Photo from Pixabay by Mediamodifier
It starts with a question
Who are we? An individual who strives to achieve an understanding and balance with the world around us or a writer who insists on chronicling everything that is seen and felt?
Which one comes first?
Where are we heading?
In life we grow. We engage the world; fight it, embrace it, or cast it aside and reach for something else. We struggle with reality and question whose it is. And eventually we come to a crossroad. The intersection, where who we are and what we’ve been doing, become at odds. Fighting to see who will lead and who will follow.
One such moment came to me, not too long ago. A revelation while driving on Interstate 5, where I realized that most of the pain and suffering, I had experienced while “trying to be a writer” had been self-inflicted. That I had been complicit in the heartache and struggles that followed me over the years in my quest to become a good writer.
Where it all begins
To understand what had happened I had to go back in time. Before the turbulent teen years. Before my exile from Brooklyn and the years of isolation and loneliness that followed. To the years where my perspective was, distinctly low to the ground. Where adults reigned supreme and children followed in the belief that those before them had already figured it all out.
My father was an intelligent man, funny, articulate and sensitive – only not with me. With me, he was quiet and reserved. He used words, not to engage, but simply to inform. You can’t go out. It’s too late. Do what your mother said. No different than the words my friend’s fathers told their children. It was customary back then to be two distinct personalities. A parent and separately, in one’s own time, an adult.
The parent gave orders, took charge, set boundaries and planned a life for you that would follow theirs if at all possible. While the adult was more outward facing; focused on their needs and their journey. One personality was for the kids, the other, for everyone else.
From this warring set of personalities, I formed an idea of who I was and what I wanted to be.
The first mistake
As a child I read books. I wrote stories and played intently, while imagining worlds populated by plastics figures. Wars were fought. Planets conquered. And as the years passed, who I wanted to be, took on greater and greater importance.
I knew from listening to my mother, that planning was essential. It took years to become a real person. Despite appearances to the contrary, we were not born that way. It took time and effort and a lot of other things, that she either forgot to mention, or assumed I would see for myself when the time was right.
Through it all, I became fascinated with words and their power to influence. The men I watched on television had guns, sure, but they had their words too. Short sentences, voiced with authority and certainty, chased the bad guys away and saved the women from a fate, that was always a little unclear to me.
And those on the Nightly News, who stared out at me with quiet confidence, had lots of words too. I was envious. They spoke of faraway places and unique people with such certitude and joie de vie, that I was convinced I had to be like them. The purveyor of all types of words, while reaching out to something called, an audience. I wanted an audience just like they had. I wanted to be heard.
I would be a writer.
A fool’s errand
While still being informed by the dichotomy of personalities that were adults and parents, I
assumed that an individual’s first creation was that of - being a writer. Bringing into existence this distinct personality, separate from himself. Someone who had the ability to wrest a person’s attention away from the rest of the world and put it solely on what they had written.
Thus, I embarked on a fool’s errand, for there is no such separate personality possible. No simple means of becoming someone more successful outside of you.
At best it’s a waste of time. A worst, it’s the creation of an alternate persona constantly at war with oneself.
The struggle within
So, for many years I fought, tooth and claw with this “other guy.” This pretentious pen wielding chap who seemed to know exactly where he was going, despite the fact that he was having a helleva time getting there.
As a result, I struggled to find my voice.
I was desperate to mold myself into a form, better suited for the writing craft. A personality created apart from me, who would know – how to be a writer and just get on with it. Thus, as the years passed and the word count mounted, I found myself endlessly editing brilliant poems, maddeningly confused essays and stories (in whatever form) that drove me to tears or to the shredder in a fit of rage.
I thus created a madman, stalking my own home, trashing my office and making dangerous threats to my person for being a fraud. I couldn’t consistently find the elegant words I wanted because I kept handing off the ideas that came to me to this stranger. This “writer” who I created years before as the one who would get me to the promised land.
So, rather than embracing whatever came to me and speaking directly to the page and unburdening all my thoughts and feelings, I channeled it all through a separate personality instead. The “real writer” in our small circle, who would then go about the job of telling others what I really had to say.
Imagine sliding into such a persona, seconds before embracing your wife, and asking “him” to take on the duties of satisfying the woman you love.
THE ART OF WRITING
Begins with the acceptance that we are who we are – proverbial warts and all. That it is our perspective, our essentially unique view of the world that infuses the words we choose with their originality.
Rembrandt’s brush strokes do not look like Jackson Pollock’s.
Stephen King does not sound like Walt Whitman. Though the same 1000 words or so are being used.
We are humans first and writers, just a scant millimeter behind. The distance so small and so inconsequential that we may be forgiven for thinking of ourselves as writers alone.
A. The best way to write is to impose no great distance between our heart and vision of the world and the page upon which all our thoughts and feelings will be laid. To shorten that distance, so that what we feel so intensely, that it threatens our ability to breathe and think, is placed onto that page unimpeded.
B. Writing is us. Each of us, reaching in and grabbing hold of something precious and offering it to someone, anyone, in the hopes it will inform, annoy, or at the very least, make one pause.
C. The work is hard but the words are free. Let them do what they do best and about all the rest – money and fame and recognition – they really have nothing to do with writing.
D. There is no one way to becoming a writer, because there is no, one person out there capable of being one.
E. Writing is unflinching honesty, to the words we use, the feelings we feel and the desire to just be heard. It is neither easy nor hard. Joyful or sad. It’s just the shortest distance between our truth and a blank page, bridged by the words we choose.