Write or Die

Some people think I’m a decent writer, or at least a prolific writer. They’re not quite right: what I am is a desperate writer.

I have to write. It keeps me sane. It gives me a reason to live. I’m not even kidding. Ever since my life took a dark turn, it was one of the only things I could do.

Writing is my way of touching base with myself. Recalling that I have a life to live. Reminding myself that I can still do some good in this world, despite so much bad we’re all dealing with.

Writing is not a fun side hobby that I indulge in for kicks and giggles. Even though I put out the occasional humor article, writing isn’t facetious, not for me. It’s dead serious. And I’m not the only one who sees it that way:

Ryan Holiday once talked about “frightening” a little girl at a book signingevent, when he discouraged her from trying to be a writer unless it was really something she knew she had to do.

Anne Lamott also wrote (in her famous writing memoir Bird by Bird), of her writer father: that for him, it was either become a writer, or become a career criminal. She was joking…but only a little. In my experience, many writers use writing to anchor them and keep them from “turning over to the dark side,” so to speak. I’m probably one of them.

I don’t know about all other writers, but I feel like this is the case for many of them, as well.

We write because we must.

Because we see the value in putting words to paper, words that will become an article or a short story, a novel or a movie.

Because writing is so powerful, and so irresistible, almost dangerously so.

Because we can’t fathom life without it.

So much hinges on writing. Writing captures memories. It transfers emotions and ideas across time and space. It’s the only way to multiply yourself (your thoughts, that is, the metaphysical stuff that makes you who you are) and ensure — not immortality, but significant, lasting impact (if the right thoughts get to the right people).

Writing persuades people and literally changes their minds (including the writers themselves), it reveals truth (at least, good writing does), it can even heal, if used properly.

That’s why I write.

What Makes a Legit Writer?

We ALL write, but what’s the difference between the person who sporadically posts the odd casual mini-rant on a blog, and the legit writer?

I think the difference is a little bit of desperation.

You have to want it, badly. You’ve got to need to write, almost as much as you need food — maybe more, in some cases. You have to be serious. Otherwise you’re just a hobbyist. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I used to be a hobbyist. There are times I wish I were still just a hobbyist.

But life took a different route for me.

Now, I basically have to write to live.

I write so I can expel dark thoughts from my mind. I write so I can clarify truths. I write so I can form those incredibly important social bonds with other readers and writers.

You’re lucky! some may say. You get to spend all day doing what you love — writing, and helping others with it.

True. But also: Writing is hard.

If you want to do it long term, and well, that is. It requires sacrifices, just like every other worthwhile endeavor. And there is an added burden: a lot of people look down on it because it seems so easy — after all, everyone does it.

(Emails, texts, diary entries, shopping lists, etc. Writing is ubiquitous among the literate)

But if you ever want to be a true writer in the fullest sense of the word, you can’t let that bother you. You won’t let that bother you, because writing is too important. It’s a pillar in your life. You’ve got to do it, and keep going, no matter what self-doubt or outside indifference or criticism creeps in to try and strangle you.

For you, it’s black and white:

Write or die.

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2 thoughts on “Write or Die”

  1. Sarah: Right on, write on. Or as my son, a graphic designer who writes to “purge the demons” says: “Create or Suffer.” It’s true that any creative hunger is never sated, always driving one to the next revelation if what you know is never enough. Keep the window of thought open even in pelting rain. How else is one cleansed?

  2. Hi Brian! That’s not bad at all, “create or suffer.” Very true. In fact, I’ve often thought about the so-called “tortured artists” and wonder if they use their art to help heal themselves. I think they do 🙂

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