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Why I am, and am not, a writer.

If any man wishes to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.

Whenever people ask me why I’m a writer, I struggle with the answer.  For one, I can’t really remember most of my childhood, which is when all the famous writers had their moment of “becoming” a Writer.  And secondly, I’m still struggling with a much more important question: Am I even a writer?

I regret to say: I don’t know the answer to this.  And until I can answer this simple yes/no question, I can’t answer the why question.  Trust me, I’m an English teacher.  Yes/No questions are {supposed to be} much, much easier.

After I decided to become a writer, a friend gave me a book called The Right to Write.  It’s a typical “daily exercises, along with a healthy dose of encouragement” writing book, but it was the first one I’d received or read, so I lapped it up like a thirsty pup.  The primary declaration of the book is that, by writing, one becomes a Writer.  By that logic, I was a writer.  I practiced the phrase in the mirror so that I’d be comfortable saying it in public.  Yes, I’m a writer.

Several years, one completed short story, and an M.F.A. later, I now know, with certainty, that there’s nothing simple about being a writer. Sure, you can count on a writer being neurotic.  But surety is not simplicity.  Not even close.

Other “writing”/self-help books I’ve read usually put it this way: Don’t become a writer unless you can’t do anything else.  In this context, “can’t” doesn’t mean a lack of ability or even a lack of motivation.  It means you will die if you don’t tell that story, or complete that stanza, or expose every family member you have in the nicest, naivest way possible.  You write because you can’t not write.  By this standard, not only am I not a writer, but everyone in the world who writes on the side–late at night or early in the morning; while teaching or while freelancing; in addition to parenting, painting, or motivational speaking–are also not writers.  Even ghost writers wouldn’t count when held up to this rigor.  And they get paid to write!

Actually, when people ask why I’m a writer, I should probably just answer because I love procrastinating.  Procrastinating, also known as the antithesis of writing, is second nature to me.  I can even procrastinate the Thinking part of writing.  Not today, I tell my artistic impulses.  I’ll think about how to write that tomorrow.

Here are the other things I have done or currently do {damn} well: Medical Billing and Collections; Teaching; Stay-at-Home Momming; Editing; Party Planning; Drinking; Becoming Addicted to TV Dramas.  But any of these–yes, even being a mom–if pursued solely, leave me feeling empty. ( I admit, drinking comes close to fulfilling me, but only in large and frequent quantities, which one can’t afford when pursuing the Drink solely.)  Does that mean I don’t love doing these things?  That I’m not good at doing these things?  That I don’t kick ass doing these things?  No, it doesn’t.  And that means I can apply the same logic to the Pursuit of Writing, and say: writing doesn’t fulfill me on its own, but I still love writing.  Am still good at writing.  Can still kick ass at writing.

Real seriousness in regard to writing is one of two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent.

~Ernest Hemingway

If only I would actually sit down.  And write.   Because, I’ll be the first to tell you, and this is probably as good as answer to the question why I write as any, I’m a damn good writer.

Still, it isn’t that simple.

In terms of logic, this should be enough.  This knowing how to do it; being better at writing than most other people.  However, like most writers, I have a voice in my head that pummels Confidence Tyler-Durden-style whenever I get even the faintest inkling that something I’m writing is actually good.  There’s always the possibility that I’m a “writer” because I hate my actual self and am trying to inflict as much pain as possible on my psyche as punishment for my being a loser.  That answer, even if true–and let’s hope it’s not–would be a hard sell as Small Talk.  It certainly wouldn’t get me a publication deal.

Perhaps I’m just stalling.  If I don’t admit to being a writer in the first place, then I never have to figure out why it is I write.  Also, I can procrastinate until the cows come home, never finishing any of the brilliantly plotted out short stories I started in my Masters Program, and never starting any of the brilliantly planned character studies that would eventually become novels.  During said procrastination, the torment of self-denial is enough to blame my neurosis on.  (You suck! I know, but it’s because you suck, too!!)  And my persistent nemesis, more commonly known as lack of sleep, is not only understandable, but unavoidable.

The only downside I see to this plan is that I’ll never be famous.  No one will read my novels in American Lit classes.  No biographies will be written about me.  My overwrought and sporadic journal entries will never be published within a compelling, artsy book cover.  I’ll just be me–a not writer.  Worse, I’ll be the person at the party who doesn’t get asked why it is she writes, and therefore, never has to answer the question she hasn’t yet figured out.  Who never has to admit that, in actuality, she knows more about why she doesn’t write than why she does.  Who never gets to share with anyone else, much less with herself, that she writes because writing–Being a Writer–isn’t what she does; it’s who she is.  Even when she isn’t writing.

I dwell in Possibility–/ A fairer House than Prose–/ More numerous of Windows–/ Superior–for Doors–
~Emily Dickinson

5 responses to “Why I am, and am not, a writer.”

  1. llxt llxt says:

    Thx, Owen. Paradox, indeed. *sigh*

  2. Avatar disperse says:

    Writing about whether or not you are a writer? Christ, you are such a fucking writer.

  3. Kail Kail says:

    Inhabiting is good. Forcing things is bad. But sounding forced is what's really, really bad. In a way I think we writers force things all the time…we have to make decisions on our own sometimes, whether stylistically or substantively. How well we hide these decisions and disguise subtle, seemingly meaningless "forcings" is important to sounding natural and having believable characters/plots. Of course, I am no authority on anything except how NOT to finish short stories and novels. I am an expert on rambling, and I have a PhD in Procrastinational Therapy.
    I definitely agree that stories and characters can gain lives of their own…and we should build around them rather than force or contrive things for them. I guarantee we're actually on the same page in general.
    But I have heard, read, and witnessed many writers completely remove them"selves" from the gist of what they do, as if a higher power inflicted their pens. The top poetry mags are chock full of people claiming no credit for their stuff…"I don't know where my poems come from…" "The poem didn't come from me, it came from you, from everyone…" "I wrote the poem, but I didn't breathe the poem into life…"
    Hear that enough, and it sort of sounds like pseudo-humble BS. I sit around a tweak words in order to get "sound/mood" all the time…and once I get there, I sure as hell force something of myself and my view on the world in there so long as it's natural and makes at least a lick (but maybe not two licks) of sense. And I take credit, too. If any of you guys ever read a contributor's bio from me and it says, "This work wasn't done by me, it was pulled from that great body of collective work called the human spirit, and all I did was de-jumble some of the confused rage of us all…" please God just slap me.

  4. llxt llxt says:

    Yes, the Bill-Paying! That will really hook the reader… subtitle: HOW ONE WRITER PAID HER OWN BILLS BY BECOMING A ZOMBIE.

  5. […] may not know why (or if) I’m a writer, but I know exactly how I became an English teacher. Beginning with my own […]

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llxtm About llxtm

LLXTM is the Head Dreamer of this publication and various other projects, including Needle-Movers.com, The Perpetual You, and Ladymade. She has no spare time and yet eeks out moments to spend with her two {human} boys and two {puppy} boys. She can’t wait for spring, aka Covid Gardening, Part II. Follow her @wordsbyleelee on Instagram, or find her on her front porch in Hamden, CT.

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December 2010
November 2010
On My Honor
October 2010
Witch Hunt
September 2010
If, Then.
May 2010
Small Crimes
April 2010
February 2010
"It's Complicated"
January 2010