How not to be a writer


First things first. This post doesn’t provide instruction in failing at the profession of being a writer–although I could offer some suggestions if you’re really desperate.

This post is about not seeing oneself as a writer or any kind of “…er,” but rather as simply a person. Well, “person” contains “er,” but it’s in the middle as in “…er…”

When I was nine, I announced to my parents that I would be a writer when I grew up. I shouted it at the top of my lungs. Not out of pride. We were riding in a boat with a loud outboard motor on the choppy waves of Lake Superior. I don’t know if they even heard me.

“I’m going to be a writer I grow up!” Two things wrong with that declaration right away .

1: I already was a writer at the age of nine. Hell, I wrote plays, skits, poems, stories about Vikings, you name it!

2: The declaration assumed I was going to grow up, which I never did.

But what was really wrong with saying “I’m going to be a writer, etc.” was that I branded myself. I decided “I’m going to be this thing. I’m going to be identified or defined as this thing.”

And as I got older (mind you I didn’t say “grew up”), I kept obsessing over whether or not I actually was this thing. Pretty soon, the internal dialog became, “Well, yeah, sure, I’ve written stuff (see this Web site for details), but have I accomplished this or that? Have I become the next Samuel Beckett? How much income can I declare from writing? Do people THINK I’m a really great writer?”

And if I turned out not to be this thing by those standards, then was I a phony? If I wasn’t a writer, what was I? I didn’t have an answer.

I said earlier that I had branded myself. When you brand a cow, it hurts the cow right away, but then the pain goes away. In my case, self-branding worked the opposite way. It still burns a little.

That sucks, because I take great joy in the act writing itself. What got me into writing plays, for example, still intoxicates me: the simple notion of creating a universe wherever you happen to be, and to have a room full of people live in that universe for a little while. When it works, that’s the shit, man! And in pursuit of that exquisite high, I remain what my colleague, spiritual brother, and fellow whiskey enthusiast David Scott Hay would call an “ass-to-chair” writer. Hell, I write a lot (see this Web site for details).

So, when I’m just doing that–writing, I’m pretty fucking happy. When I worry about the meta-writing stuff, particularly whether I’ve fulfilled this criteria or that to justify identifying myself as a writer, I’m a glorious pain in the ass to be around. Just ask Kathryn, my wife or various friends whom I’ve whined to over the decades.

What I’m trying to get to is seeing myself as a person. Sounds simple. Isn’t. Meditation gets me close…er. Why meditation? I gotta turn off those stupid thoughts somehow.

Action itself is really the ticket. When I write, I’m happy. When I think about writing, or meta-writing, not so much. But not just writing. Cooking, guitar, housework (I’ve been SO lax), or just being with my kids. Nothing gets you out of your head faster than a toddler pulling down her pants. STOP THINKING!!!!

All that said, I do see myself as a writer. And as a husband, father, son, brother, cousin, friend, (occasionally cantankerous) neighbor, and what have you. But no more branding. My ass still hurts too much from the first time.



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