All the Ways of Being a Writer
Firstly, I would say, we don't really get to choose, not exactly, or let's say: we do and we don't get to choose. There are many ways of being a writer, though, and figuring out how we want to be as a writer is an important thing.
There are, of course, two sides to being a writer. The actual writing side, and the being in the world as a writer, side.
I think we all know that one does not sit down at the table, pen in hand, or at the computer, and say, "I'm going to write a bestselling novel." We write what we are able to write. Sure, I'd love to write a bestselling novel, but I don't think my brain is formed that way.
When our daughter was small and I had small bits of time to work within, I wrote poems. Then came some essays, and then a novel (self-published in the end), and another novel. When it didn't appear that my novels would find a home, I went back to writing what I called poem-essays. And now, I'm writing a novel once again. When I began, I even said to myself, how about writing something profound and deep and sturdy, like Stegner's Crossing to Safety, or Robinson's Gilead. What I happen to be writing is nothing like either of these books, and instead it's what I can write in the time I have, with the ideas I have, and with the energy I have.
I'm writing what comes, I'm receiving. Beyond that, I'm committed to enjoying the process, to being enthusiastic about the weird ideas that pop into my head. I'm saying thank you.
In my early 20s, when I decided, or thought that I decided (do we really get to decide such things?) that I would pursue writing all through my life, I never made stipulations. I just wanted to be a writer who writes. A working writer. What I chose, was how I was going to make that happen. What I was willing to give up.
It's a given, whether you write bestselling novels or obscure poetry, that there will be ups and downs, ebbs and flows. There will be intervals where it's all rejections all the time, and then you'll reach a point where what you write will be published. Odds are you'll swing back to being rejected. But if what you're writing is entertaining to you, you'll find it less difficult to keep your level of enthusiasm up.
I really love what Rebecca Solnit says in her 10 Tips, on How To Be a Writer. She says:
6) Time. It takes time. This means that you need to find that time. Don’t be too social. Live below your means and keep the means modest (people with trust funds and other cushions: I’m not talking to you, though money makes many, many things easy, and often, vocation and passion harder). You probably have to do something else for a living at the outset or all along, but don’t develop expensive habits or consuming hobbies. I knew a waitress once who thought fate was keeping her from her painting but taste was: if she’d given up always being the person who turned going out for a burrito into ordering the expensive wine at the bistro she would’ve had one more free day a week for art.
I think this is the biggest secret of all in the writing/art making life: live below your means.
There are all sort of ways of being a writer in the world. Some writers are fabulous at creating their writer-identity online. Others eschew social media entirely. Many others fall in between these two poles. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to be online, so long as what you're doing feels authentic to you.
Same goes for public styles. Some writers are amazing performers, are wonderful at finding venues to read at, and really embrace that side of things. I have writer friends who rarely appear anywhere, and you know what? They're perfectly happy well-adjusted people. I fit in the middle ground. I'm happier in my cozy study, alone, but I won't look askance, either, at a good gig. I'm also okay with saying no, if the reading will cause too much stress, or if it doesn't make sense financially or artistically. (It has to be something pretty good to have me trade in my holiday or writing time – there's little enough of both of those).
I know people who have gotten a lot out of going on retreats. But I've never been on a single one, and prefer taking a week to write in my own house, surrounded by my books, my husband painting in the basement, and the dog reminding me that it's good to get up and walk from time to time. For a long while, I used to even be a little jealous when I heard about people going away to fancy or peaceful sounding locales to write. But then I reminded myself that I write better at home. So why be jealous for something that wouldn't even work for me?
Would you rather be another kind of writer than the one you are? I wouldn't.
I admit, though, there are times when I looked around and thought, man it's so much easier for other writers. But here's what I think now. It's not really easy for any writer ever (except maybe the trust fund people RS refers to though I've never met one).
We are all just trying our best with whatever materials we have at hand. Our lives are imperfect, messy, crazy balancing acts. We writers are often there for each other in rather miraculous ways, whether it's cheering on a blog (thank you), buying books we can't afford, attending readings, telling a friend about a book they might like that pertains to what they're writing. When I'm sitting with a friend over a glass of (inexpensive) wine, and talking about our process, that give and take, I often think, isn't this just one of the loveliest parts of being a writer?