not writing, guess what I am thinking about? What I should be writing, instead of whatever “silly thing” I am doing at that moment.

A Novel Idea

I am, as you know, attempting to write a novel. It’s not really going that well, to be honest. Many days I’d like to print it off, set it on fire and throw it in the mighty Fraser River, to tell you the truth. But as with many of the things I have written, once a certain amount of time goes by I read it over and I don’t hate it anymore. Sometimes I even think it is kind of good. Maybe this novel will come to be. Maybe it won’t. The one thing I am certain of is that I must write, though. I must write something!

After a moment’s reflection whereby my entire writing life flashed before my eyes, and with a strong sense that my true writing life is, at age 39, only just beginning, I think I asked my friend something like, “Does he actually write very much? Really?” And I think she responded with something like, “No, not really.” “Hmmm,” I said, “Maybe he should try something else.” She nodded, grateful for my honesty. “You’re probably right.”

P.S. True to form I wrote this piece months and months ago thinking it was crap. Today I rediscovered it and thought, hmmm, there’s something to this. Maybe I’ll put it out there…