04 August 2020

I Write Therefore I Am


Walking the dogs. Buster above.
 Pepper (left) and Buster below.
Sometimes—often—I get tired of the writing grind. A lot of blood, sweat, tears and toil for very little reward, or so it seems. I’ll complain to my wife that I want to quit. I’ll think about doing just that. But then I think about what I would do with all that extra time. Garden? Watch TV? Read? Do hobbies? Spend even more time walking the dog.

Who would I be? My whole identity is wrapped up in being a writer and has been almost my whole adult life. I don’t think I’d recognize myself anymore if I wasn’t writing. One hears about people who retire and have these great expectations of playing golf all the time or doing whatever their fancy is and then getting bored awfully damn quick. But also losing their identity because so much of it was wrapped up in their work.

Writing is more than a job. It’s a calling. I’ve sacrificed a lot over the years to work at being a writer, so obviously it was something that was worth making sacrifices for.

And I like the process of creating something out of nothing, yet it’s too late for me to be a molecular physicist, if that’s the right terminology. Writing fiction is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle (something I don’t have the patience for). But like a jigsaw puzzle in writing you have to find all the right pieces and put them in all the right places or it just doesn’t fit.

I write, therefore I am. With my assistant, Curley.

Red Smith famously said: "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."  Even when you open a vein for the Red Cross and donate blood they give you juice and cookies.



Most people don't have an appreciation for what we go through as writers.  The hours spent alone, no one to talk to over the water cooler (though that's changed somewhat with the internet, which is a surrogate water cooler).  The opening of our veins to get to the good stuff.

Like I said, it’s a calling. And it called me very young. When I was a kid I used to set up my army men on the bedroom floor.  But often, instead of moving them around pretending they were on a real battlefield I would pretend that they were on a movie set. I was lucky enough to have one little plastic figure of a cameraman and I'd even set up my TinkerToys in such a way to mimic Klieg lights. I'd move the men around the floor, putting words in their mouths, the good guys and the bad. Making sounds of gunfire and other sound effects. That, coupled with having been born in Hollywood, literally, made me want to do something in the movies. So today when I write something I figure I'm just doing on paper what I used to do on the floor of my room, moving around letters and sentences the way I used to move "armies" across the floor. And it really all amounts to the same thing. On the other hand, I am really still playing with (and collecting) toy soldiers. See pic.

Still playing with toy soldiers.

And, when I started out as a writer I had romantic notions of what being a writer meant. Images of Hemingway sipping absinthe on the Left Bank. And though Hollywood ain't no left bank it did have Joe Allen's at the time, so I went there for drinks. Or I'd sip some whiskey while writing in my little office. But I found that if I drank while writing—or trying to write—I didn't want to write. I wanted to play. So those romantic visions of the drinking writer (at least while writing) vanished quickly as did the bottle. I also thought writers should hang out at bars and dives and soak up atmosphere or thrown beer. My first adventure out was to a well-known sleazy eatery. I sat at the counter listening for tidbits of dialogue, insights into lives. What I got was a shirt full of beer when two guys playing pool a few feet away got into a fight. Free beer, who could ask for more?  If a cop had stopped me on the way home my shirt-alcohol level would surely have been over the legal limit.  Would they have arrested me or just my shirt?
Caf├ętafel met absint by Vincent Van Gogh
So, though it can get tedious, though the rewards might not always come, I don’t think I could or would ever give up on writing. Ultimately, we write because we have to. We open those veins because we have no choice. And anything’s better than sitting around watching TV all day, even that vein opening.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

"I hate saying a book transcends the genre and I honestly usually don't like books that do. This one however does and might win some awards because of it."
                                                                          —Jochem Vandersteen, Sons of Spade
                           



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18 comments:

  1. We write because we can't not write.

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  2. Amen! Been writing since I was a little girl; probably will be mulling over plots on my deathbed.

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  3. I've been making up stories since I was a child and writing since I was a teenager. I can't imagine a life without writing. You're right about the "calling." Writers who begin early and go the distance, year after year regardless of the rewards or lack thereof, definitely heard a call.

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  4. Great column. Unlike you and almost all my writer friends, I started late (in my forties), and didn't even like English in high school and college. I liked math and science. But now I can't even imagine not writing. It is indeed a calling.

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  5. I am one of the research subjects for the University of Michigan's long-term Health and Retirement Study, which has surveyed and studied approximately 20,000 people over age 50 in America every two years since 1992. One question that irks me every time I'm surveyed asks when I plan to retire, but does not offer an option that fits me. I do not plan to retire. I don't know any writers who do plan to retire. Writers write until mental or physical disability prevents them from continuing. So, I leave the answer blank (when I can) and make a note in the comments box at the end.

    They still haven't changed the survey.

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  6. Writing is what we do. If we changed that, we wouldn't be who we are.

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  7. Agreed. Thanks for saying this, Paul!

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  8. Madeline Gornell04 August, 2020 15:34

    I love this post, Paul, and it's given me a starting point for my next post I need to do for Writers in Residence (if you don't mind me doing that). I think the whole "topic" is worthy of thought for all writers. Kudos!

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  9. Thanks, O’Neil. And I’ll be calling on you shortly ;-) .

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  10. That’s a good way to put it, Jacqueline.

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  11. Thanks Eve. And won’t you feel frustrated that you won’t be able to put it down on paper ;-) .

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  12. Thanks for your comment, Susan. I think you’re right about hearing a call and one that must be acted on.

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  13. Thanks, John. I guess we all come from and start at different places. Glad you got the call for all those great stories.

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  14. Thanks for your comment, Michael. I would find that frustrating too. I see people retiring and I wonder what they’re going to do with themselves. I think you’re right, writers don’t retire. Maybe just wear out though. Hope they’ll change the options on that survey.

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  15. Thanks for your comment, Jennifer.

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  16. Thanks, Madeline. I’m honored to have inspired your next post for Writers in Residence.

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