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20 Things That Full-Time Writers Know (And You Probably Don’t)

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Writing is like handing out small pebbles of self-awareness to your readers and asking them to carry the pebbles in their pockets and not fling them back at you.

There is no treachery as great, no loneliness as bleak, as when your own creativity abandons you.

There is no profession with as many interpretations as that of “writer,” and no profession whose broadly accepted meaning takes mostly from the least inspired versions.

Ideally, I would tell people “I’m an artist,” but nowadays “artist” is derogatory, implying I don’t contribute to society. Because society doesn’t think it needs self awareness (see #1) and certainly doesn’t want to pay for it.

Although writers love to boast that we compete against our best selves, we compare ourselves to external indicators as much as any profession and we feel twice as much insecurity.

At some point, it stops being about a writer’s promise and starts being about a writer’s accomplishments. The transition—though often marked by a great achievement—can lead to crippling depression and fear.

Your work is no longer yours the second someone else reads it. This is why most writers will not talk about or show their work until they are ready to cede ownership.

No one respects the phrase “I can’t, I have to work” when it comes from a writer. Least of all, the writer who says it.

We can never make our parents understand what we do. Or more importantly, why we do it. But if they care, that is enough.

Writers receive weighty affirmation from strangers about who we are as people that conflicts with our self-image and thus feels off-putting, even offensive. Sometimes, defamation is easier to accept than praise.

People feel intimacy and trust towards writers in a way that they would never, ever feel towards any other stranger.

People feel betrayal and abandonment from writers in a way they would never feel from their closest family or friends.

Some part of a writer is in every character she creates; who she is, who she was, who she wants to be. For most writers, the composite of their work could be seen as a fantasized autobiography.

Writing is exhausting. Naps are a necessity. So is warmth. Cats, though they are tyrannical.

We don’t do it for recognition of self, but recognition of our work, and the crucial themes contained therein.

Readers will fixate on what reminds them of themselves and judge the entire work based on whether they agree. They usually ignore the rest.

Too many writers ignore craft and focus on the human condition. Their writing is not satisfying, it is too manipulative.

Too many writers ignore the human condition and focus on craft. Their writing is not satisfying, it is too shallow.

I’ve never felt a more aching desire for endless space into which I can pour all of my hopes, fears, and dreams than when I’m writing. Nor have I ever felt so confined by the lack thereof.

I cannot not write. I cannot not hand out pebbles. It is breathing. Loving. The moment I embraced that, I became a writer.

Story Break

I am often intrigued and bewildered as to my own writing process: how to find words, how to capture them, how to improve. John Steinbeck’s raw and deeply vulnerable work journal kept during his prolific – if not strained – period writing The Grapes of Wrath, is an account of a great writer doing the same, tackling process. It is the book I most often recommend and gift to my writer friends, in the spirits of unity and compassion. 

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