Generally, with my posts, I try to either write a book review, give a writing tip, or spew some personal philosophy on my current career choice. This one will be a little of all three.
So I recently started an eight-to-five sort of job working on the staff of a children’s magazine.
I like this job. It’s creative; I love the publishing process, editing, going through submissions (which, with children, is a special hoot); I get to write; the people I work with are nice.
Still, it’s an hour commute both ways and this will sound pathetic and whiny to most of you (because it is pathetic and whiny), but the 6:00 am—6:00 pm days were kicking my trash. Are kicking my trash, I should say (it’s getting better). The first night when I got home, I was sure I would have no problem falling asleep at 7:30 pm. But I needed to write.
So I just . . . did. I opened the document I wanted to work on, pledging at least 500 words, and as I worked, instead of tiring more, I started to feel refreshed. I knew I would do this for the rest of my life, no matter how unsuccessful or successful I ended up.
It made me think of this quote by Gloria Stein:
“Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
Now here comes the book review part. I’ve been reading a book called The Man Who Talks With Horses. It’s an autobiography of Monty Roberts, which I picked up in the first place because I based Gatsby’s (a main character in my upcoming novel) horse training techniques on Monty’s. Surprisingly, it’s really good. I mean, the man’s life is interesting, but usually I don’t like autobiographies because while the person is interesting, the book is not well written. But Monty hired a pretty-dang-skilled writing partner (Lawrence Scanlan) and the finished product is great. Go read it.
Anyway. The reason it relates to what I’m talking about. Monty is like . . . a mini-legend with horses. Not only with his training techniques, but he’s been winning in rodeos and horsemanship shows since he was four years old. He’s just good.
When he was a teenager, he did a short stint giving workshops called “Learn the Secret of a Rodeo Champion,” which would supposedly tell kids what they needed to do if they wanted to win. Then he makes the aside comment that there was no secret, that no special talent had been bestowed upon Monty Roberts. The secret, he said, was that he was obsessed. He took to horses like a holy calling, knew very early and with a lot of conviction: this is what I’m going to do. He said most kids his age rode a couple times a week, maybe the weekends, but he was with a horse often for seven to eight hours a day. At least. For them, it was a hobby, it wasn’t their life.
Writing is the same. Nobody can tell you how to succeed at writing (even if they write a book called “How To Succeed At Writing”) because there is no WAY; there are, instead, many ways. The difference, I think, is the level of conviction in a writer. Do they love writing? Or do they just like it okay? Are they obsessed? Do they need to do it above all else?
Look, there’s no reason to get weird about it. Please don’t write a poem in your own blood or worsen the already bad reputation of the writing community by offing yourself.
But this is a path for the brave and the loyal. At some point, you’ll need to find another reason to work than the desire for success or recognition. It must come from another place. If you’re wondering if you’re ever going to make it, judge how bad you want it—judge where your heart is. If it’s something that’s just semi-important, that’s fine, but don’t be disappointed if you meet with semi-okay success.
All I know is this: when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I was very bad at it. I’m right now only slightly less bad at it than when I started. But I am obsessed. If you decide to write, then you must do it, as Balzac said, “like a miner buried under a fallen roof.”