Anyone Would Ever Want To Be One
Ask any writer with an ounce of respect for the craft what the hardest part of being a writer is, and they’ll probably tell you, “Sitting down to actually write.” Some of them will even follow up with, “I know, how cliche, right?” before getting back to Facebook or looking at Internet pornography. Writers are told at all cost to avoid cliches while becoming living, breathing cliches themselves because someone once said, “The hardest part about writing is sitting down to write,” and we believed them.
I might tell you the hardest part about being a writer is being a writer. If history proves anything, the life of a writer is a constant struggle. A struggle to get published. A struggle to find work. A struggle to get our prose read by someone other than our wives and mothers. We go from clinically depressed and self-loathing to invincible and high-as-an-addict twelve times a day. We face constant rejection and feelings of inadequacy.
Why in God’s good name would any self-respecting human being with an ounce of decency in their soul subject themselves to being a writer? I say the world doesn’t have enough accountants and taxi drivers. Writers write because they were born to bleed to death, pouring their hearts out upon the page. As the delightful Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Writers often don’t write because they want to, (that’s just a generous side effect) they write because they cannot not write.
For me, the hardest part about being a writer is not the actual writing. I write as if my keystrokes keep the Earth’s revolution around the sun intact. I act as though the world depends on my words even if they’ll never be read. Writers write what they know, and I know me pretty darn well. As a result, I tell stories about my life. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of collateral damage. So the hardest part about being a writer? How to write without ruining my relationships with everyone around me.
When I decided to go to college — a decision I regret as the automated voice messaging system that is Sallie Mae, an entity I can only assume is now self-aware, becomes a sure sign of the robot apocalypse James Cameron warned us about — my sister both innocently and harmlessly (as she meant not to see me perish, but succeed) said, “You’re going to art school? Why don’t you go to real college first, then to art school so you have a backup?” My hopes dashed to one day be a writer. A filmmaker. An artist. If my own family doesn’t believe in me, who will?
I started writing in first grade, (my first book, The Turkey and the Pilgrim, followed up by my sophomore slump, The Giant Valentine VS. The Dragon) and believed until I was eleven that writing was a perfectly acceptable career choice. However, as years passed, I became painfully aware of my inability to dribble a basketball or run without looking like a wounded gazelle. Irrelevant for your development unless all your friends were athletes, and played in the mud. I cried whenever a bug came within 30 feet of me. And in the backyard during the kind of summer afternoon young boys dream about living within forever, I learned just how little I would contribute to society as a writer. “What are you going to teach your kids? You don’t know how to do anything. You can’t even throw a baseball,” as if a career in athletics was the only suitable and respectable choice for a young boy to pursue in 1990′s Boardman, Ohio. My friend had asked this as inquisitive and innocently as my sister would eventually question my college decision.
Writers don’t contribute to the world. They are just reclusive drunks with drinking problems, or talentless hacks writing billion-dollar movie franchises featuring dialogue as stimulating as a conversation between first-graders. (I’m looking at you Transformers 3.)
Fast-forward to one unfinished Bachelor-of-the-Arts-Degree later worth fifty grand, and a feature length film I wrote, directed, don’t even own a copy of, and believed was going to pay for itself as well as my education. I can understand my sister’s advocation for a backup plan. In pursuit of becoming a writer after dropping out of college, I spent three years living in LA sleeping on other people’s couches, working dead-end jobs, getting fired, being homeless, and eventually living on the road.
Plenty of my wounds are self-inflicted because no one wants to read about a life without tribulation. Though I may have had second thoughts about becoming a writer had my sister instead shouted from rooftops, “You want to be a writer? You want to study art? Stop! Or you’ll destroy our family! Even worse, no girl will ever want to date a writer!”
How wrong she was. Every girl wants to date a writer. A young writer’s words, when placed properly upon the page, can be a tangible dopamine high to the still developing mind of teenage youth. (Many adult women, one may find, if one felt so inclined to do the research, still experience the same high when left alone with high school poetry.) My dearest sister should have told me, “No girl wants to break-up with a writer! This will cause many problems when you try to leave your first love.” How does a writer not write about the misfortune of unrequited love? I thrived for years on unrequited love and its paranormal affects on my psyche, including, but not limited to: romantic self-aggrandizement and a need for making enemies out of lovers. No woman dreams of being written from the vantage point of her ex-lover, for it is her most unflattering side. The only cure for this is to marry another writer, which I miraculously did, as a woman’s poetry upon the page is far more lethal than anything a man could ever hope to muster. The playing field: now nearly even, but slightly in her favor.
As for my family? You poor, aimless sheep, slaughtered at the hand of my keyboard. How will you ever forgive me? You’re all so far from perfect and perfectly dysfunctional, what else was I supposed to write about? You put a roof over my head, you fed me, raised me, and I thanked you by making you the villain of my manuscripts and essays. And while I don’t deserve your grace, I struggle with wanting to thank you for being the catalyst of some of my greatest work. Where is the line? Asking a writer not to write about his family in some exaggerated way is like asking a painter to create a masterpiece without paint, or suggesting to Kanye West that he tone down his ego.
Because I write, people assume I read. Which I do. Quite a bit. But when I tell someone I am a writer, they automatically assume I have read the entire library of Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Franz Kafka, C.S. Lewis, John Updike, William S. Burroughs, and/or Charles Bukowski and understand references to the likes of George Santayana and André Maurois, two gentleman I have never, ever heard of in my life. The only reason I can include their names within: I lifted them from another article like this one penned by another writer, who, in the same sentence featuring these two names, said, “…only other writers will understand this reference.” Does this mean I am no longer a writer?
Also, the only C.S. Lewis book I’ve ever read cover-to-cover is Out of the Silent Planet. But I’ve been following @CSLewisDaily on Twitter since 2010, which has gotten me halfway through The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and Narnia simultaneously at the rate of 140 characters a day.
As a writer, you must be prepared for the inevitable, unavoidable question, “Who are your favorite authors?” asked as though it somehow validates your talent as a writer, trumping your resume and the quality of the actual words you put to paper. If you say your favorite writers are Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Franz Kafka, C.S. Lewis, John Updike, William S. Burroughs, and/or Charles Bukowski, it somehow merits literary favor from illiterate professionals. And while I love the work of JD Salinger, Jack Kerouac, and C.S. Lewis’s posthumous Twitter feed, my favorite authors are Kelly Braffet, Dean Koontz, Charlie Huston, and Ray Bradbury not because I think their writing is above anyone else’s, but simply because they wrote some of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
“Every single person I ever told I was an English major responded with, ‘Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher?’ As if there was no other job possibility,” My oldest sister, the one who didn’t try to steer me away from artistic misery, said over the phone last night when I asked about her choice of schooling. She graduated ten years ago, and it took her ten years to find a use for her degree (aside from editing all of her younger brother’s work): the extremely successful blog, Calling All Cool Moms.
“English is a blow-off major,” she said. “Everyone else would be studying finance, working hard, and I would slap a poem down about a tree, and hit the bar.”
The verdict for all you would-be English majors intent on writing the next great American novel: by the time you graduate, China will have finished buying us, and your dream is shot. You’re better off studying foreign policy relations over seas, and investing in the Chinese edition of Rosette Stone.
The only difference between a writer with a degree and a writer without a degree is the degree. College does not make a good writer a great writer. It just makes you a competent writer. The difference between a good writer and a great writer is the difference between writing because you think you have something to say, or writing because you have a story to tell.
Whenever I let on to anyone that I am a writer, the response is always the same: “Oh, you’re a writer?” Like they didn’t hear me correctly and need clarification, completely taken back that the profession isn’t as dead as Latin by now. “People are still speaking that language?” Yes, I confirm. I am. “What do you write?” they always want to know. I tell them I write fiction. I used to lead in with, “I have a blog,” before I followed up with the fiction part, but the scoffing of, “Oh, you’re a blogger,” sounded so much like the scoffing assumption of, “You’re a screenwriter,” when I tell people in LA that I am a writer, reverberated so loudly against the walls, nothing else I said could be respected. “What kind of fiction do you write? Hard Sci-Fi?”
“Really depressing, heart-wrenching stuff about relationships and redemption. Also, dinosaurs sometimes.”
“Oh,” they say. “Reality is already so depressing. Why don’t you write something people can escape to?”
“Because,” I say, “people need to know that broken is just experience for the best of hearts.”
Copyright © May 2012 || Max Andrew Dubinsky