I’ve made it. I’ve cleared my first year of the 40s. Forty-one seems a rather uninspiring age, and yet I’m looking ahead with a sense of excitement. I’m keeping it light, though: coffee with a friend, a fall day hanging with my 4-year-old and just enjoying an inner peace will do nicely, thank you.
But I was tickled to realize today would be a “Writing Wednesday.” Looking back over the past 40 years, I see the story of my life in hindsight, and it’s a rather interesting view from here. I’m amazed at the many ways writing has defined who I am, what I’m all about.
I kind of fell into this career by default. Having a poetic father and a great-grandfather who penned a book and many, many teachers (of writing and other things) in my life from the beginning, it seemed my path was, in some sense, laid out before me. It was just a matter of whether I would happen upon it. In time I did, because it seemed to be one of the things I did fairly well and I found the world of words a comforting place to be.
Even so, writing has never been, never will be, all that I am. But I find it interesting that, of all the things that I am, the label of writer seems to hold the most mystique to those beyond the writing circle, or those just entering it. The reality is that the life of a writer is typically no more glamorous than most jobs. Most writers don’t write from a room within a rustic cabin overlooking a lake. Many of us struggle to earn a living with our writing. Few of us are rich. And it’s hard work emotionally. Oftentimes there’s much anguish and a mere pittance to show for it. Because of this, we sometimes question our sanity.
From the outside, it might look glamorous, or seem as though it should be. Some newer writers in particular fall into the trap of seeking publication for the glory of it. The rest of us know the truth of it — the guts part — and seek it anyway. We seek it because we believe we have something important to share, and we’re willing to put in the hours to hone our craft so that our work will be ready to be birthed when the time is right. We’re in it for the long haul because we believe in the stories within us. Long-haul writers won’t get tripped up on visions of the limelight. In fact, most of us have a certain fear of being truly public people. We feel safer behind our computers, cranking out the words we see fit to share, than giving an acceptance speech on a stage. We’re observers, somewhat introverted at times, oftentimes deep feelers, and almost always deep thinkers. We brood and release. brood and release; it’s like breathing to us. And as Natalie Goldberg said in Writing Down the Bones, we live twice — first, through experiencing it, and then a second time as we analyze and share what we’ve observed with others as we try to make sense of the world around us.
Despite the mystique of the writing label, or perhaps because of it, some people have a hard time admitting to being a writer even when they are one. It can take years for them to recognize, “Hey, I am a writer.” Why is that? If you have an affinity for words and you take time to write each day, you’re a writer. You might not even be published — yet. But you’re still a writer. Own it. It’s not some elusive title only reserved for the most refined among us. As Julia Cameron has said, a writer is one who writes. Hmm, now that doesn’t sound so mysterious, does it?
Because I’ve spent my career as a writer, I’ve never hesitated to call myself such. It seemed fairly obvious to me from early on. And maybe it helps that the mystique is gone, or perhaps was never really there. I didn’t come into writing because I wanted to be a famous writer. If that happens, I’ll be stunned. The odds are against it so I’m not going to think too much more about it. That’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I’m looking for connections, wanting to share information, hoping to convey my take on life, and I’m counting on the fact that doing so will sometimes prompt someone to consider another view, even if they don’t completely agree. I’m a reader too, and I know that one cannot be a true writer without also being a true reader. The two are indelibly connected. Just ask Stephen King, whose public disguise isn’t sunglasses but burying his head in a book as he walks. (I once saw him on the streets of NYC in this very disguise, so I know it’s true.)
I guess in sum I have to say that the writing life has been, for me, life in abundance, complete with a lot of guts and a smidgeon of unexpected glory. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share words with others, and, on a really lucky day, inspire a reaction. It’s a life-giving exchange that I would miss deeply if I ever were to be stripped of my capacity to write. But I’m glad that I’m here more for the guts than glory. If the thought of glory was my motivating factor, I’m afraid the disappointment would be fierce. Writers are just people doing their work, and most days, that’s about all she wrote.
What motivates you to write? Guts or glory? What is the source of the fire in your belly?