Okay, listen. Somebody’s gotta tell you the truth. This writing thing? Sometimes it doesn’t happen. You hear all these platitudes from writers everywhere telling you that you have to “just show up at the page” and “do the work” and “write shitty first drafts.” (Thanks to Anne Lamott for the latter—at least she’s keeping it real.) You’re supposed to silence that critical voice and just write, write, write and eventually, somehow, magically, words will happen. And some of them will be good. And those, you’ll keep. And you’ll learn, and grow, and flower, and become.
And sometimes that’s true. But mostly it’s poetic bullshit.
Writing is bullshit. And this isn’t just me being cynical. Writing sucks, and few of us are both manic and depressed enough to persevere.
Here’s what’s going to happen, kid. You’re going to tell yourself that you’re a writer. You’re going to say, “I’m good at this. I should do it. In fact, I have to do it, because it’s the only thing I know, the only way I have of processing the world around me.” This happens particularly when you’re young and idealistic and brimming with optimism.
But then the reality’s going to set in. Writing is work. And not only is it work, but it’s also thankless work. (Yeah yeah, I hear you. “But, the work is its own reward!” Do me a favor—shut up.) You’re probably not going to get famously published, and if you do, it won’t likely be because you’re some sort of literary savant, it will be because you worked your ass off, and you stumbled upon some magical formula that clicked with the right agent, the right audience. There are, like, 12 living literary savants in the world right now (that number is arbitrary, but I bet it’s close) . . . and you’re not one of them. If you are, you’re locked away in some dark warren, scribbling furiously, the frenetic genius. You’re sure as fuck not reading this.
Regardless of your genius, or lack thereof, you’re going to tell yourself you’re a writer for a long time before you realize you might be delusional. You’ll still be telling yourself you’re a writer when it’s been months since you’ve opened a document and written a word. I’m not saying you won’t think about it, but you’ll wrap up a long day of work, and at the end of it all, you’re going to opt to curl up with your favorite blanket and a Netflix marathon rather than torment yourself in the very specific way that writing requires. You’re going to read (or watch) Niel Gaiman’s commencement speech and feel inspired momentarily to “make good art,” but bitch, you’re going to “take long nap” instead.
After a while, you’re going to think that you’ve manifested a full-on case of imposter syndrome. You’ll be convinced that you’re a fraud. You were never a writer. But here’s the good news—you can’t possibly have imposter syndrome because that’s reserved for people who actually do something. It’s reserved for people who do the work but convince themselves they’re not good at it. And you’re not doing the work, are you?
That’s because you know that writing is bullshit. It’s hard. It’s horrible. Everything you actually do write, when you can drag yourself up off the couch, is going to seem like crap, and you’re going to spin through an endless editing spiral that results in no forward progress but lots of shame, expletives, and moments when you clutch your head and murmur, “What the fuck was I thinking?”
By now you’re probably asking yourself whether this is some kind of de-motivational diatribe intended to work reverse psychology on you, the tender writer. Am I telling you how much writing sucks just so you’ll resist my words and dig in? No, I’m not. I’m telling you the goddamn truth, okay? Because you need to hear it.
Say it with me: WRITING IS BULLSHIT.
And now that you’ve said it, do it anyway. When you feel like it. When you can. When the urge sets upon you—and believe me, occasionally it will—write. But don’t endlessly berate yourself for all the writing you’re not doing, because honey, that road leads to misery and self-doubt and guilt. When the weight of all those shoulds has you hunched and staggering, shrug them off. Laugh. Tell yourself, “Whatever! Writing is bullshit.”
And once you let go of all the things you think you ought to be doing, you’ll be free to do the thing you want to be doing, whether it’s binge-watching Full House, having a nosh, sleeping, hanging out with friends, or taking a long walk with the dog. Live a life. Live your life, such as it is. (It won’t always be pretty. So few are.) And occasionally—because words live inside you and yes, you actually are one of those people who sometimes, when the mood strikes, writes—you’ll write your life down.
And it won’t be half bad.